Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review


    As people who read this blog may know, I am a fan of The Witcher series. This includes both the novels, which I eventually intend to review on this site, and the video games. Thus, I was a first day purchase for this game and I was eager to get involved in its gameplay. This is such a deep game, I'm going to be doing both a standard review here and a separate review of its storyline. So, is the Witcher 3 any good?

    Absolutely.

    The Witcher 3 is a surprisingly deep game both in storytelling, immersion, and gameplay. You can find yourself absorbed in playing for hours on end and part of the fears you will face is, after this game, that you might never be able to enjoy such a vivid world again. There's lows as well as highs, but the game is overall a very impressive technical and writing achievement.

Geralt can have a beard, shave it off, or have it dynamically grow. THE GREATEST VIDEO GAME SIMULATION ELEMENT EVER!
    However, it's not going to be getting a completely uncritical view either. I was a bigger fan of The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings than the original The Witcher. Unfortunately, the developers decided they wanted to bring back a lot of the more annoying qualities of the original game for the third and I feel it's suffered as a result. But I'll get into that later in the review.

    The premise is Geralt of Rivia has received word his lover from the novels, Yennefer, has re-emerged and is only a few days ride away. Traveling with his long-time friend and mentor, Vesemir, Geralt finds himself traveling across the war-torn Northern Kingdoms. Nilfgaard, an aggressive military power with similarities to both Imperial and Nazi Germany, has invaded the land. While Geralt's opinion on the invasion may be whatever the player wishes, it is undeniable both sides are committing atrocities against the common people. The common people aren't exactly innocent, either.

The environments are beautifully hand-crafted but a little too monotonous.
    As bad as this situation is, Geralt has bigger problems with the arrival of the titular Wild Hunt. A supernatural gang of killers lead by the nastiest armored monster since Darth Vader, it is seeking not only Geralt but his long-lost adopted daughter Ciri. She has her own plotline and is even a playable character during certain segments.

    The plotline is extremely deep and while it has RPG-elements, I really was immersed in Geralt's story and the fact it manages to make use of previous entries in the series as well as the novels is felt across every section of the game. The developers truly loved the material, the characters, and the story they were trying to tell.

The combat is fluid, fun, and brutal.
    Individuals unfamiliar with the novels are introduced to the characters of Yennefer and Ciri through gameplay and you swiftly come to know these characters intimately. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the sections where you play Ciri as much if not more than Geralt. She is an awesome character and I wouldn't mind playing a game with her as the star.

    Ciri's a wonderful contrast to Geralt, more idealistic but still worn down by the horrible world which surrounds her. Yennefer, by contrast, is portrayed as slightly sinister at the start but we get an explanation which provides you with all the justification you need for her actions.

    The portrayal of the Northern Kingdoms is fabulous as we get to see a variety of environments and cultures. The land of White Orchard seems like a rural paradise but you don't have to go far to find villages wiped out by war or devastated by monsters. Velen is a hellhole where the collaborators with the Nilfgaard are worse than the Nilfgaardians themselves. Novigard is a city with beautiful estates and hellish slums, all interacting in one believable society. Then they throw in Skellig, a sort of Ireland-meets-Norway, which is just plain fun. Every land has a unique character and every person you talk to has individualized voice-acting and personalities.

Ciri is an amazing character and could easily star in her own game.
    There's also the fact this is a huge game. Huge. I'm talking like a single-player MMORPG. I've already invested over fifty hours into the game and am nowhere near done with it. The only game I can think of as comparing this to is Dragon Age: Inquisition. Both of them have a similar sense of scope and massive interactivity. No other games manage to blend epic storyline with deep personal characterization. Despite the fact the North is being invaded, Geralt can take an entirely neutral stance to the conflict. He's interested in recovering both Yennefer and Ciri, nothing else (unless you choose to give the White Wolf a patriotic streak).

    The Witcher 3 is definitely low-fantasy and on the grimdark scale of things. There's plotlines involving child abuse, spousal abuse, tragic misunderstandings, racism, war crimes, and religious intolerance. Many of the stories end on bittersweet notes, at best. Geralt can only muddle through things as best he can. The world is nasty, brutal, and full of real-life evils. Surprisingly, trying to do the right thing sometimes works out too. Which I liked as it keeps things surprising.

The fighting of bandits, Drowners, deserters, and ghouls gets a bit monotonous at times.
    The world is extremely well-developed and the graphics are gorgeous. However, the first problems of the game start with world-design. There is a lot of open space in this world, which is normally good, but here gets monotonous. Unlike Skyrim or Fallout 3, the many locations across the lamp are largely the same. If you've seen one village or forested glen, then you've seen about half of them. There's plenty of interesting places in the game, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot or really boring ones too.

    Next, the leveling in this game is pretty bad. Throughout the game, there are many side-quests you'll encounter where you won't be able to finish them for upwards to twenty-levels away. While exploring Velen for the first time around level seven, I got a Level 33 quest for example. There are plenty of massively powerful monsters which Geralt will have to run away from until he's had time to beef up. The problem is, that makes no sense for the Witcher franchise. Geralt is, at this point, the survivor of two games as well as the biggest badass in the setting. This is equivalent of Conan running away from a giant spider.

    Finally, I'm not a big fan of inventory in the game. The game poorly manages the sorting of loot in the game, especially the "Use Item" section, so it becomes almost impossible to find which potions you want when you need to find them. I'm still not sure as to what placement system they follow as sometimes newly acquired items are at the top and sometimes at the bottom or in the middle. This can be especially annoying if you're trying to find a specific item for a quest or to use in a situation.

Novel character Yennefer gets a fabulous introduction to the series.
    The combat is fast and enjoyable with a simple yet entertaining sword style. Geralt rarely felt like he was in danger but it was rarely easy either, at least with appropriately leveled encounters. I also loved the variety of ways Geralt can attack his opponents ranging from magic signs, bombs, swords, and crossbows to fists.

    Really, I was torn whether or not to give this a nine or ten. On one hand, there is a lot of busy work. Running across the map or riding your horse to explore the map is rarely as satisfying as in other open-world games. Too much looks like everything else. On the other, the game is very-very fun. In the end, my decision leans toward the latter because of the Bloody Baron's story arc. That was what convinced me this game was worthy of a score equal to the best of the other video games I've played.

    What is the Bloody Baron story arc? It's a series of quests in the "Second Act" portion of the game which deal with a alcholic Robert Baratheon-esque nobleman who has chosen to collaborate with the Nilfgaardians against his countrymen. The acting, revelations, and twists in this storyline are all top notch.

I admit, the Robert Baratheon homage may be a bit "too" on the nose.
    The aforementioned character is just one three-dimensional character who is admirable and repulsive in multiple ways. The way the storyline ended in my game was both tragic and moving. The Witcher video games may be something Andrzej Sapkowski has mixed feelings about but this storyline demonstrated they can do something every bit as good as him.

    In conclusion, The Witcher 3 is a great game for fantasy enthusiasts. It's a fun game, well-written, and with some truly impressive graphics. The game has some parts which are less enjoyable than others but these are often broken up with periods of great awesome. This is a game which is a serious time-sink, though, and will require serious devotion from players if they want to see all of the content.

10/10

7 comments:

  1. They also decided to go full on Grimm's Fairy Tale's nightmare fuel. Just the Crones themselves are enough.

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    1. The choice of whether to save the children or the village (knowing you may not be able to trust them or not) is a complete gut punch. I also felt the way about the Haunted Tower quest. There's just great writing all round.

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    2. I figured that the even if the spirit in the tree was not wholly good it can't be worse then the ancient elder spawn who eat people, demand ears, and control people through hair. Though who knows what that spirit was other then not human and probably not elf or dwarf either.

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    3. The book "She Who Knows" pretty much gives the identity of the spirit. In my end, my Geralt felt he could take down the Witches, himself, but one less evil was one less. The results of him not choosing to it free will haunt him, though.

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  2. agree with a lot of the points on the review.

    Inventory system was really not good overall, hell inventory systems in RPG games in general tend to be something that annoy me since few are fun to go through.

    The bloody baron arc was one I really liked as well, the baron did remind me of king Robert from Game of Thrones, hell I thought at first it was mark addy voicing him, you can tell the voice actor was taking inspiration from Addy's performance of Robert.

    The Game has quite a bit of Game of Throne influence in places, hell Charles Dance voices the emperor, and does as always a fab job, I can listen or watch Charles in any role for hours, he just oozes charisma and authority with his voice and acting.

    I notice a bit of Quentin Tarantino references as well, what with a Swordsmith called hattori and the whole not making swords anymore, hell at one point they use the bring out the gimp line right from the film, I thought that a bit hilariously out of place, but since I'm a big QT fan I didn't mind it.

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    1. I agree with everything you've said, 100%.

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  3. I take it back. The Church of the Eternal Flame is way more evil than the Crones. Corrupt to the core, hires actual psychopaths almost straight from the dungeons, and burns any magic user. Including mages, witchers, herbalists, and shamans. This is actively evil because those things keep people healthy, provide protection from curses, and kill monsters.

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