E3 2013 Impressions: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Sony PlayStation 4/Microsoft Xbox One/PC)

I was a little late to the Witcher bandwagon, but over the last couple of years, I not only checked out the original PC release, but also the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I absolutely loved the storytelling in both, with the second game’s branching paths providing incentive to give the game another spin. Likewise, the combat felt a little more cleaned up the second time around, and managed to adapt to using a controller quite well. There was a noticeable level of polish going from the first to the second game is what I’m getting at, so one would expect the leap to the third title to be just as dramatic. After seeing the presentation for it, I can certainly say that there’s no shortage of ambition here.

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt casts you back into the role of Geralt of Rivia as he begins his pursuit of an onslaught of wraiths known as The Wild Hunt. As the demonstration opens, we see Geralt following a mountain path to gather information from the residents there. He learns of a village that was decimated by the wraiths, with a sole survivor that may be able to point him in the direction he needs to go.

When Geralt finds this survivor and learns of the whereabouts of The Wild Hunt, he gains access to a sidequest involving the local residents of the village that took him in. The Witcher 3 tries to make taking on these additional quests feel natural, as things just sort of happen despite Geralt being present, rather than because of him. One quest in particular being demonstrated involved two factions within the village having a disagreement over a wood spirit that has been killing the local residents. One group believes it to be a spirit that should have its needs sated, while the other recognizes it as just a monster needing to be dealt with.

Since Geralt’s sole interest as a Witcher is killing monsters, he chooses not to get involved with politics and instead simply offers up his services for the right price. In doing so, you may inadvertently cause bad things to happen that you didn’t realize would happen by making that choice. For example, killing the leshen creature that was plaguing the villagers may have prevented it from killing further, though it also means a nearby nation that normally have been held back from traversing the same forest that the leshen dwelled in can now roll in and burn down the village. Geralt’s actions were neither right nor wrong in that situation, though it still had very real repercussions. He may also encounter random events along the way, such as thugs threatening to burn down a house that may cause greater things to happen down the line.

The world of The Witcher 3 is reportedly thirty five times bigger than that of the previous game. Fortunately, you won’t have to traverse this large landscape each and every time you want to go somewhere, as all you have to do is pull up the map in order to fast travel somewhere, so long as you’ve already been there before. There are also new modes of travel in addition to riding horseback, as taking a ride on a boat or swimming will allow Geralt to traverse new lands that he wouldn’t be able to access on foot.

Visually, the game looks to be a large step up over the prior two games. Faces animate more convincingly, and you’ll notice as Geralt travels across the countryside he may run across ruins or caverns that linger in the background. It’s downright impressive how far into the distance you can see, and the developers have indicated that everything that you encounter can be explored; there are no invisible boundaries. One set of ruins in particular that was shown during the demonstration housed a gigantic beast with deer antlers that could warp the environment and hinder your vision. As before, Geralt can fight back using both magic and two swords that he wields. Wounding the beast will cause it to scamper off, though using Geralt’s Witcher senses, you can hunt it down and finish the job by examining clues. There are eighty creatures in all in the game, with a bestiary that chronicles the history of each one as well as tips on hunting down and dealing with each one.

As I said before, the scope of The Witcher 3 is incredibly ambitious. Whether or not it is on deck to become the “Elder Scrolls killer,” I really can’t say. I’m hoping that the main adventure is far more focused than it is in those games and that the size of the world doesn’t work to its detriment. After all, boasting one hundred hours of gameplay is only impressive if the entirety of that is actually fun. However, in regards to creating a living, breathing world with day and night cycles, weather effects, and NPC’s that mind their own business throughout the day, CDProjekt seems to be well on their way. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is slated for release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One sometime in 2014.



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