Morgan Spurlock spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonald’s in the movie Super Size Me. He had doctors monitoring him, a girlfriend who looked after him, and a movie budget. I had none of those things. When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came out on May 19th 2015, the developers at CD Projekt Red told us a full playthrough of their massive open world RPG would take 200+ hours, and they were not kidding. You may have noticed I’ve been fairly absent from Geeks of the Round recently with the exception of our Game of Thrones Vidcasts. That’s because for 15 days I ate, slept, and dreamed only of the adventures of Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher 3. With the release of The Elder Scrolls Online coming next week for consoles, and then the Electronic Entertainment Expo the week after, I knew some serious dedication was needed. I cleared my schedule, took time away from the site, and sat down in front of my Playstation 4 for over two weeks. I logged 190 hours in The Witcher 3 going by the in-game timer, but from all the times I died and reloaded, which was often because I did it all on the highest difficulty known as Death March, I’m guessing it was probably more like 240 hours. Yeah, I died a lot. Turns out our Executive Producer DeAno Jackson used to be a mathlete and informs me that means I averaged 16 hours a day. So I feel confident in telling you The Witcher 3 is the greatest video game of this generation, and one of the greatest stories ever told. I’m even considering buying The Witcher novel series written by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is really saying something because the only novel series I’ve read in the last decade is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Now I am not a doctor, but I can tell you from how sore my legs are, the deep bags under my eyes, and my increased blood pressure you probably shouldn’t try to finish this game in 15 days like I did. What more is that immersing myself in this rich world and leaving it so abruptly has not only damaged my health but my psyche. I want more but I don’t think my mind or body can handle more.
To say this game is massive is an understatement. Its map is larger than Grand Theft Auto V and Dragon Age: Inquisition (DA:I), but unlike those games, the world of of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t just massive for the sake of being massive so that you’re riding a horse or driving a car for 5 minutes through empty terrain to get to your next quest marker, it’s filled to the brim like an overstuffed suitcase. Filled with monsters, with points of interest, with treasure. Oh treasure, how I missed you. One of my biggest complaints of DA:I, which looks like Two Worlds II in comparison to The Witcher 3, is that it punished you for exploring. You’d come across ancient ruins in DA:I only to discover what awaited you in its deepest chambers was a weapon that you wouldn’t have used 40 hours earlier and wasn’t worth a damn. In The Witcher 3, loot scales with you. You can craft the best swords and Witcher Gear Armor sets, but that doesn’t keep The Witcher 3 from throwing unique gear and weapons at you that are of the same and sometimes superior strength anyway, and even if you don’t keep them you can always sell them for a handsome price or dismantle them for essential crafting materials. So many games get this wrong and it was a pleasure to discover this wasn’t one of them. This also encourages you to pick up anything and everything you can when you explore, because everything can be used for something, whether it’s a plant for alchemy, ore for crafting, or a book that tells you where to look for treasure. Speaking of exploring, the landscapes are often jaw dropping and beautiful. You begin the game in White Orchard, a small farming community which is also the prologue area of the game. It’s filled with fields, small hills, and even has some swamps in the outskirts. Once you leave the prologue area you wind up in The Royal Palace of Vizima, after which point you are free to explore most of the world except for Kaer Morhen, the lowly populated(like 3 people) Witcher fortress where Witchers used to be trained, but you’ll come back there later, much later. The largest free roaming areas in the game are the regions of Velen and Skellige. Velen also contains The Free City of Novigrad. Velen is filled with swamps and small villages, as well as large cities, lakes, and lots of terrain packed with quests and run down ruins and towers. The region of Skellige on the other hand is an island region, filled with a large ocean, snowy mountains, caves, and ancient ruins on each island. The only thing richer than the landscapes in The Witcher 3 is its population, which includes humans, dwarfs, elves, and a huge variety of monsters, beasts, specters and ancient creatures
The combat, while not without its flaws, is deep, varied and engaging, especially on Death March. While it can be frustrating to die 3 or 4 times in the game’s first real fight, it demands you learn how to properly fight enemies. It demands you discover their weaknesses. It demands you prepare. You cannot block most attacks by monsters, and sometimes you cannot dodge either. Lucky for you, Witchers were made for this. As a Witcher, you have access to more than just swords and a crossbow, but basic magic combat spells called Signs. Quen is a force field spell, Axii is a mind control spell, Yrden is a trap spell, Aard is a telekinetic blast spell, and Igni is a fire spell. None of them can be solely relied upon, but you will need to learn how and when to use them, in and out of combat. Witchers also brew potions that have different side effects which can also make a huge difference, though I only found myself using them for the toughest battles. Witchers also apply different oils to their swords which enhance your attack power against specific enemies. Witchers also make throwing bombs, which can blind, poison, or ignite enemies, which often act as much needed distractions mid battle, and in few instances the only way to stop a tough monster from healing faster than you can do damage. Each enemy type also has unique patterns, which makes them all the more dangerous, especially on harder difficulties. A single encounter can kill you if you let them, so I found myself saving after almost every fight. Especially in the early stages of the game, you could get torn apart by a simple gang of bandits, a pack of wolves, or a group of Drowners which are annoying amphibious humanoid enemies that are quick and travel in groups, and are deadly in and out of water. Then of course there are mutagens, which enhance your abilities. As you level up and find Places of Power, you’ll gain ability points, which you spend to level or learn new skills, such as Sign intensity, improved sword damage, increased alchemic effects, or regenerating health. You can only activate so many skills at once, so invest wisely, though at some point you will be able to buy potions to respec your ability points.
The adventures of Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher 3 are not just one overarching plot with a few side missions thrown in. There are many large stories told here, with characters as interesting as Geralt himself, and complex, very complex. Geralt finds himself tasked with helping them all, often in exchange for information on his missing apprentice Ciri, who is like a daughter to him. Ciri is the blood daughter of the Nilfgaardian Emperor, and also happens to have an ancient lineage which gives Ciri her power to travel between different worlds. Ciri is pursued by a mysterious army called The Wild Hunt that can also travel between worlds, and seems to sense when and where Ciri uses her power. This is the overarching plot. The stories you encounter along the way take you through the whole gambit of emotions. Uplifting, depressingly sad, disgusting, disturbing, vengeful, hilarious, and oh yeah, lust. While you do not have to sleep with anyone, Geralt of Rivia is known for being a lady killer as well as a monster slayer. All of these amazing stories are only made that much better, however, by the impact your choices have on them, and sometimes you don’t even know when you’re making a huge choice, and you find out the consequences 2 or 3 hours later. In the 190 hours I played, I never once found myself bored by the story, or one of the many side stories, or even a small side mission that’d turn into an hour long Scooby Doo-type who-dun-it mystery.
To think that there are still epic journeys to be had in today’s world of gaming makes me hopeful for the future. As more and more small developers move on to mobile gaming, it’s great to see that there are developers out there like CD Projekt Red who can do twice as much with less than half the budget of bigger names like EA or Bethesda. The lore in The Witcher is as deep as anything found in The Elder Scrolls games, the action is unique and fun, and the world is brimming with character. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I still have plenty to do. There are so many side missions I didn’t do that I could easily spend 100 more hours on this game and still be playing original content I haven’t seen yet, and I plan to this summer. There’s also more to come with 10 more free DLC items(for a total of 16) and 2 expansions. That’s not to say this game is perfect, far from it, but the imperfections mostly come from bugs and things that aren’t intentional, for example there’s a known game breaking bug in the quest Pyres of Novigrad, which stopped your story progression and hasn’t been fixed yet(look for it in the next patch if you were affected). Or when you can’t attack an enemy because the game doesn’t recognize you’re in combat or worse you put your fists up instead of grabbing a sword and you end up getting sliced(not often, but often enough for me to bring it up). But show me an open world game not plagued by bugs. This game got so many things right that it’s easy to forgive the flaws that come with a game of this scale, much like it was easy to forgive Tom Brady for #DeflateGate because he’s just so darn handsome. So if you’ve been playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt what are your impressions? Do you think it’s cemented itself for Game of the Year? Let us know in the comments below.
Name: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: CD Projekt RED
Platforms: PS4, XBox One, PC
Game purchased by reviewer and reviewed on the PS4.