The Witcher 3 is one of the most anticipated game releases of 2015 after being teased for well over a year. The game, available on Xbox One,
PlayStation 4 and
PC boasts a huge open world to explore along with a great combat system and more enemies than you can shake a stick at. But does it live up to our expectations? Read our review and find out.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review: Storyline and side quests
Witcher 3 starts, as many games do, with a tutorial that introduced us to the mechanics of the game and the combat system. Despite being a bit slow to start, with conversations that you want to skip to get into the action, the tutorial gave us a taste of what was to come – and we liked it. It also introduced us to the main characters in Witcher 3: Geralt, Yennifer and Ciri, which is great for those of you (like us) that didn’t play Witcher 1 and 2 because there are more characters in Witcher 3 than you’ll be able to remember.
The storyline itself, though interesting, did start to become a bit repetitive after around 25 hours of gameplay. Though the story develops and becomes more intricate, it seems that The Witcher 3 has a system: Geralt meets a new contact with information about Ciri > Geralt runs errand for contact > Geralt gets information and is (usually) introduced to new contact. With this being said, the errands do widely vary from leading lost goats home to battling Ghouls in a bog to breaking an old friend out of prison (we’re being vague for a reason – no spoilers here!).
One fantastic aspect of The Witcher 3 is the cause-and-effect style system it uses. You’re constantly interacting with people and the choices that you make in these conversations can have adverse effects not only for the person you’re speaking to, but whole communities at times. It makes you pay more attention to what’s being said makes you put more thought into your response, rather than skipping through conversations as quickly as you can.
It can also effect how people act towards you, both positively and negatively. For example, early on in the game you have the choice of whether or not to accept coin from a merchant that you’d just saved. We chose to reject the money from the (poor) merchant and he, in return, gave us information about the location we were looking for and even offered a huge discount on any items in his store. It pays to be nice sometimes guys!
One aspect of the game that we were surprised about was the side quests, specifically the variety of side quests available. Wherever you go in The Witcher 3, you’ll be greeted with secondary tasks that range from bare knuckle fighting to slaying a ghost that has been tainting the village well. Though most side quests can be found via notice boards in towns and villages, some quests only pop up when you’re near them and others depend on your actions in conversation.
However it’s not only the variety of side quests that surprised us, it’s about the quality of the side quest. Compared to games like Assassins Creed where side quests are quite basic and repetitive, The Witcher 3’s side quests could easily pass for main story quests – in fact, at times we thought we were undertaking a main story quest when it was in fact a side quest. Though farming berries is a (rather tedious) part of a handful of side quests, they’re much, much more than that.
It’s not just random NPC’s that give you side quest either; it includes characters from Witcher 1 and 2. It gives old Witcher fans a chance to reminisce about the old games while also giving you an update of the characters status in Witcher 3.
Side quests usually produce largely unimpressive rewards, but every now and again you get some fantastic goodies. For example, we helped someone save her daughter by brewing a Witcher potion and in return she gave us a book about Vampires. You can read the book to add the entry to your Bestiary, accessible via the main menu, to find out more information about your opponents in battle including its weaknesses.
Though that by itself may not sound very impressive, whilst on the very next story quest we came across a Vampire that we had to slay. How do we kill it? What are its weaknesses? Oh wait, we can just check the Bestiary and find out. The point is that even though it may not be amazing at the time, even the smallest rewards can come in handy and give you the upper hand at vital moments throughout the game. It also proves that reading is good for you!
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review: Exploring the open world environment
The Witcher 3 is open world, and it’s huge – we’ve yet to explore the map in its entirety after over 40 hours of gameplay. In fact, we don’t think huge quite covers it – its gargantuan, 300 times larger than the map of The Witcher 2. It’s not all similar either, there’s a huge variety of environments and each region has its own unique characteristics, be it the war torn region of Vizima or the vast city of Velen.
The sheer scale of the open world combined with side quests mean that exploring in The Witcher 3 is extremely fun. It’ll almost always produce a unique experience filled with everything from taking down a Griffin to sword fighting with a group of outlaws. Combat aside, there are many locations to explore and scavenge, some that even require a boat to access.
Exploration is only improved by the dynamic time and weather featured in The Witcher 3. It’s interesting how a slight change in weather or time can greatly change the look of a particular environment. There’s a particular island in The Witcher 3 that’s ominous at night, with Ghouls and Drowners roaming around a half-dead forest surrounding a dilapidated tower. However once morning comes and you see the rays of sunshine through the trees, the scene changes and suddenly the on-edge feeling we had disappears.
Sunrises and sunsets look particularly gorgeous and the rain looks and sounds realistic. Though it may not have the level of detail as, say, DriveClub, it’s more than enough and really adds to the level of realism that you feel when playing a role-playing game such as this.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review: Graphics and audio
Let’s move onto The Witcher 3’s graphics. We reviewed The Witcher 3 on PC using a
gaming PC with a Nvidia Geforce GTX 960 GPU and we were able to run it at full 1080p in “Ultra” level graphics. Also, by setting the frame rate to “unlimited” we got beautiful results averaging around the 80-90fps mark. These two factors produced gameplay that was nothing short of stunning, and even allowed us to see individual hairs on Geralt’s head blow around in the wind.
We expected the frame rate to drop when in a crowded area, such as in the city of Velen, but for the most part this wasn’t the case. There’s only one single place (that we know of) that reduced the frame rate slightly, and that’s at Crow’s Perch when walking through the village inside the castle walls. We’re not too sure why this is the case, as we’ve been in other locations with many more NPC’s with no issue, but it’s one we came across time and time again in that one area.
However while we suffered frame rate lag, the drop was insignificant (80/90 fps to around 50/60 fps) compared to the console version of The Witcher 3. The Witcher 3 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 only boasts 30fps gameplay, which is fine, but not when you walk into an area full of NPC’s and have the frame rate drop even lower. Though PC’s can power more powerful graphics than both next gen consoles (depending on spec), we’d expect more from the next gen consoles and the game itself.
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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review: Controls and Combat
The combat system used in The Witcher 3 is, at the same time, one of the best and most frustrating combat systems we’ve used recently. Prior to its general release, we were teased by YouTube videos showcasing highlights of the combat system including blocking hits, dodging/jumping and using Signs to gain the upper hand in battle.
Our first experience of the combat system during the tutorial was a far shout from this, with uncoordinated attacks and blocks that almost ended up with a dead Geralt – and being killed during a tutorial is almost impossible, right? However we powered through, as getting used to a games controls and perfecting them instantly is something that very rarely happens.
After narrowly missing death in a handful of battles, the controls just ‘clicked’ for us and we found ourselves being able to block with precision, knocking enemies off balance before unleashing a flurry of fast and hard attacks. From that point onwards, the combat system was amazing – you can fight multiple enemies at once, once you’ve got the timing right (there’s a lot of blocking involved). While every now and again the controls do become confusing in the heat of battle where you find yourself diving instead of blocking, we really enjoy fighting enemies and actively look for groups of NPC’s to battle.
There are a variety of fighting styles that you can adopt to keep the combat system fresh. You can play it safe and hold the block button to block incoming attacks or you can time it to parry the enemy and knock them off guard, or you can even use a Sign to burn them or knock them down before executing them. As mentioned earlier, many enemies have a specific weakness, which forces the player to switch up their gaming style in order to defeat any enemies they come across.
However any minor issues we had with the combat system are eclipsed by the hugely frustrating controls when riding Geralt’s horse, Roache. This has got to be, hands down, the worst part of the game – but such an integral part at the same time. Exploring such a huge and varying environment would prove a task even for the most experienced Witcher, so Geralt has his horse Roache to take him wherever he needs to go.
You trot along a little bit faster than walking pace by default, then by holding Shift you go into a faster trot before heading into an all out gallop, which consumes your horses stamina. The good news is that if you’re on a path, Roache will automatically follow the path and his stamina won’t decrease, making it much easier to get around (in theory). However this wasn’t the case – sure, Roache’s stamina stayed full but he had serious issues with following the path, venturing off at almost every turn in the road.
Roache also had issues when it came to gradients and ledges. Fair enough, you can’t expect a horse to slide down the side of a steep mountain but if there’s a small incline between two paths, why can’t he step up onto the other road? Looking at the size of these inclines it’d be physically possible to do so, but instead Roache won’t move and will instead neigh at you for trying to get him to do something so ridiculous.
In fact, that applies to Geralt too. There are ledges that Geralt could definitely climb, but instead he’d just jump at them and not grab on. Geralt can grab ledges and pull himself up, but these ledges seem to be predefined and he can’t grab onto any surface. It’s the most counterintuitive part of the game and makes it very frustrating when you can’t, for example, jump out of water onto a ledge or reach a ledge to get you out of a ditch.
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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review: Character progression and crafting
Character progression is a huge part of The Witcher 3 and without upgrading your characters abilities and equipment, you’ll quickly find yourself struggling to defeat even low-level enemies. You get points to upgrade Geralt’s characteristics with every level up, which you can use to upgrade everything from the amount of health & stamina that Geralt restores to the power and speed of his fast attack. We found that the fast attack upgrades were particularly effective in battle and we urge everyone to upgrade that first and foremost.
You can also influence people using one of your Signs (Axii), but you’ll quickly need to upgrade it before trying to influence high-level opponents. If you do upgrade the ability, you’ll find it pretty useful in tense situations – particularly when there are groups of men that want to confront Geralt.
As well as upgrading Geralt’s abilities, it’s important to keep him protected with armour and strong weapons. Geralt has two swords, one steel sword for human enemies and one silver sword for non-human enemies. You can craft new, better swords once you find the engram for it and bring the correct supplies to a blacksmith or, if you can’t be bothered, you can simply buy it from the blacksmith instead.
You can also craft potions, which you can do yourself instead of needing a third party. Potion effects can range from increasing your damage output or allowing you to see in the dark, and are primarily made up of berries, which you pick throughout the open world. The only frustrating part of the crafting process is that while you may know what ingredients/berries you need, you’re given no idea as to where to find them. However once you’ve created your potion, you never need to craft it again – when you meditate, all potions and oils are replenished using items in your inventory.
The fact that potions are replenished when meditating made us more likely to use them – usually in RPGs with limited resources, we hold off using potions in case there’s a time where we need them but don’t have them.
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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Specs
- Available on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.