This young current generation of consoles has seen some pretty decent RPG/action RPGs so far. Off the top of my head, I can name Dragon Age: Inquisition, Shadows of Mordor, Diablo III, Destiny (if you count this as a FPS/RPG), and now The Witcher III. This isn’t even counting upcoming titles like TES Online, Final Fantasy XV, and Persona 5. It’s a good time for RPG fans to be gamers, and it’s nice to know that in our COD world of multiplayer deathmatches, developers are still taking the time to focus on the single player, story-driven campaign that the RPG can offer.
The Witcher 3 is one of two RPGs that I have been waiting for the most since this generation of consoles launched (the other being Persona 5). Going into this review, I was afraid of falling into the trap of overhyping a game, but I came away pleased at how solid of a game TW3 is. By far, TW3 is one of, if not THE best game, you can get on this current crop of consoles (not counting PC because a) i did not receive a PC code to review, and b) there are a LOT more options on PC).
Before I continue, I want to point out that yes, this review is coming in very late. I missed the first batch of review codes, but I was kindly supplied with some codes when a new batch became available. I’ve been trying my best to avoid any existing reviews until I could play the game myself (with the one exception of Conan O’ Brien’s “Clueless Gamer” segment). I wanted my playthrough to be as unspoiled as possible so as to not go into this with any preconceived notions of issues.
On a similar note, since this review IS coming in so late, my review playthrough consisted of me blowing through the main story as quickly as possible. I dabbled in some side quests, but I had to force myself to plow through the main campaign in order to provide a review in somewhat of a timely manner. I would have loved to put 100+ hours into this game (I still intend to in my own free time), but in the case of this review, know that I am speaking on only the main story and a handful of side missions.
The first thing that sticks out with TW3 is sheer size and scale of everything. The game is just BIG. The map is big, the monsters are big, the cities are big, the personalities are big….everything is big, big. big. I read somewhere months ago that CDPR said the size of TW3’s map is larger than the combined areas of a bunch of other open world games like GTA V and Skyrim. After exploring for dozens of hours, I’m inclined to agree with that estimate. While most of the the world is wide open spaces between towns and cities, everything is rendered so beautifully. I’ve put so many hours into the game, yet I still marvel at the beauty of the country. It reminds me of the first time I played Red Dead Redemption where I would simply gallop around the game world, soaking in the sights. It’s a beautiful game that, regardless of whichever system you enjoy it on, looks absolutely stunning (more on the different versions later).
On the gameplay front, things are pretty familiar. This is not to say that TW3 brings nothing new to the table; it does, but the overall concept of the open world action RPG is about the same as you might find in Skyrim or Dragon Age. You have a great big open world with a central storyline (in this case, Geralt’s ward, Ciri, has gone missing and may have the evil Wild Hunt coming after her), a crapton of side quests, romance options, and of course, combat, crafting, dialogue, trading, etc. If you played any open world RPG within the last decade or so, you should feel right at home going from town to town taking on quests, killing monsters, and buying/upgrading your gear. In addition to all this solid gameplay, you also get the much more adult nature of The Witcher series. If Dragon Age and The ELder Scrolls play more like a grand, epic “Lord of the Rings” style adventure, then The Witcher series is definitely the “Game of Thrones” of the video game industry. You’ll experience over the top violence including gore, dismemberment, and burning people alive, nonstop vulgarity, and a bunch of nudity and fairly explicit sex. Definitely understand that The Witcher 3, like Game of Thrones, is meant for adults. Kids should probably not be playing this game unless Mom and Dad know exactly what’s in it. Please…I don’t want to be reading any stories of how Mom was “shocked” because she walked by the TV and little Billy or Sally was running around in a brothel.
For those who are new to The Witcher series, you might find that combat prep and the combat itself is a bit more in depth than other games. Instead of just leveling up and jumping into battle with your sword brandished, in TW3, a bit off prep can go a long way. Enemies in TW3 are smart and won’t just bend over for you. If you avoid the easier difficulties, you’ll rarely ever find yourself in a situation where you can mindlessly hack and slash your way to victory. Chances are, you’re going to be outnumbered and overpowered, even if it’s against a small pack of random Drowners in the woods. Enemies will block, parry, and dodge your attacks. They’ll wait for you to run out of stamina or miss an attack, and they will cut you down and make you pay for your mistakes. You’ll know when you went into a battle a bit too cocky, because you’ll be humbled very quickly.
In TW3, you can apply a variety of oils to your swords to enhance their attack properties, as well as utilize a number of potions for the same purpose. Weapons and armor can have a variety of runes attached to them for even more powerful attacks. Along with swords and crossbows, Geralt also has a number of sign (spells) he can cast. Do you cast Quen (a shield that protects you) before going into a battle so you’re protected right of the bat? Or maybe you’re outnumbered and feel that casting Yrden (a circular magic trap) would benefit you more, hoping that you can draw your opponents into the circle of doom? Maybe you want to “Jedi” your way through a fight and just want to cast Aard over and over (basically a Force push). Or you’re like me and just like to see things burn, so you tend to stick mostly with Igni (a fire blast). Either way, the combination of oils, potions, runes, signs, and your choice of swords and armor give TW3’s combat a depth that isn’t too often seen in console RPGs.
On the audio front, The Witcher 3 shines, but the experience is not without some quirks here and there. For starters, the background music that plays as you scour the countryside and explore is basically non stop. You’ll hear the same theme over and over and over, and if it happens to be a song you don’t particularly like you’ll probably develop a weird twitch in the corner of your eye. It’s just a bit much. If I’m hearing the same song loop whether I’m picking plants, looting a shop, or fighting bandits, it messes up the tone of the game a bit.
However, that’s the pretty much the only thing audio-wise that I have to complain about. When the music works, it really works. Going into a big boss battle with the excellent soundtrack blaring in the background is awesome. Also awesome is the overall sound effects, especially those of combat. Swords clang, armor thunks, and Igni gives a nice loud blast. The voice acting is also superb, even Geralt’s trademark “Batman” growl. You need to look to look no further than the scene where Priscilla sings her song in the tavern, which I’m sure many of you have seen in the trailers. It’s rare for a game, or any form of media for that matter, to elicit that sort of emotional response from me, but TW3 went right ahead and made me sit there watching with my mouth hanging open and a blank expression on my face, completely lost in the moment.
For the purpose of this review, I was provided with both the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game. I didn’t get the PC version, and quite frankly it’s been a few years since I’ve upgraded my parts, so I’m not even entirely sure my rig can handle this game at max settings. At this point, it’s been well documented that the PS4 version runs at 1080p while the Xbox One version does not, but I’m here to put your minds at ease. Unless you’re playing both game simultaneously side by side (which I actually did at one point), you will not notice a difference. The Xbox One version looks just fine; you’re still getting a tremendously beautiful game and honestly, even when I was viewing the game side by side with the PS4 version, the differences were barely noticeable. It’s the sort of thing where you won’t notice it unless you’re looking for it, and if THAT’S what you’re focusing on instead of the amazing game in front of you, then your gaming priorities are all wrong, friend.
Is The Witcher 3 the perfect game? Truthfully, I don’t think any game can ever be, but damn does it come close. It has a few quirks here and there, but these are so minimal and don’t affect the core experience at all (except for the XBox One save bug; I lost almost 3 hours of gameplay and had many whiskeys to quell my rage). Instead, I found myself lost for hours in this beautiful, violent, massive world, completely invested in the characters and the stories. I can consider very few games an “experience,” and TW3 is certainly one of the them. It’s bold, brash, and confident. Nearly a decade of developing this franchise has given CD Projekt Red a confidence that isn’t seen too often, and I consider myself lucky that I live in a day and age where I can experience this game. It’s as good as any movie, TV show, book, or piece of music that I love, which is high praise indeed. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a triumph, and one of the greatest games ever made, and I will Aard your butt if anyone says otherwise (just kidding; you’re entitled to your opinion).