The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review (PlayStation 4)
The wait for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been long for fans waiting to see how Geralt's story would play out after the cliffhanger at the end of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. That time was made even more torturous when CD Projekt Red first began spilling details and footage from Wild Hunt. CD Projekt Red's sequel is an ambitious effort, bursting at the seams with content, creativity and personality. Though there are times The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt buckles under the tremendous pressure of its mere existence, it still manages to be one of the most fantastic adventures you'll ever embark on.
A great war continues to ravage the world of the Northern Kingdoms in the fictional approximation of eastern Europe. Our protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, has been summoned to meet with his long-lost love, Yennefer of Vengerberg, as she's gotten a lead on the location of Geralt's ward, Ciri. At a young age, Ciri was under Geralt's tutelage at the school of the wolf, but she disappeared, and was never seen again. However, now, as the kingdom is at its most vulnerable, Ciri has returned with the evil Wild Hunt hot on her heels. Geralt must traverse the land, and find Ciri before the Wild Hunt does. He's also got to save the Northern Kingdoms, too.
It's a lot to wrap your head around even if this isn't your first foray into the world of The Witcher, but CD Projekt Red does a decent job making the cast of characters and the frantically twisting plot comprehensible to players, no matter their familiarity with the material. It definitely helps to keep the subtitles on, particularly during some of the more long-winded expository segments, of which there are many. There's a lot of ground to cover in Wild Hunt, whether you're helping out someone on a sidequest or sticking to the main journey. That depth is what makes the world so real and palpable, and it gets you to invest not only in Geralt's character, but the fate of the land as well.
That connection is important as you have a small hand in determining the destinies of common folk in the Northern Kingdoms. While you could ostensibly truck through the world of The Witcher 3 without lending a hand to anyone you see on the side of the road or that populates the many small burgs of the sprawling landscape, taking a break from your quest can prove beneficial to you and the inhabitants of the kingdom. The war has left many areas lawless or dilapidated, and just by swinging through and taking out some bandits or monster nests, you can help turn a scarred community into a thriving one.
The number of optional instances throughout the countryside can be overwhelming at times, particularly when you open up the world map and see dozens upon dozens of little question marks indicating places you could go to help out. That's in addition to the more standard sidequest fare like monster contracts, which Geralt can find in just about every town, and the help you'll offer friends and acquaintances you meet along your hunt for Ciri. All of this optional content is well worth investigating; if not for the effect it has on the game world, then for all the experience and goodies you'll earn for all your hard work.
Every single mission, be it story-based or not, comes with a keen little indicator of what level you should be at when attempting it. Experience is earned easily enough in combat and exploration, but the bulk of your leveling will come from actually completing the numerous quests that await Geralt. Though it can get tedious at times to continually report back to characters with further developments in their storylines, particularly when those reports come from arduous fetch quests, there's so much character in every moment you'll hardly mind. And if you do get tired of the conversation, you can certainly skip through a large portion if you want.
Ultimately though, even the most mundane of tasks often rewards you with weapons, armor, crafting ingredients, gold, or even hints of a greater treasure lying elsewhere. For the most part, all of these rewards are worth it. There were very few times we encountered a mission that gave us goods we couldn't use or that were outdated. Having excellent carrots at the end of all the sticks takes some of the monotony out of searching a swamp again, or exploring another cave. You're definitely going to need all the great items you can get, too, as even though the combat system has been simplified a bit from the previous game, preparation is still key to your success.
Geralt has a few different weapons at his disposal at any given point, including two different swords (one for humans, one for supernatural foes), a crossbow, and bombs. Sword combat is a dance of quick and heavy attacks, with a good mix of sidestepping and rolling dodges to give you an advantage over foes. Whether tackling one enemy or a pack of ghouls, timing is everything, and waiting for the right moment to strike can make all the difference in how much life you still have at the end of an encounter. You really do feel like every slash is important and every parry resonates. Also, there are few things as satisfying as watching Geralt remove an enemy's head in a final strike. Both blocking and attacking with your melee weapons will dull their effect over time, and your armor takes wear and tear, too. You'll have to keep an eye on maintaining your favorites with repair kits or by visiting one of the may smithies around the world.
In the previous game, prepping before any fight was absolutely crucial. You'd have to apply mystical oils you crafted to give you better attack stats, or craft potions to make you stronger or more proficient in combat. While that's still true to an extent in Wild Hunt, the focus on that aspect has been dialed back enough that you can make it through most of Geralt's adventure without putting in much time in this area. If you do find yourself frequently dying during a particularly challenging encounter, that's generally a good sign you should be making better use of all these alchemical aids in Geralt's tool belt.
Magic is easy to use, and greatly diversifies combat. Hacking and slashing your way to the top might work, but adding in a sprinkle of magic shields, fire and telekinetic blasts can easily turn the tide when the numbers are not in your favor. You've even got magic traps to lay that can make spirits more vulnerable, and a mystification ability to confuse and obfuscate your foes if you find that helps. All of your combat abilities and magic powers can be leveled to be even more deadly or helpful, too. There are a lot of options in that regard, but you can really tailor Geralt's abilities to suit your specific playstyle without wasting points on unnecessary areas.
During the times when you do get to play as Ciri, which complement the majority share of gameplay Geralt gets, you very much only have to worry about sword play. She has no magic, can't loot items, can't craft items (unless directed by the story), but she does slice and dice with the best of them. Ciri's also got a clever teleporting evade mechanic, which is cool, but has the same practical effect of Geralt's roll dodge. That you don't really have to manage Ciri in addition to worrying about Geralt is nice, but it seems like cut corner of sorts with relation to how much custom action there is in The Witcher 3. You can tailor every aspect of this adventure to your liking, except where Ciri is concerned. It doesn't ruin the experience by any means, but it is a curious decision nonetheless.
When not cutting your path through the land, you can stop to take in the sights of the Northern Kingdoms. You will never be lacking in that regard, as the terrains of the Wild Hunt's world are diverse as can be, and offer a great wealth of landscapes to enjoy if you have any downtime. The scope of the world is massive, but you'll have your trusty steed Roach and boats to make use of to traverse the incredibly vast map. The boats do what they need to, but are rather unspectacular in their use and control. Horses are a different matter entirely.
You'll rely on Roach, who can be summoned with a click button press, to get most places as Wild Hunt's objectives are spread fairly far apart. Just be thankful you don't have to run everywhere. There's a fast travel option included, too, but you must be at a sign post to use it, and you can only travel to other sign posts. Roach offers you a bit more freedom in that regard. You can take him wherever you want, but if you happen to be following the road, Roach will follow it automatically with little guidance. Unless of course, you happen across a fork in the road or a sharp turn. Roach gets confused really easily, and will often veer off the track or stop entirely if he's perplexed. It happens more often than it should.
When a game is as ambitious and grandiose as The Witcher 3, you'll find a lot of issues happen more than they should. As great as the game looks, and as fun and inviting as it all is, Wild Hunt has more than its share of small problems. The "interact" button is the same as the run button, which often leads to Geralt taking a quick hop-step, bypassing the chest, switch or whatever that you wanted to interact with entirely. If multiple searchable boxes are stacked closely to one another, you have to be incredibly precise with the camera in order to select the right one to interact with, provided Geralt recognizes the input at all. For the most part, the enemy AI is quite intelligent, but we've see our fair share of foes back themselves into a corner or up a cliff where they could inflict no harm on Geralt.
Sometimes you can ride your horse too fast, and arrive in town before the game has a chance to populate the area. Meditating, Geralt's way of recovering on the road without expending any valuable health resources, can often lead to the game getting the time of day wrong. Nothing like a little sunshine at 3AM to put a damper on the mood. And don't even get us started on the odd decision to make every single candle, fireplace, or campfire interactive. That's more of an odd design choice than a glitch, but it no doubt took up valuable memory real estate to have that many light sources be interactive. On their own, these nagging little instances wouldn't be very troublesome. As they continue to add up, and occur with more and more frequency, it can become downright frustrating.
Of course, then you get to a point where you're talking to someone about your adventures or a quest, and the game pulls you right back in. For all its gameplay faults, The Witcher 3 does a phenomenal job making you forget about the woes the minute these characters are allowed to live. Geralt's relationships can take many forms, and you often have the choice to be as friendly or antagonistic as you want. The man has a history with a lot of the people you meet, but even with characters Geralt is immediately familiar with from previous games, you still have the freedom to treat them how you see fit.
Much has been made of the claims of how much sex Geralt can have, but it's not quite as outrageous as headlines would have you believe, nor is it gratuitous. The relationships Geralt has with women in these games is well-realized, with each of the female leads more than capable of holding their own without the White Wolf interfering. The potential sex never feels gratuitous, and even in the moments where you think it might, there's more at play than meets the eye. The sex isn't really played as a reward for you doing something for someone; it just happens to be a result of your relationship with a given person... or persons.
Moreso than the hubbub surrounding the adult relationships Geralt can partake in is the ire CDPR has drawn for releasing a game that looks less impressive at release than it did while still in development. It's a fair criticism to levy, given how much time and effort was put into showcasing just how ridiculously and expertly CDPR rendered The Witcher 3's world. Wild Hunt doesn't look bad by any stretch of the imagination. The world is a visual wonder that puts so many contemporaries to shame. The Witcher 3's presentation is testament to what CDPR was able to do with the platform so early in its life cycle.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is filled with so much content, the game can barely contain all of CD Projekt Red's ambitions. There are times when Wild Hunt just can't live up to its own development team's expectations, but for the most part, The Witcher 3 is an amazing experience. The story is tightly constructed, the world is fully realized, and the action is still nearly as intense and visceral as it had been in the past. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt doesn't hit every note perfectly, but it should still be considered the performance of a lifetime.
This review is based on a download of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.