The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If Dragon Age: Inquisition was a feast, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is like that rare gourmet meal where not only is everything cooked to perfection, but the plate itself is a work of art. From the moment you begin, the level of detail is vibrantly remarkable, and as you devour the personal and mature tale CD Projeckt Red has crafted, its world will enthrall you, fill you with wonder, and affect you deeply. In the end, you’ll come away not only having been entertained, but feeling like you were part of an experience. In many ways, Wild Hunt is a new pinnacle of gaming, and whether you’re an RPG fan or not, everyone who calls themselves a gamer should give it a try.
I’ve long touted choice as the vessel through which videogames can transcend mere entertainment in the eyes of non-gamers, and never before have choices been as central to a game as they are in Witcher 3. Nothing ever feels insignificant regardless of whether you’re making a choice about how to help a simple peasant or about something that will have sweeping political repercussions, and the choices you make have a powerful impact both on the game world and on you as a player. Rarely did I ever make a choice that I didn’t pause to consider, and the writers did an amazing job of giving even the smallest decisions true weight and consequence. Even on those rare occasions when I thought a choice wouldn’t really matter, Wild Hunt proved me wrong through twists that acknowledged and played off of even my simplest choices. Couple those choices with an outstanding storyline that tackles mature issues in thoughtful, adult ways, and The Witcher 3 easily stands tall with the best fantasy novels and TV shows out there.
And this is a deeply personal tale. While the story still deals with sweeping politics and world-changing events, Geralt’s struggles are personal, internal as much as external, and as you progress through the world, it’s the lives of individual people that you’ll care about far more than the war. Seeing the results of your decisions can be genuinely gut-wrenching and most choices in the game don’t deal with obvious right or wrong, instead choosing to lead the player based on emotion and thoughtful consideration of the possible consequences. It’s a powerful way to tell a story, and I doubt strongly that anyone who plays it through to its end could walk away not feeling deeply impacted.
More than just the story though, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. As an Action-RPG, the battle system is fast and brutal, but it too offers a broad range of choices. Players can use spells to damage enemies, knock them away, create shields, trap foes, or even enter their minds, and the spells evolve based on your choices as a player as you level up Geralt. Different weapons are better for different situations, your choices of armor effect your speed and health regeneration, and just your basic fighting abilities in combat let you fast attack, strong attack, distance attack, guard, parry, dodge, and roll. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a robust potions system through which different status effects can be added to either Geralt or his enemies, intensely influencing the fights and often meaning the difference between victory or defeat. Everything levels up based on your choices, and you’ll fairly quickly feel like you have a character that’s truly customized to your play style. It’s an impressive system that never fails to be engaging even over a hundred hours into the game.
Even the best battle systems rely on great enemies though, and The Witcher 3 has those in spades. Every enemy design is memorably impressive, and encountering them in the world is a treat. Each has its own peculiarities and you’ll have to learn the behaviors of your enemies well to consistently conquer them in combat. Even small fights often feel epic in a great way, and when you do reach the game’s bosses, the challenge is excellent and carefully balanced. In fact, from the beginning straight through to the end, I always felt that Wild Hunt delivered just the right balance between challenging fights and letting you engage with the world and story. It steps back at all the right times so you’re never overwhelmed, and it gives you the space needed to appreciate your accomplishments.
The Witcher 3’s world is massive, but never overwhelming. The series has translated well to open-world format and it didn’t lose anything in the transition. Instead, it created even more room for contrasting the beautiful with the obscene, the peaceful with the violent, and the personal with the political. Every screenshot in the entire game can stand as its own lesson in art. The detail work is absolutely gorgeous and it’s the little things in each and every frame that breathe life into this adventure. It can be an extremely violent game, but I don’t think I’ve ever played a game before where I crested a hill and just had to pause to take in the breathtaking beauty of it, or stopped to watch the birds, or didn’t fight an enemy for a moment just so I could get a better look at it. Exploring just for the sake of the view made all the side quests that much better, and with every side quest feeling so relevant, I can barely define them as side quests.
For all of its greatness, Wild Hunt isn’t without its flaws. There are occasional graphical glitches, some of Geralt’s comments don’t make as much sense if you choose them out of a particular order, there were some occasions where I was confused due to quests not working because of things like time of day, and there were a couple times when the AI did something jarring. Overall though, these glitches were extremely few and far between, and in such an ambitious and remarkable project it’s amazing just how well everything works.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is hands down the best game of this console generation so far, and I’m willing to bet that years from now it will still be held up as one of the best games of all time. If you rush its main quest, you’ll still get close to forty hours of incredible gameplay, and if you take your time and truly enjoy every moment, Wild Hunt offers close to a hundred hours more than that. It’s a gourmet meal that not only dazzles you with its flavor and presentation, but it actually leaves you full and deeply satisfied as well.