The Witcher 3 Review: The White Wolf Rises

June 12th, 2015 -

As you probably know by now, The Witcher games take place in an existing universe that was started in a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski. While they aren’t adaptations of the stories told, they do use the existing characters, maps, and lore. The question is, does the third entry live up to all the hype it’s received after the first couple of entries, or does it fall on its own swords?

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If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre, you’ve probably had experiences with races such as elves and dwarves, or perhaps beasts like wraiths and gryphons. Thing is, unless you’ve taken part in this particular universe, you probably haven’t experienced them in this manner. I’ll admit to not being a big fan of the fantasy genre – I enjoyed Dragon Age and I’ve certainly tried to enjoy the genre, but things like Lord of the Rings have never appealed to me (though Shadow of Mordor was wonderful). But the way fantasy is approached in this world is altogether different. While there are plenty of people that worship or fear parts of the world for a lack of knowledge, Geralt and the other Witchers stand on the opposite end of the spectrum. Knowing how to fight is only half the battle for a Witcher, as information will greatly increase your chances of survival – that bestiary is much more than just filler to read. You hunt beasts by finding out what makes them tick: sex; family; home; curses accompanying a beast and more. A hunt for a beast or spectre doesn’t merely mean heading to a designated area and pulling out your sword to swinging aimlessly. Rather, you’ll learn about that particular being while applying general knowledge of such a creature, and from there decide what to do – will you prepare an oil to put on your sword that it’s weak against, or take a chance with just the signs (magic) at your disposal?

The exploration and investigative properties expand beyond the battles, of course. Whether you’re trying to find out what happened to a cart driver, or perhaps finding a secret entrance, you’ll have multiple ways of approaching the end result. You can eavesdrop on people in town, discuss topics directly with NPCs, pay people off, or use a delusion spell that influences their thoughts/actions. And of course, what’s a bit of detective work for someone with heightened senses without a mode that lets you see the world in a different manner? In such a mode, certain things will be highlighted, such as scents or tracks, allowing you to follow a path that would be all but invisible to normal eyes and noses. And opposed to merely following a path, Geralt will make deductions based on what was left behind. It’s not a mindless trail, but rather an investigation that yields information that may help prepare you for what you will find.

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The game offers a few difficulties, and there’s a good chance that if you’ve never played the series before, a pack of wolves might be killing you on the easiest difficulty. Crank it up to the most masochistic of settings, and even lovers of the Souls series will find plenty of challenge. Some of the skills in the game will also determine the difficulty of the game, to an extent. For instance, the Sun and Stars skill regenerates health while not in combat and the sun is up. While it is slow, this can be a crutch for people that are used to health regen nowadays. Of course, this is more useful early on in the game than later, as Swallow potions will be much more useful for healing, and potions replenish upon meditation if you have alcohest in your inventory. The lack of regen in general will force the player to not play mindlessly, with a focus on tactics opposed to button mashing and hiding. Difficulty isn’t the selling point for this, like it is with the Souls games, but it’s definitely a welcome addition.

The world in which Geralt inhabits is a living, breathing character in and of itself. Seeing nature battle against itself, or watching the surroundings change with the passing day and weather changes; it’s hard to believe it’s not real. The attention to detail makes it easy to get lost in, even with the soaring notes of choirs in the score of battle. This shines even more with the lore you’ll discover in the game. While series like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls offer a lot of optional reading material, I found myself just skipping through it unless it directly correlated to something I was doing. In The Witcher 3, just about everything is interesting, and potentially relevant to your journey. And if not, you’ll find amusement in the writings at the very least. And on the topic of side quests, they are some of the best I’ve ever played. Dorkly did a comic fairly recently regarding the state of side quests in games, basically stating they are easy experience and a nuisance in your quest log – many are completed merely to clear them from your to-do list. However, the ones you encounter in the Continent seem so meaningful – in most cases, more so than the actual story missions. What is usually considered meaningless filler to take up time and boost your level is actually one of the most interesting aspects of the game. With meaningful dialogue, game changing choices, and gameplay at times unique to the optional quests, it’s hard to not seek out new side quests while exploring the world around you on a constant basis.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be right without the internet being in an uproar about something concerning a big game’s release. There have been complaints about the graphics, as they aren’t the same as previous “builds” showed. While trailers in the past that were rendered in the game’s engine looked better, it’s hard to say that this game looks bad. Bad in comparison? Sure. False advertising? Not necessarily. Worth boycotting? Absolutely not. From the past several years of conventions to launch, we should have learned to take previews with a grain of salt – or in some case, a tablespoon. Trailers are made with the intent of creating hype. That being the case, much like food places do with commercials or pictures, they make sure everything is as good as it can look, even if it’s artificially enhanced; this isn’t a new practice. Is it shady? To an extent, but it’s hardly an issue when you’re playing the game. It’s still gorgeous, and having forgotten what the trailers everyone is comparing it to even looked like (until seeing the side-by-side shots on Imgur), it’s difficult to be upset. While the argument can be made that it was butchered for consoles and PCs are suffering because of them, it’s likely most PCs wouldn’t be able to run those settings anyhow. And the PC version is still better looking than the console counterpart (at least PS4), as I played both. And as I mentioned, it’s not as if the game is bad by any means – so particles and polys were lowered, lighting is less dynamic, and the draw distance was cut drastically – the gameplay, story, and everything else is some of the best I’ve ever experienced.

I have trouble thinking of a reason to not recommend this game to people. Even if you aren’t a fan of the fantasy genre, the characters and world will no doubt draw you in given just a couple hours. If you’re looking for a time sink, there is so much to explore and do that you can easily spend a couple hundred hours without exhausting your options. And there is plenty of replayability with the difficulty options, forcing you to change the way you spec Geralt, and potentially changing your tactics. There are bugs here and there, but the game is being patched on a fairly regular basis. It’s just about impossible for a game of this size to be bug-free *cough* Bethesda *cough*, and with as few as I’ve encountered, I can’t really say it’s a reason to wait. Unless Persona 5 comes out this year, it’s pretty safe to say this will be my undisputed GotY.

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BUY

Pros

  • Living World
  • Tactical Diversity
  • Fulfilling End to the Trilogy
  • Never Becomes Dull

Cons

  • Occasional Glitches

The Witcher 3 was developed and published by CD PROJEKT RED. The game launched on PC, PS4, and X1 May 18/19, 2015 for $59.99. Both the PC and PS4 versions of the game were played for this review, but only the PC copy was provided for us. If you’d like to see more of The Witcher 3, check out the official site.

 

Here at FFoP we use a rating method that you may be unfamiliar with, so allow us to clarify. When we review a game, we see what sort of BRA fits. Buy, Rent, or Acquire is the rating we give out – we’ve boiled it down for simplicity. A Buy is worth the full retail value; a Rent is something you may want to try before you buy, or grab at a discount; an Acquire is something you can play, but we’d suggest borrowing it from someone, grabbing it in a game bundle, or some other means. If you want further clarification, please feel free to get in touch.

 

 

 

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