Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – A Review

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a fucking glorious game. It’s one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, and I can tell you why.

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Okay, first of all what is this Witcher 3 game? I’d never even heard of the franchise until this game started getting a lot of hype about a year ago- I couldn’t even walk into a Gamestop without some rep or another talking my ear off (when they weren’t busy telling me how cute it was that I buy video games for my husband, then acting shocked when I say I play them myself. But, conversation for another time.)

The original Witcher game evidently came out in 2007 as a PC game, based on a series of books. A sequel followed a few years later, and now we are at the third installment of the game, which received a lot of hype and attention over the last year over it’s supposed meticulous attention to detail brought up at various convention demos. There’s also a movie and a TV series, although the Witcher Wiki tells me that they received generally poor reviews and they don’t sound like they’re worth watching.

But that doesn’t really tell you anything regarding what the game is about. There are minor spoilers below, but I’ll do my best to keep major spoilers away.

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt revolves around a witcher named Geralt of Rivia. Witchers are essentially groomed at young ages to become monster slayers; they are taken to a fortress deep in the mountains and subjected to all kinds of genetic mutations, which turn them from common man into extraordinary survivalists with exceptional powers. However, there’s a hefty price to pay- all witchers are sterile, so a common family life is nothing more than a dream- and it is said that witchers have been stripped of their capacity for emotions in the mutation process. Among the powers gained, though,  is a propensity to cast a few simple magic spells, handy in combat alongside the extensive hand-to-hand training they receive. Each witcher is equipped with a steel sword to slay common foes like humans and animals, and a silver sword for the more occult, like wayward spirits and bog monsters. Witchers also have decent alchemy skills, studying how to make various tonics and poisons. In other words, witchers are a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and never ask a witcher to take a job without pay, because everyone knows that witchers don’t work for free.

Our hero is Geralt of Rivia, sometimes called the White Wolf, for the mutation process stripped all the color from his hair and left it white. Geralt seeks out his loved ones, including a long-lost lover and a girl who was like a daughter to him, as they are in grave danger from the Wild Hunt, a merciless and elusive group of specters. In the process of finding them, he will meet countless people on his journey, some old friends and some new (and a LOT of enemies), track down clues from seemingly dead-ends, maybe enjoy a romance or two and play some cards.

 

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If I had to say “in a nutshell” what this game is about, it’s about finding people. Geralt is an expert tracker and very analytical. You take one or two mostly dead ends and analyze the crap out of them (usually using “witcher senses”) to check for footprints, blood, signs of a struggle, secret notes, and all kinds of other things to get the trail hot again. I liked this aspect of the game, but some people might find it tedious or boring. There are so many things to do in this game though, it’d be silly to hate on it just for that.

My favorite thing about this game is the plot and depth of personality brought to it. It’s very popular these days for these types of RPGs to have extensive levels of customization– I can design my own character from the spacing of his or her eyes to their voice, and choose from a variety of dialogue options to create my own personality. But sometimes, it’s so refreshing to get lost in someone else’s world. I can change Geralt’s hair and I’ve got a few dialogue options, but Geralt is Geralt. I appreciate the little funny things he says and does, that my characters would never say or do. For example, on one quest you have to rescue a lost pet goat before someone will help you out. Even though I did an annoying quest similar to this in DragonAge: Inquisition (leading that darn druffalo back home), I was in stitches in this game because Geralt was so exasperated at the whole quest, having to ring this stupid bell repeatedly. When you get close to the goat’s home, Geralt comments that the goat could be friends with his horse, Roach, and says something like “because you have the mark of a good Roach– you don’t talk much.” (Geralt names every horse he owns Roach. Another funny personality thing.)

I also like that the game doesn’t hold any punches. There are some really brutal and awful things you come across, and while we’re not talking the full George R.R. Martin treatment, it’s still more dramatic than other video games and probably enough worth mentioning. This game definitely earned it’s Mature rating. And it’s not only with killing characters off, but you encounter some fairly scummy people. Passing judgement on them is interesting, because Geralt lacks emotional capacity (or so he says) but since Geralt had people dear to him and in some situations seems to show empathy, does that mean he really is devoid of emotions?

 

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A few of the ladies of Witcher 3

Gwent is a mini Trading Card Game inside the game. What’s nice about gwent is that you can make it as much or as little of your game experience as you’d like. There’s a fair incentive to play it, as you can win money and new cards when you win games, and it’s fairly fun and doesn’t take too long. To briefly sum it up, players each start with a deck and draw a hand of cards from it. The three main types of cards are knights, ranged, and siege, and the cards have a strength number between zero and ten on them. Players take turns setting out their cards, and the game is won by having the most strength points total. There are of course modifiers, like some cards can double other’s strengths, or a rainstorm can wipe out your whole siege workshop. It’s a fun little thing to do.

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A snapshot of the Gwent board

One reason why I’m such a fan is that everything has a purpose. It succeeds in areas that games like DragonAge and Elder Scrolls and Fable did not because of this. For example, you can collect trinkets and “junk items” similar to the afore mentioned games. In those other games, all you could really do was sell them, or hoard them away in your house (anyone else have a Skyrim home full of stolen dinnerware, or was that just me?) In Witcher, you can choose to sell these items OR you can break them down into their base components and use these components to craft something else. I can break silk down into fabric, a rope ladder down into boards and string, and then use the string and fabric along with a few other items to craft a new tunic for myself. Maybe I’m out of silk, but still need fabric– I can break down another item into some thread, and then craft fabric from thread. The crafting system is extremely well thought-out and comprehensive.

Other stuff I like: the codex is laid out REALLY well. Sure, it isn’t as comprehensive as others I’ve seen, and it’s not really the kind of thing you can get lost in for hours, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most useful one I’ve ever come across. I use that thing constantly. You can look up beasts you encounter and check out backstories of characters, learn enemy’s weaknesses, and it constantly updates so that everything you know at this point in time is listed.

 

The scenery is very pretty and the graphics and character designs are really well-done. It’s quite amusing to compare Yennifer’s original concept design to her final design. There was some major thinking and re-thinking done on this, clearly.
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It’s easy to get lost in such a beautiful world. But then you go to Velen, and it’s nothing but swamps for miles…

The areas– gosh, they’re so vast. It makes me wonder if I can ever find everything to do in this game. There are tons of little towns sprinkled across huge continents, each one with their own bulletin board to pull quests from. You can’t fast travel to an area until you’ve actually been there, so it leads to a lot of exploring. Between towns there are bandit camps, monster nests, random quests, buried treasure, witcher contracts and like a dozen other things to take care of randomly sprinkled around.
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So much to explore

If the main plot of finding people is not very interesting to you, there is a rich and detailed political subplot. You visit several countries that are all under attack by the Nilfgaardian Empire. As a witcher you don’t really fall on one side of the war or the other, but there’s some interesting politics involved that is fun to watch. It’s not quite as dismal as Skyrim (where you are forced to choose sides between two crappy factions) although it didn’t interest me as much as the other stuff in the game.

Although I’m having  a glorious time playing Witcher 3, I was unfortunately subject to a fairly nasty Xbox One bug which caused me to lose hours of my progress (I’ve been advised this issue is now patched, but I’m still a little bitter about it.) I also had a close call where I decided to take advantage of the mostly-open world playing field and play ahead in the plot until I could no longer beat the high-level enemies, since I have a chronically short attention span and like to read the last page of the book first sometimes. Unfortunately, I found myself in a situation when I finally made it back to the point where I’d left off when I jumped ahead that I needed to start a quest and I could not find the quest giver and was not able to enter the quest area, which lead to a painfully frustrating half-hour of trying to recreate sequences of events, retrace steps, and work other voodoo magic on the Xbox in order for it to pick up where I left off. (I was successful in the end!)

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You definitely meet some weird people. Or…things…dressed like people?

I’m not anywhere near the end of Witcher 3 and I am totally okay with that. I don’t know if I WANT it to end. I’m loving the journey enough that I don’t care about the destination, and that’s all I can really ask for in an RPG. Do yourself a favor and run, don’t walk, to your nearest store to grab this game!

Sarah Wiezel

About Sarah Wiezel

Agent Sarah writes on Tuesdays for Agents of GUARD and covers Arrow, console games, anime, and whatever else sounds appealing at the moment. She has a day job in the software industry and thinks cereal is overrated.