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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Part 1

Due to Witcher 3’s length and depth, my review will be in several parts. Similar to what I did with Bloodborne.

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Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Review.jpg

Because I put a ghost in a horse.

That’s why everything in this sidequest went belly-up. Several hours before taking on this quest, I was on another one as part of the main story.

I had been told to investigate why a specific region was plagued by night, storms and werewolves. Yes: Night. As soon as you enter the area, the weather changes and, regardless of time of day, darkness takes over the skies. I was then attacked by a ferocious werewolf, who I managed to slay. A voice spoke to me and I discovered a ghost trapped in the heart of a giant tree. I felt for the spirit and decided to free it, after acquiring the necessary materials: one of which was a horse. This ghost possessed the horse, red eyes aflame, and off it went.

But to fully explain why I freed the ghost, I need to explain my attitude to the terrifying women who sent me there. To explain why another sidequest went belly-up, I need to explain another quest and my decisions there. On and on and on.

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Just a sidequest fully voice acted & playing out because of my earlier unrelated choices

Like a Russian Egg, to explain why you make decisions in Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - and you will make a lot of them - requires a lot of unpacking. This level of depth and care is emblematic of a game that, on the surface, doesn’t look like it should have any of it: It’s a big AAA title, it’s multi-platform and, importantly, it’s open-world.

But it does. And stories about love, failure, death, loss, pain all become etched out on this tapestry that is remarkably your own. A giant world, bigger than anything you’ve probably seen - bigger than Skyrim - become the canvas where you will paint your unique story in blood and tears and monster guts.

Die by the sword

Witcher 3 is a third-person, open-world, action RPG. You do not have one region to explore, but several - some of which is mind bogglingly huge. It is really difficult to convey how big the maps are you’ll be on - but several times I shook my head that so much work had gone in to create unique spots, towns, hidden caves and entire quests in areas I didn’t notice until I rode pass (at the time of writing, I’ve only had access to one big region). The game encourages exploration of its lands - it wants you to see what there is. There is a distinct hatred of fast-travel, though it exists, but you need to be at road signs and can only fast travel to road signs you’ve uncovered.

Witcher 3 landscape.jpg 

See that tree waaaaay over there? Im going to it. This is type of shot that takes my breath away.

You play as Geralt of Rivia: An otherwise stereotypical, gruff-voiced white male lead of seemingly all open-world games. And yet he is not: Several times, I saw tenderness, care, razor sharp wit, jealousy, and frustration. He is a real person and a good one, who cares about his friends, his loved ones and those targeted by war. You can play him as cold-hearted, but it’s never strictly an either-or choice; and you get to decide where to be caring and where to be “neutral”.

Indeed, the entire game is about Geralt finding his adopted daughter, Ciri. Not saving, but finding. We already know - and find out first hand - that Ciri doesn’t need a man to save her. Even Geralt knows this. This overarching plot, of tracking her down, isn’t some world-shattering goal; it’s not about saving the universe. It’s a father trying to ascertain the safety of his daughter - it lets you breathe, it lets you be a Witcher. And that is brilliant.

Ciri.jpg

I barely played the first two game - but I did read a lot of the Wiki and explainer guides to catch up with the game’s world. I do not recommend going in blind - but that doesn’t mean having to play through all of both previous games. The game does do a good job of explaining a lot to new players and it is essential you read everything. Seriously: it’s well-written and it’s informative.

As a monster hunter, the titular Witcher, Geralt has several abilities normal humans do not. He is immune to poisons, lives longer, has greater strength and, most important, gorgeous white hair. Hair that you can change at the barber; hair on his face you can shave and style that literally grows back after a while. Geralt feels good to handle, though I wish walking was the default option, like GTA V, since sometimes his movement can be a little niggly.

Geralt Beard.jpg 

Beard growth part 2

Witcher 3 stylist.jpg

Found the barber

Geralt fights with two swords: silver and steel, the former for monsters. He flourishes, dances, dives, ducks. He feels loose but strong. Geralt also has access to simple, but effective, spells: a shield, telekenetic blast, a small flame (my favourite), and so on. A mixture of hard and fast attacks, with using your magic spells (called Signs), along with a crossbow to bring down flying beasts, is how you combat everything in the game. Though it sounds “samey”, you’ll find every battle unique: you’re fighting in different terrain, sometimes bog, sometimes grass, sometimes mountain cliffs, and this affects where you leap or dive or cast. Some creatures fly, some men are on horseback. Having been trained by Bloodborne, the combat felt solid - it’s not “easy”, in the sense of spamming a button, and it is fulfilling.

The game thankfully has various difficulty settings - the lowest of which doesn’t chastise you, but says, essentially, “Choose this to focus on story!” This is how you make an accessible game - since even the harder difficulty settings feel genuine in what they offer more hardened players.

The Geralt’s in the details

To traverse the gigantic world(s), you have a horse: Roach. This isn’t some mighty stallion, but a mare. Geralt always prefers mares and names all of them Roach. We’re never told why, but this just adds to him being a fully-formed character. Roach feels great to ride - taking seemingly from the Red Dead Redemption school of mounted rides (there’s a great deal to compare to Red Dead, but since Red Dead is my favourite game, I’ll leave that for another time).

The game is so detailed you can fit Roach with different saddles, blinders, a trophy (yes, the head of a monster gives you bonuses if you just sort of leave it on Roach) and all of it affects Geralt.

And yes, I tested: If you remove, say, the saddles, Roach himself doesn’t have saddles; trophies legitimately are the heads, where possible, of the specific creature you’ve slain and not some boring white bag that is just an asset marked “Trophy”. Again: You feel like CD Projekt Red could’ve easily gotten away with just putting a bag hanging off Roach or having a default look that never changes - but they decided even Roach’s look was important enough to be manageable.

The same is reflected in Geralt: Different clothes, for different parts of his body, can be swapped out, managed, and crafted. You want to find these items and the texture detail is remarkable. There is no distinction between gameplay and cutscenes, so what you’re wearing shows up everywhere. Reflecting your Geralt, with clothes and haircuts, is an important way to make him look uniquely yours: even though we’re all playing* as Geralt.

The game, as you can tell, is gorgeous. It’s difficult to convey how gorgeous until you see it in motion, until you walk through woods and wind begins to blow. When you walk through a town, it starts to rain and people mutter about the rain, someone cries about jumping in puddles and the skies turn dark. When storms hit and the sun turns to blood and Geralt mutters about it. The world changes and everyone in the game actually comments on it.

For so many games, even when you’re some boring Chosen One, you perform great actions that don’t seem to have an effect on the world (Skyrim, for example). Here, even the weather is cause to comment by peasants; freeing areas of monsters causes villages to start up again. Geralt, remember, isn’t some esteemed hero - he’s a “freak”, a loner, a monster hunter. It’s incredible that in a game that reminds you of what an outcast you are, one tolerated for very few tasks, I felt I had a bigger impact on the world than most Chosen One games.

Geralt Face.jpg 

Omg omg omg when you take potions, the toxicity levels reflect on Geralt's face

One thing I did not expect is that the quality of the writing is some of the best I’ve come across: natural feeling dialogue - delivered by excellent voice-acting - easy to understand explainers of monsters, etc. This is one of the best written games I’ve come across. Like Roach and Geralt’s appearance, it could’ve been a great game without this aspect, but there it is: Quality writing.

Scratching the surface of issues

There’s a lot to talk about, but I’ve only played enough to touch the surface of this game despite putting nearly 20 hours into it. A noticeable issue I have is that there isn’t a single human who is a person of colour. In a game where you can have magic and monsters, it makes no sense to me why the decision was made to have every single human be a white person, but it is a bit alienating on that front.

The game is quite open about its politics, especially its racial politics - but it puts this in regards to species, rather than skin colour. It’s easy to say “We’re ‘dealing’ with racism by making this about different species”. And it does. And it can be done well.

But it’s also kind of horrid when your human characters are all literally white people and, apparently, people who aren’t white are represented by entirely different species. Think about that for a minute. Dragon Age, for example, has many people of colour, including among the elves! (Here even Elves are white, so…) I will probably have to spend an article on this explaining my reasoning, but I’m hoping this suffices to explain the problem. (And before anyone says this is based on European legends, please remember you’re talking about a world with werewolves, not “history”. It’s a fictional land where the creators can do what they like.)

In an otherwise glorious, beautiful, varied game - the greatest RPG I’ve played since Baldur’s Gate 2 - it’s sad to see this aspect stand out. It’s a fiction, fantasy land where they can do whatever they like: there was no rule or law as to what they can or can’t do. I’ve not had enough time to focus on the Witcher games’ notoriously contemptuous treatment of women. But in my short time with this one, women are mostly treated well. Every quest about a woman has involved some kind of love - but, to be fair, so has every quest about a man. Including a gay romance, which was wonderful to see.

I’ll have more to say next time, especially about monsters, an ashen-haired woman I adore, the story, and why a baby monster made my heart swell.

*Not always, but I’ll explain Ciri next time.

(Played on PlayStation 4)

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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