The Witcher 3 is a big game; that much is obvious from the start. Just how big only starts to become apparent after a good few hours play. This ‘review’ is based on what I’ve played so far, not the whole game which you might usually expect a reviewer to have played. As such, it should be treated as a rough guide, perhaps like a friend’s comments when you ask what they think of a game they’ve bought.
Most of the people that have played The Witcher 3 have likened it at various points to Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption and it’s hard to argue with the idea that it lies somewhere between the two. Early claims that it isn’t truly open world are a little ridiculous but it’s correct to say that you can’t go absolutely everywhere right from the start; you are walled in to a large tutorial area of sorts. This works well in my opinion; it stops you from wandering into much higher level enemies and dangerous scenarios while teaching you the basics across a fairly wide variety of early missions. I found this first area offered enough intrigue to keep me playing until I’d mopped up all the quests I could find, before moving on to the main game.
Compared to previous games in the series, The Witcher 3 feels more immediate and dare I say ‘console orientated’. I played through a good 10 hours of Witcher 2 before starting this and found it to be a decent enough game but too bogged down in tired mechanics and predictable tasks within the quests. Navigation was a nightmare too, with needlessly complex town designs made worse by having a single marker with no indication of how to reach it. Not a problem on its own, but when combined with other issues it made getting around a pain. This new game solves all of that straight away by having a much better world design and a dotted line on the mini-map to show you the route you need to take. If all of this sounds a little too hand-holdy for you, you can turn it all off, but for those of us who don’t have the time to get lost it works well.
Gameplay mechanics have also been drastically improved, in my opinion. Combat, which felt indirect and loose in the previous game, now has more physicality to it. This gives the player a greater feeling of control. It’s important to remember, though, that this Is a huge RPG first and foremost and fans of combat action games won’t be holding it up as a pinnacle of that particular genre. At first you may think there’s not much to it, a few mashes of the buttons will despatch most early foes with little bother and it’s not much of a spectacle. As you progress and level up a couple of character traits, however, things get more interesting. You can start to tailor your Geralt to your style and will soon be unleashing ‘special moves’ of sorts and employing more interesting tactics as you meet more formidable opponents. It’s not Bayonetta, but as RPG combat goes it’s pretty good. Signs are the game’s form of magic and involve fire attacks and mind control among other options. They are interesting choices to have but a little finicky to get to grips with. You also have a range of bomb options and a crossbow but these all feel like alternative approaches that don’t immediately spring to mind when a fight ensues. Overall it works well enough for me and the only combat issue I’m beginning to be concerned about is that things can start to feel a bit samey. You get better at fighting to a point, and it’s enjoyable to do so, but once you find something that works for you it seems that you can just keep doing that for every battle. This may change later on and, of course, it’s partly down to player choice, but those wanting to be forced to change their approach may have to do so voluntarily or increase the difficulty in the hope it will mean they have to.
One of the main things that got so many people hyped about Witcher 3 is the graphics and they are indeed very good. I’m playing on a fairly decent PC with a mix of high and ultra settings for a steady 60fps but cannot comment on how it looks on consoles, my understanding is: pretty good. For more in-depth insights into the visuals, take a look at one of the many high-res videos that are all over the internet – I’m the wrong person to comment on how it looks really; I don’t ever seem to be as impressed by graphics as most people are, placing more emphasis on frame rate myself. Fans of such things will not be disappointed though, the game looks great in almost all instances and appears to be well optimised for a range of PC specs. I have heard about many bugs and issues people are having, mainly on console versions, but I haven’t experienced anything myself which is pretty amazing for a game of this scope. I am incredibly picky and strict with anything like that and am a firm believer that games should only be sold as finished products when they are indeed finished. If I have issues with a retail version of a game I will mark it down heavily and explain why, I don’t care if it’s patched later, it should not have been sold in that state. The reason I’m ranting is to make it clear that I’m not forgiving anything here, I’ve genuinely had no issues (so far) and can only speak from my experience. I am aware that many people are having huge problems so it might be worth a Google to learn more about whether they’re likely to affect and bother you.
Back to the game itself then. It is huge. Not just geographically but in terms of what there is to do. You can spend hours and hours in the first area, clearing your map of all the markers that appear, only to realise that you’ve still probably missed some stuff. Eventually you move on, eager to see what awaits and oh God it’s a completionist’s nightmare! You find yourself in a huge area with even more quest markers, which themselves seem to increase exponentially as you complete each one. On the way to one area you’ll be distracted by something and open up a whole new sub quest, many of which offer at least an hour of gameplay. This is all well and good for those that want to spend the next year playing this game and it would be wrong to criticise a game for having too much content, but it can start to feel a little diversionary. It’s not ‘padding’ really because nothing prevents you moving the story forward and ignoring these side quests. It’s also not that the side quests aren’t great enjoyable adventures that are worth playing through. It’s just that so many are presented to you at once that it can be a little overwhelming. It’s genuinely hard to keep track of everything and perhaps a little more pacing would have benefitted the game here. If this sounds a like an odd criticism, let me explain. I might be in the middle of a quest when I unlock or discover another one. Now, I can leave the quest I’m on and go off on the new one but I, like most people I suppose, usually stick with what I’m doing before moving on. However, I now have the lure of this new mission on my mind and maybe rush through my current task, especially if I have a good idea of where it’s going and just want to see it through. It sort of spoils what I’m doing a bit. This is where drip-feeding things maybe one or two quests at a time could perhaps keep the player more focussed on the task at hand and therefore appreciate and enjoy it more. It’s an embarrassment of riches really. When there’s so much to do at once it’s hard to really get into any one thing. The game is like an RPG version of a giant Steam library just after a blowout sale; there’s so much quality stuff that’s popped up that you don’t know what to do. An odd criticism then, but one that I feel is not completely invalid.
My approach has changed from the opening area where I wanted to do everything. Now I’ll do a few side quests before the main story mission, do another few, then main story etc. The game does offer a guide of sorts by giving you recommended levels for each task. There’s nothing to stop you taking your level 10 Geralt into a level 35 quest but the little red skull does suggest it might be time to mop up some more side stuff and beef up a little first. It’s a handy pointer for those unsure about what to do next and is a subtle way to suggest, if not force, some grinding, which in this game takes the form of all those side missions. For those who might want to try a harder quest in the hope of getting better armour and weapons, be aware that these are level restricted too. I have a pair of trousers that I’m not allowed to wear for another two levels. This is kind of ridiculous but it’s just part of this genre and I understand why these things are necessary – it’s not irritating really, just silly.
My personal issue with these games has always been whether they can hold my interest. Often what happens, as with Skyrim, is that I go in all excited and do everything before getting a little bored. Usually this is precisely because I’ve been doing everything and getting bogged down in minutiae without progressing the main story and reaching new areas that might otherwise have kept me going. In this, I’ve made sure not to do too much in one place and have been utilising the freedom to move on to new areas. However, I am starting to realise that I probably don’t want to do everything. As enjoyable as it is, it’s hard for any game to hold your interest for over 100 hours. Not just any game, but any piece of entertainment. Think of those great, revered TV series, very few of those are over 100 hours long. You can get bored of anything, no matter how good it is. What you get out of the Witcher 3 will depend very much on your own temperament and you know, more than this review can ever say, whether you want it or not. I would certainly recommend it because, even if you don’t see all it has to offer, you will definitely get your money’s worth – I already have with plenty left to go. It’s a fantastic, sprawling adventure and I’ll happily say it’s the best one of ‘these’ games I’ve played. Part of that is down to the fact that it’s the most recent one and therefore enjoys a technical advantage, but it is also genuinely good. It’s hard to put a score on a game like this as the sheer size and grandeur are hugely impressive, but should those things influence what you say about the actual ‘videogame’ itself? Its fighting is maybe a 7, its very infrequent platforming is maybe a 5 at best and its RPG elements are perhaps a 9 or 10. No individual gameplay element is astounding or ground-breaking but to get them all working together to create the sense of adventure the game provides is truly impressive. It’s not the videogame Mario is and it’s not the artful piece of storytelling something like the Godfather is, but whatever it is, it’s pretty good and for the sake of £40 it’s a must.