Yar! Thar be light spoilers ahead! Ye be warned!
(This is an impression of the first twelve, or so, hours of gameplay. It is said to take up to two-hundred hours for 100% completion.)
The Witcher: Wild Hunt, Developer CD Projekt RED’s third and final Witcher game, brings Polish author, Adrezej Sapkowski’s, fantasy book series to digital life with incredible detail and authenticity. As a result, Wild Hunt feels like much more than just another fantasy RPG.
You play as Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher. What’s a witcher, you may ask? They are pretty bad-ass mutated monster slaying bounty hunters. People aren’t exactly thrilled with their existence, but they are necessary means of ridding the world of pesky ghouls, murloc like drowners, angry ghosts and other monstrosities. You just happen to be the most popular of the dwindling witchers.
The Wild Hunt refers to a band of ominously black-armored knights hunting down Ciri, your none-altered apprentice. Finding her, and why she is being hunted, makes up the bulk of the lengthy main quest. The subtitle is also a generalization for the game. Exploring the literal wilds plays a big part in this brutal epic. Fore-mentioned monsters share the world with wildlife, common folk, bandits, kings, barons, gnomes, dwarfs and elves.
There is a constant sense of various tensions in the world, politics play as important a role as monster-slaying. You have some tough choices to make. None playable characters are rarely black and white and their intentions may not be ones that you agree with. Choices themselves are more natural, no gage depicts how “good” or “bad” you are, things just are. Choices play out with natural feeling consequences that are not always immediately apparent..
Unusual for recent games containing similarly moody tales, the world pops with bright vivid colors, bringing the digital world to glorious life. This world feels lived in, not just by people, but by the various creatures who inhabit it. Wolves and bears attack wild life, and you, if you get too close. Wind can violently blow trees and rain spatters against the game camera.
Travel is made easy by giving you a horse named Roach, who you can summon almost anywhere, and also by widely placed fast-travel sign posts. Question marks pocking the map give reason to explore as there is often loot and something very cool to see and experience and also kill. Likewise, the side quests add more to the world, not feeling tacked on or redundant, and some of them can lead to quite extensive and enthralling stories of their own.
Even on the normal difficulty level, hacking and slashing can only get you so far, as sometimes even preparing with various oils and potions (created through a deep alchemy system) can make a huge difference of survival. Different signs, your magic spells, add offensive and defensive elements and can be enhanced in various ways.
Fighting isn’t always smooth, but dodging blocking and parrying is fun and require skill, while using various signs is fast and satisfying. Potions can be taken, enhancing health-regen or attack power, but each potion has a toxicity level, so just chugging them is not encouraged.
Outside of combat, control takes some getting used to. Your movement seems to be momentum based. Stopping on a dime is not often an option and looting can be a little bit of an issue. You sure can book it on foot, though! You also often use your Witcher-sense (think “detective vision” ala The Batman: Arkham games) to play detective, make looting easier and to pick flowers (seriously).
Character models look great and everyone you have to speak to is fully voiced. The acting performances aren’t always great, but that doesn’t take away from the immersion. Some chugging on the PS4’s frame rate during more-frantic battles and cut-scenes can be distracting, but the game still looks gorgeous and plays fantastically.
The Wild Hunt is something special. It’s just the meaty sandwich of a game you may have always wanted. Being truly open-world without sacrificing story, or character, in this manor feels like a major game breakthrough. There may be some flaws, but a game this deep and fun has a chance to not only define this generation of gaming, but the RPG genre moving forward.
The Witcher: Wild Hunt is developed by CD Projekt RED and published in the US by WB Games. It is rated M for Mature for: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol. Available for PS4 (played on), Xbox One and PC.
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