Editor’s note: Despite being released a few weeks ago, we’ve delayed reviewing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt up until now for various reasons, such as patch updates and the sheer size of the game. Finally we’re now in a position to provide a verdict on CD Projekt RED’s open-world RPG, so if you’ve held off buying it up until this point, or are just keen to know what we made of it, here’s our review… in all its heavenly glory.
The previous two games in The Witcher series could be considered rather strange, at least if viewed from a retail perspective. The first was a PC only action RPG, while the second game didn’t make it onto consoles until a year after the game’s launch, and even then it was only ever available on Microsoft’s Xbox 360. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is CD Projekt RED’s first attempt to release simultaneously on multiple platforms, and with that has obviously come some teething problems. These have ranged from community complaints over the supposed downgrade in visuals from the game’s initial E3 announcement and gameplay trailer, to the various patches rolled out during the game’s first few weeks on sale, aimed at resolving a host of bugs and technical issues. Aptly enough it’s a story that’s rather fitting in describing The Witcher 3, a game that’s both staggeringly impressive and at the same time frustratingly disappointing.
I say disappointing because The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was, at least in the minds of most gamers, supposed to be the game that delivered that wow factor games like Gears of War and Bioshock did during the first two or three years of the last generation. Unfortunately it hasn’t quite pulled it off quite as comprehensively as we might like. Yes, some aspects of the game do meet and surpass expectations, but there are always a few issues that sick in your mind when trying to come to any conclusion, and like an itch behind your nose, they’re irritating and in a way that you just can’t ignore.
Not satisfied by being the first multi-platform game in the series, The Witcher 3’s also the first Witcher game to deliver an open-world experience similar to that of its competitors, and in fairness CD Projekt RED have done rather well in this regard. Taking into account that many potential players may have never actually played the series before or have nothing other than a basic understanding of the world, The Witcher 3 provides players with a microcosm of the full game in the form of the introduction and prologue. Set in a small farming township that’s coming to grips with having been recently conquered - and where many of its inhabitants were conscripted soldiers on the losing side - this prologue section allows players to get to grips with The Witcher 3’s basic mechanics, as well as the current social and political attitudes that you’ll likely encounter. All the basic stuff one would expect is covered thoroughly, but beyond that, this section also explains the unique aspects of being a Witcher; how to research, track and fight monsters, how to brew special potions and oils, and most importantly of course, how to haggle for rewards.
All of this is delivered expertly thorough various notice board quests and chance encounters, and it’s these that turn out to be the real highlight of The Witcher 3. In contrast the recent Dragon Age Inquisition, these side quests are consistently varied throughout the game and very rarely feel like chores. There’s almost always interesting stories to uncover, and thanks to the morally grey approach that CD Projekt RED have always taken with the series, and decisions you’ll make never feel like you’re being shepherded down one route or another, unlike a certain Bioware series for example. This, for the most part, is a brilliant trick to have pulled off, it makes the game’s beautifully vast world feel distinct and thoroughly real in a way that few RPG’s have managed. The only problem is that the game’s major storyline can’t quite keep to the same standard. Instead you’ll occasionally find yourself reluctant to advance the plot and being far more interested in visiting the various points of interest on the world map, or tackling your evergreen list of side quests.
And it’s here that things in The Witcher 3 start to fall apart. Should you opt to indulge in a slew of side quests rather than push onward through the central storyline, you’ll quickly become overladen with items and equipment that’s level restricted and unable to be used for another dozen or so levels. Here you can either continue levelling up in an effort to make said item useable as soon as possible, carry it with you for what feels like forever (all the while it’s taking up precious inventory space and weighing you down), or sell it off a hope doing so doesn’t cause too many problems later down the line. None of these scenarios are ideal, and the lack of a storage locker to keep everything potentially useful in is a real pain. All the while you’ll be forced to do this within the game’s needlessly obtuse menus, a problem that’s clearly down to CD Projekt RED’s history as a PC developer. Not only is virtually every bit of text tiny and unreadable (though this is apparently due to be fixed in another patch), navigating the menus and item grid with a controller is an unpleasantly fiddly experience, and one that can leave you dreading finding a cache of loot.
Sadly that’s not where the problems end for The Witcher 3, and while the impressive visuals and quests may allow you to forgive these shortcomings, any game that defines itself as an action RPG and fails to deliver a satisfying combat system can’t be forgiven so easily. As a Witcher, main character Geralt is supposed to feel powerful yet graceful, fast yet controlled, and unfortunately the combat mechanics are about as far removed from this as you could possibly imagine. Not only do sword fights feel floaty and lacking any real sense of impact, but the majority of the time, any careful preparation or controlled inputs during fights feels completely unnecessary when the same results can be achieved by relentless button mashing. Everything from sword swings, the camera lock-on system and Geralt’s spell menu needs reworking here, and until CD Projekt RED can find a better way of delivering combat in their games they’ll always feel handicapped, the great series for any gamers that only want to play for the story. That may be fine for some people, but taken as a whole it’s just not enough when trying to set the standard for the next generation of RPGs.
It’s this core aspect of the game that really lets things down, especially when you consider any wandering off course you’re likely to do, or any jobs you’re willing to take up will almost always involve some form of combat. The claims of a supposed downgrade, or the numerous bugs and technical problems are not what’s holding The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt back, most have already been patched and none of it had ever significantly detracted from your enjoyment of the game. It’s this limp combat, irritating menus and arbitrary loot restrictions that lessen your enjoyment of the overriding experience. The Witcher 3’s world may be lovely to look at and explore, but as soon as you do so the illusion begins to crack and, though it doesn’t completely shatter, you’re still left unable to notice little more than the fact that the pieces just don’t quite fit together as snugly as they once did.