Over the past five years since its release, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has solidified itself as gaming royalty. With sharp writing, a gritty tone and an enthralling cast, it’s easy to see why it is so highly thought of. But how does it hold up today?
The Witcher as a franchise has been a growing experience for CD Projekt Red. The original game, adapted from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel of the same name, was a bit rough but showed some of what CD Projekt Red has become famous for. It had some great gameplay ideas and their witty and weird writing shone through. It was made with a modified version of Bioware’s Aurora Engine and as such feels quite different to the sequels. While a console version was planned, none came to fruition, so if you really want to play it you have to play it on PC.
The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings was a huge step up from this in multiple departments. Its writing was clearer, the gameplay more defined, and the graphics much better. This, and the new REDengine, were signs of a bigger budget, and that clearly translated well when it came to sales and reception, shipping over 1.7 million copies by May 2012. It continued Geralt of Rivia’s tale as he attempts to prove his innocence in the assassination of Foltest, the king of Temeria. It plays with your perception of the story well by feeding you only the necessary information to progress, a theme that continues throughout The Witcher 3. The gameplay in The Witcher 2 is more complex than the first and so too is the dialogue and options presented to you. It featured traps and ranged skills in ways not previously featured, giving a new layer of tacticality to encounters. There were issues, as is the case with most big RPGs, but this gave The Witcher 3 even more ground to improve on.
Naturally enough, this brings us to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. On launch, it wasn’t without flaws, and our review reflected this. Citing glitches and errors we said, “It’s a sour note to end on for what could have been one of the best games I’ve ever played.”. In our time with it, there were broken side quests and graphical glitches. There was even the worry of facing a potential game-ending bug. Regardless of this, it was still a phenomenal title that not only felt like a step up from The Witcher 2, but felt like a step up for RPGs, open-world titles and games as a whole.
Whilst its story is great, that’s not what made The Witcher 3’s writing shine. The way it dealt with interpersonal relationships, morally grey choices and just the everyday was intelligent, mature and realistic. It managed to tell tales of slaying beasts and talking to magic creatures, somehow still giving it the realism of any modern-day story. It was a fantastical setting with humane characters.
The gameplay, whilst pretty strong, wasn’t one of The Witcher’s strongest features. Initially, the combat feels rather hack and slash-esque but this is spiced up through the introduction of combos, magic and ranged weapons. The movement during combat is a little clunky but one could very easily see this as a sense of realism to the character of Geralt. He is acrobatic and athletic but he can’t instantly move or appear where you want him to like we expect from those in other games.
Occasionally, combat encounters felt a little samey but this is made up for in the ramp of difficulty. You rarely get so comfortable with The Witcher that you feel indestructible. You are powerful but, ultimately, rather killable.
This is something prevalent throughout most of the writing of The Witcher 3. The Wild Hunt is a thoroughly chilling baddy and something my level 30 beast-slaying badass was afraid of. That’s without mentioning the fact that every enemy is dead set on killing you and there always seems to be an encounter just a little bit past your current level. It keeps you looking forward to accomplishing something you couldn’t mere hours prior.
In the end, this is what The Witcher 3, and it’s fantastic DLCs, do so well. Hearts of Stone, the first DLC, was a small taster for what was to come, offering an excellent and personal tale about a ghost, love and the way we deal with grief. Blood and Wine, the second, bigger expansion offered a new continent to explore, more levels and a new Gwent deck. This standalone DLC is easily the size of most other RPGs on it’s own, and is a must for any fan of the Witcher.
Playing through will allow you to discover what makes the entire game so fantastic. You consistently see the possibilities of the game in front of you and it almost teases you with that recommended level stat, urging you to just give it a go and hope you get lucky. Its gameplay and story are so addictive that it keeps you thinking about it hours after deciding to quit for the night. It’s not entirely perfect but its few issues are so easy to overlook due to how strong the writing is, how great the atmosphere is and just how addictive it feels. Scoring 90s across the board in most publications and shipping over 28 million copies worldwide, the legacy of The Witcher has been solidified with Wild Hunt – what is perhaps one of the greatest RPGs of all time.
If you haven’t yet played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, then the Xbox Store will sort you out.