Widely regarded as one of the best RPGs of all-time, to understand the legacy of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you need look no further than the buzz surrounding the update for current-generation consoles and PC.
This is a game that initially released in May 2015, yet the talk around this update is on par with a new triple AAA release. Players are rediscovering Geralt and why they fell in love with the game first time around, all over again. For me and many others though, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition is a chance to put a major gaming omission right, and to discover what all the fuss was about back then, and still is to this day.
Whilst The Witcher 1 and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings didn’t have a truly open world, The Witcher 3 brought the series forward with that very inclusion. As such, The Witcher 1 is going to be remade in that same mould, bringing that game even further forward, and to consoles for the first time.
But that’s the past, and whilst The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t exactly at the forefront of pop culture, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was, at least if you’ve been perusing through photo mode submissions to Twitter in recent weeks.
You once again play as Geralt of Rivia, a mercenary who specialises in hunting down monsters, more commonly known as a Witcher. After experiencing the tones of Doug Cockles voice in Arcade Paradise earlier this year, I was immediately impressed with how he’d tailored his voice from domineering father figure to the laid back and reserved Geralt.
Geralt is searching for his adopted daughter Ciri, who is briefly introduced to us in a dream/flashback for Geralt at the very beginning. In order to find her though, he needs to first find Yennefer, his long-lost lover. After more of a case of finding him, he accompanies her to Vizima to meet with Emperor Emhyr, leader of the Nilfgaardians, who are currently travelling through the Northern Kingdoms and invading it.
Geralt and Yennefer’s amiable reunion travelling to Vizima is cut short by the Wild Hunt; the same Wild Hunt that caused Ciri to run away from Kaer Morhen years ago before her Witcher training had been completed.
That’s the bones of the main narrative in The Witcher 3, and this hasn’t changed since 2015. Even with the addition of the expansions of Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, both of which are part of the Complete Edition. But whilst this plot is far more engaging than perhaps many other open-world RPGs – even those that have appeared in the years since – it’s the stories we weave ourselves that are likely to be the most memorable.
One particular moment happened as I rode into the village of Lindenvale in Velen. Outside the inn, you can find the Fists of Fury subquest, where Geralt partakes in a bit of boxing against the Lindenvale residents. First up is Stan Fishgulper. It was a tough match, with punches thrown back and forth throughout. That was, until Roach turned up. Now, one of the new features in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is that Roach can kick out at enemies attacking Geralt. Needless to say, when Stan took a step back from a swift right from Geralt, Roach was there to finish him off with a kick to the stomach.
Did I need Roach to put the boot in? No, I had him on the ropes so to speak. But I am glad he did.
Also included in this Xbox Series X|S update is the aforementioned photo mode, various mods now officially integrated such as HD Monsters, World Map fixes, 4K textures for many of the main and supporting cast, Ray Tracing (more on that later), cross progression saves, and new quests and outfits inspired by Netflix’s The Witcher TV show. There are also a ton of quality-of-life changes, including a new quick sign casting menu. This replaces the radial menu which can be a bit slow and obtrusive whilst in the middle of combat, to become a much more streamlined way to use magic. By holding down the button that would open the radial menu to select your sign, it instead replaces the A, B, X and Y buttons with the signs. It’s quicker, easier and allows you to flow much more freely between using different signs. The patch notes only cover bigger new features added in; stuff such as Roach being able to kick and walk backwards now are newly implemented, but players are left to find a lot of this new stuff out for themselves. This gives returning players even more reason to return.
One option I did revert back to that was present in the original game however was the new map filter. The update has removed many of the ‘?’ icons to reduce clutter and encourage a more natural way of discovering things, but for me, I felt like I was missing things without knowing I was missing things, if that makes sense. I’ll try and explain better.
When playing the Xbox Series X|S version of Cyberpunk 2077 earlier this year, it blew me away at how alive the world felt. Sure, I was the main protagonist, but I felt like only a small part of a much, wider picture. Wandering through the markets and the daily humdrum made Night City feel alive. Little did I know, this was CDProjektRED honing the craft they started with The Witcher series. It was always a joy to canter along the road with Roach, listening to every conversation as you went past. Or, more frequently in Geralt’s case, every insult and piece of spittle thrown his way. These villages, on a much smaller scale than Cyberpunk’s Night City, still felt no less alive. The inn’s felt more homely than anything in Skyrim, nor were the same two lines of dialogue repeated over and over again.
So, I knew there was a wider world out there. And I wanted to explore every inch of it and having a big question mark on my minimap helped me do that without feeling like I was missing something.
Some things haven’t aged as well as others in The Witcher 3. In the age of motion capturing even the minutiae for video games nowadays, the movement of Geralt feels a little off, especially when sprinting. It is by far from a deal breaker, but for the first few moments of it, you have to accept that The Witcher 3 is now a seven-year-old game, and that there will be features that don’t feel as fresh as they should.
This also goes for the combat. It just doesn’t feel as slick as other action games that have been released since. It is quick paced, almost arcade like, but it doesn’t feel as engaging as other melee combat in more modern games.
And then there are the bugs. Still present, of course, but now mostly limited to the kind of bugs you find humorous as opposed to game breaking. I’ve seen children playing with swords two feet above their head, the odd NPC walking somewhere they shouldn’t. Nothing too serious to be concerned about.
Then there are some things that have been newly added that feel more aged than the original release. As is customary now for the current generation of games, two different graphics modes have been added to The Witcher 3: Performance Mode and Ray Tracing Mode. Performance Mode aims for 60fps with up to 4K visuals whereas Ray Tracing Mode adds in the illumination system whilst targeting 30fps. The key word is targeting, as with Ray Tracing Mode on it falls short, but in a noticeable way. There is a stutter to Geralt’s movement even when not in a graphically intensive area and whilst the candles and shadows look absolutely gorgeous when stood still, the sacrifice you make for switching to Performance Mode is well worth it to have a buttery smooth framerate.
The best gets better with this patch and new title for The Witcher 3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition update may have been a long time coming but it is more than worth the wait. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was already one of the best games of all-time, but now the Complete Edition has cemented that legacy and will ensure that it is a game which is talked about for many more years to come.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition is on the Xbox Store