The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PlayStation 4) Review

By Albert Lichi 08.06.2015 2

Review for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, developed by CD Projekt Red, is somewhat of a departure from its previous entries. Originally exclusive to the PC platform (barring the Xbox 360 port of the second game), The Witcher games were action RPGs with an emphasis on rich narrative. This latest entry greatly expands the scope of the world that Andrzej Sapkowski created in his literature thanks to CD Projekt Red making The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt an expansive open-world sandbox. With a winning formula and engrossing fiction to work with, how could any of it go wrong? One of the most hyped titles of 2015 turns out to be the least impressive game of the summer - but what went wrong? Cubed3 analyses The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

CD Projekt Red has made a very ambitious game with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Medieval fantasy open world settings are the kind of backdrops many have grown accustomed to over the years thanks to the "Souls" games and the "Elder Scrolls" franchise, to name a few, but CD Projekt Red sought out to do something a little bit more epic by taking the combat system from the "Arkham" Batman games and putting it against a vast fantasy setting inspired by Northern European mythology, and having a large amount of player-choice options that shape later events in the world. The developer did its best to pack the game full of detail and world-building lore to make it as engrossing as possible, and for the most part it succeeds in how the setting is crafted. While the visuals are definitely not up to the same level of quality that was promised in the 2013 gameplay trailer, on its own, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does manage to look good the majority of the time. Sure, the lighting is often very flat and the foliage is very cheap looking, but character models look rather good and do manage to have a wide range of expression, looking quite natural. There are a lot of glaring visual inconsistencies, though, like how the horse trotting animation looks like it is missing frames, making the animation appear like its lagging, but from what it looks like, it was seemingly intentional. Speaking of animation, there is never a moment when everything runs smoothly. CD Projekt Red has said it was "aiming" for 30 frames per second on consoles, but it must be said that the developer has the accuracy of an Imperial Stormtrooper because it sorely missed the mark on a fluid and stable frame-rate.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a combat system that was obviously inspired by the "Arkham" Batman games and while on the surface this may seem appealing for a rousing adult Action RPG, CD Projekt Red grossly misses the point of what made the rhythmic action of the Batman games so wonderful. Bruce Wayne had a snappy magnetism to his punches, kicks and dodges. This allowed for a very satisfying brawl where the Dark Knight's blows would connect very fluidly and quickly. Bruce was a very utilitarian fighter in his games, which sadly cannot be said about Geralt of Rivia who's attacks have a lot of pointlessly over animated movements with so many preposterous twirls and pirouettes that add an extra layer of input delay, as well as making the White Wolf look more like he is performing Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake." This way for Geralt to fight does not fit the notion that he is a professional mercenary and is only further emphasised later in the game when the perspective changes briefly to controlling a different Witcher, one that appears to be more natural when it comes to prancing around with a sword.

These animations compromise the core mechanics of the action, making the input feel very floaty and adding extended openings that allow enemies to get in cheap shots. Moreover, when attacks do connect, Geralt's slashes don't feel like they have the appropriate feedback and come off and limp or ineffectual. The sluggishness of the combat is not just relegated to attacking, but in defensive measures, too, like guarding or parrying. Since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt can barely run 30 frames per second on PS4, the addition of slow animations makes the parrying functions feel useless outside of one-on-one fights and even then the blocking and parrying just ends up getting Geralt stunned without the game making it clear why. The simple act of blocking never feels natural because it feels more like Geralt has to "bait" enemies into hitting a block/parry, making it seem like waiting for his turn to attack.

The abhorrent messiness of the combat extends to other defensive measures, too, like how there are two separate dodges. There is a dodge roll, which is only good for getting distance and has no discernible invincibility frames, and a side-step dodge that also has inconsistent invincibility frames. Having both of these abilities sounds like they could make the game deeper, yet only frustrate and make the combat worse since now there is an element of trial and error of getting interrupted to figure out what enemy attack requires what dodge, or what can be blocked or parried. All of these problems pile up on one another when fighting a group of enemies and then it quickly devolves into a haphazard mess of stun-locking, cheesing the AI, or just getting stuck in the level's geometry. During some boss fights it becomes especially egregious and it feels like victory is only earned by those who stocked up on the most food and cheesed the AI the most since there are so few aspects of combat that work thanks to Geralt's excessive animations that are easily interrupted.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's bugginess doesn't stop at the combat, though, reaching to the simple act of exploring, as well. Even opening a chest requires a bit of patience as Geralt has to be positioned in a specific way and the chest will only become accessible when the on-screen button prompt becomes visible. On a few occasions, while venturing in the world, there may be an abandoned citadel or stronghold that may have a very powerful enemy lurking around to "guard" some of the nice loot inside. Since the level design is quite strong, there is usually a sneaky way to enter some of these areas but this highlights a huge flaw with the game's programming if that powerful enemy is still on the prowl outside of the structure's gates. Normally, when Geralt spots enemies, he will automatically (slowly) unsheathe the right weapon for the job (which should be a player action) and assume his natural battle stance. The problem with this is that he will do this even if enemies are unable to engage him and even if the right input is done to sheathe his weapon Geralt will automatically be in a pugilist or "brawling" stance. In this state, the character-actions are severely limited and it is at this point that Wild Hunt shows just how broken it can be.

If there is a powerful flying enemy outside of an abandoned castle, no matter what the control input is, Geralt will automatically switch to his battle state, making the act of opening chests or even using a ladder impossible. It would be forgivable if these were isolated incidents, but this happens frequently, especially on the harder difficulties when fleeing is a more viable option. There are other choices or glitches, like how Geralt cannot take fall damage like a man and will get hurt from hopping over a fence. The whole control setup and movement just doesn't feel polished due to some jerky animation and the clunkiness of basic movement. It is made even worse since the PS4 version has no alternative control scheme or button remapping option, which really would have been handy to make pushing L3 the running function instead of the default X button, which is sometimes the dodge roll when Geralt goes into combat stance automatically. The Assassin's Creed games managed to have a similar control set up as The Witcher 3, yet allowed a much greater sense of control and still had the encounters feel weighty and visceral.

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a kind of mercenary who specialises in exterminating magical monsters and various other kinds of supernatural entities. As a Witcher, he must be a master of both his mind and body, which is why when the game's faulty combat mechanics fail to impress, he can rely on magic... sometimes. Starting the game, most core magical abilities are available, but can only be relied on in a pinch and then the "endurance" gauge has to be filled back up again. The core spells do have varying usefulness, but the most important ones are the temporary shield incantation (good for one hit), the fire generic fire spell, and the mind control spell (which should be the most useful but gets limited). As a Witcher, the core combat will always be direct combat with a melee weapon (or sometimes fists) and no matter how Geralt is levelled up, there really is no way to make him a dedicated magic user. Almost every skill tree results in unimaginative passive abilities, with few exceptions, which makes the bulk of this very long game feel extremely repetitive. There just is not much variety in terms of action or character building, which begs the question why bother with RPG character building at all if Geralt merely learns mostly passive improvements anyway? No matter what, he will always fight like a ballerina in molasses.

Another issue is how the equipment system is handled, being the kind that insists on a level requirement to wear specific gear or wield certain weapons. On its own this is not a bad system for Action RPGs, but in a game where the main character is a seasoned veteran who has pretty much seen it all, as well as being a master of arms with an encyclopaedic knowledge of pretty much every monster in the land, it just seems really short-sighted that he must reach 'Level X' to use a sword he just crafted. It's not like he is a lowly squire or some faceless nobody that was made in a character creator screen, this is the White Wolf from Rivia's third game and it is this design choice that fights against the open-ended and exploration-focused gameplay.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt not only has dreadful combat, but even something as basic as the user-interface is incomprehensible that goes against logical aesthetics and is too awkward to navigate. The menu for the inventory is done in a Diablo way, where items take up a certain amount of "blocks" or "spaces" out of a limited amount. It can be quite interesting and has a meta-game quality about it for resource management, but when the game is The Witcher 3 and has an absurd amount of items, the whole system becomes a preposterous exercise in patience where so much time will be wasted slowly navigating through each individual item. It is so poorly organised - there is a huge sensation of dread felt when it is time to craft items or change equipment because that entails having to sift through the countless junk items to find what is needed. It is just so ungraceful and unappealing and it gets worse with every passing hour since so many items are needed for the alchemy and gear crafting. The sheer volume and options available is appreciated, but it couldn't have been executed worse than it has been. There is a lot of potential, yet with all the constant fiddling around in the menus it just bogs the whole experience down. These are game design ideas for a slower-paced, more strategic title, not a hack 'n' slash.

Geralt's quest to find his ward may be rife with laggy and clunky gameplay, but Wild Hunt does do some things well, such as the aforementioned story, lore, and world building. The writing is impressive, which does lead to some real choice moments in the narrative that are punctuated with excellent voice actors and natural facial expressions. The setting depicts a very brutal and primitive world that does feel very authentic to the period the fantasy is inspired from. Right from the start, a tone is established flawlessly as Geralt rides into a ravaged shanty and corpses are strung up casually. Impressively, even the generic NPCs feel distinct and the ones that Geralt must interact with for side-quests look the part. Some of the stories in the side-quests have various outcomes depending on how they are accomplished, which lends itself to some legitimately interesting situations. Sadly, the core gameplay that binds these scenarios couldn't be more unimaginative and boils down to either the generic "go and kill x" or "go fetch x." It really is one or the other, and the game does try its best to dress up the banality of these quests by having some sharp and eloquent dialogue or acting. In the end, though, it just feels like a smoke screen or distraction to hide the hollow gameplay. In many ways this is the ultimate advertisement for the original Witcher novels, since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has such poor gameplay but does have a very rich narrative.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

This is the first time a Witcher game has been an open-world sandbox and with that it carries all the same problems that plague every game like it. There is nothing special or unique about huge open worlds anymore. Wild Hunt's expanses do have an immediate wow-factor but that quickly fades as most of the environment is wide-open nothingness. It does, however, lead to some interesting and dynamic happenings, like a random pack of wolves showing up to ravage a tiny village, but then that gets offset when the AI's path-finding glitches and gets stuck in geometry or just makes it run around in a circle endlessly. With The Witcher 3 being so loose in this way, it leads to some thrilling moments of discovery but they are quickly undone when it's time to fight a more powerful foe and put up with the horrible fighting mechanics, and no matter how much mastery of the core combat gamers have, it won't account for anything since Geralt's animations cripple the combat. While there is access to a horse from the start (don't even bother with mounted combat), getting around the world is fairly manageable since even on foot Geralt moves at a fair speed. The fast travel is also too restrictive for such a large world, however, and will force Geralt to waste a lot of time tediously marching through uninteresting areas just to get to a sign post that serves as a fast travel beacon when the better option would have been to just allow the option to jump to any beacon without having to get to one first. Even Xenoblade Chronicles 3D did this, yet in The Witcher 3, gamers are forced to endure countless hours of wasted time on just walking around.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is probably the most disappointing release of 2015. The core gameplay fails to impress and turns out to be a cluster of bad decisions and a poorly coded mess. Anyone who can look past the insubstantial gameplay will find a compelling story with a very intriguing cast and an admittedly very cool bad guy. While many like to publicise the sexual escapades that Geralt can partake in, they are actually no more substantial than the ones Commander Sheppard undertook in the Mass Effect games. They were just a gimmick, played upon for marketing purposes and to make the game seem more adult than it really is, even though the most mature aspects of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is its heavy plot lines that don't insult people's intelligence. Anyone looking to find a quality action game here won't be in luck, but they will end up getting a strong character study set in a grisly world full of fantastic monsters that are deftly realised.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

While the media is quick to make a big deal of the romancing that Geralt can do during the game's run time, in the end there are just a few cut-scenes that have about as much substance as the clunky gameplay. It is all good on paper and seems smart, but really in the end amounts to nothing. The qualities about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that people should be discussing are its numerous shortcomings. There are many PC gamers that are long-time Witcher fans who are unsatisfied with how the visuals and gameplay have been dumbed down from the past releases and from the 2013 gameplay trailer. The real problem of AAA publishing is when quality must be compromised in order to reach the widest audience possible. It can be easy to be swayed by the initial "wow"-factor when first being introduced to a sweeping fantasy epic with an intricate setting, but those who require substantial gameplay will be unimpressed and, ultimately, severely disappointed. In a game where the action mechanics are roughly 65% of the game's core gameplay, it is important to get these basic parts right and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt tragically fumbles. Good controls are the foundation of a quality game and anyone expecting good action here would be best to just put this white wolf out of his misery and bury him.

Developer

CD Projekt Red Studio

Publisher

Bandai Namco

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Tan (guest) 25.10.2015#1

This is pure piss 


... I mean bliss.

Julian (guest) 21.10.2016#2

May god have mercy on your soul Albert. What a sad review effort.

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