The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PlayStation 4) Second Opinion Review

By Drew Hurley 05.07.2015 1

Review for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

CD Projekt Red's iconic The Witcher series makes its way to PlayStation for the first time with this latest release: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The story of the Witcher has a considerable history, both as a series of games and before that. Originally a short story from Poland in 1986 by Andrzej Sapkowski, the series developed a considerable fanbase and became a popular series of books that is still on-going, with English language editions being released a few years later. The series of games act as a sequel to the books. The first game, The Witcher, was released in 2007, exclusive to PC and was very well received. The sequel hit four years later, this time released on both PC and Xbox 360, and was a ground-breaking success, winning numerous awards and is still considered one of the best of the genre to this day. This latest incarnation is released on PC and the new generation of consoles on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Wild Hunt has a lot to live up to, from previous titles, promises and potential. After one member of the C3 Staff was thoroughly unimpressed, how will another find it?

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the most anticipated and biggest games of the year. Being the third instalment of a series, many newcomers may be put off from picking it up, but while playing the first two games is ideal, it's certainly not necessary. Admittedly, there are encyclopaedic amounts of backstory and history to take in, but the game does a great job at being informative without overloading. This is done using many methods of storytelling, delivering exposition in the form of FMVs, interactions with major characters from the previous games, and a considerable in-game glossary that contains a ton of information and backstory on every character and creature encountered.

A quick summary for the uninitiated: The first game began with Geralt awakening with the classic trope of amnesia; from there he was immediately pitched into a world of intrigue and subterfuge worthy of George R.R. Martin. Along the way, he fell in love with a Sorceress named Triss, battled against numerous factions in a war torn land, defended and befriended kings, killed more things than the Black Death, and much, much more. The Witcher 3 now finds Geralt with his memories restored and on a new quest, as he tries to track down his adoptive daughter Ciri who is being pursued by the titular "Wild Hunt." The game opens on Geralt experiencing a prophetic dream of Ciri being in considerable danger and fleeing from the Wild Hunt. Soon, he finds himself contracted by her biological father to track her down, while wars, witch hunts, bigotry and giant monsters all litter the landscape. The overarching story is spectacularly well done, with numerous twists and surprises, and it really is best to experience the whole thing first hand.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

Of course, this overview barely touches on the scale of the world and the history of the series. The story is spectacularly well done, and easily the greatest strength of the games. So much care and attention is paid to every facet, with many of the side-quests and contracts that Geralt can take part in as deep and developed as many primary story quests of other games. While the series is dark fantasy at heart, it still manages to be infused with some fantastically funny and heart-warming moments. Watching a group of hardened veteran Witchers get ridiculously drunk, play "I Never" drinking games and drunkenly talk about their feelings, before trying on Yennefer's clothes, is legitimately funny. The game is littered with these moments, and is not always so on the nose, either, with some great winks and Easter eggs. For example, Geralt has a series of side-quests taking part in fight clubs across the land, culminating in a battle with Durden the Tailor, and the sharp-eared may hear a bandit yell the devastating insult, "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of Elderberries!"

This is the first title in the series to incorporate an open world, and the prospect of such offers a very different experience to the previous games, although the "open world" promised is not truly an open world, however. There are a handful of distinct open world zones that are separated by loading screens. Some of these zones are quite small; the stronghold of the Witchers, Kher Mohan, and the Royal Palace, for example, which serve just as story-based areas with a short time dedicated to each. The area of White Orchard is a decent size and features numerous side-quests and places of interest, serving as a tutorial area. The real attraction comes when leaving White Orchard and free reign is given in the two primary "open world" areas that are breath-taking in scale: Skellige and Velen/Novigrad. Each of these zones is on par with most open world games and they are very independent and individual areas. Velen is a wide land, with fields and plains, mires and swamps, small towns scattered throughout and points of interest abundant everywhere. Novigrad is in the same zone as Velen and is a massive town, filled with character and charm, brimming with things to do within it. Finally, Skellige is a series isles, the zone almost more water than land. The primary island is large, with a handful of small islands that take a few minutes to run across end to end, whereas others are tiny, with just a single point of interest to explore. They're all worth exploring, though, if only for the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and the striking design of the area. It's fantastically imagined and really brings character to this area of the The Witcher's world.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

To traverse these zones, thankfully, a fast travel system has been added, with hundreds of waypoints scattered across the world, so that getting to almost any location doesn't take much time once it has been discovered. For travelling to each location for the first time, Geralt has his horse, Roach. Gamers have had a love affair with horse riding in RPGs for a very long time; many will have fond memories of galloping across the open hills of Hyrule on Epona, or chasing alongside towering Colossi on Agro. Roach is a lot of fun to travel on, and there is the chance to upgrade saddles and blinkers to improve the experience, too. The riding has some great features, such as being able to automatically follow the roads and paths, though there are some issues, too, mainly due to Roach having terrible AI. Stopping for no reason, running into the middle of fights after being dismounted and generally getting in the way - it's very hit and miss. Roach is also not the ideal method of travel for much of Skellige, an area made up of mostly water and small islands. Instead, Geralt can requisition any unattended boat and sail to his content. This is another hit and miss area - boats are often very slow and for the significant amount of sailing in Skellige; being able to upgrade or purchase faster boats would have been ideal. It's also a little disappointing that these three areas are instances, separated by loading screens. It would be fantastic to be able to approach the royal palace and see it rearing up as an imposing structure upon the landscape, or to be able to sail all the way from Velen to the islands of Skellige… if on a faster boat.

The world of The Witcher 3 is classic high fantasy, with monsters and magic abundant throughout, and is massively expansive, with plenty to keep it entertaining around every corner. Completionists who want to finish every side-quest and point of interest before moving on will find themselves waylaid well over a hundred hours. Some of the side-quests are of the generic RPG style fetch quests, peasants that want Geralt to go and collect so much of an item, slaughter so many of a type of enemy, etc. These are the usual fares that are good enough diversions between quests, a little extra coin and experience for a small amount of work. The reason they are better in this game than in many others is that they are so well written and developed. Possibly the best of the side-quests come from "Witcher Contracts." There are 26 in the game, and each one consists of tracking down and slaying a particularly dangerous monster. These boss battles are one of the best highlights of the game, establishing what the creature is by investigating the sites where they've been, preparing weapons and potions before the battle.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

Initially, the core underlying combat can feel somewhat lacklustre, sadly. At points, it's possible to take out most enemies by simply wailing away at them with light attacks while they block, slowly chipping them down with the occasional hit through their defence. The best way to address these issues is to play on the highest difficulty mode, Death March, and to play the combat as it was intended. Geralt has two different dodge abilities - a short quick hop and a long roll - a block and a counter. By learning enemy attack patterns and making the most of all Geralt has to offer, the combat quickly becomes a lot more fun. The higher difficulty can be quite punishing, and most players will find themselves dying a few times, but, honestly, it feels like it is how the game was meant to be played. It's a pity this wasn't the default difficulty, as more players would find more joy in the combat when they have to use every weapon in Geralt's arsenal to succeed.

Quite an arsenal it is, too. Geralt comes equipped from the start with his signature pair of swords - steel for humans and silver for monsters - some simple potions and bombs, but this can be greatly expanded upon. To improve Geralt's arsenal, the game uses the classic RPG mainstays of allowing the user to collect materials and craft them into equipment, potions, bombs and more. The entire system is well developed, tracking down designs for new equipment across the world and then gathering from a gargantuan amount of materials to collect, from picking the simple herbs that are scattered through the wilderness to hunting specific monsters for their parts. Geralt does not just have this inventory at his disposal; he also has five spells, or "Signs." A protective shield, a blast of flame or force, mind control and a magical trap - each can be effective depending on the enemy being fought. These can all be powered up using a simple but effective levelling and skill system. There are four Mutagen talent trees to enhance combat, signs, potions and passive abilities; by levelling up or discovering places of power in the open world, Geralt can purchase these, and they offer a wide variety of upgrades to play with. As his level increases, he can equip more of the skills he has purchased and even link Mutagens he collects by killing different monsters in the world. Matching the colour of Mutagen to the skills gives even bigger buffs.

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There is a mammoth amount of enemies to use these skills and abilities against. Along the course of the game Geralt will slaughter humans, dragons, basilisks, griffins, vampires, trolls, golems and so many more. The enemies in the world of The Witcher are based on classic European myths and legends, but each of them has been reimagined for this world with real individual and unique designs. Every enemy has their own attack patterns, special abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Using weapon oils catered to the enemy types, spells and bombs they are weak to makes for a much better all-around experience.

Choice is a big aspect of the game. At numerous points, branching pathways and choices are presented that result in repercussions both immediate and later in the game. There are even time limits enforced on the reply at some sections, forcing quick thinking, which is not easy when the choices are often difficult and with surprising results. It's great to see choices actually impact the story in a meaningful way. The Witcher 3 has three different endings, but with over 30 variations depending on the choices made throughout the game.

On top of story quests and side-quests, fans of card games will find a distraction inside The Witcher 3 that will devour untold hours of time. The card game "Gwent" has simple rules and is quick to play through, yet can get thoroughly addicting, allowing card aficionados plenty of decks and cards to develop and experiment with, just like the classic Triple Triad of Final Fantasy VIII and Tetra Master from Final Fantasy IX. All merchants can play the game and defeating them will reward a new card, along with a number of side-quests dedicated to playing against significant characters. There are over a hundred cards to collect, and most importantly, with this type of attraction, it is a lot of fun.

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Wild Hunt certainly isn't perfect. The inventory system can be a complete nightmare, especially when trying to sort out what to keep, sell and craft. The controls can occasionally be very frustrating; fighting atop a cliff, Geralt can easily end up rolling or jumping to his death. Fall damage seems to be very random, with sometimes a fall of only a few feet taking away the majority of Geralt's health. Possibly most annoying, Geralt seems to have some obsession with the lighting and extinguishing of candles. This would be completely fine if not for the fact there are candles everywhere… Next to quest givers, next to innkeepers, besides chests and quest items… It gets maddening to try over and over to perfectly face Geralt so he can interact with the correct item. There are these issues and more, but no game is perfect.

Regardless of its flaws, The Witcher 3 is a near-masterpiece, deserving a place in any RPG fan's catalogue. With a story that is perfectly crafted all the way from start to finish, there are massive dramatic story arcs that all culminates to one of the most satisfying conclusions in recent memory. The characterisation and development of the supporting cast is superb, and there is real emotional impact from the story. The world is beautiful and a joy to explore, and even the lacklustre combat can quickly become fun and interesting when played as intended. This may be the end of Geralt's tale; it may not. Whatever may come next from the world of The Witcher, or from whatever world CD Projekt Red decides to explore in the future, it will be hotly anticipated.

Screenshot for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the culmination of Geralt's story and it is a spectacular farewell to the wolfish hero. CD Projekt Red has done an amazing job in this send off, and hopefully what comes next will continue with the standards set. The Witcher 3 is an iconic and spectacular RPG, hotly anticipated and well delivered, deserving of being held in the same category as The Witcher 2, Skyrim and Dragon Age as some of the very best examples of Western fantasy RPGs.

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

Well, if it's anything like The Witcher 2, I don't feel the need to play it. TW2 is probably the third worst RPG I've played. The story of TW2 had very little to do with Geralt, Geralt himself said he didn't care about politics (which the entire game was about, really). If none of it really affects the player or Geralt -- and Geralt isn't all that likable in TW2 in the first place, pretty bland -- then why should anyone care about what happens story-wise?

Aside from that, I personally didn't care about any of the characters. I didn't really have relationships with them, nor even slight emotional connections to them. Many of the characters were introduced but never explained, never given much of a backstory... I had no idea who many of them even were, and I certainly won't read a pages-long codex as homework.
There was really no reason to even want to choose Iorveth over Roche... in essence they were pretty much the same character. You had no vested interest in seeing one (or more) of the characters fail or succeed, because none of them gave you any incentive to like or support them... and that rendered all the decision-making in the game arbitrary. Especially if the game didn't explain at all what could roughly happen if you made one choice or another.
Many of the side-quests are pathetically easy and just pit you against common enemies for a measly reward.

Combat was possibly the shallowest of any RPG I've seen, shallower than Fable III, and that's saying something. Traps were useless and underwhelming, and you could just spam the light attack button and roll when the enemy gets the chance to attack you. That's pretty much it. Especially on the harder difficulty it just becomes a game of ''roll and retaliate''.
Parrying was really only useful in one-on-one engagements. Only the Quen sign is truly useful, but it only has one basic function. All the skills were really basic and could barely be altered through the skill tree. I know TW2 is an action-RPG, but so is Dragon's Dogma, and even though it is shallow too, it's better than TW2. 

The inventory was confusing and bloated, filled with items you didn't need too. Looting items resulted in you taking all the contents of the loot container. Controls were awkward as they could fling you towards the wrong enemy, hit detection sucked, etc etc.

So yeah, if TW3 is not a huge improvement over TW2, I won't be buying it. I'm appalled that TW2 got such great scores when it was so hackneyed, edgy, and shallow. Don't get me wrong, the story is not bad, but games should be more than just a storyline.

( Edited 07.07.2015 17:50 by Argento Angelo )

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