The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is less a game and more an experience. It thrusts you into a world ravaged by war and magic with the raw candor and storytelling that immerses the player. Its finest points weave the development of characters without the typical restrictions of modern titles, openly discussing the grotesque and evil nature of humanity without filter. It is the type of weaving that is often restricted to novels and fantastical narratives.
What this creates is an ambience that is easy to get lost in. This is an experience touting a story that “could” be completed in about 20 or so hours, there’s the opportunity to lose yourself for over 200. It’s so easy to lose yourself at times that the sunrise and gentle sway of the trees with ambient wind and howling in the distance will give you pause, often more than once.
The abundance of visual fidelity and ambient sound isn’t enough for some people. For those folks there is the meme-worthy laundry list of Geralt one-liners when he talks about his favorite pastime: Gwent. Hearing the stern aged warriors grumble, “I could really go for …. Some cards …. Specifically …. Gwent” is not only ridiculous but almost humanizing in a way you’d never expect out of the white wolf.
So what does the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt offer to the gaming community? A community that cares.
Community, DRM and DLC
CD Projekt Red has long been known for their ambivalence towards DRM, marketing and business planning. Their focus has always been to create a game worthy of playing without concerning themselves with the obstacles that surround the development. In part, it was this demeanor that raised a few brows when the conflict between CDPR and Green Man Gaming arose, one that shared an exchange of open letters and the inevitable acknowledgement that it exists, and they do not appreciate its existence. With it came a certain stride, however. CDPR and the launching of GOG Galaxy with the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a huge step in a new direction, and interference like this was temporary.
The company strives to provide the gaming community with a recipe of nostalgia, whether it’s the service of GOG with its exuberant list of classic titles, or the homage to the golden era of gaming where companies continued to patch, update, and release additional content for games with no additional charge, the era pre-DLC. CDPR prior to the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt maintained that nostalgic freedom, and looked to make a change with its newest title, a return to the original definition of an “expansion” and its newly absorbed title of “DLC.”
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt contains more than a dozen expected DLC updates that make minor, but appreciated changes. Beginning with the Temerian Armor set and the Beard and Hairstyle customization, the DLC continues to release snippets of new content in regular intervals. Its largest stray from previous titles is the release of an expansion pass, a first for the Witcher franchise; however this DLC aims to stray from other titles that provide one or two hours of gameplay in exchange for unreasonably high prices. In exchange for the price, gamers are provided with upwards of 20 hours of content. This “DLC” is more of an expansion pack with the modern title of DLC, than what gamers have come to expect out of financially-focused gaming companies. Whether this model backfires or proves an agent of change is yet to be seen. There’s hope it will be the latter.
Afterall, CD Projekt Red’s co-founder and CEO Marcin Iwinski aims to make a statement against the trend toward high-priced, low-content DLC, stating in an interview with IGN that “we, as gamers, would like to be treated this way, ‘Hey, give me free DLC.’ It doesn’t have to be something huge. And I’m saying we aren’t giving out huge stuff, we aren’t giving tens of hours of storyline here, we are giving small bits of pieces that don’t cost a lot. And I think people would feel better about our game, and so they will enjoy the adventure even more.” This is the type of statement the gaming community can get behind, and many hope this encourages some change in the direction of future DLC releases. At the very least it inspires some hope.
The Game, the Mechanics
The gameplay sets you into an open world environment with the freedom to roam and explore at will, whether you’re a fan of keyboard and mouse of gamepad, the PC version offers both. It does seem at times that the game was designed with gamepads in mind, and it may be bias but it feels significantly smoother than the keyboard and mouse option. On consoles the choice is simple. With freedom comes opportunity and the ability to lose yourself, those “200+ hours” previously stated come from opening the map and staring at the countless question marks that represent seemingly random locations to explore. At times you’ll find a guarded treasure, a small town, a new quest to embark on, or a camp filled with bandits. If you’re aching for wanderlust then this will keep you going, quite literally, for hours.
While combat fits into the standard modern-sequence of combing blocks, dodges, light and heavy attacks into a chain sequence that destroys your target faster than they can destroy you; it also manages to smoothly integrate the core mechanics into a tightly knit system of slaughter. The point is, you feel powerful, and with that power comes … quite frankly, no responsibility. Geralt is a professional, not a hero, and he serves the people in exchange for coin … mostly.
When you’re face to face with a beaten and broken villager with nothing left but a copper coin and a broken body, there are times when Geralt has the option to be a humanitarian Witcher, which goes against the Witcher creed. Those of us controlling said Witcher, just happen to have a heart (and feelings!) sometimes … so we have the option of returning the coin to fund an orphan, buy a round of drinks to prevent a bloody fight, or hunt a predator in exchange for gratitude rather than coin. On the flip side, it’s entirely up to the player if they want to engage in a bloody, war-torn world where everything must die, including inebriated bandits who’ve lost all concept of judgment.
The point is, in the Witcher, people will die. Once in a while you’re in control of who those people will be. The style in which you do it is placed entirely in your hands as well.
Now, when it comes to adventuring, you have free reign over your style of questing, adventuring and monster hunting. If you follow the story, strictly, as previously mentioned you could blow through the story in approximately 20 hours if you wanted to. However, as you gain experience and level up, speak to villagers and explore uncharted territory, you come across a slew of optional objectives that unlock lore, gear, and friendly (sometimes) faces. There are quests, storyline quests, treasure hunts, and more. The freedom is endearing, and you’ll find yourself lost in this game for quite some time.
One cannot simply review the Witcher without making mention of one of the most unexpectedly pleasant ways to pass the time. The charm of having the toughly built white wolf whimper “Gwent?” with glee to every villager he passes by is undeniably one of the best features this game has to offer. He could be covered in blood, getting ready to rescue a villager, on a mission that seems time sensitive, but good ol’ Geralt will always find time to run into a villager that can’t go another minute without laying down some cards and having a go at it.
The mechanics themselves may be frustrating to new players at first, but this is a game that grows on you like vines. Your starter deck is enough to survive the first few encounters with amateur Gwent players, low damage cards without the additional powers will be a roll of the dice (or flip of the coin) at first. Once you start to beat a few challengers, and follow the quest line to meet a few of the world’s stronger contenders, your card deck will grow in size and power. With that growth comes new challengers, and anyone that has played any card game in real life (like Magic the Gathering) will soon come to realize, there are some opponents you just can’t beat with a low level deck. If you commit yourself to the cards early in the game, it opens up a whole new activity as the story unfolds, and it’s well worth getting through the first few tough matches to get there. If you haven’t already, purchase all the cards you come across that random vendors will have in stock (for whatever reason).
So if you haven’t, or didn’t think of it – Play Gwent.
It could be its own game.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the open-world RPG that elevates the franchise, through its transformation and addition of features focused solely on the pleasure of the player, anyone that jumps into this world will be immersed in an experience that is unlike any other. The general consensus is that this game is an incredible experience, highly rated, and beautiful. It’s all true.
Any fan of open world RPG’s, the Witcher, or even card games will find pleasure in this experience. Any fan of a good game with countless hours to back up the experience, should probably either be playing this game now or picking it up in the near future.