For the past two weeks I've been running around the battlefields of Velen, explored Novigrad's darkest corners and I've breathed the cold clean air of the Skellige mounts, I've slayed an unparalleled number of fantastical creatures and a sh*t ton of bandits too. I've helped a great deal of strangers because I wanted to and many other because the money was too good. I've been the cause of mass revolts and genocide and I've managed to piss off a king and an emperor in the process. I've also put a baby into an oven and had sex on top of a unicorn. For the past two weeks I was Geralt of Rivia, The White Wolf and god how much I loved it.
The Witcher 3 is a masterpiece and I am putting this out right now, cause it doesn't make any sense holding it for later. This is the best game I've played to date and I am one known not to like RPG games in particular. But there was something about The Witcher 3, something that the trailers till up to release more than successfully portrayed, I just knew this game would be amazing and I had to play it. And play it I did, 145 hours later I can say that I have done pretty much everything in the game apart from some gwent quest, but more on that later.
From where do I start? Hmm well, the story comes first to mind. Now I have not played the two previous games, so I don't really know who's who and what's what, although I've watched quite a few LP videos for The Witcher 2 and from that I can make a couple of comparisons between the two. Back to the main storyline, it is exciting, interesting and very intriguing. I feared that nothing would make sense having not played the previous games, but I was happy to find out that I was completely wrong. The way the story is written is excellent. You understand the world, you get what a witcher is, how they came to be and what they do and you can delve even deeper if you choose to read the fantastic books and letters that give details of things that were and hint at what's to come.
The main story is kinda easy to explain, as you have to find and protect Ciri, the emperor's daughter who Geralt raised as his own kin, from the ghastly spectral riders known as The Wild Hunt who have for ages plagued humankind, bringing misery to the world. So you begin tracking Ciri, be where she has been, learn what has happened and why, interact with a vast number of characters who might or might not have helped Ciri in her own quest. Then you get to play as Ciri in these flashback sequences and experience the events from her point of view, again, learning more about why all this is happening. Now of course, this is painting it with a large as f*ck broad brush and it doesn't really do it justice, but if I went in detail and probably spoil it, we would be here for a while, a long while.
This quest of Geralt takes him from the small area of White Orchard, which also serves as the "tutorial" area, to the massive are of Velen and Novigrad which is larger than life, and from there to the Skellige Islands. And the cast of characters that populate these areas and with whom you interact is as diverse as it can get and everyone and I mean everyone is fascinating. The interaction and the conversations Geralt has with the other characters, be them main or secondary ones, are beautifully written. It just feels real and you begin to care about them. Some might seem good at first, but turn to be assholes later and vice versa. Some are good to you cause of their hidden agenda, some will f*ck you over without batting an eye and many will care for you if you want them to. What you say or choose to do in a situation changes how things progress and it might be for good or it might come to bite you in the ass later. The thing I am trying to explain is that you have choices and these choices matter in this world and will give different results in the end, as you will get to see only one of the 36 possible different endings in the game...I know, that's crazy!
Again I can go for ages, spoiling the main story and explain why it's beautiful, interesting, intriguing and full of surprises that would make George R. Martin more than proud, but that's only one reason why The Witcher 3 is a masterpiece. When it comes to games or any form of entertainment that is, world building or the universe behind it, is one of the more fascinating aspects. Think now of all of the books, movies, games which transported you to another world, immersed you into it's director, writer, studio vision, charmed and captivated you with a beautiful lore, story, characters, visuals etc.
CD Project Red has done just that. They have created a truly massive living world, something that I really haven't seen before. From the myths, legends and the history of the cities and towns to the moment to moment storytelling, The Witcher 3 world feels real and is truly alive. And I am not only speaking of the way the main story unfolds, which deep down tells a beautiful father daughter story much like The Last of Us, no, everything that happens in the world has a meaning and has an impact to you, the player. The main story apart from having some epic moments of great epic action and overall badassery, it shines even brighter when it slows down. Without spoiling anything, the tavern scene, the mansion scene, the snowball fight, the scene in the cabin on the enchanted island etc. are some of the most beautiful moments I've seen in games. How these play out, the calmness and serenity around them, the beautiful conversations or silence and the way these "cut-scenes" are shot is just wonderful and will leave such an impression for years to remember. Think of the giraffe scene from The Last of Us...yes I know it made some of you cry and I assure you The Witcher 3 will too.
The same sense of memorability also extends to the side quest. Fexample, in a side quest you are tasked to find an arsonist, someone who set someone else's house on fire. Using your witcher vision, you find the culprit and till now well, it is as generic as it can get. Then you are presented with a simple choice of snitching him out for reward or let him go, again, still generic. Let's say you choose to tell on him, you get the reward and everything is awesome...except it isn't. After handing you your reward, a mere 10 or 20 coins, the arsonist victim calls the guards patrolling the area and they decide to hang the poor arsonist for his crime. WTF? That's when you stop and think, "F*ck, I unintentionally just killed a man!" and then you understand that The Witcher 3 is not like the other games you have played in the past.
That is only one example of a side quest, that were it to be in another game, it would be just generic and completely forgettable. In another side quest, you are tasked to get an old woman her frying pan which is just behind her door, but the story that she tells you about it filled with details about the pan and about the two men who got in her home to "steal" it is just crazy. And after getting it and reading the unsent letter from the man who used the grease from the pan as ink things get even crazier. Hell, this one "puny" side quest has more story than Destiny, yes I said it but who am I kidding, I still love Destiny (700 hours in and still going strong!). Finding the missing goat, rescuing the sister taken by the pirates, completing the trial of the warrior, saving the merchant and so on, each and everyone of the side quest is interesting and memorable, two things that we haven't really seen before in RPG games before.
But this excellent storytelling and world building doesn't stop there. The moment to moment gameplay, the random encounters and the visual storytelling immerse you even more and make the world truly feel alive. Something that I experienced just before I started writing the review really hit me. I was running around Velen to destroy a monster nest, when I glimpsed and heard a boy crying over two dead bodies at the side of the road. Well, I continued running and just a few feets away from the boy, I encountered a pack of wolves. "Heh, I get it" I whispered to myself. It suddenly made sense so I felt compelled to avenge his parents even though there was no side quest to complete, no reward, I just wanted to do it. And spread out in the massive world there are a ton of moments like this, you just naturally stumble upon them, pick up the visual cues and you get what happened.
Helping in bringing this fantastic world alive is the perfect presentation, from the beautiful artstyle, the insane level of detail and massive open world without load times to the excellent songs that increase the already insanely immersing atmosphere tenfold. Now I don't know what genre the songs fall into, but it sounds a lot like a mix of slavic, nordic and celtic at the same time and it is f*cking powerful. Running across the fields or riding the horse and hearing that melancholic masterfully orchestrated melody that will make you feel alone in the world to then quickly switch to the fast, powerful and tense one when you encounter an enemy is just perfect man, it truly is. And the way it looks, omg. The detail is just crazy, the level of vegetation is borderline insane, the paths and roads, the buildings brimmed with stuff, the shacks and cabins and the small drainage channels dug between them, the crates, chests, barrels and whatnot, how everything is laid, the swamps, the rocks, the small ponds, the mountains, the caverns...everything is beautiful and exciting and interesting. Then there is the skybox with the insane draw distance which offers some of the best sunsets you will ever see. The same can be said about the weather effects such as rain and thunderstorms and while they are nowhere near what we saw on that E3 trailer, they are still amazing. Seeing all of the vegetation move, the trees going back and forth violently from the wind, rain pouring down like waterfall with a thunderstorm lightning going crazy in the horizon while you ride on top of Roach, your trusty horse, as fast as possible with the Cloak & Dagger OST playing in the background is just spectacular. On that note I want to close this review, but since I have not talked about the gameplay, yep, not even mentioned it, I guess you have to do a little more reading.
Gameplay is f*cking great, yes, there you have it. The combat is great, it's visceral, fast and thoughtful. I don't want to say that it's a mix of this and that, but if I have to I can say that it's a mix between AC Unity and Bloodborne. Decimating and decapitating humans and nonhumans has never been so much fun. Block, parry, roll and dodge, light and heavy attacks, yeah you get the full package. But when you combine them with your magic powers or Signs things get interesting. Blast the enemies with Aard, force push them Jedi style, to stagger them and go in for the execution. Or burn them with Igni. Or slow them down with the Yrden and go behind for the kill. Or push someone with the Axii to "betray" his friends and enjoy the show. Or you can do what I did for the most part, use Quen to coat yourself with a magic shield and go gun...swordblazing hoping for the best. Again, the game offers choice. Do you wanna be a badass spending all your points into increasing the power of attacks and upgrade Quen to the max or you wanna play smart focusing more in the crowd control with Axii or Yrden upgrades? Or a mix between the two? No matter what you choose, the combat still is as exciting and satisfying. However the choices doesn't stop there, as you gear and weapons are interchangeable and with a giant loot system, you will find a set of armour and swords that fit your playstyle. Potions return, but the system is more streamlined and easy to get around. Before in The Witcher 2 you had to prepare before a battle, drink potions and decoctions before the fight while here you can do that mid battle. It depends how deep you want to go, as the effects of the potions, decoctions and oils applied to your swords have different effect on the enemies you fight, but I doubt you'll give much thought to it if you play in lower difficulties.
As for the mission variety, it usually boils down to you against one or multiple enemies, but the side quests and open world missions offer more variety. So you have witcher contracts where you have to track down a monster by asking around or using your Witcher Vision, which works kinda like the Detective Vision from the Arkham games, and slay that motherf*cker down. You never know where you might end fighting the monster, be that deep down a dark cavern or on top of a snowy mountain, the witcher contracts are great. Then you have the horse races, fighting championship, destroy monster dens, liberate settlements from bandits or monsters, find loot chests, find power stones etc. There is a ton of stuff to do in The Witcher 3 and the interesting part is that you will want to do all of it and once you are done, you'll want even more. Once the main storyline is finished, the game in an open world fashion, continues and you can complete every sidequest and collect everything. Oh there is also a robust card game in the game which is fun if you want it to be, but it may get on your nerves as in the end there are like 8 or 9 quests where you are forced to play it. I wish there was another way of completing these quests, maybe pay hmm what do you say CD Project Red?
To sum it all up, again, The Witcher 3 is a true masterpiece. It sets a new standard for open world and RPG games, in terms of storytelling, character development, world building, gameplay, presentation and how well and synergistic everything is. It looks bloody gorgeous and while we might argue about some stupid glitches, bugs and the frame rate dropping a few frames here and there, you will be too busy relishing every second and being immersed into this mastercrafted world. The Witcher 3 is Game of The Year 2015, yep I said it. Thanks for reading!