Published on January 28th, 2015 | by IceCube
GLiTCH Plays: The Witcher 3 – Wild Hunt
Hi guys! Welcome to another early video game preview!
Today I got my hands on the PS4 controller for an early go at The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt! There’s been a lot of hype behind this game so needless to say I was quite excited to see where it’s at.
Before we get too deep into this, you should know that I’m not the biggest fan of The Witcher series. I played the beginning of the first game, got through most of the lengthy second game (encouraged by recommendations from countless colleagues) and here we are with number three. Going into the preview, my perception of the series is that it’s very good, but over-hyped.
PEOPLE SWEAR THEIR LIFE to these games – PC gamers mostly – waving it around like a flag as if to verify PC relevancy in gaming (at least, during a period of time when it needed a flag, badly). It’s the PC gamers’ boast – or flagship title – if you will. I find that console gamers tend to score it 7-8, were PC gamers go 9-10, promising readers the equivalent joy of Smaug’s treasure hoard if they play it.
Me? I love all platforms, and really like The Witcher games, but as someone who has played almost every fantasy adventure game under the sun, I struggled to kneel down before it as so many do, because I found it doesn’t do many things as well as some of it’s competitors. Without going into great detail, some of those drawbacks stemmed from: stiff character movement and traversal, “soft” melee combat, tedious crafting, a confusing interface, painful controls, inconsequential conversations and a story that was strong in patches and a grind in between, lacking focus.
That said – I suspected this sequel would likely be the best game of the three, and after three hours of rock solid gameplay, I’m extremely confident that it will be… by far. It has certainly eliminated many of the earlier flaws I mentioned, and added so much more to make me start believing those loyal PC gamers. I played from the very beginning:
The opening sequence introduces us to Geralt (The Witcher) and Yennefer (his sexy missus), both flashing some skin in a bedroom scene with the subtlety of a Game of Thrones episode. Awesome. Geralt is simply cooler than ever, oozing handsome and displaying wit and charm at every turn. His voice is so gravelly, it should coincide with the rumble controller, as it’s sure to melt hearts of the lady gamers. The boys get Yennefer as early-game eye candy, a fine-looking brunette lady with enough conviction to keep the Anita Sarkeesians at arms-length.
After some introductory conversation options, the tutorial begins, where you meet Ciri, the young girl Witcher (about eight-years-old?) training outside. Here you learn all your basic controls, including the two swords (one for natural foes, one for demons), your starting Witcher powers (including the familiar: Stun, Slow, Power and Shield), throwing grenade-type weapons, parrying, dodging and introducing you to some new freerunning. This almost-parkour system is one of the best new features in the game, as climbing walls in previous games was scripted laziness. The new system is far from Assassin’s Creed quality, but a welcome relief for the journey ahead.
Visually, the game looks stunning. The world is beautiful, as you have probably already noticed in many of the earlier trailers. My awe-struck drool was caused by the intricate facial detail and body textures, which is quite exquisite to look at and arguably on-par with the likes of L.A. Noire. The PS4 was sometimes a little slow to load the skin textures between camera frames, but not often. The graphics are looking as superb as promised.
Plot spoilers aside, with the tutorial completed, you’re free to hit the open world. This is where I was introduced to the new horse riding system, so, yes, you have your horse from the start of the game. I could call my horse at any time by pressing down the L3 stick, and speed up from trot to canter to gallop by double-tapping the X button. Holding the X button down allows my horse to stay on the path without manual direction. It’s clear that the developers carefully studied Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption horse riding system when creating their own – not quite reaching the same level of detail – but succeeding nonetheless. Just having a reliable steed on-call is brilliant and makes this game significantly better and far more enjoyable than ever.
Riding around allowed me to explore the lands, and in my limited time I saw beaches, mountains, swamps, castles, forts, destroyed villages, forests, hanged bodies and snow. The terrain ascended and descended and was never drawn out with long, dull plains. There were many NPC’s about, most with very little to say, and missions marked on a mini map.
The land is in a post-war flux, where soldiers from victorious invading armies have set up camps and forts, attempting to hold ground while more forces move in to completely take over. Geralt isn’t fussed by this, he views the situation as “part of life” and he seemingly rolls with it, just happy to have the opportunity for extra contract work. It’s interesting. There is suffering everywhere you go, but you can’t help the most needy even if you want to. Instead, you find yourself helping the few who pay you coin for medial tasks. You rarely feel like a hero or a difference-maker, more like a warrior looking out for his own. I’ll need to play more to see how I ultimately feel about that.
The conversations between characters were quite lengthy and drawn out, I found. Most of the time it was quite interesting and made for a good tale, but ultimately it slowed the pace of the game down too much, and my patience was tested a lot. If I really felt like my conversation choices were crucial plot changers, it may have been a worthy engagement. But most of my conversation choices were merely optional background waffle, with a choice to accept or refuse the mission at the end. Any rare response that offers alternate reactions from the NPC are of very little consequence, as I found with the previous Witcher games too.
Missions have a decent variety of tasks, so it’s not just a handful of fetch quests. It could be a hunt, an assassination, tracking, convincing, or detective work, to name a few.
The map also now features swimming sections which further adds to the excellent variety of new freedoms given to the player. Additionally, I could also fast travel between signposts if ever I needed to cut down on travel time.
Speaking of time, I ran out of it before I could fight the Griffin I was hunting for a mission objective, plus there were several contracts in play that I had accepted from NPC’s and notice boards. While each side mission was interesting in its own right, I found the main story once again lacking the motivation to keep me engaged. Geralt does stuff because he can, not because he must, and that’s a shame. But perhaps the full story will present more?
Overall I’m really impressed with this game and will be keen to invest my time into it without needing a push from my PC friends. While it’s still not flawless, most of my old gameplay complaints have been remedied. I only hope the main story presents a situation that makes me want to play regularly, rather than leave me trudging from contract to contract wondering what I’m ultimately trying to achieve. The final game will reveal all.
For more on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – stay tuned to Gamebug.com.au!