Thursday 11 June 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

One of my biggest regrets through all my gaming years is the fact that I've never played both The Witcher or The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I've always wanted to play them, I certainly always appreciated them from all the gameplay footage I've seen, but I held off until I bought a PC that could not only max them out, but one that maxed out the inevitable third game. Sadly that didn't happen for awhile, and though I did finally get that PC back in March, I haven't had a chance to play both games yet. As the release of this third Witcher game approached, I knew I wouldn't have enough time to properly play the first two, despite them already installed and ready on my Steam account. So, for better or for worse, I played this final entry in The Witcher series without playing any of the previous ones. Trust me, I wish this wasn't the case, but here we are. So in case you care, this will be a review by someone who hasn't played any previous Witcher games before. Anyway, with that out of the way, read on.

 Developed by CD Projekt RED and out now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC comes The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the best game of 2015 (so far). Being the one reviewer ever to admit he never played the first two games (there's bound to be more, right?), many of the characters and references to previous games were lost on me. However, I don't think it necessarily killed the experience for me, as it seems CD Projeckt RED did their best to make Wild Hunt an entry point for newbies. Wild Hunt is set in the Northern Realms, a world filled with magic, violence and sex. You take on the role of Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a Witcher, which is essentially a physically, mentally and magically trained person for the sole purpose on them becoming a monster slayer. Witchers are incredibly powerful individuals, and Geralt is one of many Witchers across the world. Though at this point in his life Geralt had assumed his greatest adventures are behind him, he's pulled back into the fold when a dark army known as the Wild Hunt and begin to lay waste to the Northern Realms. Geralt takes up his sword one final time to bring peace to the land.

Wild Hunt is a third-person action RPG, and after the first small area you -as the famed Witcher Geralt- are sent off into the world. Whether you go directly for the main quest or one of the many, many side-quests on offer, it's up to you. Wild Hunt is all about choice, whether that ends up with you defeating the Wild Hunt, slaying the many monsters of the Northern Realms or simply rambling and exploring to your hearts content; it's all up to you. However, if you do manage to pull yourself away from simply taking in the world, the combat mechanics of Wild Hunt are really something. Combat here is arguably more about parrying and counter-attacking than is about attacking and using magic. Keeping on your toes, dodging an enemies every move and thinking about a battle while it's happening is the key, as this is certainly not a game in which you'll get by button bashing. Attacks are dished out simple enough, with each one landing a delicious crunching and hard hitting blow, but they need to be timed perfectly. Disregarding this or not treating each enemy like its own separate challenge will often lead to death.

Magic comes in the form of Signs, and there are 5 different types of Signs, which cover a fire attack, telekinesis, laying traps, a shield for Geralt and also magic that screws with an enemies mind. Each one of these Signs can be upgraded too, which will ultimately lead to your Geralt being quite the unstoppable force. Beyond Signs, over the course of the game you can upgrade 4 other skills trees- combat, alchemy, mutagens and general skills. Each skill tree is packed full of excellent abilities that will make your Geralt seem unique, and these can range from allowing him to wield a crossbow, giving him the ability to make his own bombs, to making Geralt a little more hardy to both magical and physical attacks. This, coupled with the truly outstanding stigmatization ability in terms of weapons and armour, leads to Wild Hunt's combat feeling utterly thrilling. In the space of one simple battle you'll blaze your way through slicing with your sword, rolling out of the way, counter-attacking, followed by a quick shot of a fireball, with the battle ending with a single crossbow shot directly into your attackers face. It's epic.

In Wild Hunt the world CD Projeckt RED presents to us is an open-world. However, it's not one large landmass like, say, Skyrim. Instead the Northern Realms are made of various landmasses, contain a wide array of different types of locations and feature an incredible sense of geography. You'll venture through lush forests that sway, rustle and dance in the wind, chat with various farmers and regular people in the many towns and cities littered across the land, and do battle against monstrous creatures upon the high snowy peaks of dangerous mountains. Needless to say, visually this game is beyond stunning. Though it looks especially great on PC, the console versions are pretty much just as good.

It's a beautiful game to behold but it's also dark, bleak and unforgiving. From the Botchlings; zombie-like miscarried fetuses that prey on pregnant women to the many, many folk of the Northern Realms that literally live in misery and need Geralts help, Wild Hunt is a game that nicely juggles both the breathtaking and the disturbing. Though it may get dark and depressing at times, it's a world you'll not only want to inhabit, but it's one you'll want to make a better place. Then again, in a game founded upon letting the player carve out their own moral path, maybe you'll want to make it worse. CD Projekt RED have just created one of the best RPGs ever.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt slays the competition with a 5/5.


Denis Murphy

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