Not all decisions are black and white
Skyrim, Fallout 3, Dragon Age, and more have captured the hearts and imaginations of the masses in worlds of immersion and adventure. Beautiful landscapes, living and breathing towns, the expansive masses of lands that seem nearly endless. Each of these games have stood as major milestones for the genre. A new face has shown up in town though; that new face is Witcher 3, and this game has raised the bar to the next level.
I have always been a gamer that treasures the adventure experience as long as it lasts. Often times fleeting, I can imagine many others encompass that same euphoria while they can. Immersion factors in a great many things to draw you into the story you are unfolding. From lively non-player characters with personalities, environments that take your breath away simply gazing upon them, and sounds that pull you into the world as if you were there.
Witcher 3 has gone above and beyond these facets in more ways than one. Even if you have never played a single Witcher game or even knew about the book series, this game will pull you in and you will have to force yourself away to get anything productive done that day. Hours turn into days as time slips by with each quest you complete, or each secret you discover.
Take an adventure with me to a time past as you walk the halls the Witchers call home. A tutorial that blends in with the story harmoniously and seamlessly as if it were never there. You’re immediately thrown straight into the story in present time as Geralt, the main hero of the series. Day breaks and you set off on your horse, Roach, following your companion. As you pass by you may notice an unusual amount of ambiance and detail in the foliage. The winds caressing the waves on a nearby shore, to the blood of fallen soldiers still pooled on the nearby battlefield with the rank sounds of flies buzzing about decay.
The Witcher 3 is a game that captures pinpoint details to a level I have yet to see. The sound ambiance, the night & day cycling, the physics… the list goes on. Fluid combat that is both challenging, user friendly, and rewarding for the player to master in order to reach the end levels of the game. These elements blend together harmoniously with its engaging story telling and sleuthing akin to the Batman Arkham Series, although the witcher senses make a bit more sense in this game.
I think the part that really stuns me about the Witcher is the fact that the consequences for your actions can take place immediately or later. There is no morality indicators for when you make a choice, sorry Dragon Age and Mass Effect fans. All the choices are very vague as to what they elude to. On top of that, depending on how you handle the quests, they will determine the results equally as much. This game captures what it means to have consequences for better or for worst in your actions. There are also consequences for ignoring quests as well but I will leave that surprise for your own discoveries.
The Mechanics of the game are both simple and deeply complex in many regards. You have your HP bar, your stamina bar which is akin to your mana pool, your list of sign abilities akin to magic, and of course your trusty swords. There is also a mechanic that is quite unique to the witcher that isn’t normally flaunted very well in other games; Alchemy. The Alchemy mechanics are as much for preparation for certain fights along with knowing how much your body can handle. Alchemy is one of the single most important skills you will need to master in the game in order to optimize your chances for surviving an encounter. Here is a tip for all you would be Witchers out there; your bestiary is your best friend.
The Combat is fluid and seem-less from start to finish. Combat initiates with the helpful aid of Geralt equipping the appropriate sword for you depending on the enemy that you happen to encounter. You are still able to switch swords in combat but generally steel = fighting non monsters and silver = fighting monster. Signs are assigned on a hot bar that varies between which platform you are playing on and the stamina they consume regenerates quickly and efficiently with a mix of spell casting and melee combat.
Even if you were to specialize in signs, apologies to all the fellow wizards out there, you will still need to learn and master the dance of steel/silver. Sword fighting is your main defense as well as your offense when your spells aren’t available. Dodging, rolling, and parrying are all that stand between you and getting your teeth kicked in. If you falter on any of these natural elements you will be meeting a swift end.
The combat overall provides an excellent learning curve with a healthy challenge for higher skill levels of play. You won’t be punished harshly akin to other games that have more severe consequences. It is advisable though to practice the mantra of any RPG; save and save often.
Horse Back Riding:
Yes that is correct there is an entire sub-section for this lovely gem. I am never a fan of horseback simulations in most games akin to Witcher 3. The fact I enjoy the company of my trusty steed, Roach, in the Witcher 3 is a pleasant surprise. Your equine companion carries you across the lands searching far and wide to slay each monster that you come across… or at least scares the horse enough to buck you off.
Though opinions are mixed, I feel that the horse serves its purpose to give you an immersive experience for galloping across the many fields, swamps, and other biomes that you will encounter through your adventures. Just don’t think horseback based combat was at the forefront of their design process as we all know that very few games have even come close to getting this right.
Character Interactions and Quests:
This is one of the features I have to brag about the most when speaking about this game. Character choices aren’t anything new to the gaming scene. When it comes to having consequences for your actions and your decisions not always being clear, Witcher 3 takes the cake in this regard. Many if not all the quests will have variable outcomes depending on what you say, what you do, what you fail to do, the order you do things in, etc.
The fact that many of these quests aren’t easily black and white is what makes getting your paragon or renegade ending that much harder. What makes it worse? There is no perfect choice. MANY times throughout the game, you WILL have to make sacrifices and you WILL have your heart torn out because you can’t save everyone. This game captures morality beautifully in its writing, and it also captures a grim dark truth that we rarely see in stories, including very politically sensitive subjects and borders that will send many into an uproar.
The consequences however, don’t just stop after the quest is said and done. Your actions will haunt you throughout the rest of the game depending on what they are. Some questions and actions deny you certain quest paths depending on decisions in prior quests. That is all I am willing to really disclose regarding the story and quests while still retaining spoiler free content. My best non-spoiler tidbit I will leave everyone with is to not attempt the harem route; it doesn’t end well.
Graphics and Sound
The game is absolutely breathtaking from the opening cut-scene, to that moment you finally gain control of Geralt. I am absolutely flabbergasted as to the amount of detail that went into this game. The foliage, the animals and their quirky behaviors, the peasantry going about their daily lives nonchalantly as you are out slaying monsters and who knows what else. The ambient noises and even the weather effects take me aback.
The storm howling over the oceans as waves break on the beaches fiercely, the trees bending and creaking as they strain beneath the heavy winds, Geralt’s hair whipping in the wind dripping wet from the rain hammering against his brow as he rides across the lands. All these elements are what bring an immersion experience that I have honestly never seen before. The bar has been raised and many developers are aware of it.
The final crescendo to this masterpiece is the music itself. Every battle and every location has a dedicated musical score that sets the mood. The heated tempo of the battle anthem gets your heart pounding, the imperialistic overture when walking the stone streets of the capital, to even the relaxing melody of being in a simple provincial village. Each location and setting harmonizes perfectly in tandem to bring an immersive experience that will take your breath away.
Technical Scoring Breakdown
Average Technical Score: 9.75/10
Before anyone asks why I only gifted the Witcher 3 with a 9.5 out of 10 for mechanics; it is merely an arbitrary nuance that I have with the hot key setup for the PC. I feel the console variants have an easier control setup overall and anytime you have to mod the game to make the experience optimal for combat is a point of negativity. To clarify, I use a mod that allows me to hit a spell hotkey and it instantly activates that spell. In a fast paced game such as Witcher 3, you cannot afford even to be a second off in your sign casts.
It has been a very long time, since I have enjoyed a game this much. Witcher 3 has captured my heart and imagination as if I was taken back to the days I first experienced that magical feeling of immersion I had with Star Wars Galaxies. I was skeptical at first without having played any of the prior Witcher 3 games. I was told none of that mattered and I am glad I listened.
This game truly sets a precedence in my eyes for next gen games to come. The amount of care and dedication the developers showed for this game is such a rarity in the gaming industry these days. I applaud everyone at CD Projekt Red for all of their hard work and passion into creating this masterpiece.
To all of my fellow gamers out there, please show your full support to this amazing team of talented artists and developers. They were brave enough to release their game via DRM free platforms which unleashes the floodgates of consequences that could come from such a decision. Show your appreciation and show your dedication for DRM free game developers that focus their resources entirely on delivering a quality product.
Reviewer Score: 10/10 (In reality my score for the game is over 9000)