Update: Our original review stated that there was no dedicated map button. Thanks to Jon in the comments, we have found that swiping up on the touchpad will immediately pull up the map!
To try to pigeonhole The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt into a certain category is to do this game a massive disservice. Stop comparing it to other games. The Witcher 3 is not Skyrim. It is not Dragon Age. It doesn’t have to be one of these other games. It is simply The Witcher 3, and in its own right it accomplishes everything it set out to do and more.
The world of The Witcher 3 is alive and organic. Overheard conversations tell stories that you may or may not become involved in. People go on with their lives. You aren’t this world’s bright hero. In fact, Geralt is considered by many to be a freak. He’s a monster hunter for hire — a witcher — who takes on contracts for reward, and whose mutated qualities suppress emotion, allowing some tough decisions to be made easier. Now this doesn’t mean that he is entirely emotionless or without morals. That’s left for you to decide.
Events occur naturally, like happening upon a man tied up on the banks of a pond and left to the drowners — devilish little creatures who like to pop in in large numbers and overwhelm any unlucky travelers. He tells me his sob story and I now have the choice of whether to untie him or leave him to die. I’m kind hearted, and think “what the hell? Why not?” and let him go. Maybe I’d run across him later and he would vastly reward me for saving his life. Later on in my travels, I just so happened upon a group of bandits that had slaughtered a bunch of refugees, and leading the rowdy bunch was the same man I had kindly rescued earlier.
Here I was given yet another decision. Leave him be and share in the spoils from the refugees he had murdered, or put this bastard and his entire group six feet underground? I chose the latter and found myself in a heated battle with enemies that were a higher level than me and tough to take out. After a long and difficult fight — and a number of deaths — the bandits were in pieces around me and I took my fill from their loot.
I consistently found that many missions tie together, and some not in ways that you would expect. Taking a contract from a notice board in a small town, I was tasked with clearing monsters from an old woman’s manor, for pay, of course. A lot of contracts like this will even let you negotiate the pay to try to get more coin for your efforts. The woman tells me there’s a chest full of items and money in the manor, and it’s mine if I can get rid of the monsters so she can live there.
Arriving at the location she provided, I was beset upon by traps, set up by another witcher squatting in this woman’s barn. He had already taken care of the monsters there and cares nothing for the prize, but meeting him begins another line of robust sidequests, as well as allowing me to go back and finish out the quest with the old woman. Beyond that, further exploration of the manor reveals additional details about the woman’s life that were not part of the mission, but provided an interesting addendum and epilogue to her story, really showing how deeply and well written the world of The Witcher 3 is.
The impressive writing weaves together this entire world into a tapestry. Quest lines and stories are not self contained, but cross over into each other in surprising and profound ways. This may include characters, locations, or even Geralt’s decisions. Every small decision may build to a culmination of events, the result of many accords made through the course of main story and side missions both. The ambiguity of right and wrong is amplified as unexpected events transpire based on decisions that didn’t even appear to be remotely relevant. I witnessed a man hang himself because of a series of choices I made both in missions that involved him and missions that seemingly had nothing to do with him. The seeds were sown far back in the game, and reloading a recent save wasn’t going to fix that.
There’s no clear black and white here. Anything that Geralt does could have far reaching consequences or be completely inert, but the game makes no indication of which choices are which. The player will have to discover the consequences of their actions over the course of the 50+ hour story and the 150+ hours of additional quests. Yes, The Witcher 3 is an enormous game, and there is so much content to devour. My current player stats show me having played more than two days’ worth of time, yet my quest list is still massively filled with missions and contracts that I can take on, with many more points of interest showing up on the world map. There’s also the huge distraction Gwent, a full featured card game that has entire quest lines devoted to playing it and collecting cards, which I found myself getting extremely caught up in at any chance I could get.
The Witcher 3 doesn’t hold your hand, and the difficulty can ramp up quickly, particularly if you get yourself in over your head. Deciding to shortcut through marsh or forest instead of taking the main road could see you beset upon by higher leveled bandits, monsters, or even larger beasts that you stand no chance against. Exploration is encouraged, but is also not made easy, providing a real sense of accomplishment and reward for me as I made my way through the game. Sometimes even escaping a pack of wolves at a higher level than me felt like a massive victory.
Combat is fairly simply with heavy attacks, light attacks, dodge rolls, and magic, but can quickly get out of hand and take a turn for the worst. There is some strategy involved, particularly on higher difficulties, and proper management of your health, gear condition, and even save state is imperative as surprises can leave you a smear on the ground, especially if you go poking around for trouble. The times that you get to play as Ciri offer a slight variation of gameplay, as she is smaller and lighter, and thereby much faster, though she lacks the same magical abilities that Geralt possesses.
There were a couple of bumps in this near perfect road, and though I am not one to be bothered by small issues, they were ones that continued to rear their ugly heads time and time again. Not having a dedicated map button was a hassle especially given how often I’d pull up the map to go off and explore. Sure, it’s only one extra button press, but it would have been nice to have one side of the touchpad be dedicated to the map and the other side be the menu.
The inventory system is also a jumbled mess with no effective way of organizing your stock, and insanely tiny text that will test even those who have had laser surgery to fix their eyes to hawk precision. There’s not even a way to mark your items as junk so that you can quick sell them at the next merchant, and I found myself selling off all of my extra stuff at every chance I could get to avoid over complicating my inventory menu. These are very small things, but as two things that repeatedly get used, they grew tiresome as I approached my two days’ worth of total play time.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is truly an incredible masterpiece. The writing and building of the world alone should be lauded as some of the best in video games. Stories weave in and out of one another surprisingly. The consequences of every decision are far reaching and unpredictable while also making complete sense once they happen. The world is organic, dangerous, and fun to explore. There is a true sense of reward and accomplishment. While minor design choices keep it from being absolutely perfect, The Witcher 3 will go down as one of the best games of this generation of consoles.
The Witcher 3 review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.