The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Hands-On Preview – True Dark Fantasy

As The Witcher series finally makes its debut on a PlayStation platform with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, many console gamers are going to be weighing in to see if this PC fan favorite lives up to the hype. Thankfully, CD Projekt RED let us get an early hands-on of the latest build for the game to see how it was shaping up, and it doesn’t seem to disappoint. 

From the beginning of the game, you are welcomed with one the best set ups and introductions to a franchise I have seen in a long time. As to not spoil anything, I won’t go into specifics, but CD Projekt RED introduces players into the world of The Witcher, while at the same time embedding a tutorial for its simplified but deep mechanics and setting up the game’s story. All of which is contained in a short, but elegant package that gets players moving into the world without ever making it feel unnatural or sluggish. This concept of story telling permeated just about every main-quest mission and side-story mission I went through during my three hours with the game, as nothing ever felt tacked on or out of place for the sake of just having more content.

Having never fully played through any of the other games in the franchise, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t understand crucial plot points in the story. But, while The Witcher 3 is the third entry in the series, it seemed to stand well enough on its own to never leave me feeling confused or lost from the outset. Set around series protagonist and monster slayer, Geralt of Rivia, the story kicks off with him being tasked to find a familiar friend and seek the child of prophecy.

As I moved from location to location, each interaction I had with characters left me having to decide my own way of interacting with the world and establishing my own path. But, unlike many titles that give players choices on how to unfold their own story, the branching paths here were cleverly guised to be almost indistinguishable from those that had no ramifications. Subtle options like choosing to bow to a king, or to stead fast in your normal unbending manner may send ripples throughout the story, or it may not. So, instead of trying to force the story in a direction I wanted it to take, I was left with trying to make Geralt the person I wanted him to be and let the story unfold in a more natural manner. 

Visually it is not difficult to see that The Witcher 3 is going to be one of the best looking titles we have seen so far on the current generation of consoles, but that doesn’t mean that it is flawless — at least not yet. Having only been able to play on an Xbox One build of the game, but seeing both the PS4 and PC versions as well, there was a noticeable amount of aliasing issues and unnatural models in the environment for the Xbox One build. But, the while the PS4 version looked like a more polished and detailed console build, it was too early to say how drasticly different the two will look from each other, as there are still a number of months go before launch. But, without the PC’s Nvida HairWorks technology, the console versions are noticeably behind in visual details for items such as hair and fur, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Besides the minor visual touches that may stand out to some, there was one major issue that will need to be fixed prior to release. Like most open world fantasy games, the ability to travel around the landscape is reserved to be traveled on by horseback, but the mechanics behind The Witcher 3‘s horse is frustrating at best. Trying to gallop along a path, only to graze a lone twig and come to a complete stop, or to not be able to step over a rock or a short fence makes running on foot almost a quicker route to use. Thankfully, I have been assured by the team that they are aware of the issues with the horse and they are doing their best to remedy it before release. 

Past that, most of the game ran fairly smooth with only a few minor visual issues that would be expected from a title this far out from hitting store shelves. 

Given that this is a fantasy title based on magic and swordplay, i’d be remiss to not mention the combat mechanics. Unlike other fantasy titles, magic is mainly reserved for minor spell usage, so there doesn’t seem to be the ability to call down death from the heavens. But instead, Geralt is a skilled swordsman who uses spells to assist him in battle by either emitting a blast of fire or by trapping foes in a grid to restrict movement. Being that The Witcher 3 has roots in PC gaming, it is remarkable how well the system translates to a controller. As most the combat felt very familiar, but never so much that it felt like a carbon copy of any other third-person action title.

Switching between light and heavy attacks, and the ability to dodge and parry, gamers will find a surprisingly deep fighting mechanic that was both rewarding and well structured. Fights never felt like you were just about button mashing the attack button, nor was it about abusing the parry mechanic — it was balanced, but challenging. Forcing you to learn to fight against foes of all shapes and sizes. 

Those of you familiar with the mature content that the series has been known for will not need to worry about things being watered down for this cross-platform release. From the start of the game, nudity and bloodshed are the realities of this world, and while some may see some of it as needless, it exemplifies the world in-which The Witcher inhabits perfectly. Instead of being a fantasy title about guys with pointy ears, that skirts the realm of child friendly, it portrays a world where true darkness and the realities of war plaque its inhabitants.  This not only adds a great sense of atmosphere and real urgency that cannot be found in many other AAA fantasies, but it also adds a real sense of weight to the decisions you make, as death and destruction are all viable items on the menu. 

While we are still so far off from getting our hands on a final build of The Witcher 3, I can easily say that my time with the game has only made the wait all the more difficult. So, make sure to stay tuned to PlayStation LifeStyle in the future as we will be bringing you more hands-on coverage and a full review of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as we get closer to release. 

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