“Winter is coming!” Yes, a favourite quote of the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones. So, in my best Jon Snow voice: “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is coming!” Actually, using its full title doesn’t quite work does it?
Anyway, The Witcher III is here! Oh yes, and Geralt (voiced by Doug Cockle) is back in his third and final instalment of The Witcher series. He has regained his memory and he’s riding across the Northern Kingdoms on the trail of his love interest Yennefer (Denise Gough).
Even though this is the third in the series, you don’t need to have played the other games to enjoy this one. It may tie up story threads from previous entries in this series, but it’s a title in its own right and has its own story. Talking of which, this release sees Nilfgaard forces having invaded the Northern Kingdoms. Geralt, meanwhile, is seeking Yennefer/Ciri while trying not to get embroiled in the politics of those around him.
Witcher games have always had a glorious intro. Remember The Witcher II‘s assassin climbing on board a ship, taking out everyone in his way, with style and finesse while avoiding being frozen by a mage before brutally beheading a king? Well, The Witcher III doesn’t disappoint, and turns the heat up with the opening, seeing Yennefer caught in the midst of a battle. She is using her magic to evade potential death and doing her utmost to flee the Wild Hunt who wish to use her powers for their own nefarious plans. This is spliced with Geralt who has arrived after the fact picking up the trail and using his Witcher senses to follow her.
After the intro, it’s down to business and you find Geralt relaxing in a bath. You’re coaxed out of it by Yennefer and cajoled to train with Ciri (Jo Wyatt). This just so happens to be your tutorial, too. You see a young Ciri practising her training on her own and learning the bad habits a driver does when not receiving tuition. You admonish her for such behaviour, and you both agree to a race to see the courtyard where she can continue her combat training under instruction.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Gameplay Walkthrough Part 1 (1080p HD) – MKIceAndFire
So, the first tutorial involves the basics. That is, running, climbing and manoeuvring obstacles on the way with Ciri to her and as the tutorial turns out your sword fighting training. I can’t say the manoeuvering of Geralt flowed as smoothly as, say, an Assassin’s Creed game. His movements while traversing the scenery felt a little clumsy, but then The Witcher III isn’t about scaling towers and parkour style free-running. It’s about heading out over an open world as a monster hunter, and in fairness that is an area it definitely has sussed. (DVDfever Dom adds: “It must flow better than Assassin’s Creed Unity, though surely? ;)”)
Battle mechanics, on the other hand, are fantastic. The controls feel intuitive. You block and parry with your left trigger, cast spells with your right trigger, execute a light attack with X and a heavy attack with Y. You can lock on an enemy by clicking the right stick, and then use A and your left directional stick to evade your attacker. Your tutorial turns out to be a dream sequence that is interrupted by the Wild Hunt.
Now the game begins proper, and you and your kinsman, after a quick fight with some ghouls to test your newly learned sword fighting skills, head to White Orchid.
This opens up the game, which can only be described as the most impressive open world RPG I’ve played. This is one huge game that somehow manages to have no loading screens while you traverse the lands. If you can see some ruins in the far distance, you can head there. Take a swim in the sea and there might be a sunken city to investigate. The last time I felt so immersed in a game world was when I played S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on PC. That game had to load its massive sections in as you headed across its radioactive wastelands. The Witcher III, on the other hand, makes the use of the power of the current crop of consoles and PC to ensure your travels are never interrupted by pesky loading screens. Also, like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the world in which Geralt walks feels alive. Non-player characters, going about their business interacting with each other, all adds to the realism.
Ok, it’s not the first game to do this and, like those games, the illusion can be shattered when you hear a character repeat themselves for the third time. Comparisons to a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. may seem a little strange as that was a game from yesteryear and there are more contemporary games to compare the Witcher III to, like Dragon Age Inquisition, but I played S.T.A.L.K.E.R. recently with a load of mods installed and I marvelled at how alive the world felt and how immersed it made me feel in it. The Witcher III gave me that same feeling, but using a modern day game engine that pushes the boundaries of what we have seen in open world RPGs to date. The REDengine was developed by CD Projekt Red for The Witcher series starting with The Witcher II, I think. It’s had a major overhaul for The Witcher III and it shows. You will find yourself stopping time and time again just to marvel at your surroundings, the scenery and the effect the weather has upon them.
You will need to put Geralt’s abilities to good use early on. My first boss encounter was to kill a griffin who was troubling the lands. First, you have to speak to different people who may be able to give you a clue to the whereabouts of the Griffin’s lair. From the information you gather, you have a better idea where to search and use your Witcher senses to spot more clues that will lead you to its Lair. (Your Witcher senses are activated by pulling your left trigger. Anything of interest will glow) Once you have the Griffin’s location, you will set out on another quest to find an item you can use to set a trap for the Griffin. Once the Griffin is lured into your trap, all hell breaks loose and it’s up to you to defeat it. The battle spills into two open areas, one larger than the other, but this early battle cements that feeling that your hunts are in wide open spaces and not just a set piece, even though that’s what it is in reality.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the game plus conclusions.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Gameplay Walkthrough Part 2 (1080p HD) – MKIceAndFire
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