Spoiler alert: It is now my favorite game of all time. Period.
I played The Witcher (1) couple of years ago, after reading an interesting review saying that it was one of the best RPGs ever made. The review also alerted that the game suffered deeply from bad translation and bugs when first came to english markets. The second edition, called Enhanced Edition, fixed most of these issues and indeed enhanced some aspects of the game. When I played, I had to agree that the game and the universe were fantastic. I loved the idea of playing with a anti-hero.
The Witcher 2 came and I also loved it. It departed from the Aurora Engine (used in Obsidian’s classic RPGs like Neverwinter Nights) to a home made. The art direction took a overhaul and started to show the real vision. The general gameplay also transitioned to a more action oriented, with a third person over-the-shoulder camera style.
The Witcher 3 was announced and I had to confess that I was a bit worried about the open world nature. The Witcher main strength, as a series, was the strong story telling. Open world games tend to have a loose and light story. See Bethesda’s Elder Scroll and RockStar’s GTA series.
The closer to the release, the more excited I was getting. It was one of the very few titles that I have ever pre-ordered.
And it delivered!
Since from the very start, the game shows that it has a fantastic story driven gameplay and strong action mechanics. Since from the very start, it will keep your mouth and eyes opened. It is how I stayed for hours of playing. There are 3 pillars that make this game so awesome:
The most surprising good feature is the story elements. As I said before, open world games tend to be a bit light in order to accommodate a generic and open nature of the game. They generally just introduce the gameplay elements. But in Wild Hunt, the main story have a purpose, a true life. The plot is complex and it raises in tension each step.
But what surprised me most is the richness of the side quests. They did not fall into the trap of creating a bunch of generic side quests, like most Assassin’s Creed or Borderlands, or even Skyrim, with several missions that are purely kill a target or get an item. They are more elaborate, with an introduction of context on each of them, multi stepped and often with resolution with a moral dilemma. Combat and violence is not always the way of resolving things. In summary, they put a lot of effort on creating all of them, avoiding the generic content-fill approach.
The characters fell deep and believable. They have different motivations: some are greedy, some are brutal, some are kind, some are funny. Geralt cannot be defined as good or evil. He is more complex. You can save one beautiful lady by letting dozens die. You can take part of a monster that is counter attacking humans that are invading its territory. You can date some different girls, but notice that for every decision, there are consequences. You will never face a “right” decision.
They listened to the players from previous games and they changed and tweaked The Witcher formula while maintaining the series main concepts. Alchemy is proved to be useful, magic and combat are complementary. The players are constantly forced to change styles and mastering all the techniques. It creates variable combats and protects the players from being a mere button presser, with monotonous single style of play.
The map traversal is fun and interesting. The land is filled with monsters and mysterious characters. Beautiful landscapes. Detailed cities. Do yourself a favor and avoid the main roads and explore the map. The horse Roach is useful and fun. Fast travel is done nicely (altought I hate where the Crow’s Perch).
The developers got almost all the design choices right. All the information is presented clearly and most of the boring aspects, like loot and inventory administration, streamlined.
The third element that hooked me also stunned almost everyone in the world: the graphical presentation is absolutely the best. Skyrim did quite a splash when it came out, but it is nothing, nothing compared to The Witcher. They extracted the most of the technology to bring a very detailed and brilliant world even imagined.
They animated EVERY dialog. All the set pieces are cinema like, with moving, talking, gesticulating and vivid characters. For sure they invented some animation editor to allow to procedurally change camera angles and some gestures, but man, it works really well.
The cities are huge. It takes quite a time to cross one city. One of many. The terrain is so beautiful that they put some situations in the story that the main character itself stops and take a moment watching the view.
In the sound department, all the dialogues are voiced, in a enormous production challenge.
Bonus: Customer friendly
Unlike most of today’s businessmen in these industry, the guys from CD Prokect really mean customers-first. They proved in the past, creating the Good Old Game (not only GOG.com) with no DRM, and they proved this time. The game was fixed and really enhanced patch after patch, mostly due the players feedback. They are for me the ultimate inspiration for business management for an digital company. It should definitively a inspiration for Konami or EA heads.
My final thoughts are quite simple: it took me months to complete the 130+ hours of the main campaign. I was delaying it on purpose, fearing it would end. I liked so much that I could say that it is probably my favorite game of all time.