This gaming series has been a frustration for me. Frustrating because I have played and tried each game in this series and did my darnedest to fall in love with the games and just couldn’t because some of the gameplay and combat mechanics were not to my liking. I just couldn’t get on board and get excited.
The third time really is the charm for me and likely a lot of other people out there judging by the feedback I have been able to gauge since the game came out.
The reason this review is less timely than would be the typical norm for most review outlets is simple: This game continues to evolve before our very eyes since its release. I finally decided to pick my spot on it and if any major changes come from this point forward I would add an post script to the main review.
Patch 1.07 was my cut off because it was so robust and had a gameplay altering setting that I knew would be important for a lot of people including myself and I wanted to be able to do a before and after comparison.
This will be the Game of the Year for 2015 in a lot of quarters when all is said and done. If it doesn’t win it will be universally on virtually every significant GOTY shortlist at the very least. It will easily dominate best RPG category and all for very good reasons. It’s not hype.
GRAPHICS: There was a legitimate downgrade controversy on graphics. It was essentially a repeat of the Ubisoft Watch Dogs fiasco and CDPR got to get a taste of some blowback that they aren’t to seeing and it was fueled by cumulative, carry over frustration from the Watch Dogs fiasco and the realization that this practice is more common than people thought or would like to think.
It’s a dishonest practice in the gaming industry that needs to stop and that’s all I’m going to say here.
To their credit, CDPR has responded ever since with robust support and communication that has been typical of their track record on the entire game series and no fair person would chart this game’s progress since it came out to version 1.07 and accuse CDPR of letting things lie fallow. I’d have to say the support is second to none despite starting off on the wrong foot.
Despite that downgrade controversy: The final product is still visually stunning on any platform it’s on and especially maxed out on the PC. You will not mistake this from some half baked console left over on the PC. Some of the hints that have been dropped by CDPR have suggested that it’s possible some of those missing graphical elements prior to “downgrade” may even be restored over time but as of this date that remains to be seen. I personally would not wait for that because the final product is currently stunning and gorgeous.
Graphics are an area where Bethesda and specifically Skyrim, a game I’m a big fan of, simply gets shown up on even with mods helping it out. This game shows up Skyrim in numerous ways. Skyrim is going to get mentioned a lot here because it’s a frame of reference a lot of people are familiar with and it’s also the last big time open world RPG that a lot of people played.
Witcher 3’s game world is far more organic, diverse, and impressive ecosystem can be about that doesn’t have a bunch of cloned NPCs voiced by the same three people to boot. That’s huge. The same goes for animal life and creatures in the world.
The graphics are generally superior to Skyrim. Textures, game world diversity, and an incredible attention to detail that simply wasn’t apparent in Skyrim. High resolution textures down to books, furniture, and other minutiae is staggering. This is a game world that begs to not be rushed through and I often find myself just walking around and taking it all in whether I’m out in open wild or inside a structure. You won’t need mods for book textures, map textures, tapestry and bed textures, NPC textures…can you tell I’ve played a lot of Skyrim?… not needed here right from the get-go.
To be fair Skyrim is already three years old as of this writing and that’s hard to believe but it’s true so it’s not fair for me to really dump on it but for people that hold that game up on a pedestal they are going to be put on notice here: There is a new sheriff in town.
During dialog sequences the facial expressions on all the characters are as good as any in the industry to date and the graphics and high resolution textures are easy to take in and appreciate. It’s incredible that so many different NPCs in the game have been afforded this much variety. It’s as if every NPC was given some kind of basic back story to varying degrees. No amount of NPC and texture mods in Skyrim can bring those character models even remotely close to what you see in this game. The creaking and overdue to be forever retired Gamebryo engine, no matter how much it’s modified, simply can’t hold a candle to what’s going on in this game. It’s not even close.
Weather and climate is another area handled superior in this game vs Skyrim.
You won’t walk up a mountain and take a few steps and go from a late Fall to a sudden blizzard in this as an easy example. The weather effects are incredible and look and sound realistic. Everything from thunderstorms to hot sunny days are here. It’s real. The only thing unrealistic that I wouldn’t mind some player control over is the timescale. Obviously I understand in videogames that 1:1 timescale with the real world can be prohibitive and unwelcome and certain scripted events are tied into the time but I still wouldn’t mind being able to have some level of input on it besides using a trainer that allows me to artificially move the time forward or backwards by three hour intervals. This is nitpicking on my part.
This separation and gap from Skyrim has and will continue to increase thanks to CDPR’s stellar support and the mod community being able to contribute to this game. That’s right. Witcher 3 is and will be the beneficiary of mods as well. As of this writing, the mod community is still in its early stages of really diving into this game. If the mod scene really takes off for this title, all bets are off and the potential is downright staggering because personally I have been more than satisfied with the evolving game even without mods so mods just takes it up yet another level.
SOUND: As incredible as the visuals. This game is going to rack up a lot of awards at the end of 2015 and if I don’t see a number of sound design awards it will be a travesty. Everything from weather, town ambiance, many different NPC voices, many different breeds of normal and not so normal species…. you are in a real, live world that frankly hands Skyrim its you-know-what even with a bunch of mods.
If you are using quality speakers or headphones you will be able to close your eyes and easily identify numerous sounds to real world counterparts. It’s a real world down to the nitty gritty. It’s as impressive as anything I’ve ever run across in a video game. You are immersed in a real world from top to bottom down to the littlest nitpicky sound detail.
The music has some stand out memorable tracks to it thanks to its tandem of composers that changed over from the previous game. Witcher 2’s music was serviceable but not memorable to me whereas there are a number of tunes I like to listen to on their own from this one. This is the best music for the series thus far as far as I’m concerned.
Two tracks: “Whispers in Oxenfturt” and “The Fields of Ard Skellig” are two leading examples of outstanding music from this game.
In the game, the Oxenfurt track is lacking the female vocals and I actually prefer it that way vs the presentation on the soundtrack with the female vocalist but it’s a great track either way. I won’t be surprised if this soundtrack shows up in some best of categories at year’s end.
GAMEPLAY: I’m spoiled by action gameplay in games like Shadow of Mordor. I’ll just get that out of the way. If I had my way any third person action game would be based off of that or Batman Arkham with the necessary and logical refinements to fit the genre and game world’s demands of a given title.
Now I understand that for an RPG no one wants to have something that becomes “too arcadey” but I really see a baseline there that I would have preferred to seen used and adjusted accordingly for a game like this. My point is: When a game puts me in an action situation, give me the good, fun, and intuitive gameplay I need to have in that situation which I can’t say this combat is. I will say that I think it’s still considerably than the previous games’ combat. Part 1’s combat I hated outright. Part 2’s combat I graduated from “outright hate” to “dislike” Pre patch 1.07 here on part 3 I graduated to “lukewarm and get along because everything else in the game is just so amazing.”
Post patch 1.07 I graduate finally to “good.” With this patch the game feels broadly like any number of other solid third person games you are used to playing. That feeling of 1-2 seconds of delay and “cumbersomeness” is gone.
You can remap most of the keys and you can also use a game controller if you so desire. I have had no problems playing with KBM since day one on this game so everyone wins here, too.
I highly recommend “alternative” movement for Geralt as the default for everyone on this game. It’s not a night and day, earth shattering difference from default but it is an appreciable refinement that simply makes him move and operate better across the boards. This is the way the game should have shipped from day one. I can’t see why anyone would like the default over the alternative but the choice is there and choice is always good.
STORY: Rich, lore soaked narrative that covers any and all territory you would hope to see in any good story that rivals the best science fiction and fantasy novels you wish name. The tilt is definitely more in a darker Game of Thrones type direction for those of you who aren’t close followers of the series or lore like myself. This is a grim, dark gameworld with few glimmers of real light and hope. The player is given enough latitude of choice on Geralt where he can either be a beacon of light or…not so much.
It stinks to be a woman in this game world, incidentally and especially one that’s part of the “common citizenry.” I understand why there has been some blowback and controversy about certain situations involving women in this game world and some of that is justified. I don’t think there is a deliberate sexist or misogynist agenda at play here but be prepared to encounter some unsettling and disturbing situations. A mostly spoiler free example: Dealing with Whoreson. If you have already played that link in the story then you know what I mean.
This game does not hold back on blood, gore, and occultism so people’s sensitivities to these items will also need to be taken into account before diving in. I have seen situations of necromancy where even Geralt was taking umbrage with the situation and chastising and rebuking another character rightly for wanting to go down that road on through so make no mistake: This is a dark, adult fantasy world.
You can skip cutscenes at any time so if you know something like that is coming and don’t want to see it you can get past it quickly. Just be aware of these things going into it if you are new to this series and want to take the plunge. To be fair there were some pretty dark, grim, and occultic situations in Skyrim that were more in that direction vs previous entries in that series so I can’t say some of this is appreciably darker but I’d say it’s more prevalent. Be aware of it.
A Game of Thrones leaning dark, adult fantasy. It’s a grim, lore filled world. People who are not terribly familiar with that lore can catch up and get up to speed on what’s important thanks to good narrative, cutscenes, and compelling dialog during the course of the game. Certainly anyone who has played the previous games and also read some of the books will enjoy a logical advantage going into this game. Certainly any of the items I have indicated in terms of darkness, adult themes, and occultism are no newsflash to any Witcher series vets and I completely understand it goes with the territory. People will simply have to decide for themselves on their own tastes and sensitivities.
I would recommend reading a wikipedia entry to get some passing familiarity with what’s going on here if part 3 is your first go at this game series.
The narrative strength in this puts a lot of media across the boards to shame in terms of good fiction storytelling.
CONCLUSION: I can honestly say I have never run across a video game that truly overwhelmed with its sheer, size, scope, variety, and attention to detail like this game has. It has set new standards in several categories which I have indicated throughout the course of this review.
Is it a perfect game? No, but it’s certainly a fantastic game and if CDPR’s track record holds it will likely continue to evolve and get that much better if robust patches like 1.07 are anything to go by. For people like me who bought the game on day one it’s been remarkable to watch how this game has evolved before our very eyes.
This is an amazing game and the Game of the Year crown is Witcher 3’s to lose.
I don’t want to make a premature declaration from the date of this writing but it will really take something pretty incredible to beat out Witcher 3 pound for pound unless you are someone that just flat out hates RPGs.
Even if you do, there is no denying the level of craftsmanship in this game from top to bottom and CDPR’s neverending robust support that essentially makes it an evolving and growing title. It’s going to be a tough act to unseat. I certainly can’t see it missing out on Best RPG of the year at minimum. I can’t imagine a better RPG in at least the year 2015 than what Witcher 3 is. If you can handle serious, intense, and sometimes dark and disturbing adult situations at times and find the gameplay setting amongst the two that you like the most then you are in for an absolutely incredible gaming experience on whatever game platform you choose.
PC gamers: Don’t be surprised if you feel the upgrade itch here for this one. It’s worth it.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.