By Sam Coles:
The passage of time is one that is often a fast journey, what may have been a few minutes or days ago turn into a decade ago. Anyway monologue out of the way The Witcher 3 is slowly crawling its way to being 5 years old, and wow just writing that makes me confused where I have to keep checking my calendar to see what year it is. I want to take a look back at the game, and plus it gives me a good excuse to gush about the game again!
The lead up for The Witcher 3 was a rather long wait for me, I first got a taste of The White Wolf’s exploits when I first played The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360 and read The Last Wish in the summer of 2012. I was instantly in love with the series, where it took traditional fantasy tropes and turns it on its head. The characters were engaging and the political intrigue within its world was fascinating. After finishing The Witcher 2 multiple times I waited patiently for a sequel, fortunately I wouldn’t have to wait long as The Witcher 3 was first unveiled at E3 2013! From that point it was the main reason why I wanted an Xbox One or PS4, then a year later I got one but I had to wait until 2015 to play Geralt of Riva’s next adventure.
When 2015 finally arrived I found myself playing The Witcher 3 5 hours straight (yes really), what captivated me first was the story. The Witcher 2 had an issue with its story mostly stemming from performances, don’t get me wrong it was miles better than the first game as people spoke like…. people. However a lot of the performances were stilted including the White Wolf, but in The Witcher 3 everyone is fleshed out and the performances are excellent. The same voice actor reprises his role as Geralt of Riva, but he feels more comfortable in the role where Geralt feels more alive in this game. I felt like I cared for every character in story, especially the relationship between Yennefer and Geralt although a chemically imbalanced relationship they love each other nonetheless (in my playthrough). They are all fleshed and leaped from page to game effortlessly; it kept me invested throughout the 50 hour story.
Gameplay was where things took a huge leap from the second game in a good way; combat was improved greatly as The Witcher 2 felt a bit clunky as if it were a poor man’s Demons Souls. It had unfair hit detection where they could chip at your health even when they are not even hitting you, you had great advantages such as backstab damage but so did enemies. Combat was manageable with one enemy as it felt like it was designed like that in The Witcher 2, however the game would often throw groups of enemies at you and it felt like you were trying dodge attacks with your trousers pulled down and this was very noticeable on harder difficulties.
The Witcher 3 fixed everything with the combat, it felt more smooth and responsive, the animations look like they have been pulled straight out of the books with Geralt’s twists, turns and pirouettes. Combat was fair but still challenging especially on difficulties hard and above, no longer did enemies have an instant advantage over you when they were in groups but they could still overwhelm you if you got careless. Geralt’s signs were utilised more, as they added flavour and depth to battles as well as being more effective against certain types of foes you come across.
Exploration was expanded too as it is an open world now, The Witcher 2 wasn’t open world in the traditional sense, let me explain. The Witcher 2 was split up into four chapters (if you include the prologue), where the areas are open ended first you are in the town of Flotsam, then Vergen and then Loc Muinne. They are open ended, however you can’t just go off the beaten path and explore as it is rather linear in that regard. The Witcher 3 on the other hand went full open world, you could now explore the Northern Realms at your own pace.
Now when a franchise that isn’t an open world in its initial stages decides to go in that direction it often doesn’t work. The Witcher 3 made sense to go in this direction, as you are a travelling monster hunter across the land, so the jump to a sandbox made perfect sense. Each city, village and locale felt unique and looked exactly how I would imagine them being in the books. CDPR did a wonderful job fleshing out this open world, with crisp and beautiful visuals with awe inspiring sunsets as you see the sky turn crimson with its shepherd’s delight.
Not only that the quests and side quests added to the new layer of exploration, they were all memorable and the side quests weren’t shafted as filler content no CDPR treated them with the same importance as the main story. You could go off and explore, where you can take a side quest that involves as something as stupid as finding an old woman’s frying pan but they bother to include comedic jabs at this seemingly mundane and trivial task.
The Witcher 3 stands as a classic in the halls of video game history, it shows at the time you don’t need a big team to create something passionate and fun. It is the gold standard with game design, storytelling, exploration and visual fidelity. It is easily one of the best games of this generation and it’s hard to believe that 5 years down the line we are still talking about it. The adventures I have had with the Geralt of Riva are times not wasted, but time well spent.