Another year has passed with many great games. My GOTY was definitely Bloodborne as you have read in my previous Games We Dig post. But one game ran away with about every single award out there you can think of, beating Bloodborne on virtually every occasion: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (TW3).
Dr. Random and Megalithic had already played the game earlier last year when it was launched, but they told me after playing Bloodborne they couldn’t get into it, mostly mentioning the much slower combat system and the abundance of quests being things they didn’t like very much. Especially the latter which would mean it would eat unhealthy chunks of their time. I decided to pass on it, maybe I’d check it out later. Come Christmas and with it: the infamous Steam Winter Sale, basically gamers’ Black Friday. This is typically the time where gamers’ wallets thin out quite a bit. TW3 was 50% off: hard to say no to that! This meant I’d be playing the game on PC, which I feared would not be as nice as playing it on PS4, but turns out that wasn’t an issue at all, on the contrary.
After setting up my keybindings and finding the perfect graphics setting for my machine I started the game. Immediately you get introduced to Geralt, the Witcher, who after doing some parkour and some tutorial combat wakes up from a dream in the real world next to his friend and mentor, Vesemir. They talk about his dream and it’s quickly revealed what our main goal will be in this game: finding Ciri, our surrogate daughter so to speak, and defeating the Wild Hunt. Without going too much into detail about that, because I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you, I can tell you that the build up to both these events made the actual events result in goosebumps and yes, even the occasional watery eye. Wait, did I write that out loud? It was just some dust! Yes, dust! I’m allergic! …
About the graphics I can be quite brief. The game. Looks. Amazing. Everything has been thought of, from ripples on the water when you do your Aard sign, to people and their clothes reacting to rainfall, and even Geralt’s beard growing (no really, it does!). If you stop to smell the Wolfsbane (no roses in TW3, sorry), the world looks absolutely stunning. The sun setting while you and the world bask in its last rays of the days, the glare of items, the way hair moves in the wind, the way your horse moves,… every single texture looks absolutely breathtakingly good. It’s one of the few games where while riding from point A to B I put my horse on autopilot to be able to admire the world around me. Playing this on PS4 just doesn’t do it justice, although you have to have quite a powerful pc to run everything on Ultra. I don’t, and even then still it looked beyond belief.
The combat system that many others found cumbersome, especially after having played Bloodborne… I can’t say that I agree with that opinion. On the contrary, combat in the Witcher is less hectic and aggressive, but boy is it ever fluent and elegant. Especially the Whirl combat move (look it up) made me drool all over my keyboard from how cool it looked. Combine that with some signs you can throw in the mix for either protecting yourself (Quen), blowing enemies over to give you some space (Aard) or simply setting your foes ablaze with a burst or even stream of fire (Igni), and you have one hell of a fight on your hands. If handled right, Geralt is completely OP. Once you get the hang of it, there’s absolutely no stopping him from proceeding to kill large beasts or a battalion of soldiers with a couple of swift strikes while looking completely badass. I can imagine how the combat system might feel cumbersome to console players, because then, to switch between signs or use items, you often have to break the flow of combat. This I never had to do as I play with a Razer Naga and therefore have 17 buttons on my mouse alone. It definitely took me some time to get used to it, but I’m sure that I’m better with keyboard and mouse than I’d be with a controller.
No fighter is complete without his tools. Geralt can use light, medium or heavy armor from various levels and a crossbow, but his main items are definitely his swords. He uses a steel one for humans and beasts, but will use a silver one for the more exotic creatures and magic beings. Of the latter there’s plenty to kill, from fiends to water hags, from drowners to werewolves, the variation is enough to make you have to read through your Bestiary every time to find out what potions and signs will work best against this creature. After a while though you’ll start remembering, and that’s where things get fun. You run into a werewolf, apply beast oil, swallow some Thunderbolt potion for that bit of extra damage (and Cat if it’s too dark to see) and you kick the living excrement out of it.
As for how you obtain items and weapons, that’s actually something CD Projekt Red has nailed completely, quite literally even. There are many games out there that have a crafting system. You can gather materials, level your craftsmanship and make your own gear. A lot of fun, until five minutes later, after all that hard work, you get an item from some random mob that is better. Why even bother then? Well, in TW3 you go to the blacksmith with the right level and skill, give him your items, pay him a sum and there you go, item crafted. Best thing about the entire game? You can build a set for yourself, including full armor, two swords and a crossbow, and that same set sticks with you, changing appearance with each of the three upgrades you can put on it. You have to travel through the entire world to gather the materials and recipes for each upgrade but when you then finally can craft your Mastercrafted Feline Armor Set (in my case), you get SO much satisfaction. And the best thing about these Mastercrafted sets is that you can actually finish the game with them, because they’re just that good. Now THAT’s how you do a crafting system.
So much praise and we still haven’t arrived at TW3’s main strength: the story. As I said, you soon know exactly what your main goals will be during your playthrough. What you don’t expect, though, is how all of this will suck you in like a cow in a tornado. Moo. Even the secondary quests are no mere “collect five wolf hearts” … oh wait, there was actually exactly that one… Never mind. That was it though. And fetch my pan. Those were the only two traditional gathering quests that made me feel like I was playing yet another RPG. But when I started the Witcher contracts, running into fierce beasts or angry spirits, killing them for money and even bringing their head for a trophy, now that I didn’t mind doing at all. Helping to protect people from baddies, solving love mysteries, finding lost loved ones or items, treasures, I did every single thing of it with pleasure. This resulted in Ciri having to wait a long buttocks time for me to come get her, because there was just SO much to do along the way. Not to mention the occasional romance, of which I was well informed of up front not to muck up. Seriously, this might be the game that felt the most like what the category entails: a role playing game. I really felt like I assumed the role of someone, and did what I thought they would do in their situation. Often that was the right choice, and sometimes I made mistakes, just like any other human being. When I finally, after 86 hours, (and I didn’t even do all the side quests) wrapped up the game, my heart melted as it felt like I had come to the end of what is one of the greatest stories I had ever partaken in. Man, what a game.
My respect goes to the Polish guys of CD Projekt Red, because they have produced an absolute masterpiece and they have well deserved every award they got for it. Game of the year? Well, that’s still Bloodborne for me, but I definitely understand now why TW3 one upped it in about every category there is. After ending the game I proceeded to exclaim the words “Honey, I’m going to buy the Season DLC Pass now, that’s ok, right?” I want more: even though the main story is now complete, I want to see more of this magnificent world, slay more beasts, defeat more evil spirits, bask in more sunlight and smell more Wolfsbane. I’m not done with you yet Geralt. Let’s go get some!