Have you ever played an RPG that, while sporting rich lore and solid gameplay, always left you feeling more like an observer than an actual character placed in a dynamic and responsive world? Many recent popular titles come to mind, and as good as they are, it always felt like they were lacking. CD Projekt RED aims to satisfy this in their 3rd instalment of the Witcher series, aptly named Wild Hunt.
The general consensus among gamers and game reviewers alike is that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may very well be the best RPG’s ever made thus far. If you were blown away by the depth of games like Skyrim or the Fallout series, prepare to set out on a mystical gaming marathon that very possibly redefines the way you think about RPG’s.
The Witcher series has been raising the bar ever since the first game, and gamers have taken noticed. Its gameplay and storytelling has always been more or less favourable, but the real star of the games has always been the choice and consequence mechanic. Your in-game decisions shape the world around you, and this concept is only made better in the newest iteration. Your actions contribute towards 36 different world states and several different endings for the main storyline. This means that depending on how you play the game, by the end of it the world surrounding you has been moulded into 1 of a possible 36 different versions. Some are more drastically different than others, but overall this is a huge step in the right direction in terms of making the player’s decisions feel like they actually count to something. Many games have fumbled with this in the past, but none have come close to the depth that Wild Hunt achieves. Most other RPG’s I’ve played throw countless meaningless decisions to the player to make them feel like they’re changing the storyline’s progression, with only a handful of the choices having any real weight. For example in the popular RPG series Mass Effect, the only real difference you appear to make is which of your team-mates survive and what final cutscene you end on. In the other prominent RPG title Skyrim, I remember being disappointed that the village guards never really treated you differently whether you just started the game or were talking to them while literately wearing the skin of a dragon and holding more titles than you can count on one hand. In the Witcher 3, you rarely feel like this.
Don’t get me wrong, the world feels much bigger than you. The vast amount of lore and deep-seeded political conflicts makes the land you explore feel alive, and the ways in which you can influence it only strengthens your connection to your character. But you never feel secondary and the amount of control you have over this virtual world is really quite astounding. On top of expanding the decision making mechanic, your character himself has also been improved. Geralt is more mobile this time around, he’s able to climb up small cliff walls, dive under water, and utilize boats. This makes the world that much more accessible and gives the player more freedom to explore.
In fact exploration is another huge motif in the Witcher series, and rightly so. RPG’s are based around the very idea of adventure and discovery, yet many recent top-selling games in this category skimp on this fundamental value. The Witcher 3 doesn’t always give you a marker on your mini-map to blindly follow when you’re given a quest. Often times it’s up to you to do the research to – for example – learn about the location of the monster you’ve been hired to slay. Many creatures will be incredibly difficult to kill without doing the proper research first, which is either acquired through reading in-game books or talking to other characters. All of this information is collected as you progress and put into the ‘bestiary’, a fantasy-based encyclopaedia found in the menus that covers various creatures, items, and other interesting lore from the game’s universe. It gives the player a much more rewarding feeling, because you truly feel like you earned the right to call yourself a witcher; a monster hunter. It gives such a sense of autonomy that many gamers’ most memorable experiences will be stumbling onto some mystical creature or area you haven’t seen before while simply wandering around the open world.
The storytelling is fantastic, even smaller quests have great writing and portray characters with depth. The art style is familiar yet unique if you’ve never played any of the previous games. The monsters are mystical, wondrous, and stylistically reminiscent to a combination of Hiyao Miyazaki and H.P Lovecraft. Really, the only thing holding this game back are some minor visual glitches and potential game-crashing bugs regarding the order in which you pursue quests, among other things. However these downsides are minimal in regards to the pure scope of the rest of the experience. Besides, as any gamer with 20+ hours into a game like Fallout or Skyrim knows, a game this expansive is bound to have an assortment of performance issues, at least for the first few months after release.
Overall The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is shaping up to be a likely candidate for game of the year, at the least. If you enjoy RPG’s with a good balance of action and storytelling, pick up this game.