After some delays, CD Projekt RED’s magnum opus, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, has finally graced our presence. Is it the grand finale to this high fantasy trilogy or is it a disappointing climax?
Just a disclaimer before we begin, I am coming to this review as a non-seasoned Witcher fan. I played about 3 hours of The Witcher 2 before giving it back to a friend and have no great investment in the series past thinking it is something I needed to give a proper go. I also played on the PS4 version of the game, so I can’t comment on any aspects of the PC version or any technical problems there. Sorry PC chaps, I’m a dirty console gamer.
So, seeing as I have no real knowledge of The Witcher series past vague memories of the second game’s opening, I should in theory be a prime candidate to give you a review which is devoid of any rampant fanboyism and cut to the heart of what I think of the game. The first thing to note is that you do not have to be a long-time fan of The Witcher series to play The Witcher 3. While it follows the continuing adventures of Geralt and other characters from previous Witcher games, you do not have to have an in-depth knowledge of the past games to enjoy it. It will, of course, be more enjoyable if you know the past relationship between Triss and Geralt for example, but it is not essential. As for the actual plot, it has Geralt on the search for Cirilla, his adopted daughter and pupil who was in training to become a Witcher. She is now being hunted down by various parties including the Wild Hunt, a band of nightmarish knights who look like the offspring of the Nazgul and Dementors dressed up in Darkwraith armour, and it is up to Geralt to find her before she falls into the wrong hands. While it may be a fairly basic set up, the plot soon expands outwards, as Geralt is dealing with emperors, hunting down giant beasts and getting wrapped up in all sorts of political intrigue as he looks for Cirilla.
This is where my first (of many) grievances pops up concerning The Witcher 3. The story and characters are all quite well written, with there being a healthy mix between hard hitting, grim goings on and funny or more tender moments throughout the game. The problem is that none of it is very original or profound in any way. From the stuff I’d heard about The Witcher series, its writing was supposed to be absolutely phenomenal but upon playing it, it doesn’t go past being pretty good. The actual universe is like any other ‘mature’ fantasy universe, with there always being racism towards elves or dwarves, there is always an evil analogue to the Catholic Church who is holding some kind of Inquisition and everyone swears a lot because that’s mature. Again, don’t get me wrong, none of it is necessarily bad. Geralt treads the line of making humorous wisecracks whilst being the hardened monster slayer to great effect, while most of the supporting cast is also written well but it just doesn’t set the world on fire. You will feel like if you have devoted any time into reading, watching or playing mature fantasy material, there is a constant feeling that you have been through this world and done these quests so many times before.
That extends to the game’s visual design as well. I mean, the lighting is beautiful and the world is certainly massive and clearly had a lot of effort go into it but you’ve seen this medieval setting done to death. You’ve travelled round that motte and bailey castle, you delved into that crypt or travelled through the massive market town so many times before that the overriding feeling whilst playing The Witcher 3 is déjà vu. Besides a couple of monster designs, the overall aesthetic of The Witcher 3 is pretty standard fantasy fare, lacking any crazy architecture or weapon designs to set it apart from The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Ages and Dragon’s Dogmas of this world. So, rather than being wowed by the vastness of Novigrad, I just felt underwhelmed that I had been round this city before in countless other titles.