Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review
By Daniel Lein
With a flowing white mane, broad in one hand, and a broad sword in the other, Geralt of Rivia embarks on his last adventure in the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. However, hidden behind the veneer of a swashbuckling high fantasy epic lies a story about family and the hardships of the human condition. Unless of course you want it to be about slaying baddies and babes. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
The main story of Witcher 3 carries Geralt through a myriad of political intrigue, sexual tension, and monster slaying. The biggest through line is the search for Ciri, Geralt’s more-or-less adopted daughter, who is also being chased by the dangerous and near mythical Wild Hunt. As Geralt’s relationship with Ciri grows throughout the game, the player is given more opportunities to play the role of father to Ciri. Often the player has to choose between Ciri’s safety and her happiness, a choice where the “right” answer is never clear. This is really emblematic of all the choices in The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt. All throughout the games eternally long run time, the player will be presented with choices that will play a huge roll in the story as well as the game world itself. These choices are extremely difficult, as there is often no right answer, but nonetheless work brilliantly well in immersing the player in the world.
The plot brings about some of the best moments of the game, it’s the characters that really make the story special. Between the lovable yet pretentious bard Dandelion, the seductive and stern sorceress Yennefer, and a plethora of other well written and well performed characters it’s difficult to not get attached. There’s a sidequest where Dandelion asks for your help in constructing a sort of high class strip club, if such a thing exists. Despite the insanity of the request, it’s hard to say no to Dandelion because he truly feels like your friend.
Romantic relationships are also a key part of the game’s story. Aside from the hunt for Ciri, the choice of Triss or Yennefer as Geralt’s committed partner is easily the most important story of the game. Witcher 3 approaches the classic love triangle formula with a mature twist by making Yennefer Geralt’s wife, for lack of a better word. This brings in themes of fidelity, patience, and temptation; making the romantic tale a memorable and impactful one.
The world of Witcher 3 is absolutely stunning. Gorgeous evergreen forests collide with grotesque bogs to make an impactful mixture of deformity and majesty. This is perhaps best shown in the city of Novigrad, which you come across about halfway through the game. In the city majestic renaissance architecture adorned with striking tapestries stands high above the cobbled streets; streets where you often find yourself tripping over a legless hobo. In addition to that the lighting and color make it all look like an oil painting fit for a museum.
The music is just as excellent. Adopting an orchestrated approach to the epic world it features, the soundtrack of Witcher is both melancholic and magnificent, perfectly reflecting the mood and story telling.
The only thing that Witcher 3 struggles with is gameplay. It isn’t horrible at any point really, just monotonous. In combat Geralt has parrying, dodge rolling, fast attacks, strong attacks, and spells with which to dispatch his foes. Combat is boiled down to two types of confrontations, epic boss fights with gorgeously designed and slightly grotesque monsters as well as dull encounters with mindless cockney bandits who do little more than just lower your weapon durability. Unless of course they grab twenty of their friends and dog pile you until you can’t really really swing your sword or breathe. When the combat works, your dodge rolling, using spells, and attacking at the precise moment, feeling skilled in the process. The issue with fighting humans though is that they are often dispatched with a samey efficiency that works with almost all groups of enemies. Towards the late game combat gets a nice change of pace with the addition of halberd wielding as well as shield bearing enemies. You can’t parry halberd wielders and you can only attack shield bearers from the back. This made combat a little more tactical than just mercilessly hacking apart the angry drunks in the street, but wasn’t used frequently enough.
I mentioned epic boss fights earlier, and thankfully Witcher offers them to you both in the main story and throughout many of the witcher contracts you can complete. Boss fights work really well on a few levels. Many of them, especially witcher contracts, begin like an episode of NCIS, but with more swords and less bathing. You ask witnesses to see where and what the monster might be. You then follow the clues and narrow down your suspect list. Finally you prepare to fight the beast by priming the right potions, spells, and weapons. All of this detective based puzzle work gives a nice change of pace to the bloodthirsty combat. Preparation is particularly satisfying as mixing potions, crafting weapons and reading up on the weaknesses of monsters makes you feel like an experienced monster slayer. The boss fights themselves are a simpler version of dark souls combat with patterns that are easier to exploit but enjoyable nonetheless.
Where Witcher 3 really comes into its own however is with Geralt himself. Most open world RPGs let you create your own character, complete with paper thin personality as well as no life goals or aspirations. Geralt rises above that mixture of monotonous garbage by being a character with a defined traits, yet he remains customizable and unique to the player. Geralt accomplishes this by having two or three variations on his personality that all feel believable, yet are different enough to warrant different types of play styles. One minute you can be a warm hearted Gandalf, abounding with both wisdom and grace; and the next minute you can be a sassy Wolverine who doesn’t have time for the BS of these peasants. Both feel real and viable, working to make the main character a complex individual that’s fun to role play as and learn more about.
After the long journey that was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came to a close and the credits began to roll I felt a profound sense of longing. That same feeling you get at the end of a great TV show or book series. When you say goodbye to all the characters and are already wishing you were back to having adventures. It’s a weird emotion full of both heartache and joy that can only really follow something truly amazing.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt earns a 9.5/10