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The weather has turned. As the sun sets, rain begins to fall and clouds consume the sky. As you step toward the horizon, you hear a howl. And another. Soon, your senses tell you that you are, in fact, surrounded. Peering into the progressing darkness, you light a torch. Nothing could’ve prepared any normal person for what has emerged from the darkness, but then again, you aren’t an ordinary person. You are a “Witcher,” an individual in the line of monster slaying.
As Geralt of Rivia, a seasoned hunter of otherworldly beasts, you are to explore the vast land of The Northern Kingdom in search of a missing compatriot, amongst several other reasons. CD Projekt Red proudly gives us The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the third game based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.
In your travels across this battered kingdom, you will come to find that there is an absolute wealth of knowledge to take in when learning the ropes. Navigating the landscape is easy enough, as long as you are on foot. If you decide to go on horseback, the situation is a bit muddier: picking up speed on your mount and negotiating turns is a bit tricky due to frame rate inconsistencies the game currently suffers from. Exploring on foot is a lot smoother, as are most combat scenarios.
Combat is fun to be bad at and gratifying to master. Simple attacks and dodges are mapped to the face buttons as one would expect, and using your chosen Sign is set on the right trigger, so it is very easy to snap off a wall of flame in between attacks and vary your approach. You can also block and parry attacks by timing presses of the left trigger, but keep in mind you don’t have a shield and some strikes will indeed bust through your defenses.
Switching between swords got us into a bit of trouble, as we could never remember which direction on the d-pad was our Steel Sword and which was our Silver Sword, the difference being very important very early on in the game. The d-pad also has your consumable items bound to it (up/down), so you might end up mistakenly munching through a few potions or rations.
Be sure to turn down the sensitivity of your X and Y setting on your right stick, because the default is a bit difficult to deal with due to the aforementioned frame rate issues. In the end, The Witcher 3 has very intuitive controls that reward timing and knowledge of your enemy.
Also of note, the touchpad on the PS4 can be pressed to access your character options, held down to go directly to your inventory, or swiped upward to access the world map, which is some of the best functionality that button has ever been given.
Yes, there are frame rate issues. Most of the time the game is locked to about 30 fps but can experience frequent hiccups in dense vegetation and highly populated areas. That said, it’s not an issue worthy of downgrading the score because of how well put together the rest of the visual package is. The Northern Kingdom is a torn, wicked place with dashes of the perverse and terrifying. The winds lap at the grass and leaves like a direwolf tending a kill, and the trees sigh with the chilling breath of atrophy all around you.
The sickened and exhausted populace beams hope into the dying world, and each and every person (a very loose description for some encounters with characters) is just as expressive and detailed as any main character. The cut between destitution and wealth is expressed visually, and observable differences in class can be determined by just how much grime is pained on one’s face, or whether or not clothing or armor is tarnished. The representation of the populace matches their corresponding surroundings perfectly and brings the Northern Kingdom to a wonderful level of immersion.
The atmosphere constructed by CDPR is completed by their masterwork of a soundtrack. Appropriately tuned to circumstance, the musical accompaniment of your journey aurally describes the various scenarios before you. Every person you engage in conversation with, or overhear, is one of several hundred that spent years recording the dialogue of the game. Each performance is on the spot, fittingly aggressive or sullen, because this place is their home.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stars the series’ trademark badass Geralt of Rivia, a man sapped of human emotion and weakness, replaced with remarkable reflexes, cunning senses and a knack for monster removal. Before you, in the vast lands of The Northern Kingdom, is a life of danger and strife.
Somewhere mixed up in the middle is your prodigy, Ciri, who has grown with a set of skills all her own. You would do well to explore in every direction in your search, following every hint of the wilderness to find a bevy of side quests, treasures and monsters to derive any and all viable information.
Upon arriving in any given township or camp there’s usually a board where you can find listings from contracts for monster extermination to finding a brother of a nobody who may have died in a battlefield somewhere. Each and every quest is a rich experience and further engrosses you into the land, as the rich character development isn’t restricted to just central characters.
This is where a lot of the conflict lies in the game. As a Witcher, you are supposed to be devoid of emotion and interested only in progress and profit. You’re often faced with a decision that defies the identity of a Witcher, but each individual makes you absolutely care about them, what they have to say, and what they may or may not know.
At its roots, Wild Hunt is largely about hunting monsters and slaying beasts, which is done in a much deeper way than the common “go here, kill monster, turn in” quest, and many have several deviation points to run off on. That aside, tracking a monster is one of the game’s most thrilling experiences.
Once you accept a monster contract, you’ll have to talk to (sometimes interrogate) a witness, be it a guard or a merchant who’s trapped in a bog. Once you’ve got a description of the situation, you’re led to the last location that the monster was sighted in. Using your Witcher sense (L2 while not in combat), pieces of evidence will highlight themselves against the environment.
Upon examination, Geralt will point out small details about the scene and try to narrow down what kind of beast was involved. Sometimes you’ll have to track a creature hundreds of paces away to its den, or maybe set a trap for it in a common feeding ground for their species, but it will ideally end with the slaying of the culprit, be it man or beast.
Completing contracts and side quests not only earns you coin to upgrade gear and craft potions, but it also extracts valuable insight to the land and opens up even more quests to complete.
CD Projekt Red proves its love for the industry, its product and its fans neatly with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The scope of the game is immense, with a main quest clocking in around 70-plus hours, not even considering all the side content. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt exists solely out of love and devotion, and there is no argument to be had whether or not it belongs in your game library. It does.