|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: CD Projekt RED|
|Pub: WB Games|
|Release: May 19, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
It's hard to believe that only seven years ago, The Witcher series started as a plucky indie offering from upstart Polish RPG developer called CDProjekt. Despite only having two games under its belt, CDP has become one of the most beloved developers in gaming for its ambition, technical prowess, and consumer-friendly practices. The company is hoping to take another great leap forward with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Geralt of Rivia, the mutant monster hunter who always ends up getting entangled in human politics, is back for one last adventure. With a huge, spectacular-looking open world added to the series' story-heavy formula, the Witcher's final outing is shaping up to be an adventure of epic proportions.
The main story this time around might be a bit confusing for people who are only familiar with the Witcher games, rather than the novels that inspired them. Who are Yennefer and Ciri, and why are they being featured in promotional materials over familiar friends like Dandelion and Triss? Well, it turns out that good ol' Geralt had quite a life before he lost his memory in his “death” that occurred at the beginning of the first Witcher game. He managed to recover many of those memories at the end of The Witcher 2, and we're seeing the consequences of that recollection now.
Geralt's past involved an intense but tumultuous love affair with Yennefer, a sorceress more powerful than Triss, his familiar paramour from the games. It also included his foster daughter Ciri, who has elder blood in her veins, mysterious magic powers, and has the distinction of being the only woman ever trained as a Witcher.
Yennefer and Ciri have been in the clutches of powerful enemies, but they've escaped and are pursued by the supposedly immortal Wild Hunt. Now that he remembers them, Geralt is driven to find them again. Don't expect these women to be damsels in distress—they are both independent thinkers with strengths that equal Geralt's. Ciri will even be playable at key points in the game. However these characters' choices pan out, they're almost certain to end up in a showdown with the Wild Hunt over not only their own fates, but the fate of the world itself.
This personal quest of Geralt's won't be easy, for he will need to traverse a huge open world filled with nasty monsters and under siege by the Wild Hunt and the totalitarian Empire of Nilfgaard. CDProject has created a new engine aimed at supporting huge, narrative-driven RPGs with open worlds. The company promises that there won't be any loading screens to get in the way of Geralt's travels, but he will have access to mounts, ships, and fast travel.
Don't expect this to be a narrative-light open world game, however. The Witcher series is best known for its immersive stories and difficult, grey-area choices. The consequences of Geralt's choices can be huge, and The Witcher 2 is known for having an entirely different middle section of the game depending on whether he sides with some elven rebels or the humans who hunt them. CDProjekt claims that fifty percent of the possible one hundred hours of play will be devoted to following the game's main story, which will continue to feature strong characters and powerful choices. The company hopes to avoid pointless fetch quests, at least giving them a good story and a choice or two, though we've heard that song and dance from others in the past. We'll see if our Polish friends can live up to the promise.
The one area that I feel The Witcher hasn't quite perfected yet is combat, but hopefully the third time will be the charm for the series. As always, The Witcher 3 will feature action-RPG combat in which Geralt performs acrobatic feats of swordplay and uses his magical Witcher signs to turn the tide of battle in his favor. A lack of responsiveness was the biggest issue with combat in The Witcher 2 (one that was somewhat improved by post-release patches), so this time the team has greatly raised the number of combat animations in order to make fights more fluid while still allowing Geralt to look bad-ass. He'll also have access to new tools like a crossbow and bombs in order to have greater tactical options in battle. Hopefully this pans out well, since there's sure to be plenty of combat situations available in the game's world.
In fact, this open world gives Geralt more space and time to pursue his actual profession: monster hunting. This has always involved more work than simply trotting out into the woods and hacking beasts to death—Geralt must first research and prepare for fights with supernatural creatures in order to successfully defeat them. The Witcher 3 continues this tradition and adds even more complexity to the process. Geralt now has access to special senses that allow him to see monster tracks and other evidence that help him track down and kill his foes. These senses also help Geralt in battle—one example given by the developers is that if he learns ahead of time that a monster has two hearts, he can use his combat senses to locate and target them, slaying the monster more easily.
CDProjekt has never charged for DLC, but also hasn't released a great deal of the stuff. This time, the company promises to release sixteen DLC packs for free to everybody who owns The Witcher 3. Some of these are simple, like an alternate look for Yennefer or horse armor (because of course there's horse armor), but there will also be new questlines for players who somehow haven't had enough in fifty hours of side-quests.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a huge, ambitious project, one that I wouldn't expect most developers to pull off successfully. CDProjekt, however, has proven to be full of talented writers and technical wizards who have already performed impressive feats in the first two Witcher games. If anybody can pull off an open-world, choice and consequence RPG even better than BioWare did in Dragon Age: Inquisition (which was, of course, only sort-of open world), it's these folks. The game has been delayed until May 19, 2015 for bug-squishing and polish, so hopefully Geralt will be at his beardy best once we get it into our hands.
Date: January 5, 2015