The Witcher 3 Game-Debate Pre-Review

Written by Stuart Thomas on Fri, May 22, 2015 4:30 PM
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Blatherings of the Bard

The time has come, my friends, for a rare peek behind the curtain.

I knew we were going to have problems with the Witcher III: Wild Hunt when word came out that it was going to take more than seventeen human lifetimes to complete. Now for the average gamer this is terrific news. A meaty RPG to really get your teeth into is a thing of beauty. But when you’re reviewing a top-end AAA title, there’s a mad rush to get copy to print. So everyone plays the game as much as they possibly can as fast as they can to just get to the point where they understand it enough to write a review. Sure, some dedicated and ethical journalists insist on playing every game to completion before putting pen to paper but we don’t get review copies until shortly before release. So for a game this length, there’s always the agonizing decision.

Do you sprint through the whole game, sticking mostly to the main plot (but just dipping into the sub-plots for the bare minimum of time so you can say you’ve done it), legging it through the world like you’re hopped up on +2 Mountain Dew of Speed, and blurting out your first thoughts in the race to print? In other words, do you rush it, and just slap a 10/10 on it because it looks pretty and that’s what people want to see?

Or do you play it like it deserves to be played? Ambling through the woods, listening to the birds and watching the world go by, exploring all of the sub-games and side quests, taking the time to understand the world and the story?

So this time, we’re cheating. But we think it’s a cheat that means that everybody wins. We’ve been following the Witcher’s development for two years now, since the announcement in early 2013. It seems silly to just spend a couple of days playing it and write a review. Like a love affair, in the early days it’s hard to see beyond the beauty. It takes time to settle into a proper opinion. That’s why we don’t just want to throw a great mark at it with no context – because we know that purchasing a full-price game like this deserves consideration.

Enough, already. Skip to the review.

OK, so I’ve had a couple of days with the Witcher III, enough to get through the opening chapter (which is more of a preview), level up a few times and move on to the main event.

The first thing that strikes me is that it’s beautiful. Imaginative and beautiful. Games are progressing all the time, and the Wild Hunt is certainly a step forward from Skyrim in terms of eye-candy. Sure, it judders along a little on my machine, but I’ve turned it down a couple of notches and still have most things on medium, and it’s just a very believable world. Squat villages cower in coastal vales and hillsides, weathering the rigours of wartime. Inns are dark and threatening, not at all like the sanctuaries they represent in most RPGs. Forests actually feel like forests, not just plains with a high number of trees. Everything is worn and decrepit. There is a lot of atmosphere here.

While there is an opening sequence to help establish some of what’s going on, the first three or four hours are all geared to setting the scene. Geralt and his Witcher chum Vesemir are on the trail of an old friend, and need to fulfil a monster-hunting contract for the occupying army. This quest, and several of the optional sub-quests available in the area, highlight one of the important things the set the Witcher apart from other RPG heroes – he’s kind of like a medieval Ghostbuster. Your mission might be to kill a Griffin, but that doesn’t just mean go to its location and smack it with a pointy bit of metal. Geralt has a head full of monster-hunting lore, and you’ll spend more time collecting herbs and intelligence to concoct a trap for the beast than you will actually fighting it. In another quest, the ghost of a wronged woman needs to be freed from her curse before the spirit she has become can be slain. There’s always more to it than just killing stuff. Even in the more mundane side-missions, there’s usually a twist. Nobody’s quite what they seem.

Skills and levelling are handled in an oddly-complicated way, not too dissimilar to how they were done in the Witcher 2. Levelling up nets you a skill point to spend, then the skill you’ve levelled needs to be socketed into a weird tree thing where it can be grouped with a mutagen. It’s possible to level more skills than you have sockets for, so that skill needs to sit on the shelf, waiting for the time when you reshuffle everything. I had difficulty with what this was supposed to represent – how can you suddenly forget that you’re a great swordsman in order to suddenly remember that you can cast better spells? The whole thing felt unnecessarily convoluted.

Controls were always a sticking point in the earlier Witcher games, and there’s still no real smoothness to the process. Geralt can sometimes feel a little clumsy, particularly when trying to navigate indoor locations. Dodging in combat isn’t exactly straightforward, although rolling out of range usually works pretty well. There’s certainly the feel of a console game shoehorned into the mouse-and-keyboard method, and it should be more straightforward than it is. Felix switched from controlling The Witcher 3 gameplay via mouse and keyboard over to the trusty Xbox controller, so that should give you something to think about when giving this a go. Although he is getting on a bit and his ageing fingers arent as dexterous as they once were.  

Later, the story moves to a more civilised setting, and laying traps for monsters is replaced with learning how to bend a knee to royalty (and then deciding whether or not you actually WILL bow in such a setting). I can honestly say that I had as much fun with these courtly scenes as I did exploring the wilderness, and although the transition from open-world exploration and what is essentially a thirty-odd minute long cutscene with dialogue options is a little unexpected, you never feel like you’re not influencing the story. The storytelling in the Witcher III certainly seems to be up to what I came to expect after the previous game – a tale of love, betrayal and politics as much as it is a tale of monsters and battle.

I found a few annoying moments. One mission called on me to cleanse pits of bodies and I used a fire spell near to the pit, which inadvertently delivered enough fire damage to kill myself from my own spell. There was an autosave in the middle there somewhere, so reloading just meant watching myself unavoidably burning to death again. Fortunately there was another save point not too far back, though.

After my first five hours with the game it’s what I’d expect from an open-world successor to the incredible Witcher 2. They’ve wisely stuck with some of the old faces to make things recognisable to the returning player, and all of the series’ hallmarks are there – taking jobs from the notice boards in villages, a gambling subgame (this time it’s a collectible card game) and lots of alchemy and crafting to develop your stuff. Plus a storyline deep enough to draw you in and capture the imagination.

Next time, I’ll report in on how the Witcher III feels after a week’s solid play. I’m aiming for the 25-hour mark at the very least, before I say any more.

So far, it’s a beautiful, expertly-crafted RPG which I am enjoying immensely, despite a few control and mechanical issues.

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18:40 May-27-2015

Somethings goes wrong..i cant speak with Vernon Roche..when i go to the cave there isn't cinematic sence...and i pass the quest..i talk to Cleaver too but nothing happens..I defeat Whoreson's thus but when i pass this qeust..i keep seeing i

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02:07 May-23-2015

The Witcher 3 is like a porn with good stories. You came for the boobies but stayed for the plot.

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02:14 May-23-2015

porn with good stories? is there really such a thing? xD

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05:48 May-23-2015

oh yeah, i feel vedajanitra!

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01:04 May-23-2015

I played it for 36 hours. I'm level 10 almost 11. Started playing on Death March difficulty and it's hard, harder than The Witcher 2 on dark or insane(finished both). I love the game, shame I have exams this year :(

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09:03 May-23-2015

I think this is much easier than W2 playing too on death march the world is so big you have much bigger opportunity to collect crap and grind before quests. This rpg is best i have ever played now its time that the good old Gothic 2 drops to the second place in my book. Huge rpg where side quests don't feel boring grinding made to extend the game length.

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10:27 May-24-2015

Well I don't grind, I go straight to quests, and until lvl 10 I didn't used any skills or new armor, just new swords. Now with skills, armor and using oils and potions is much easier :D

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11:20 May-24-2015

holey **** you are a pro! finished witcher 2 on insane? you have my respect sir.

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22:55 May-24-2015

Thank you, I bet you can do it too, first complete the game on dark and after that begin the insane run (it will be much easier cuz u know the quests and the enemies and etc.) and don't forget to disable the QTE's and if you want look for soome guides on the internet :D

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00:11 May-25-2015

i have completed the game on normal and hard. Actually died less in the second playthrough. I could probably do dark too if I tried and grinded a bit. But the prospect of the perma death insane difficulty is too scary for me. One careless moment and you are done. The rage and despair would be too much :P. I dont have the patience.

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10:23 May-25-2015

You can do it, the hard parts are the prologue(damn dragon), chapter 1 if you are careless, the battle of specters maybe and the operator with the gargoyles in chapter 3(that was the hardest part)...and the rest was pretty easy. If you think you are gonna die then don't wait, load another save.

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14:45 May-25-2015

Not to mention bugs like stuck in wall when fighting or swimming on land and then killed by monsters without chance to escape or fighting back
I would go crazy if that happened on permadeath diff

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14:50 May-25-2015

yeah what zilincan said very true. Stuff like that happen. And can you load a save while in battle? I didnt know that :P. It could make things easier. And yeah this damn prologue man.... why is it so damn hard. the gargolys are pretty strong too. But its an optional quest so I wouldnt bother at all with it. I dont know if its possible but.. it wiill have to wait for a long time. I am too busy with witcher 3 right now :P.

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21:25 May-25-2015

Well I never encountered any bugs in TW2...but in TW3 there are some markers (bandit camps etc.) that don't update...and I hate that.

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20:56 May-22-2015

Died in the tutorial quest 10/10 would jump down again.

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21:45 May-22-2015

poor Geralt have some bone disease, falling from 2-3m cliff/wall killed me in game more times than combat :-D

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09:05 May-23-2015

Now now it took 2 whole games for him to learn to jump :D. Maybe in next game if it ever comes.

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23:42 May-22-2015

Lol I jumped to my death too like 5min into the game after some sight seeing at the balcony

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11:03 May-23-2015

Me too. Seems like its part of the tutorial to jump from that balcony and learn (the hard way) some basics about Newton's law of gravity. Nice view though! :D

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20:18 May-22-2015

this game... its been a long time since I played a game that just doesnt let me stop. I must admit I am already 20 ours in :3. I love it so much.

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20:28 May-22-2015

Thats why I am singing for myslef last days
"oj lazare, lazare, tuka ni sa kazale
oj lazare, lazare, tuka ni sa kazale
Tervo tuka dojdome, moma momce najdome"
haha, great game

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20:33 May-22-2015

lol translation? :P

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21:42 May-22-2015

I dont really understand all word and I have no idea what language it is
but from few common slavic words I understood that whole song is something about hosts, celebration and engaging to a woman

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00:17 May-23-2015

It's an old regional dialect of Bulgarian, but with a heavy Polish accent (the song is a modified version of a Bulgarian traditional song sung by a Polish folk band). :P

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02:15 May-23-2015

cool to know :D. I knew it would be polish or some kind of neighbouring language.

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10:45 May-23-2015

Hindi ?

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17:10 May-23-2015

Nope.

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18:14 May-22-2015

For some reason the game is unplayable for me. The cutscenes always freeze for 5 seconds then jump forward :/ really want to play this!

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18:17 May-22-2015

Tried reinstalling?

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20:17 May-22-2015

or the repair button if you are playing on gog galaxy. On steam it should be the "verify integrity of cache files" thingy.

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09:57 May-23-2015

I have it on GOG Galaxy but i done the "repair" thing but still no good. Gonna try and reinstall it :/

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18:51 May-23-2015

i heard of another guy with i7 third gen and gtx 970 having the same problem. could be a coincidence. try googling it if you havent already. :/

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10:37 May-29-2015

I got it to work. All I did was change the FPS from 60 to UNLIMITED :D

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18:02 May-22-2015

First game i won't finish in a couple of days. I have exams starting and unfortunately i 'll have to stop playing for a while. The game is too big and i always finish all side-story missions apart from the main ones on every game.

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17:29 May-22-2015

The thing that I really like so far is that side quests are actually fun and not boring at all, unlike Dragon Age which I was really looking forward to, I was kind of let down on that aspect. Still haven't finished Dragon Age and probably won't due to the fact that I'll probably be playing The Witcher for the rest of the year.

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18:18 May-22-2015

exactly! thumbs up for u buddy

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100% Yes [1 votes]
Core i5-9400F 6-Core 2.9GHz GeForce GTX 770 DirectCU II 2GB OC Edition 16GB
0% No [2 votes]
Pentium Dual Core B960 2.2GHz Radeon HD 6950M 4GB
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Athlon II X2 245 GeForce GTS 250 4GB
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
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Core i5-2400S 2.5GHz Radeon R5 340 (OEM) 4GB
| High, 720p
Core i5-2400S 2.5GHz Radeon R5 340 (OEM) 4GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
100% Yes [1 votes]