With Wild Hunt, The Witcher series has demonstrated itself to be one of the greatest RPG trilogies of all time. While the original game was occasionally uneven, the subsequent entries have done everything good sequels should do. The parts that worked were built upon, the parts that didn’t were discarded and new mechanics were constantly introduced. Each new game felt like playing an entirely different series, if not for the story woven through them, binding it all together. The final result is a testament to the ability of video games to tell a story.
In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you play as Geralt of Rivia, a mutagenically enhanced monster hunter. The previous instalments borrow heavily from the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series. However, a narratively convenient bout of amnesia allowed a lot of this to lore to be drip fed to Geralt over the course of the first two games. As of the beginning of Wild Hunt, his memories have come back and Geralt now searches for the two he holds most dear: the sorceress Yennefer and his adopted daughter Ciri, both of whom are being pursed by the Wild Hunt.
Travelling alone through the world of The Witcher is dangerous during peace times and the world is far from peaceful. In Wild Hunt, the divided Northern Realms have been invaded by The Empire of Nilfgard. After a relentless initial campaign, much of the North has been conquered, but now the remaining countries have united behind King Radovid the Stern who has grounded the Nilfgardian assault to a tense standstill. It is during this age of paranoia and suspicion that Geralt’s journey takes place.
However, what makes the story of Wild Hunt so interesting is not the overarching plot. As Geralt tracks Ciri and Yennifer, he is constantly forced into other character’s tales. Your hand is often left to make life or death decisions for others, though characters are often two-faced and the morality of your actions is always questionable. In contrast to its high fantasy setting, the story of Wild Hunt is full of nuance as Geralt constantly tries to strike a balance between allowing injustice and preserving his cherished neutrality. The game asks questions of you and you might not always like the answers you find yourself giving, but it is that internal conflict that makes the story so engrossing.
Despite all this drama, Wild Hunt never feels oppressively dark, thanks in part to the beautiful world you venture through. CD Projekt Red’s first attempt at an open world is an innovative take on the genre. Their landscapes are vast and sprawling, but broken up into separate zones. Dividing them in this way means that it feels like you have reached a milestone when you finally cross over to the next zone and you rewarded by a whole new world for you to explore. It also keeps load times down, which is a necessity considering the level of graphical beauty on display. Wild Hunt is already setting benchmarks on PCs for the impressive amount of textures and particles the game displays, but that is nothing compared to seeing it in motion. The world feels alive as you move through it, thanks to dynamic weather effects, conjuring up everything between stiff breezes and booming thunder storms and a day/night cycle that produces breathtaking sunsets and foreboding twilights. I found myself galloping through the countryside on many occasions. I wasn’t chasing a quest marker or exploring hidden locations. I just wanted to see more of the world. This same beauty is poured into the character models as faces and clothes are rendered to an almost maddening degree of acuity. However, they stumble in motion thanks to some clunky character animations that have been par for the course with this series.
Aside from merely looking fantastic, the world of Wild Hunt has a lot to offer. In terms of extra content and things to explore, the game rivals heavyweights such as Skyrim. Plenty of side quests, monster contracts and a surprisingly in-depth card game can pad out the game length to over a hundred hours. Furthermore, these side quests are much more fulfilling than those you would find in Skyrim as they’re used to flesh characters and are usually just as interesting as the quests you find along the critical path.
If there has been one aspect that The Witcher series has struggled with in the past it is gameplay. Fortunately, in Wild Hunt this is no longer a problem. Combat is based around preparation and action. Running head first into a fight is a quick way to get killed. Instead, an in-depth bestiary and alchemy system allows you research the nature of the monsters you hunt and brew potions, oils and bombs to more effectively take them down. On top of that, you can discover weapon and armour designs and have them crafted to give you an extra sharper edge.
Next comes finding the monster. Wild Hunt introduces a ‘Witcher’s sense’ mechanic. Thanks to Geralt’s various mutations, he can see hidden tracks left years ago, follow strong scents and pick up on a level of detail far greater then a regular human. Using these senses is reserved for tracking monsters and an occasional puzzle segment. While none of these sections are ever difficult, the new mechanic captures the excitement of slowly bearing down upon a hunter’s prey.
Now that you’ve prepared your potions and tracked the monster to its lair, it’s time to fight. Wild Hunts’s combat feels faster and more fluid then any of the previous instalments in the series. You have your two swords, two types of attacks (heavy and light) and two dodges (sidestep and roll). This simple combat system initially works competently, but shines when the game starts adding magic attacks, crossbow bolts and bombs to the mix. Enemy tactics shift as well, requiring a mix of all these elements to defeat. Fighting a gryphon will require quick dodges and magic blasts of force, while fighting men emphasises parrying and isolating individual targets for quick takedowns. The game also gives you enough variation in these enemy types to always present a new challenge.
It was hard to find things I didn’t like about the game. The pathfinding on enemy A.I. could always be better. The game sometimes feels immature about how it handles sex. I certainly hope they patch the glitch the occasionally removes experience for completing quests. But, Wild Hunt does some many things a good RPG should. It crafts a beautiful world, filled with interesting lore and dynamic characters. It’s combat style in engaging and makes you feel like you actually are a legendary monster slayer. But, most importantly, it tells a subtle and moving story that brought me to tears then shot me up to the heights of euphoria. Wild Hunt concludes an unforgettable story that spanned three games and deserved more.
This review was conducted on the PlayStation 4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC.