The Witcher 3: Hands-on with the RPG that has us all under its spell - Games Weekly

The Latest Gaming News, Reviews, Guides , Tips and More


Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Witcher 3: Hands-on with the RPG that has us all under its spell

Two years and one hundred and sixty awards after it was announced, we’ve finally sat at the controls of one of 2015’s most anticipated games. Can The Witcher 3 live up to the hype? Could any game? Guess what: yes. Yes, followed by a weighty string of qualifying statements.

Yes, it’s going to ease into current gen RPG supremacy without misplacing a single milky-white strand. Yes, it’s going to expand on everything you loved about The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings, finding a logical new home in an open world 35 times bigger than TW2’s combined environments. If that’s what you expect of the game, then 19 May is a hallowed day for you, when expectations become glorious reality.

But no, its visuals aren’t indiscernible from movie CG as was suggested very early in the RPG’s development. And no, it doesn’t appear to be hugely progressive in its macro and micro mechanics; the huge and tangible leap forwards you might expect a giant carrying this much expectation to represent. Like the best of the current console generation’s yield so far, it feels more like a cherry-picking and refinement of things you already liked in this case, things CD Projekt Red was responsible for in the first place.
“because we took the extra time the world feels more cohesive and immersive”

Bearing all
We’d love to tell you how long it took us to gallop on our horse from one end of the world map to its opposite number, and the curious happenstances we encountered along the way. But we can’t: our three-hour hands-on session begins at the very start of the game, a prologue which exists in a closed-off hub a bit like Dragon Age: Inquisition’s individual areas.

In this early stage the game feels very familiar as in The Witcher 2, you begin in the nude, this time seemingly post-coitus rather than mid-act, and after a relaxing soak venture out to enjoy a world teeming with detail, incidental dialogue, and big wooden boxes inexplicably full of flower petals, string and money. Our sole task is to pull ourselves away from Yennefer (also starkers, natch) and head down to see young Ciri (recently announced as a playable character) and aid her training. This pre-prologue passage only accounts for 15 minutes or so of our playthrough, but it’s an effective piece of scene-setting-cum-tutorial the dialogue is strong and visuals sumptuous.

It isn’t until we get deeper into the prologue that we get a feel for what The Witcher 3 is really about, though. We take on an optional side quest involving a water supply which prompts Agent Dale Cooper levels of detective work, and culminates in a brilliantly designed boss fight. Optional side quest, mind. Though we finish the fight, the narrative thread isn’t tied up later on, we happen to meet a nice lady who knew the spectre of the woman haunting the well before she went full ghost. If we hadn’t taken the quest on, we’d be none the wiser to any of this, but because we took the extra time, the world feels that bit more cohesive and, as a result, immersive.

A cut above
Combat itself, along with the Witcher’s magical sign-casting and crafting abilities, is also recognisable from Geralt’s previous jaunts. This definitely isn’t a hack-and-slash even the very first enemies you encounter will end you if you don’t try to dodge and parry their attacks. In a move we’re behind so much that we want to shout, “Oi, developers! Copy this!” the enemies you encounter don’t scale, so if on your travels you encounter a Drowner, Harpy or some equally unpleasant being whose health bar denotes a level way beyond yours, it’s extremely likely that they’ll kill you. And that’s what open worlds are about, isn’t it? Feeling like you’ve pulled away from whatever path the developer intended you to follow and snuck into parts of the game you weren’t supposed to get to yet. Even in TW3’s prologue, before you’re actually let loose on the full expanse of the world map, that sensation is very much present.

We cautiously enter a Nilfgaardian military stonghold and our ears are met by their impenetrable native tongue, expanded into a full language using Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels as a foundation. We walk the floor of a Skellige banquet hall with equal trepidation, the folks of that Scottish- inspired archipelago in the midst of a debauchery-soaked feast, and seconds later find ourselves in a bizarre boss fight with an enormous grizzly bear who ate that entire banquet, patrons and all, right up. It’s CDP’s own Red Wedding moment, albeit delivered with a touch more levity.

Hoofing it
We discover the lands’ own version of Hearthstone in a tavern, and lose round after round of it until the murky visage of its own rule set emerges. Then we lose a few more. Oh, and we punch three men to death who were giving us some aggro outside that same tavern. 

There are creases to be ironed out, most evidently console frame rate performance, screen tearing issues, and some slightly clumsy horse riding. As in Red Dead Redemption, your steed will follow paths automatically once you direct it down one, but pulling it back off into the wilderness feels awkward. Currently your hoofed transport is a bit of a handful, but taking into account the full scope of The Witcher 3 and the relatively small team of devs working on it (around 100, CDP estimates) it’s miraculous we don’t have more to talk about in the ‘needs polishing’ column.

Don’t let the hype mislead you into thinking this game is like nothing you’ve played before, or a radical RPG shake-up. That hype exists because The Witcher 3 does traditional RPG-ing so well, and translates it into a vast space not for bragging rights, but because its lore can withstand being unfurled over such an enormous area.

Witch you were here
A crash course in Witcher lore

A kind of magic
The world was once magic-free, before an event known as ‘the conjunction of the spheres’ which unleashed supernatural forces on the land, changing life for its inhabitants forever.
Gee wizard
Humans were understandably pretty fascinated by the newfangled magic, studying it and in the process opening a door for powerful beasties to come wandering in and chew on everyone’s babies
Monster mash
Those aforementioned beasties really ran amok, and there was nothing anyone of human persuasion could do about it. You can probably see which bloodied directions this is all heading in. Those poor tasty infants.
Almost human
Yep, witchers came to existence, borne of arcane rituals which gave them magical powers but diminished their humanity. Geralt is one such chap. Humans remain suspicious of their abilities.

No comments:

Post a Comment