I may be a little late… Nah. The Witcher III and its two major expansions are well worth praising, for a multitude of reasons. There have been few games that have so thoroughly captured my attention for more than just one reason. CD Projekt Red designed an open-world game that isn’t a boring slog or an endless collection of meaningless tasks. It’s a masterpiece in more ways than one, in my own opinion.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t prone to a host of issues, but it’s so incredibly easy to overlook those issues when the complete package is as good as this.
Your experience is The Witcher III is contingent upon the difficulty you decide to play on. Now, I’m certainly not the type of person to make claims that playing it on easy is playing it incorrectly, but doing so neuters the game by quite a bit. Combat is a large portion of the gameplay, but going in prepared is half the battle on anything higher than Blood and Broken Bones.
Your various potions, oils, and decoctions help you out during the more tense encounters, and I rarely found myself entering the fray without taking a moment to apply the proper goos and potions. Granted, it’s a little cheesy to be able to stop combat when you want to coat your silver sword in necrophage oil, but if your enemies don’t mind, I suppose there’s no harm… to Geralt that is. Healing potions themselves are hardly the panacea that they are in other games, and food, while very useful, doesn’t carry the same beneficial effects like it does in games like Skyrim. That’s right, there’s no chowing down on 367 heads of lettuce to survive a fight.
That doesn’t mean fighting is tedious, just that you have a great deal of preparation to come out on top. Lowering the difficulty makes it play more like a traditional western RPG, while higher difficulties make fighting more dangerous. Taking on even a pack of dogs or drowners can be just as risky as defeating a gargoyle or wyvern. Human and non-human enemies aren’t much easier to fight, given that they are a little more cunning than their beastly counterparts.
The combat itself is rather solid, even though there’s a few quirks to it. For instance, while your crossbow is nearly useless in combat most of the time considering that the damage it does is minuscule, it’s extremely powerful when Geralt is in the water. Even on higher difficulties, you can kill enemies in one or two shots. It’s also pretty easy to get cornered or trapped by baddies, and since Geralt can’t really jump or vault in combat, you’re very much at the mercy of your environment. It reminds me of playing the old Assassin’s Creed games.
Still, the gamplay experience is wonderful.
To say The Witcher III looks good would be a fantastic understatement. Even on consoles, which aren’t exactly the most powerful platforms, the lighting, textures, and design of the environments are a sight to behold. I can only imagine what The Witcher III looks like on a powerful PC, but even so, it isn’t like you’re missing out when playing on Xbox One or PS4, and the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro updates help bridge the performance gap.
Of course, while CD Projekt Red did an amazing job taking full advantage of the existing hardware at the time, they didn’t do so well with the bugs in the software. Even years later, there are consistent issues with saving, quest triggers, and some boss encounters. One particular nuisance is the saving issues, where you aren’t able to save your game manually, and the auto-save mechanic doesn’t function at all. On the Xbox One, this seems to be linked to having the game set to Instant On mode in the power options, and on the PC, it’s likely due to a permissions issue in Windows. Still, after so long, CD Projekt Red has yet to find the cause and implement a fix. While it isn’t nearly as common on the PS4, it’s still possible to run into the same problem.
It can be remarkably frustrating to run into problems in what is widely considered to be an extremely polished game. This isn’t Skyrim we’re talking about, where bugs are often overlooked, and modders are left to create unofficial patches since the developer seems unwilling to put in the effort themselves. What makes the problems in The Witcher III so irritating is that they’re generally game-breaking in nature. Luckily, these problems are few and far between, but I’d still recommend exiting the game completely when you’re quitting your sessions.
Bugs aside, I feel it necessary to mention how awesome the soundtrack is. I can’t say I was in love with the vocal performances for the combat music at first, but it grew on me over time. Now, I can’t help but love the tempo and cadence paired with the combat itself. It feels like each fight is part of a tavern brawl. Furthermore, the combat music makes for an excellent companion with D&D. It wouldn’t be fair to leave out the rest of the soundtrack though, as the developer did an amazing job matching the music to the circumstances in the game.
What makes it all better? Purchases of the game include the soundtrack; though it isn’t a complete compilation of the music, the packed-in CD/MP3 makes for a nice bonus, especially when other publishers have often restricted that sort of bonus to more expensive versions of their games.
Modern RPGs have a problem when it comes to making compelling quests, and few titles these days seem to take steps to avoid falling into the same traps; The Witcher III doesn’t have this same issue.
Take, for instance, the bounties you can accept in a game like Skyrim (which I’ve been playing lately). They’re relegated to being radiant quests, and when you’re seeking out the option to make some money, they’re a poorly conceived, boring, and not worth your time invested. You go to the Jarl’s home, ask for work, and receive a quest to wipe out a bandit camp. Your reward is a pittance, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s far easier and more profitable to just pick up loot to sell. By the point you get to the later stages of the game, it’s pointless to bother with the bounties.
Contrast this The Witcher III, which avoids the issues of featuring boring quests by giving you a reason to do things. Contracts are actual jobs, with meaningful stories behind them. Sometimes, believe it or not, they aren’t even just simple find-and-kill missions. There’s almost always an investigative element, and many contracts even offer options to the player about how they want to complete them.
The concept behind the game design in The Witcher III seems to focused more on telling a story, rather than creating filler for the player to spend time on. Geralt, his companions, and the rest of the characters seem to exist beyond giving the player a reason to carry out tasks instead of a meaningless sandbox to play in.
Probably the biggest boon for The Witcher III is its story. Well, not just the story, but the characters and setting as well. Sure, there’s a large pool of backstory to pull from, which surely makes it much easier to develop the ties between the characters, but CD Projekt Red did such an amazing job portraying the link between Geralt and the other characters. There’s history to pull from, and even though this was my first experience with the world of The Witcher, there was enough background fed to me that I understood what motivated each character.
I knew why Geralt had such a strong bond with Ciri. Why Yennefer and Geralt had such a tumultuous relationship, all while not having much of a real connection at all. I understood how Geralt could be both a hardass and a sympathetic person at the same time. It’s rare to come across a game where the main character can be played as an uncaring, selfish jackass, or someone that can find ways to bend the rules to achieve outcomes that don’t benefit him outright. I guess a succinct way to put this is that Geralt isn’t the type of character that follows the traditional tropes of video game protagonist morality. I talked about this a little in my character alignment profile of Geralt.
Simply put, the story of The Witcher III is fantastic, the characters are extremely well written, and I love that I feel like I have a good reason to work through the story to its conclusion, without feeling forced.
Of course, there’s more to see in the world of The Witcher than just the base experience. CD Projekt Red saw fit to show up other developers by creating extensive DLC for their game as part of a DLC pass, which didn’t consist of a menagerie of character skins and throwaway content. Hearts of Stone was the first story add-on for The Witcher III, which takes place in the map area north of Novigrad. It begins simple enough, with a bounty to finish, but rather quickly it becomes a tale of confronting the seduction of power.
I won’t go into the details, because I feel like it’s worth experiencing on your own, but it’s worth saying that it’s worth the price of admission, and then some. Not only for the breadth of additional content provided, but the fact that it contains some of best content the game has to offer. Hearts of Stone has plenty of laughs while still providing excellent gameplay and the trademark bleakness of the series. Also, the boss fights in this add-on are some of the toughest ones in the game.
Like Hearts of Stone, Blood and Wine adds a ton of new content to the base game, but this time it all takes place in a completely new location. It takes place in Toussaint, a place that despite being home to people that seem confused over whether the should sound French, Italian, or Russian, is a beautiful area to explore and shows off what a company can do with DLC. Geralt heads to Toussaint at the request of the Duchess, Anna Henrietta, in the wake of many horrific murders.
It’s not just a story add-on however, as there are a number of changes made to the game itself, including a new way to customize Geralt’s mutations and adding the ability to increase the number of slots for his upgrades, an expansion to Gwent with the Skellige deck, tons of new quests and items, and even the ability to dye Geralt’s armor.
My message to other developers and publishers: This is how you should create DLC.
WILDCARD: GAMES DONE RIGHT
Not only is The Witcher III a complete experience on its own, but the support from CD Projekt Red is breathtaking (aside from their apparent inability to fix certain bugs). In addition to the main game itself, players have had the benefit of free additional content being fed to them over the course of the game’s first year on the market, with everything from additional gear to collect to new quests and game mechanics. Not content to stop there, CD Projekt Red went above and beyond the norm with their DLC pass to create a huge amount of unique content, for a shockingly low price point compared to other games.
That isn’t even taking into account the manner in which they have combated exploits in their game. When players have found ways to squeeze blood from a stone to level up quickly or make a quick buck, the developer didn’t see fit to just remove the exploitable material, but have fun with it. When players found a way to generate a large sum of cash from killing cows and taking their hides over and over, CD Projekt Red didn’t take away the cows; they made an ludicrously powerful cow-monster that hunts down the player until they’re killed.
When players found a way to manipulate the economy in Novigrad for pearls to obtain large amounts of coin, they didn’t take away those players’ money, they created a tax collector to come after Geralt. It’s clear that they have a sense of humor when it comes to these things, and I love that about The Witcher III. Sure, there are still ways to exploit the game, but it seems less like they’re trying to punish people for finding loopholes and more like they want to screw with them a little.
The truth is that I absolutely adore The Witcher III. It’s easily one of my favorite games in recent years; definitely my favorite from 2015. I feel it even holds up to this day when stacked up against other big names in the industry. What’s more is that I think developers have a lot to learn from CD Projekt Red and their creation. Not just regarding their attention to detail, sense of humor, and willingness to overlook making a quick buck in favor of delivering a ton of quality content to their players. No, game developers need to take note from The Witcher III that it is in fact possible to make a game that’s friendly to players’ wallets while still providing a game of this quality and scope.
I’d say it’s safe to say that this is the type of game that every lover of RPGs should at the very least, try. I’m not of a mind that everyone will love it as much as me. I know that there are folks out there that don’t care of western-style RPGs, or open-world RPGs. However, I still must say that this is probably as close to a must-own title as you can get.
That is, unless you’re not the type to like games that flaunt horrific violence and sexual content.
What are your thoughts on The Witcher III? Is it your cup of tea? Is it not? What’s your favorite parts and/or gripes about it?
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