Gerald of Rivendell
HIGH Going on one hell of a bender in the company of some old friends.
LOW The combat remains lamentably dull, and there's a ton of it.
WTF Thinking Geralt had named his horse after Vernon Roche for the first ten hours or so.
Geralt of Rivia is back!
The White Wolf's been traveling here and there since the close of Witcher 2, and now he's on a quest to track down his old flame, Yennefer of Vengerberg. Yen's not his real goal, though—he needs her help to find his adopted daughter who's being chased by a murderous group of ne'er-do-wells known as the Wild Hunt.
If nothing else, Geralt's life is never simple or boring.
Unsurprisingly, given CD Projekt Red's track record, the level of detail lavished on The Witcher 3 is exceptional. It's a rough-and-tumble dark fantasy with plenty of blood, guts, occasional torture and plenty of casual racism being flung around by the inhabitants. The voice acting is of a generally high standard, and little things like how characters react during dialogue does a lot to lend the interactions an air of realism. It is admittedly quite weird that Geralt (the most feared and infamous Witcher in all the land) is constantly antagonized by idiot peasants who couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag, but hey. They're idiot peasants, after all.
One of the most obvious changes over the previous installment (aside from the realtime beard growth) is that the world is no longer tightly constrained to small areas with limited opportunities for exploration. Now everything takes place in a huge—and by huge I mean bloody massive—open map, with many opportunities to stray from the beaten path and engage in a near-countless number of sidequests, minigames and impromptu expeditions.
At first this expanded scope is great, providing players with dozens of reasons to gallop across the land, righting wrongs (or possibly wronging rights), getting into scraps with fearsome beasts, clearing bandit camps, rescuing captives, and more. The problem is that there's so damn many of these jobs that their pursuit eventually becomes immensely boring. By the time I arrived at the game's fourth area (Skellige) I had to start ignoring all the secondary quests and points of interest on the map or I'd have lost my damn mind.
In fact, quest burnout had set in so strongly that I ended up taking a break from the game, and hopping back on the wagon took significantly more effort than expected. I thought I'd be back to it in a few days, but those days became weeks before I mustered up enough enthusiasm to return. I'm glad I did because the payoff was worth it, but bloody hell… The Witcher 3 came much closer to being permanently shelved than I'd like to admit.
One contributing factor to this fatigue is that even though there are usually story snippets attributed to them, many quests require only a perfunctory investigation before killing monsters or putting bad guys in their place. The combat, whilst undeniably better than previous Witcher titles, still isn't good enough to remain interesting throughout a game of this size. The skill trees aren't varied enough, the AI is too predictable, and Geralt's brand of flashy swordsmanship removes the immediacy between pressing a button and watching him stab something in the face. The spells provided (known as signs) do little to help liven up the generally samey combat.
That said, Geralt's journey remains interesting in a multitude of ways. There are plenty of well-written characters encountered during his travels, and there are even a few that don't want to stick a knife in his guts. Old friends like Zoltan, Dandelion and various other Witchers help make his path in life more than an all-out slaughterfest, and there's a good supporting cast from all walks of life for him to butt heads with. For instance, the Bloody Baron excels as a self-appointed warlord with a spotty past, and even the less-nuanced, smaller characters like lowlife gang leader Whoreson Junior add welcome spice.
The moments when players take control of Geralt's adopted daughter Ciri are what really shined for me, though. She's a badass, interesting, entirely likeable character, and her few sections feel more tense than the majority of Geralt's ventures. I'd love to elaborate, but it's all quite firmly planted in spoiler territory.
Overall, it's a story well worth playing through, and the final ending can differ in various ways depending on Geralt's actions. The fate of many individuals and even entire settlements are determined by the player's choices, but the sequences that mattered most were those firmly tied into the main storyline—with one small exception being a missable sidequest involving the kingdom of Redania's future.
So, despite its overlong running time and the malaise that delayed this review, it has to be said that I did enjoy my time with The Witcher 3… but not enough to return to it any time soon, nor to be interested in with any of the upcoming downloadable content. Given that the game already has too much content in its vanilla release, it's more refinement that I'd like to see now—and to be fair, few developers offer post release support like CD Projekt Red do. In this massive adventure the good largely outweighs the bad, but it's a shame that they're so closely intertwined from start to finish.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 105 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and there are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content and use of alcohol. They're not wrong. In fact, they undersold the amount of awesome carnage and copious ass kicking to be found within.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There's plenty of subtitles to help out, which is good as there's a ton of dialogue throughout. Standard situational awareness issues apply, but it does a great job of catering to players less able to hear battle cries and the like for the most part.