The RPG genre as a whole has come a long way since Geralts first outing in 2007, you used to have to wait ages for a good RPG to come along, it was something to anticipate, to get excited about.
Now days it seems that you can’t swing a sword for hitting another high quality title demanding your time, we’ve had Pillars of Eternity, Dragon Age Inquisition, Divinity: Original Sin...
So you've got a multilayered plot with plenty of side quests taking place in a huge open world, but all that is wasted if the characters are flat and dull.
Thankfully The Witcher 3 boasts some of the most engaging characters I've had the pleasure of interacting with in a game.
Favourites from the previous titles make a welcome return including Vesemir, Zolton and of course Triss.
There are plenty of new characters to meet too, all of which feel fully developed, have their own motivations and some very well written dialogue, the voice work compliments this perfectly too adding additional depth and meaning to what they have to say. You'll feel their desperation, their pain and their need, it's emotive stuff.
I didn't love them all though.... Geralts friend Dandelion makes my skin crawl, Although I'll admit the task of tracking him down was hugely entertaining but all the while I was quietly hoping that now Geralt had got his memory back he'd realise what a sleaze Dandilion is and give him a much needed slap.
What Came Before
Whilst this is the third title in the series, The Wild Hunt does a great job of introducing you to the characters, their motives and what is going on in the world, if you haven't played the first two titles it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Their stories were fairly encapsulated and the first few hours of The Witcher 3 should tell you everything you need to know to make sense of the coming events.
You should know though, that if you haven't played the other installments you've done yourself a disservice by missing out on two excellent RPG titles and whilst you'll have no trouble following the events in The Wild Hunt, you be losing out on some of the depth and subtlety which returning players will enjoy.
Geralts tale is one best enjoyed in full from its 2007 beginnings through to its epic 2015 conclusion.
The Old Days
The first Witcher title came out back in 2007 and injected a breath of fresh air into the fantasy gaming scene.
Whilst many RPG titles at the time were taking the cutesy "Fable" style approach to the genre, CD Projekt RED acknowledged the fact that the gaming demographic was shifting.
Teenagers who'd been playing games in the 90's were still gaming in the new millennium but now they were a little older and wiser, gamers were growing up and that’s where the initial Witcher title comes in.
It was a dark and mature piece of epic fantasy and one which was aimed at the older end of the gaming market, more importantly is was also very, very good, so good in fact that it spawned an equally dark and gritty sequel in 2011.
Reviews gone by...
.... I can remember writing a review forDivinity: Original Sin and suggesting that we were entering “The Golden Age” of the RPG, I think I even cited the development of The Witcher 3 to support my grandiose claim.
Six months and several outstanding RPG releases later and The Witcher 3 is finally here, the anticipation is over, but in a market now full of high quality RPG titles is this just another good game in a sea of good games?
The short answer to that question is “no”
The Witcher 3 is something special, so what makes a special RPG?
I've mentioned that the voice work is top notch, but the rest of the audio is just as impressive. The musical score is dynamic, of a high quality and always appropriate, creating just the right atmosphere to compliment every situation.
The background ambient sounds really add to the immersion too, from the screech of disturbed birds taking flight to the cries of anguish from the displaced locals, it's all fantastic in a beautifully dark and desperate kind of way.
The very first thing you’ll probably notice about the Witcher 3 is just how pretty everything is, this goes beyond just being good looking, at its highest settings with all the bells and whistles turned on, the Witcher 3 is spectacular, of course all this graphical magnificence comes at a price and you're going to need a beast of PC to be able to run it in all its glory, if you've been thinking about upgrading your graphics card, now is the time!
Having said that, even with the settings turned down it’s still a stunning game to behold.
Of all the RPG's I've played, the Witcher 3 is “The fairest of them all”
The Name Game
If I mentioned the name Andrzej Sapkowski, would it mean anything to you?
How about Geralt of Rivia?
I’m sure plenty of you recognise that one, but one wouldn’t exist without the other.
Geralt is of course every ones favourite scar encrusted, white haired Witcher.
He’s been offering his monster slaying services (for a price) across two previous Witcher titles whilst reluctantly dabbling in politics, romancing the locals and saving the occasional princess.
Not bad for someone with amnesia.
Andrzej Sapkowski, on the other hand, is a Polish author, more importantly he’s the Polish author responsible for penning the Witcher novels upon which the Witcher games are based.
I know this isn’t news to some of you, but what you might not know is that there has also been a Witcher movie and a Witcher TV series (both in Polish and both terrible if you believe what you read on the inter-web).
This isn’t a problem experienced by the Witcher game franchise which thankfully is available in English and is about as far away from terrible as you can get.
So what about the negatives... well.... that's a tricky one.
I've experienced the occasional crash, nothing unexpected for such a huge open world game with demanding system requirements (I've been playing with every option maxed out so my PC has been running pretty hot) but other than that I'd say its head and shoulders above its peers.
If you really want me to find a fault (and it's a hell of reach) I'd say that being a Witcher title is both to this games strength and its detriment.
The lore in the Witcher series is fascinating and the world is a darkly charismatic place to explore, but by its nature you are limited to playing as Geralt travelling alone, which might feel a little lonely to some. There's no party building, no comrades to travel with (unless you count the horse), no group dynamics to enjoy. It’s just Geralt.
I'm totally fine with that and I suspect most you will be too, there's so much going on in the world that I never felt lonely at all, take two steps in any direction and you'll discover something, it could be a crazed cult, desperate bandits, a monsters nest, this game is so full of content it's amazing.
Your friends, both new and old are out there in the world too and tracking them down for a chat always feels special.
In fact everything about the Witcher 3 feels special.
Mechanics, The Gathering
The crafting mechanic which I touched on briefly earlier, is deep, intuitive and rewarding.
There's plenty of loot out there to be scavenged from boxes and bodies alike and the updated inventory system does an effective job of keeping everything in its place.
Geralt can also use his "Spidey Senses" to track down nearby objects of interest which is extremely useful in the full and detailed environments where valuable items could easily be missed.
There's also a pretty comprehensive levelling system where you'll invest experience points to improve your abilities in certain areas, you'll also have the opportunity to enhance certain skills with mutagens to further boost your talents.
Bit on the Side
The main story arc will suck you in, but there are plenty of distractions too, although the game world is vast, it's also full of side quests, we're not just talking about cookie cutter fetch quests either.
The side missions all feel unique and fleshed out.
The story lines behind some of them are nothing short of brilliant, the desperation, the lies, the depth of what could have easily been shallow "go there and kill that" diversions is a real achievement.
I can't overstate how impressed I am with quantity and quality of these optional "short stories", it actually makes me a little sad to think that I've likely missed some of these gems during my play through purely because the world is so large, maybe I could free up another 90 hours or so and play through it all again...
It's All Coming Back To Me
The first two titles saw Geralt struggling with amnesia, but now, with his memory fully restored, he's on a quest to find those he thought lost.
A quest which finds him travelling through a world in chaos. The mighty Empire of Nilfgaard has moved against the Northern Kingdoms, villages are burning, great armies march across blood soaked mud, all the while the monsters are feeding, there are always monsters, always opportunities for a Witcher to earn a coin or two.
Preparation is important, especially for some of the trickier battles.
If a fight is proving too difficult you could always take Geralt out into the fields to pick some flowers instead, gather up the right ingredients and you'll be able to mix up some oils or poisons to coat your blades which should give help give you an edge in combat.
There are plenty of potions you can craft which will help too, not to mention weapon and armor crafting, you can track down some very useful (and stylish) armor sets as you explore the world.
Going into a fight properly dressed with an oiled up pointy stick whilst high on potions can make all the difference.
Imagine that you’ve been out foraging, not for herbs, animal parts or metal ores but for game components, components that you can use to craft your own RPG.
Which elements are important to you?
What goes in the recipe for your perfect RPG experience?
A large open world to explore?
Interesting characters playing out an intriguing story?
All of these seem pretty important components and I’m guessing they were important to CD Projekt Red too because the Witcher 3 ticks all of these boxes and many more, but let’s break it down...
Magic the Gwent'ening
I can't write a review of the Witcher 3 without talking about Gwent, a new sub-game in the same vain as "Dice Poker" from Geralts earlier adventures. If you've ever played Magic the Gathering, or any other collectable card game you'll be right at home with Gwent. As you play through The Wild Hunt you'll be given the opportunity to challenge people to a game of Gwent, you'll then sit at a table with them, throw down your cards and play what is a very comprehensive and hugely enjoyable game in its own right.
If you've ever bought any of the PC releases of Magic the Gathering, I can tell you now that Gwent is better and I'm sure I don't have to point out the Irony of a card playing sub-game in an RPG playing better than a stand alone "specialised" card gaming title. Winning at a game of Gwent might net you a new card for your collection, you can also pick up new cards from merchants, there's nothing like a booster pack to fill out your deck!
You'll even discover some side quests revolving around the card game, playing Gwent at a professional level is a serious business! I found the game so enjoyable that I'd actually spend real money on physical versions of these cards to play in the real world if I could. Gwent, it's a Witchers CCG of choice - you can't ask for a better endorsement than that!
Moving on from the addictive distraction that is Gwent (It's sooo good!) there are plenty of other things worthy of praise in The Witcher 3.
All the Worlds’ a Stage (A Really, Really Big One)
From sleepy villages to bustling cities, creepy caves to lush meadows, the Witcher 3 boasts a varied and vast open world to experience.
Every location on offer is beautifully realised with breathtaking vistas around every corner.
With an open world this vast you'd think there'd be a lot of uneventful "running around" involved but that's not the case.
Exploration never becomes a chore, there's always something interesting to discover or horrifying to fight, each with its own risks and rewards.
This level of detail encourages exploration, you're not going to want to miss anything.
You even get a horse to ride around on, Roach, which speeds travel up should you want to rush passed all the lush scenery.
Geralts world is a place of terror and wonder, a place you'll never want to leave.
Talking about slapping, the combat mechanics in The Witcher 3 are much improved over the previous titles, it's fast, fluid and can be quite challenging.
You remember that I mentioned you get a horse, Roach, to ride around on?
Well you can fight on horseback now too!
Dodging and counter attacking your way to victory has never been so much fun.
Dual Blade Action
Those of you that have played the previous titles will know that Geralt travels with two swords strapped to his back, a steel blade for the humans (and dwarves and elves etc.) and a silver blade for the non-human monsters that populate the world.
It's not all about the razors edge of his blades either, there are the Witcher signs (magic to the uninitiated) which Geralt can use to burn, push, trap or charm any monsters which crosses his path.
The monster types themselves are varied and so hideously beautiful to look at it's almost a shame to slay them.
Don't Leave Me!
Towards the start of this review I wrote that the release of Divinity: Original Sin marked the start of a golden age for the RPG, if that's true then the Witcher 3 is the pinnacle of this fantasy renaissance.
It's epic in scope, visually stunning and superbly written, this is the most fulfilling RPG I have ever played and I don't make that statement lightly.
To my mind, the only genuine fault with this game is that it has to come to an end.
The Witcher 3 is an RPG people will be talking about for years to come and I have no hesitation in recommending that you buy it, play it and savour every moment, because when it is finally over and it's time to say goodbye to Geralt and his friends I know that you're going to miss them.
Any game that evokes a sense of loss when it's over is a special one and the Witcher 3 is one of the best games I've played across any genre.
You need to play this!