Witcher 3 Review

Is Witcher 3:Wild Hunt, as developers said in one of the trailers, “a crowning achievement of the RPG genre”? Let’s find out.

When I watched first trailers for W3 I was skeptical. Trailers showed beautiful graphics and environments. However at the same time when they showed combat I had a feeling that I was watching W2 with massively updated graphics. As the trailers progressed, graphics regressed and more and more info about gameplay appeared. Again it reminded me a lot of W2. So when I saw this and I quote: “a crowning achievement of the RPG genre” end of quote – I was baffled. How can something which behaves like W2 be a “crowning achievement of the RPG genre”? How close it was to fulfilling this? Let’s see…


Story of Witcher 3


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You play as Geralt of Rivia, a witcher – professional monster slayer. In W3 like in previous games, though, Geralt has a much more important mission. Those of you who have played W2 will remember that at the end of the game you learned that Yennefer of Vengerberg was in Empire of Nilfgaard and that Geralt plans to find her. Who is Yennefer? A sorceress and a love of Geralt’s life (a role she had in books, but it was a bit more complicated in previous games). Without revealing too much since story is one of better parts of W3, I’ll only say that Geralt, along with Vesemir (another witcher) starts the game by searching for her. Later situation further complicates and Gerlats adopted child (to put it simply) makes an appearance along with the host of other characters and factions. When does the phenomenon known as Wild Hunt appear? I’ll leave it up to you to find out.

Now what is the good story without good characters? Here again W3 does a solid job. Zoltan, Dandelion, Vesemri, Eskel, Lambert, Triss, Radovid, Phillipa, Roche and others from previous parts make an appearance. There are of course new characters as well, though most of them are new only if you haven’t read the books

Most of these new characters are interesting. Some of them however suffer from lack of time in game. Emhyr (emperor of Nilfgaard) is one of them. However main reason for this problem lies in pacing of the story. See, while the story is good, at times even excellent, it does have pacing problems. This will become evident further and further you progress into it. Last third of the story, arguably, has worse writing and pacing then the first 2/3 of it.

To make matters worse, it’s not nearly as “dark” as the story of W1 and W2. There is less violence, sex, profanities. Gone are the days, where you would escort a tavern girl home, bring her flowers and have an intimate encounter inside an old mill (W1) or the days of playing rough with a succubus in her lair (W2). Instead we have copy-paste cut scenes of sex. There are also less “romance” options than before. Triss romance is horribly written, as if the devs wanted you to romance Yennefer. It’s a shame, since you can develop this romance for 2 games and all of the sudden it’s dropped.

Violence is also somewhat toned down. Remember Loredo from Flotsam? There is no such thing here. Not even close. Or Ves’s presumed rape at hands of Henselt?  Or Dethmold’s demise? Nope. You won’t get to see this.

To further illustrate the issue, in W2 when Wild Hunt is talked about you really get the feeling that they present a threat. Despite being so distant they still are menacing. Here Wild Hunt is presented in much more lighter tone. In fact I would even argue that they are similar to B-movie villains. “There is nothing mystical about them” – says Vladimir Lem. Why would CD Projekt RED do this is beyond me.


 

 Gameplay


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Gameplay, gameplay… Arguably this is an area which has it’s ups and downs. First this is an open-world game. Is that a good thing?

Well not really. See the game has 3 main zones: Velen, Novigrad and Skellige. There are also several smaller zones: White Orchard, Vizima, Kaer Morhen… While you can freely travel f rom Velen to Novigrad, you can’t travel to Skellige the same way. You have to get a ship which will take you there. So it’s not as open as advertised. However it does the job pretty well.

All of these areas are beautiful. Velen is a mostly swampy, but it’s eastern parts are mountains. Novigrad is a city surrounded by swaths of forest and fields. Skellige are a group of larger and smaller islands.

There are dozens of towns and locations, which are full of life when you first come to them.  Usually every single one of them has a story of its own.

This brings us to quests. While main storyline is not as good as W1 or W2, secondary quests and monster contracts make up for it. Those are masterpieces. While most of them are go here do this, now go there kill that, they are so well written that you won’t notice it. There only downside is that like the story itself, they are much lighter compared to W1 or W2 quests. However you’ll also play one of the best quests ever in a Witcher game (Bloody Baron and his story).

Monster contracts are better than ever and require you to use “Witcher senses”. How does it function? After you get the quest and go to the location of a monster attack, you activate the senses and start looking for clues. Gathering the clues leads to identification of the monster.

You then check the bestiary to see the weaknesses and strengths of this particular monster. Some are week to certain potions or bombs. Then after you prepare your tools of the trade (swords and potions), the hunt is on. Killing the monster nets you a trophy, but the charm of the game is you don’t always have to kill a monster. Sometimes there are peaceful solutions to the problem.

This brings us to combat system. Basically it’s a continuation of W2 combat system with some tweaks. Geralt can block, parry, dodge, cast signs, drink potions etc. One welcomed change was the fact that roll is divided in “long” and “short”. Long one is the same as in W2. Short one is actually a pirouette that allows you to flank an opponent. Nice change.

Movement is a bit different compared to W2 (less responsive) and has plenty of bugs (like drop from half a meter kills you). There is also underwater combat, but essence of the combat on the ground is same as in W2.

This is one of the bigger let downs. Why? Well it’s still possible to abuse the Quen to shield yourself. This makes the game very easy even on higher difficulties. Next problem is lack of punishment. I know that Geralt is a witcher, but still his actions have to more stamina. As it is it’s possible to complete the game using light attack only and clicking as fast as possible. I won’t even comment on roll abuse which is still possible as well.

For the record the game is easier than W2. I completed it on highest difficulty only using swordsman skills without much problems. Hybrid classes are even easier. This leads me to second problem with combat system and general problem of W3 – skills and leveling.

You might remember that W1 had attributes (strength, dexterity, intelligence) and skills (strong attack, fast attack, group attack, signs etc). W2 dealt away with attributes and introduced a different skill tree.

It had 3 paths: swordsmanship, alchemy and Signs (magic). Plus a tutorial tree. W3 continues in this direction with 3 paths: swordsmanship, alchemy and Signs plus a general skills tree. Each of these trees has a ‘level’. You can only progress to next level in skill tree, when you put enough points in a tree.

You get skill points as you gain levels or through the use of Places of Power (which grant 1 point). In fact you’ll have enough points to create some insanely powerful builds.

Main problem is since you have so many skill points you can’t really make a mistake and even if you do, you can easily correct it using a respect potion. This means there is much more forgiving system of skills and in turn it allows you to become very much unstoppable by level 20. Devs tried to prevent this by actually limiting the number of skills you can have.

Despite having over 70 different skills, you can only use 16 at any given time. These can be boosted by using mutagens (which can be combined into stronger ones). You’re limited to 4 mutagens, but compared to W2 you can actually freely place them and remove them. They improve health, attack or Sign intensity.

This brings us to leveling. Frankly it’s the worst system I’ve seen in years. You level by completing quests or killing enemies. Since enemies drop very little EXP, you can’t grind for levels.

So what’s bad about this? The fact that in ‘open world’ game, which also advertised freedom, you are not allowed to get EXP for quests six levels lower than your current level.

To illustrate: each quest has its recommended level. If a quest has level 15 recommendations, if you do it when you are level 21 you won’t get the EXP. This also applies to main quest line. This system was introduced in order to prevent over leveling. Does it work like this? No it doesn’t.

See part of the problem lies in the fact that enemies do not scale (good), but are tied to a level of quest. This means if you attempt to do a level 16 quest when you are level 9 you won’t be able to do it. You’ll be killed. Reason for this, in turn, lies in the fact that enemies gain enormous health boost and damage resistance that you can’t kill them. On the other hand if you attempt to do the same quest when you are level 23 enemies won’t be able to harm you, because their damage decreases.

Not only that this takes out the challenge out of the game, it simply doesn’t belong in an RPG. Further there is no traditional level limit (soft limit is 70), but with this kind of system, you’ll be hard pressed to reach level 36. So instead of using a perfectly fine W1 and W2 systems (fixed EXP and diminishing returns on enemy EXP as you level) we have this Frankenstein system in place.

All of this leads to an extremely easy game.

Next problem: choices made in W2 don’t matter. That’s right folks, your choices don’t have almost any impact. In fact even when they have impact it’s only like one sentence (even then there is no mention of some events). That’s not how you make imports in a game that’s “crowning achievement of the RPG genre”.

This obviously means that any hard earned items are not carried over as well. However, loot system in this game is atrocious. Level requirements for a gear? Relic swords dropping out of every bush? In fact a lot of items that were present in previous games (Moonblade, Addan Deith) are in this game as well, except good luck finding them in time to use them, due to a level requirement and the presence of Witcher gear.

Witcher gear is unique equipment available for Geralt. It has to be crafted. It can be upgraded to higher grade, when you find better schematics for it). Problem is with level requirements (especially from patch 1.07 onwards) there is little opportunity to use highest level gear.

Crafting system is improved. One flaw is that there is an abundance of materials for crafting. One improvement is that best gear can only be crafted by master craftsmen one for swords and one for armor.

Potion system is a mix of W2 system and W1 system. In fact it’s more W1, since you can drink the potions whenever you like. Flaw is when you meditate potion automatically refill if you have alcohol. So there is no need to brew them again. Why? Again step backwards from W1.

Further there are grades of potions. So when you find better schematics you can improve your potions to a higher level (more potions and better effects). However, you are only limited to 2 potions in quick slot. This means you If you want to drink a third one, you have to open the inventory and search for it there. This breaks the otherwise nice flow of the combat. There are also special kinds of potions called decoctions. These have more powerful effects and longer duration. Downside is their toxicity (which can be offset by acquiring certain skills).

Bombs are in as well, they have grades similar to potions. Crossbow is another weapon in Geralt’s arsenal. It can be used to bring flying opponents down or in underwater section for defense. Underwater combat is too easy, with 1 shot-kill by the crossbow.

Inventory is another problem. For a 2015 game it’s a shame that you don’t have storage (added only in patch 1.07). Space is limited, sorting is poor. Example of this includes the fact that books are placed before the potions (fixed in patch 1.07). You increase the inventory by using better horse equipment, which in turn increases the movement speed of the horse.

Due to open world, Geralt can now ride a horse or use boats as method of travel. There is also fast travel option, but it’s limited to fast travel signposts. Combat from these are not worth mentioning since they are simplistic, with boat combat being described as “hold W and shoot the crossbow”.

As with predecessors W3 includes side activities as well. Instead of dice-poker, W3 has Gwent. It’s a card game. I found it to be rather good and it’s a shame you don’t have an option to play it in multiplayer.

Another side activity is horse races and fist fighting. Fist fighting is better this time around. It’s no longer QTE like W2, it’s more akin to W1. Horse races, while a nice addition, suffer from easiness as a major problem.


Graphics and music


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Downgrade. On a more serious note, while downgrade is real, graphics are extremely good. I would argue that they are some of the best graphics I’ve seen recently. Forest feel like forests, towns are alive. Villages look like villages etc.

Another thing that pleasantly surprised me was optimization. Game runs very well even on older machines. Although, if you want to experience it on 60 FPS in 1080p you’ll have to get a powerful PC (NVidia GTX 980).

There are some problems with ATI cards, but frankly on my test rig i7 950, R9 280x and 6 GB of RAM (factory clock on CPU and GPU) I was able to run it in 38-42 FPS with all option on ultra (with latest patch and without NVidia hairworks).

There are a couple of problems with graphics though. Pop-ins are common and are still not fixed, stuttering during the horse rides is present as well, people have reported crashes and freezes (which I didn’t experience).

Another problem is that wet characters actually look rather oily. For example MGS: Ground Zeroes had much better effects for wet people. Same applies to the rain. It’s nowhere as good as MGS:GZ I would even argue that W2 had better rain effects. However if we take a look at how W2 was fixed down the road, we can assume all of mentioned problems will be fixed.
When it comes to character, monster and weapon models and designs, those are phenomenal. Characters look realistic, almost like real persons. There are exceptions though, but it’s mostly related to lighting giving a different perception of the same character.

Monsters look great. In fact if you access the bestiary and simply look at their pictures you’ll be stunned by amount of details they have. This is all reflected in-game. Additionally if you can turn the hairworks on, they become even better.

Weapon models are well done. They are realistic. They are simple and elegant. A sword looks like a sword not like Dragon Age: Inquisition models, which look like their functions is: “if your enemy has no sense of humor he’ll be surprised long enough for you to chop his head off, but if they have sense of humor they’ll die from laughter before  you even hit them”.

Armor models are different thing. Sure they are realistic, but at the same time W2 had much better models. Aside from witcher gear very few armor actually look attractive enough to wear them. Heavier armors have this bear stomach effect, while light ones look like ragged clothes. Truly a shame more models are not like W2 ones. Exceptions exist. Temerian armor a free DLC is an excellent example of this, Kaer Morhen armor (armor on artwork) is another example. Sadly, since they don’t scale in level, you are forced to use other armors.

There is not much to say about music. It’s as good as the graphics are. It blends with the environments perfectly and creates an excellent atmosphere.


Conclusion


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So with all that said I’m to rate this game. As you may notice I didn’t mention any quest bugs. Reason for this is I didn’t encounter any. Not a single quest broke for me, except one. That one is a secondary quest and from what I read on the forums everyone had the same problem. Therefore if you encounter any quest bugs feel free to knock my mark down.

My mark for the game is 70/100. It really isn’t “a crowning achievement of the RPG genre”. It’s a solid game, even exceptional at parts. As a final chapter of the trilogy and compared to W1 and W2 it’s a letdown. If it was a standalone game, I would have rated it 85/100.

However I highly recommend that you get the game and play it. If you like the Witcher as much as I do, you’ll be drawn into it. Be warned though if you start to think too much about the game and about possibilities of what it could have been, you’ll probably going to have the same bittersweet taste in your mouth as I have in mine.

Review written by: Teodor Majstorovic

Nikola Stojic
Law student, entrepreneur, writing about startups and tech, StartupBlink Ambassador

Witcher 3 Review

by Nikola Stojic time to read: 13 min
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