Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When I started playing The Witcher 3 I didn't expect to have a new favourite RPG. I like it so much that it's toppled Mass Effect 2 from that position in my list of favourite games. A brilliant melding of fantasy, action, story and character progression, The Witcher has completely changed how I look at characters and their stories in games. I'll preface everything else here by saying: I'm no where near the end of the game. With the move, being distracted by Rocket League, game crashes, and various other real life things happening over the last few months, I have not had as much time to sink into the game as I would normally like. Despite this, I do feel that I have a good enough hold on the game to write up my thoughts on it.

To begin, I confess that I never played the first Witcher game, and only briefly played the second. While I liked the concepts behind the second game, it never grabbed me like this one has. Perhaps that's something to do with the open world nature of Wild Hunt. In a time where everyone is talking about how the new Mad Max game is "just another open world game", The Witcher succeeds in being more than that in my mind. Everywhere you go throughout Temeria, there are interesting things to see, loot and fight, and the best part is that none of it feels forced, something most recent open world games fail to do.

You play as Geralt, the titular Witcher, a kind of monster hunter for hire. Not entirely human, Geralt has undergone witcher mutations, a series of procedures that greatly increase his agility, durability and stamina. Because of these mutations however, Geralt and his fellow witchers are regarded with disdain by the general population, occasionally drawing insults or even violent reactions when attention is drawn to them. However, when the townsfolk are attacked by monsters, they call upon the witchers to hunt down and kill them, usually with the secondary silver sword that witchers are known for carrying.

At a glance, the Witcher's combat could seem overly simple. You have a fast and heavy attack with a sword, some magical abilities called signs, and two different types of dodge (a roll and a sidestep) that move you different distances and have different recovery times. Combine this with the fact that enemies take off massive chunks of health, and combat will often turn into you using your superior agility to try and avoid damage, then dart back in to deal the killing blow. As you progress through the game however, you start to gain access to potions, oils that increase damage to certain enemy types, bombs with different effects and a crossbow that can help interrupt attacks, or bring flying enemies crashing down to earth, adding to the depth of the combat. The game does a fantastic job of making you feel powerful against normal human enemies or some monsters, but a lot weaker against the larger and more scary monsters.

At release, not everything was rosy for me with The Witcher 3. The game would hard crash after about 20 minutes of play, with no error messages or any indication as to what was causing the issue. I updated drivers, scoured the net for solutions, but nothing worked. However, CD Projekt RED has been very active with releasing patches, and finally the game is in a state where I feel I can recommend it to other people. On top of bug fixes, CD Projekt have also kept on top of feedback from players, going so far as to implement an optional alternate movement mode for people who originally found that Geralt's movements felt floaty and disconnected. They have done a great job of acting like a company that actually cares about the experience people have with their product, and implementing features that help with those experiences.

Not the kind of griffin found in high fantasy right?
The Witcher is a decidedly adult aimed game. Monsters are not "high fantasy" style, more of a dark faerie tale style, with everything looking as though it could kill you just by breathing on you. There is frequent gore, occasional nudity, and stories about themes that definitely aren't aimed at kids. That said, I mentioned in the outset that the Witcher has redefined how I think about story telling and characters in video games, especially when it comes to these themes, and I'd like to expand on that a little here: 

Warning: Spoilers for one story arc early in the game are ahead in the next paragraph. Skip ahead to avoid.

There is a character who initially appears to be nothing else but a drunk and a bully. When you meet them, his wife and daughter have disappeared, and there is some evidence that this character is involved. You eventually find that his drinking lead to an argument with his pregnant wife that got physical, leading to the miscarriage of his unborn child. At this stage you, as a player, can simply dismiss the character as nothing but an evil man and carry on. If you choose to progress through the storyline however, you get options in conversation with them to hear their side of the story. At no point does this character try to justify his bad actions, and he knows he has done wrong. He knows that his actions have lead to losing his wife and daughter, and he is making changes to try and fix his life. The game doesn't condone those actions, but still manages to discuss it in a way that is very mature and engages you with the characters. It lends an amazing level of humanity and depth to them, without making them simple one dimensional "hero or villain" characters. 

Everything about the characters in The Witcher shows a level of thought that I haven't really experienced in any other game. Characters are expressive, the voice acting is top notch, and the stories are varied. I find myself looking forward to conversations because I might learn something about characters that I didn't know before, something I've honestly never experienced with any game. It really does a fantastic job of immersing you in this fantasy world, making you feel as though you are the witcher Geralt. Choices you make can also come back to haunt you. Ridicule someone who has some sway in the community, and you might find yourself attacked in the street. Make a choice to go out of your way to rescue someone, and that persons relative might give you something as a reward because they want to.

The Witcher 3 is a huge game, and I haven't come close to touching on all aspects of the game in this post. Needless to say, I highly recommend it, even for the story telling alone. You can find it here on Steam, or here direct from CD Projekt on GOG

As always,



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