Few RPG fans can claim to have no idea what The Witcher is, after CD Projekt pushed their book-inspired series into the spotlight with the release of The Witcher 2. In 2011, this game hit PCs, then made its console debut in 2012 on Xbox 360. The climate was right: the RPG crowd was desperately searching for a proper medieval game. The series is now considered by many a pinnacle of modern RPGs, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt aims even higher.
CD Projekt was, of course, eager to show the game at this year's E3, and we were equally excited to see a 45-minute demo of actual gameplay. For returning Witcher fans, all the basics remain, from gameplay to story progression, but everything you remember has undergone a few changes for the better. For the final game in their Witcher trilogy, CD Projekt pulled out all the stops.
Brave New World
First thing CD Projekt tends to point out is how big the third Witcher is; about 35 times bigger than The Witcher 2. The world has been expanded to a point where the entirety of the Witcher 2 lands can fit into a single island within Witcher 3. That's no exaggeration.
Leading Geralt to new territories is his endless pursuit of the Wild Hunt and its spectral riders. The northern lands he knew are now overtaken by the invading Empire of Nilfgaard. Don't fret too much, because the new world will have plenty to see and do. Each territory, according to the developers, is visually inspired by an old European culture or civilization, like the Nordic islands of Skellige.
With so much more exploration to be done, Geralt's going to need more than just his two legs. As such, alternate means of transportation like horses (!) and ships have been added, and as anyone knows, horses can only make a game better. On foot, Geralt is gifted with greater maneuverability, so be prepared to jump/climb/swim all over the place.
That Wild Hunt looks amazing goes without saying, and CD Projekt delivers once again in creating one of the most gorgeous RPGs of a generation. Even with that ridiculous graphical quality in an open world environment, the devs are aiming to completely do away with loading screens, as promised.
The world is every bit as alive as you'd remember, where villagers, soldiers, and folks from all walks of life go about their business, mostly oblivious to the protagonist. Rarely will you find an NPC standing around just waiting for help to come along, and really, that's always been one of The Witcher's best qualities; the world is a living, breathing thing that you can alter without having it revolve entirely around you.
Horse and boats aside, Wild Hunt also introduces a new economy, designed to suit a world as alive as this. The economy will change based on where you travel, which opens up opportunities to make money by playing the in-game market. Going to a coastal town means the fish will be cheaper, but other supplies like bear pelts might be more expensive. Alternatively, a mountain village might have cheap pelts, while fish are exceptionally pricey. As Geralt, you can buy low and sell high for a nice profit.
The foundations of Witcher's combat are still there, but fans might be excited to learn about certain changes that should make the whole system feel much more dynamic. You won't need to dodge nearly as much, CD Projekt pointed out, only because they wanted to create a more deliberate feel for the fights. In their words, opponents have a certain "respect" for each other. Now, the fights are more about actually fighting, rather than rolling around and hoping for an opening to land a shot.
The prime example of this involved a boss-esque encounter with a monster known as a "Leshen." After a series of conversations with the nearby town, Geralt sets out to hunt a parasitic creature draining the forest of its life. The ensuing battle saw the Leshen controlling wolves to harass Geralt, and summoning roots to hinder his progress. Through a skillful combination of sword and Sign attacks, he prevailed, of course. And then our witcher returned to the town to collect his reward, only to learn that the village's new leader is, well, borderline soulless.
That's really part of the whole Witcher setting, too, that feeling of uncertainty in a world of grays, where evil is not always in the guise of a monster. A seemingly benevolent action could damn a whole lot of people.
Welcome to The Witcher. We'll be eagerly awaiting 2014, when Wild Hunt arrives for PC and next-gen consoles.
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