CD Projekt RED has made a name for itself by championing choice and consequence, and as such, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of our most anticipated games of 2015. Fans followed antihero Geralt of Rivia as he made sense of the vicious world while trying to regain his memories. At the end of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Geralt finally had some answers, leading him one step closer to the love of his life, Yennefer. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the finale of Geralt’s arc, and CD Projekt RED is letting him go out with a bang. For the first time, the series features an open world, complete with a second playable character and a new weapon: the crossbow.

CD Projekt RED has spent the last years meticulously crafting Geralt’s last adventure, listening to fan feedback and even delaying the game a few times to ensure it’s polished and meets expectations. “We have this certain standard,” says senior game designer Damien Monnier. “We want it to be the best game we have ever made.”

At a recent press event, CD Projekt RED provided hands-on time with Wild Hunt for the first time, and we saw a lot of improvements from past entries. Here’s what left us most impressed. 

A Better Opening

One of the biggest complaints about The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was the introduction’s poor pacing and boring tutorials. Thankfully, CD Projekt RED has taken that misstep into account, because Witcher 3’s opening is smooth and silky. It starts by showing more of what Yennefer has been up to since she lost touch with Geralt. But the most intriguing part is the flashback sequence with Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri, and Vesemir at Kaer Morhen, a keep where witchers train. For those who don’t remember, Ciri was introduced at the Video Game Awards as a second playable character. In this scene, Ciri is merely a child, and it’s our first introduction to her personality; she’s rebellious, cocky, and strong-willed. Vesemir (one of the oldest and most knowledgeable witchers) is her teacher, and she’s already giving him a hard time, refusing to listen and running off to do her own training. 

This opening also showcases a different side of Geralt, who acts as a father figure to Ciri, mentoring her on how to be better at her craft. During the training session, short, easy-to-grasp tutorials occur, and they play into the storyline. Geralt is setting an example for Ciri, after all. The scene then foreshadows Ciri in danger with the Wild Hunt, showing the large ghostly figures coming in on a ship to capture her. This introduction sets up just enough backstory and provides an uneasy feeling about the future. It doesn’t goes on too long, either; soon you’re in the open-world tracking down Yennefer, picking up where the last game left off. 

An Intriguing New Character: Ciri

Ciri has been a bit of a mystery since her announcement, and she was only mentioned in passing in the previous entries. The Witcher books predate the games, so those who read Andrzej Sapkowski’s work might have an upper hand on knowing a bit about the character, but that doesn’t tell you what’s to come.

Ciri is a weapon of war, and she is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. “She is the only person who can save the world, basically,” Monnier says. Geralt is trying to find her before the Wild Hunt uses her for destruction. Geralt is still the main attraction, but CD Projekt RED wants players to understand the difficult position Ciri is in, so you occasionally switch to her perspective. This allows CD Projekt RED to keep the gameplay fresh, since Ciri is a different fighter than Geralt. “The way that she fights is much faster, she moves much faster, she panics maybe a little bit,” Monnier says. “Then it’s [about] 10 or 15 minutes, and you’re back to being Geralt. And suddenly you’re like, ‘Okay, I must find her.’ This will help reinforce the chase.” 

From the brief introduction where we saw Ciri as a child, she was already magnetic. She definitely doesn’t like being told what to do, but it’s also refreshing to see a character so headstrong at such a young age. Ciri also has an interesting history: She was initially meant to be a sorceress, not a witcher. Obviously, she’s had witcher training, so we’re curious exactly what powers she possesses. More importantly, Geralt was her mentor – can you imagine how that has shaped her? It already appears that she’s captured some of his arrogance. CD Projekt RED is so excited about the character that it isn’t ruling out doing more with her in the future.

Up next: Combat, side quests, and more...