At PAX East, I had the chance to get my hands on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time. While the combat feels familiar, the open-world and more intimate character development that take place from the start feel like a maturity in an already outstanding series.

The game opens with a cinematic sequence that is gorgeous and gruesome. The story smartly cuts back and forth between a combat sequence and Geralt's investigation of the scene some time later. The game looks quite stunning, and I found out later that it wasn't even running at the highest settings.

Shortly thereafter, we find Geralt at the witcher enclave. His body is still scarred, but he's clearly much younger.

There, we encounter a young Witcher in training, Ciri. She has previously been revealed as the second playable character in the title. This tutorial sequence introduces Ciri as bright and rebellious, pushing her mentors' buttons and delighting in their frustration.

We spoke with senior game designer Damien Monnier about how Ciri will be woven into the story. Player should expect to encounter her about ten hours into the game, though that all depends on how much they get sidetracked.

Once players complete the tutorial, they'll find themselves in the prologue. "The starting area has about five to eight hours of gameplay," Monnier tells me. Players can spend even longer in the opening area, which serves as a gentle way to introduce players to the complexities of the title. That may delay them meeting Ciri as an adult.

"She's part of the main quest, you see," Monnier says. "You play her for about half an hour at a time, a couple of hours tops on and off."

She is woven into the story a bit like how Catwoman was integrated into Batman: Arkham City. You'll hit points in the story when you need to play as Ciri and progress her part of the story and the overall narrative concurrently.

Part of Geralt's story is a search for Ciri. This will evolve organically, as you question NPCs to learn where she has last been seen. "People will lie to you. People will try to deceive you," Monnier explains. "People who you think are good might be bad and vice versa. Nothing's really black and white."

From a gameplay point of view, Ciri plays differently than Geralt. She has a single sword (in contrast to Geralt's pair), but Ciri has something else that sets her apart.

"She's not meant to be a witcher," Monnier says. "She was meant to be a sorceress. You will be able to unlock new abilities, but her skill tree will not be to the extent of Geralt's. She is weaker in terms of constitution, but she can destroy so many enemies at once."

Ciri's spellcasting also plays into how she moves around the battlefield. "Her dodge is also based on a spell, but that's as much as I'll tell you," Monnier hints. "I still want you to be surprised."

We won't have to wait too much longer for those surprises. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is scheduled for release on May 19 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.