Preview

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Five Improvements In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
by Kimberley Wallace on Jan 26, 2015 at 03:00 AM
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Rating: Mature
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC

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...

Smooth Combat And Fun Battles

Not much has changed from the battle basics. You have access to melee attacks and magic, and you craft and use potions for an edge. The combat has definitely been tweaked for the better this time around; it is faster and smoother without feeling dumbed-down. “The combat is much more fluid now, much more responsive, much more accessible, but still is a challenge to master,” says senior environment artist Jonas Mattsson. 

Getting overconfident and not paying attention to your opponent can be costly. You can see if you’re potentially biting off more than you can chew; red skulls appear above an enemy if they’re stronger than you. During the demo, we had to take out a large griffin, giving us our first chance to test out the crossbow. The battle brought out a lot of tension; the griffin flies overhead and you must fire at just the right moment. Once you nail a few hits, it falls to the ground, but your troubles are far from over. The griffin can charge at you, so you must dodge or use quen (a protective shield) to avoid damage. I found much more success using quen to stop the griffin in its tracks and get in some melee attacks. Fire (igni) is also extremely effective. 

The griffin eventually flew away, and I had to chase it to a far ledge and continue my strategy of using the crossbow, quen, and igni. The boss battles were definitely my favorite parts of past games, and this one doesn’t disappoint – it just comes down to using the right tools. I love how once you best an enemy, you feel like you’ve achieved a worthwhile feat. 

CD Projekt RED also confirmed the game would have hand-crafted dungeons, but didn’t elaborate beyond that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see one of these dungeons during my demo, but the prospect is exciting considering how the  the world on its own tells some amazing stories. For instance, during my playthrough, a wild deer starts running toward the town. All the NPCs near the road start freaking out and screaming, so I helped to take the animal out. 

Entertaining Side Stories

The open world provides more opportunities to engage with colorful NPCs and find cool quests. I couldn’t help getting distracted by them and had a hard time staying on the main quest. This is to the game’s credit, and where I expect even more choice and consequence. My first side quest was with a crazy old lady freaking out because a man stole her pan and then her house. She seemed more concerned about her pan, which was hilarious in itself. To open the locked door to her house, I tapped into Geralt’s telekinesis power. While inside, I used his witcher sense to figure out what was going on. Some may say that the witcher sense gets overused, but I still enjoy piecing things together (and unexpected outcomes). In this situation, the man stole her pot because he was writing a letter and needed to use its soot for ink. He also left behind buried papers and a dead body. Clearly, he had something to hide and was up to no good. 

Later, I found a man begging me to track down a chest full of medicine that he lost. It’s always to your benefit to get some extra cash, so I take on the quest. When I get to the location, I find the small chest, but I also notice a carriage tipped over and the quest giver’s arrows in a dead body near it. Obviously, the quest giver is a murderer. I confront him about it and he panics, trying to leave on horseback. I strike him off his horse and he tries to explain that he needed the medicine for his men and was willing to kill to save others. War is still all around, and many have suffered and sacrificed for it, so it’s not far-fetched – but why would he run in the first place? I have the option to give him the chest or not. I can even punish him if I want. I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I still second-guess the decision. What if I’ve let a murderer run free?

I can’t wait to see how more of these little choices play out. Even when I’m in the tavern, I run into a scholar who says he wants to write a book on war. I can encourage him, or tell him he’s crazy. I decide to encourage him; not many people understand the true horrors of what’s going on and a little insight can’t be all that bad. Afterwards, the scholar makes it sound like he has selfish reasons for doing it, making me regret encouraging him. Time will tell how this plays out down the road. 

Evolving The Witcher Series

CD Projekt RED has been working hard to make sure this game raises the bar for the franchise, which is a big part of it being an open-world game. “[The new tech] has made it so we can make the game we’ve always wanted to make and not be constricted by anything,” Mattsson says. “We want to show that you can have a non-generic open world. To prove it can be done CD Projekt RED-style with good quests, intensive story, good gameplay, and rewarding combat.” 

I also got a sense of a more personal quest for Geralt this time around. Not to say the first two games didn’t have personal moments, but retrieving his memories were always the priority. This entry should focus more on his relationships. We already got a vibe that Ciri means a lot to him, and it’s clear he still has feelings for Yennefer, though he will cross paths with Triss, the other woman in his life. They’re also involved in the bigger journey of tracking down the Wild Hunt. “There’s an immense amount of pressure on Geralt with Ciri and the reasons he has to find her,” says level designer Miles Tost. “If taken to the brink, how will [Geralt] react?” Don’t expect the unexpected, but just be prepared for Geralt to have more urgency and at stake this time.

CD Projekt RED also wants to tap into topics such as how people view magic and sorceress’ influence, especially during war. “In the Witcher world, there’s this aversion to magic,” Tost says. “People are afraid of it because they’re afraid of the things they don’t know and in Wild Hunt, Triss will find herself in a situation where she has to deal with these prejudices altogether.” 

The Witcher world is vast and even after two games, so much is still shrouded in mystery. We’re hoping this third entry finally pieces much of it together, giving us new insight. After all, CD Projekt RED has guaranteed some tough choices along the way, resulting in 36 endings (there may even be more on the way). For those who want previous choices to carry over, a PC save will automatically transfer them. If you played or want to on a different platform, you will have a way to input all your choices before you start Wild Hunt. So far, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks like it has everything in the making to be a top game this year, and my play time made that even more apparent.