With the coveted title of Game of the Year 2015, and some much anticipated content just over the horizon, Witcher 3 has not left my sights since its release almost a year ago. I’m still finding new places to explore, new side-quests to complete and, with the recent addition of New Game+, a whole new reason for me to replay a game which has already taken up just under seventy hours of my life.
One-hundred blissful hours of intricate storytelling, breath-taking landscapes, and a random mini-game that infuriates me to no end (but I can’t stop going back to) I can tell you, those two-hundred hours just flew by and on more than once occasion I found myself knee-deep in sewer waste, fighting off hordes of reanimated corpses, when the sun reared its head through the cracks of my blinds, putting me in the position of wondering if it’s too late to go to bed or to try and salvage what little sleep I could.
In The Witcher 3 you play as Geralt of Rivia, a tough guy with a grizzly beard and soothing voice that sounds like honey trickling down a gravel pathway. Geralt is known as a Witcher, which is basically a monster hunter for hire. They are infamous throughout the world for being ruthless, cold-hearted, and pretty much the deadliest things to walk on two legs. If a monster is troubling your town, killing your sheep and abducting your loved ones, you all pitch in and call for a Witcher to deal with it all professional-like. They come armed with two swords on their back, one for monsters and one for not-monsters, and can channel all different sorts of magic through their hands.
If you knew nothing of the Witcher franchise other than what the cover art looked like, you might very well think of Geralt as the archetypal male that shows up in many video games; the no-nonsense hero and the defender of the downtrodden. That isn’t the case with this series. As with a handful of other RPG’s the protagonist is shaped only by your actions, and Geralt is no different.
The actions you (or, Geralt) choose, be they righteous or selfish, send ripples through the world, causing various consequences which may seem unimportant at the time that then end up with the death of a beloved character, or alienation from a town. The perpetual fear of doing something ‘wrong’ made me feel as though my choice really mattered, and that feeling was enhanced when I was only given a few seconds to make a decision. Yet despite the panicking, I never once felt that there was only one real answer or solution to a problem. CD Projekt Red have spared no expense when it comes down to storytelling and forming a world unique to you alone – the base game alone boasts thirty-six different end-game states and three different endings.
Just in case you never played the previous instalment of the Witcher series, allow me to catch you up: Emhyr var Emreis, the emperor of the southern continent known as Nilfgaard, has declared war against the Northern realms and its king, Radovid V the Stern. The game begins with the Nilfgaardian army already owning part of the north, having taken it by force. Off the bat we aren’t entirely sure who the ‘good’ party is in this endeavour, but the war is ravaging both sides of the army in more than one way. Alcoholism is ripe for both parties, and bandits are using the panic to plunder merchants wandering from village to village.
Geralt has been called in by Emhyr to find his daughter, Cirilla, known as Ciri to her friends, as she is being pursued by a legendary force known as The Wild Hunt, a band of demons riding on horseback through the sky. Ciri is someone whom Geralt holds very dear, having trained her himself in the past and come to accept her as his own daughter, Geralt undertakes the task with some vigour. Many people in the lands believe The Hunt as a fictitious superstition to scare children into behaving, but Geralt knows otherwise, have previously fought one of their spectres.
Finding Ciri is not actually the main bulk of the game. There are a mind-boggling amount of side quests and random encounters to procrastinate on; luckily The Hunt always finds it in their hearts to take a day or two off whilst you whittle the hours away herding up pigs or playing card games. There are also new quests called Witcher Contracts, where hopeless villages have all pooled together to rent a Witcher to kill a nearby monster. Each one of these contracts has their own individual CSI event where you use Geralt’s finely tuned senses to follow blood trails, footprints, body parts, or even a scent, to the monster’s lair. Each contract feels like a part of the main storyline; they come with their own cut-scenes, back-stories, and even repercussions for the outside world.
Pretty much every single side quest in this game is unique and has its own back-story with interesting characters that are so much more than a fusion of 0’s and 1’s on your screen. CD Projekt Red do more than just copy and paste the same three quests across the map in the hope that it adds to the overall experience. Every town comes with a local notice board that is updated in game by the villagers almost daily, adding even more depth to the many inhabitants of this game; some notices are from people looking for love, some looking for friends to play cards with, and some looking for a passing Witcher.
If you have played previous games then you’ll be pleased to hear that many characters from old games make an appearance, even if that did mean me alt-tabbing to Google to remember who this woman was and why I had the option to bump uglies with her. Thankfully their appearances aren’t forced in any way, and their reason for being here feels completely natural; some wanted to overthrow Emhyr or Radovid, some just want to add more notches to their bedpost.
Overall, The Witcher 3 is a masterfully crafted game with fleshed-out characters, fluid combat, and flourishes in its attention to detail with characters. Each small detail adds that extra something it needed to really create something spectacularly memorable.