By Scott Southard. This is Load File, where we attempt to dig a bit deeper into the games we play. This week, Scott has nicked the surface of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
We generally accept the clause “quality over quantity” without much thought. The consensus is that the phrase can basically get boiled down to this: If there is a large amount of something, it can’t be very good, and if something is good, there can’t be very much of it. Every so often, this conceit is smashed to pieces for no other reason than the fact that sometimes something comes along that is really wonderful and really big. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is this something, and it’s laid down and spread its enormous self out in ways that allow quantity and quality to coexist in brutal harmony.
CD Projekt RED has been a fan-favorite developer for years (and yes, that’s their actual name). This time around they’ve lived up to their legacy and then some: The Witcher 3 is an amalgam of the past decade’s best big budget games, rolling an open world, action-rpg, sprawling storytelling trees, and uninhibited violence into one 100+ (!) hour game. And while the game has a handful of glaring flaws, the volume of immersivity and undeniable fun Wild Hunt offers is nigh-unparallelled by any other game, or hell, any other form of media out there.
With the multitude of narrative choice and playstyle options the game offers, it’s more difficult than it seems to nail down what the game is all about. Let’s start with the basics.
Most of the time, you play as Geralt, a ritualistically enhanced being known as a Witcher. Geralt is searching The Northern Kingdoms, a European-ish continent full of fantastical elements, for his former protege, Ciri (whom you play as every now and again). What’s interesting about this seemingly uninteresting storyline is that in most games, “finding a missing person” is the sort of quest tossed in somewhere after you’ve killed a bunch of rats but just before fighting a massive dragon. In The Witcher 3, the majority of the story revolves around trying to find Ciri (while maneuvering the deadly and eponymous Wild Hunt), and the wild goose chase (geese chase?) that Geralt is consistently led on to find her. It becomes a cat and mouse venture, with new opportunities rising up around every corner.
And boy oh boy, do opportunities arise. As you traverse the vast world (made up of four enormous areas) via foot, horseback, or boat, various icons begin to pop up on your map. Each of these offers a quest of some sort, many of them much larger in scale than traditional side quests (some of which even impact the main story in serious and interesting ways). Your world map is quickly drenched in icons for a variety of expeditions that you can choose or choose not to engage in. While it’s technically possible to ignore all of the side quests, human behavior dictates that most people will find themselves wrapped up in a daisy-chained adventure that has nothing to do with the rescue mission on which they’d originally set out. This is all to say that The Witcher 3 is more than a game set in a lush and engaging world; it is a fully realized world unto itself.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a gorgeous looking game. I know, I know, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns in regard to graphics, but this is remarkable stuff. The constant day/night cycle can make one location look incredibly different (but equally as detailed) at different times of day. The dynamic hair system (with added DLC for more mustachios and mutton chops!) is so meticulous that it’s been known to bog down even the bulkiest PCs. The landscapes and character models vary greatly and are wholly actualized.
While I could rave and rave forever (don’t worry, I’ll keep going), I’d like to take a minute to document the few, but noticeable and sometimes glaring flaws that appear. First, the controls are loose and make it tough to perform precise actions. After some time with the game, you get used to them, although that’s certainly no excuse. Secondly, graphical issues like pop-in and FMV glitches happen fairly often. It’s rarely game-breaking, but it happens and is worth documenting. Finally, I’ve had the game completely crash on me (I’m playing on PS4) more than once, forcing me to return to my last save. It seems to be a common problem, but it also has been forgivable in the face of all the game’s upside.
Beneath the surface of the game are the incredibly comprehensive gameplay structures. Some of the most enjoyable moments in Wild Hunt are found deep within the systems of alchemy and crafting, Gwent (the most popular and addictive card game of The Northern Kingdoms) and the basic but thorough skill tree. There are innumerable potions, oils, bombs, swords, armor, etc. to create, and the abundance of building blocks offered is staggering. One could spend days solely playing with these systems (I’ve talked to people who have spent days just playing Gwent) and be fully satisfied.
What makes this game stand out just as much as the sheer vastness of it, is that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does all of it so well. It’s the old adage of shifting one’s gaze from the tree to the forest. But in this adage, the folks at CD Projekt RED spent just as much time on each and every single one of the forest’s trees, and it was worth it. Trying to take it all in at once is delightfully incomprehensible.
The wide variety of character and settings (which is exceedingly interesting unto itself, and I can’t wait to read through the glut of critical essays that will inevitably come our way about gender/race/class/oppression) coupled with the technical backbone of the game is a testament to the makers of The Witcher 3, and to their faith that those who play it will find its inherent value.
It’s an amazing thing when countless moving parts can come together in a unified entity. From mountaintops to fingertips, and everything behind the scenes, everything that made it here had loads of care poured into it, and it shows. I guess that’s the crux of this game, and what makes me care about it so much; The Witcher 3 was thoughtfully made every step of the way.