There were a fair amount of games making a case for the power and freedom of the next gen consoles but few, if any, made a better argument than the Witcher 3.
From CD Projekt Red, the Witcher 3 continues the story of Geralt, a member of a mutated order of monster hunters called Witchers, and his pursuit of a group of spectral riders called the Wild Hunt who are wreaking havoc on the world. The story here is self contained and does not require having to play the previous games. Of course, if you don’t you are missing out on some pretty awesome stories even if the UI for the console versions of the second game were chunkier and more unweildly than this sentence.
What we were shown at E3 was a pre alpha build that was very definitely being played live as evidenced by the driver’s difficulty killing a particular monster. Any suspicion that it might be staged disappeared as the battle stretched uncomfortably long and his frustration became palpable enough to climb up like stairs. Speaking to other people who saw the demo confirmed that this was not a typical result. The demo shown was pretty amazing and really highlighted the expansion of the world, which is enormous, as well as the improvement to the action and controls from the last iteration of the game.
To talk about the size first, the Island shown in the demo is larger than the entire world offered in the Witcher 2. Going further, they said it would be over 35 times bigger than the previous game. It is also much less linear, which is to say not at all. The move has been made to open world which gives the thing a similar feel to Skyrim rather than Dragon Age or something like that. Encounters around the world have become completely random and there are now no boss fights. This is good because the boss fights in the last game were pretty brutal. In the place of boss fights are just tougher monster and animal types that will appear if you stumble across them or if you are hired to kill a monster.
The hunting mechanic has been revamped from the last game as well to provide a much more investigative feel than just following tracks in the forest. The monsters have unique characteristics and requirements for killing them that often include having to show up with a particular item or having cleared out some obstacle in the world. In the demo, the obstacle was a villager that the monster was attached to. As long as she was around, the monster couldn’t be killed. This opened up a look at the grey morality of the game and the deep consequences involved in just about every choice the character makes.
In the instance of the demo, taking the monster killing job starts off a chain of events that ultimately leads to the village’s destruction and the death of everyone in it. It is a good lesson that not everything is as it appears and not everyone is on the level when they tell you what their motives are. This cause and effect mechanic can be seen elsewhere in the game as intervening in random events throughout the world will mean consequences later in the game. In the demo we saw Geralt stop some thugs from shaking down and robbing a farmer. This puts the thugs’ gang on the revenge path and Geralt will have to deal with that later.
The depth in world interaction and character building is really appealing to me as it permeates every aspect of the game and every character you meet up with. Characters in the game are programmed with algorithms that allow them to live their lives according to the changes in time, season and weather so they are on a life cycle independent of whatever Geralt are doing. If it is a sunny day, you will see raiding parties hit the seas. If it is stormy and choppy on the sea, those guys will be in the tavern getting drunk. This gives the world the feel that it exists regardless of you and whatever you are doing at the time. When you get involved, however, you can disrupt the characters’ lives and routine. If Geralt decides to kill a random guy walking through the forest, that may bite him on the ass later if that guy was a shop keeper who Geralt needed to buy something from. If he dies, then that shop is closed. It is not automatically going to be passed on to the next of kin. You now have to figure out a new way to do whatever it is you need to do.
The weather patterns and day and night cycle affect the player as well. As mentioned above, if a storm starts, you need to not be out in a boat as it will affect the waves and you will potentially be capsized and drown. Geralt can swim but the odds of surviving a storm at sea are pretty slim. Night and day cycles affect the behavior of monsters and animals as well with feeding patterns and patterns of activity changing with the time of day. Even lunar cycles are consistent and affect the monsters as fighting werewolves will be much more difficult during a full moon.
In the last game, the robust PC UI getting shoehorned into a controller was not at all a good thing and caused some serious problems. Here, that does not seem to be an issue as the driver seemed to be having no problems using the Xbox One controller (aside from that one bastard monster but that didn’t seem much like a control issue). The demo didn’t get too deep into the games interface and controls for combat but it looked pretty smooth and didn’t include any of the clunky pre-battle prep that bogged the last game down and became very annoying if you saved at the wrong time or not enough.
Visually the game looks amazing. We were told that there are 40 bones in characters’ faces which obviously allows for better and more realistic expressions. The level of detail is incredible and the design aesthetic is great providing monsters that look truly unique as opposed to the same stock fantasy monsters we’ve all seen over and over again.
It looks like CD Projekt Red has really upped the ante with this game and have improved on deficits from the last game while expanding on the thing that worked to even greater heights. The game also really shows off the potential of this new generation not just in terms of looking great but also utilizing the increased processing power to expand the world and create a more complete experience. If this is an example of what this next generation can start with, I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Witcher 3 will be available for PC, PS3 and Xbox One