The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt initially came out in 2015, followed by two large expansions, Hearts of Stone and finally Blood and Wine, along with multiple free DLCs. I am more than embarrassed to say that I am 2 years late to the party, finishing it only recently, however, I am not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed the experience immensely. I might even be so bold as to place it in my ever shifting gaming hall of fame due to not only the game’s profound effect on me, but the work ethos displayed by the Polish developers and publishers CD Projekt S.A. that no doubt contributed greatly to the success of The Witcher franchise. And while I may go more into depth on why developers usually need publishers to be successful, and the rare but inspiring examples that exist, I think it would be best to devote the majority of this particular blog to The Witcher 3, and how it set the standard for future “AAA Games”.
I’ll begin with a solid foundation so some of you may grasp this much more easily. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open world action role-playing-game developed by CD Projekt Red, a Polish game development studio under CD Projekt S.A. The games themselves are based on the series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, a very talented author well versed in fantasy writing and whose books have been translated into nineteen languages. I can’t speak much on the actual novels as I’ve only read the first one-The Last Wish, however I have pieced together quite a bit of lore from the games, and as such, I’ll be focusing on the games. However, credit where credit is due, because one of reasons the games are so amazing, is because of the source material. CD Projekt S.A. have specific company philosophies, one of them being working on lesser known franchises that they can bring to a wider audience. However, they also focus on the player, and rather than focusing on normal game rhetoric such as making game worlds bigger, they decided to put more life into the games themselves, encouraging players to explore the game more and become attached to the world, the lore, and the characters.
And it shows in the Witcher 3 more than most other games. The game cost $81M to make, half of which went into marketing, which was handled by CD Projekt S.A. However, devs like Bioware quite possibly spent much more than that with a much bigger team and most likely, a higher budget to come up with something that was not at all what was advertised. This not only shows the failing of the devs and the publishers, but shows the great amount of effort, time and commitment that The Witcher’s developers put into it. Motion capture, coherent facial animations, interesting characters, well written plots and subplots, engaging side quests, a gorgeous open world, and physics that aren’t god-awful all contribute towards its success. Each character is voiced with an air of care for their character, and each NPC that you can have a conversation with has enough quirk that they are remembered even later on in the game. When we look at development, The Witcher 3 got so many things right, and in an industry like gaming where so many people are privy to the process of making a game, the fans could appreciate the efforts of the dev team.
As for plot, that’s where The Witcher 3 has its highs and lows, although this is just me nitpicking for the most part. In this particular adventure, we follow our main character, the fame Geralt of Rivia, also known as The White Wolf and The Butcher of Blaviken on a journey to find his surrogate daughter, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. As far as RPGs go, this is part and parcel of a standard main quest. Something that will span hours and stretch across the map. However even before you take control of Geralt, you can see how much he loves Ciri despite not having seen her for many years. He dreams of her, has premonitions involving her and talks about with concern despite usually having a cocky. slightly sarcastic demeanor. And as the game progresses, it is this single minded search for Ciri that helps and hurts the plot. From an emotional angle, we can understand why Geralt is searching for his daughter. It is immensely important that he keeps her safe and it is this care for her that makes us relate to him as well as sympathise with him. This unfortunately has the effect of streamlining the plot, making it rather simple and without much diversity. Few questions are asked and that robs the intrigue out of the story, making it seem boring, and making Geralt himself seem very one dimensional. However, that is remedied almost entirely by the abundance of side quests, many of which are optional, but extremely interesting. They contain one-of-a-kind characters with their own backstories, motives and personalities. If you do a side quest, the more you progress, the more you will feel that you’re missing out afterwards if you don’t do the side quests. Besides building Geralt’s character and revealing areas of his past and motives, they also give the player freedom to make their own choices and give Geralt his own ending. The player gets to live out their gritty medieval fantasy through him best in the side quests, whether by helping villagers with petty issues, solving murders, appeasing spirits, lifting curses, and slaying monsters.
But The Witcher doesn’t get by solely on its plot. The world of The Witcher is filled with interest, living or dead. Lore wise, it contains a huge bestiary of beasts terrible and strange, and on top of this, it has a large index of characters that you meet. Part of the core gameplay is visiting the bestiary to see what category of monster you’re fighting, and the best way to defeat it. Doing this gives you a certain sixth-sense when facing monsters and increases your cautiousness, however it makes you dive deeper into the world of The Witcher, because if you not you’ll die in horrible,and often pitiful ways. But luckily, the monsters exist everywhere, and by creating this system you can be surprised and pleased depending on the situation. For example, if you ride in the forest on your faithful horse Roach, expect to find a pack of wolves, or if you’re especially unlucky, a Leshen. If you go into a swamp or ride by a beach, you’ll be greeted by the pleasant moan of a Water Hag or a drowner. But all is not lost because the nastier monsters, like Lycanthropes griffins, wyverns and noonwraiths are usually only encountered on Witcher Quests. However, it is possible to run into one by accident, at which point it is probably best to turn tail and conduct a flawless tactical retreat. And all of this never get old due to the inspiration of these monsters coming from Slavic mythology, which has been untouched by many authors despite having a wide range of legends and tales. However, at the end of the day, preparation is usually key, and the Witcher who is prepared, is victorious.
The designs of the monsters are visually striking, and one can see this without even glimpsing the concept art. The attention to detail is immense, from the rotting decaying flesh of the undead, to the graceful and sharp movements of vampires. Ogroids are lumbering, and relicts are unique and different. Unless species are related in some way or another, most monsters do not look alike. Which is great character design as it keeps players highly interested in the game as well as showing that the creators cared enough.
And it’s not just the design of monsters and the human characters. The whole world is gorgeous, featuring 4 distinct locations-Velen, Novigrad, Oxenfurt and Skellige-before Toussaint was added to the Blood and Wine expansion. The cities are bustling and full of life, and the countrysides sprawl for leagues in every direction, littered with forests, swamps, highlands and fields. It’s a straight treat to the eye, and the changing weather and travel options such as boat and horse make the world feel so much more alive.
But enough about design, because the gameplay mechanics take into play so many things from the lore and design and turn them into fully functional elements. One such example, which gave me enough incentive to run about for hours completely ignoring the main quest, is the crafting system. Not as extensive as some RPGs, and fairly straightforward, the ability to dismantle any common item for materials in order to build new and powerful weapons and weapon sets is an exciting one, and is extremely practical in the long run. Besides, getting a full witcher gear set is an exciting quest in itself, exploring long forgotten caverns and haunts. And while one can get money from hunting monsters on quests for people, the fully fleshed out world means that even repairing weapons at a blacksmith requires money, making it very impractical to hoard money to save up for that fancy sword. And that brings us to the alchemy system. A Witcher has many enemies, supernatural and human, and having the right tools on hand might make the hunt more exciting than nerve-wracking. Lathering your sword in necrophage oil can make dispatching a group of rotfiends much more enjoyable than tedious, and chucking a dimeritium bomb robs spectres of much of their annoying invulnerability to normal attacks. All of this can be achieved by obtaining ingredients rather easily from plants as well as monster corpses. And the stronger the enemy, the more potent the oil or potion will be, making the game progression much more balanced as you progress.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will undoubtedly be remembered as a pinnacle of gaming for years to go, backed by an amazing development team and an enthusiastic fanbase. The more you delve into the game, the more you realise how much the different elements fit into the game, from the easy loot system, to the more advanced potion and mutagen creation systems. And it is this in-depth RPG system, mixed with a unique world and interesting characters that make the game so appealing. There is so much substance that it is so hard to lose interest. It’s hard to find a franchise that has existed for so long and with such success. However, it is not a fluke and the reasons for its success can be listed down and analysed clear as day. So for the casual gamer you have a whole new and amazing experience, for the avid gamer, you have a game that surpasses all expectations and can be explored wholeheartedly, and to the industry-man, you have a benchmark for “AAA Games” that can be followed for the next few years. As Geralt of Rivia said so effortlessly, “you don’t need mutations to strip men of their humanity. I’ve seen plenty of examples.”