Screen Critics Sam revisits CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the third and final entry in the acclaimed Witcher series.
The current generation of gaming didn’t exactly land with a bang in terms of quality games. While the hardware on display for consoles was impressive, I feel the games really began to show their grit in 2015 when developers had a fairly better grasp on the consoles’ capabilities. CD Projekt Red, a relatively small Polish developer, launched the third entry in their acclaimed Witcher series, Wild Hunt. While nobody anticipated the game to be a juggernaut commercial hit, revisiting CD Projekt Red’s crowning achievement certainly put a lot into perspective as to exactly why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not only one of the best games on this generation, but one of the best of all time.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt picks up where The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings left off and concludes the story of the witcher Geralt of Rivia. After his lover, the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg, brings the disappearance of Geralt’s adoptive ward daughter, Ciri, to his attention, the witcher must find a way to locate her before a mysterious group of spectral elves called the Wild Hunt find her, believing Ciri possesses great power that they can utilize. While the story isn’t necessarily earth-shattering, The Witcher 3’s excellent pacing and tightly woven narrative keep you constantly invested; a big part of that due to the superb characters.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a densely packed game filled with stunning sights, ravenous creatures, and well-rounded characters, each contributing greatly to Geralt’s adventures, regardless of their importance within the main story. What keeps the game engaging outside of its main objectives are the side quests which are arguably as well written as the main. Side quests usually range from remedial tasks like scavenging, locating missing people, or simply enjoying the surprisingly addictive Gwent card game. Where The Witcher 3 really shines, however, is in its various monster hunts. Throughout the game, depending on which location Geralt travels to, monster hunts are scattered around the areas that offer players a handsome reward if completed. More often than not, though, you might find yourself wholly invested in the plights of the side characters and just how emotionally deep each monster quest can get. It’s a testament to the extraordinary amount of detail CD Projekt Red packed into even the more mundane or trivial situations.
The monsters certainly inhabit an astonishingly beautiful world in The Witcher 3. Each location is teeming with life, from the wildlife and magical beasts to the townsfolk and their shanty towns, there’s never a shortage of things to see and do in this gigantic open world. Given the monumental size of The Witcher 3, it’s still amazing how much effort was put into making each square inch of the world as visually detailed and gorgeous as it is downright entertaining to simply just explore for the sake of it. From the deepest, darkest caves to the highest peaks of cold mountains, there’s a genuinely thrilling feeling of exploration and adventure that is frankly unmatched even by Bethesda’s standards.
When players choose to get on board with the main quests, there’s no shortage of intrigue, tension, and of course excellent writing courtesy of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel source material. While one can expect Geralt to be as calm and collected as any professional witcher should be, the game wisely chooses to explore the more emotional aspects of his relations to others, particularly his love interests here in the form of Yennefer and/or Triss and his almost fatherly duties for Ciri. Geralt faces many great personal challenges that all feel pertinent to the events unfolding around the Wild Hunt, and when the story escalates in the second half, it’s a rollercoaster of powerful storytelling that manages to firmly grasp the epic scale of its fantasy world while placing the vast array of characters in the center of it all – a masterful stroke of narrative genius given the difficult choices players must ultimately make in the end to create the sense of climactic catharsis for the series.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is nothing short of the masterpiece you’ve heard it to be, and far more than that. While a few graphical hiccups tend to hinder the experience, you can play them off for laughs as they often are quite humorous (floating horses, anyone?). Overall, it’s more than just a game that you’ll play and put aside after completion. It’s a massive, defining experience that, even after 150+ hours of play, always feels refreshing and worth investing in all over again. There’s a pull to the charm of CD Projekt Red’s magnum opus that’s hard to shake, long after the credits roll and the tears have fallen.