The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a video game made by Polish Developer CD Projekt Red and was released in 2015 to much critical appraise. It won multiple game of the year awards and is considered by many still to be a masterpiece of gaming. However, four years have passed since the game's release. Does it still live up to the hype? Is it indeed still one of the best games ever made? I want to clarify something before we start. This won't be an impartial critique. I have read the Witcher books, played the first two games, and have grown to love the characters as family. I have put over 600 hours into the game across three playthroughs. So I do have a bit of bias going in to this review, but I will still be able to look objectively at the story and gameplay. Without further ado, it's time to delve into Geralt of Rivia's final story.
Visuals and Sound Design:
Four years have passed since the release of The Witcher 3, but this game still looks stunning and makes many games today look old. The water effects are extremely pleasing to look at as well. Often times you will find yourself stopping to look at the sunset or climb the mountain to get the perfect view of the area. Some of the sights in this game are arguably better than ones in real life! Monster designs too are simply amazing. Each of the 80 monsters have their own unique and distinctive designs which do a good job of making the player feel uneasy or disgusted. The armor designs for both Geralt and the spectral riders of the Wild Hunt look great. The animation in this game is also stellar. For a game that is just as large if not larger than most BioWare games, the facial expressions and animations are top quality. There's no laziness here folks. As for the sound design, they did a wonderful job. You can hear the difference between Geralt is running through a grassy field as opposed to a cobblestone path. The sounds your swords make when striking at the flesh of your enemies is extremely satisfying, and the ambient noises of the environment around you do a great job of immersing you into the world.
This game also boasts a stellar soundtrack, arranged by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, and Percival. The music here elevates the story and gameplay. Whether you're exploring the continent, watching a dramatic cutscene, or partaking in dangerous battles, you can be sure that there is a fitting piece of music accompanying it. Each piece is also excellent at conveying a feeling. "Kaer Morhen" and "After the Storm" are great at making you feel melancholy and nostalgic, whereas "Eredin, King of the Hunt" and "The Hunt is Coming" make you feel tense and anxious. The combat music is also great. While some people may not like a bunch of polish women hollering in their ear, the music which plays during the combat sequences do a great job at stressing you out. The soundtracks for the different areas and environments are also very good. You can hear the difference in tracks when listening to the music from the desolate lands of Velen as opposed to the Free City of Novigrad. All in all, the soundtrack in this game is amazing, and I'd say that it's even worth a buy on the side. It's really that good!
Much of the gameplay is centered around exploration. Exploring The Continent is easily one of the most magical experiences you can get from gaming. Riding through your trusted steed, Roach, through the cities of Novigrad and Oxenfort, the war-torn land of Velen, and the snowy Skellige Isles, you can tell the developers put an insane amount of care into designing this Sometimes I spend hours trying to climb to the highest peaks of each map and simply wait and watch the sunset over the horizon. As for the actual exploration, there are a plethora of things you can do in the world. You can tackle destroying monster nests, you can go on treasure hunts, save people in distress, and venture to frontiers you haven't gone to before. Exploring in this game is addicting. Often time I would find myself sidetracked from the main quest, even the side quests, just exploring and seeing what the world has to offer. Exploration isn't a necessity: you can blow through the main story and a few key side-quests if you wanted to, but exploration rewards you with great new armor and gear.
Combat is another big part of gameplay. The great thing about the combat of the Witcher 3 is that you can't button mash your way through this game. You must time your attacks and dodges properly, you must go into the bestiary and read about the monster you are hunting: using this information you must appropriately prepare potions and blade oils to use against the monster, as well as specific bombs and the signs the monster is weak against. Combat takes preparation. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but personally, I love it. It make the combat more in depth and thought out rather than a mindless button mashing skirmish. It makes the end reward more satisfying too: it was I who took the time to prepare and I was rewarded appropriately for it. As you go through the game you will have the opportunity to get new swords and new armor, either through crafting or through looting chests throughout the world: you can enchant this gear with glyphs and runes which increase your sign intensity and inflict conditions on your enemies. This system is great: I would spend hours tracking down new runes and glyphs, trying to get the specific conditions I wanted. You're mutations and mutagens(which you unlock as you level up) also serve a purpose in combat. You can choose to have more vitality or attack power, or perhaps choose to be more agile.
While every other aspect of the Witcher 3 could make a good game on their own, where the Witcher 3 truly excels is in it's stroy. This section will have no spoilers, in case you haven't played the game yet(in which case, move it to the top of your list).Story is delivered to us in two forms: main quests and side quests.
Side quests in this game are better than in any other game. In other games, there are typically boring fetch quests and quests where you have to "kill x amount of y", the side quests in the Witcher 3 provide complex characters and motivations along with exciting/funny/depressing/horrific plots. Playing the side quests in this game feels like reading one of the Witcher short stories. There are without a doubt quests that are better than others, but it's clear that the writers at CD Projekt Red put the utmost of care and thought into every side quest. One of the many Side-Quests in the game has you proving to a group of non-humans that you protect monsters more than you kill them, and another has you tracking down a Serial Killer whom butchers in the name of his religion.
Side quests are great on their own, but the main story is where things shine. The main storyline follows Geralt of Rivia, the famous witcher, as he searches for his surrogate daughter and heir to the throne of Nilfgaard, Cirilla, or Ciri for short. Ciri is being pursued by the Wild Hunt, a group of spectral riders from another world, as she has the Elder Blood, a trait that could grant them great power and allow them to create a larger gateway into their world. Now, without giving away spoilers, I'll say this: To me, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the greatest story ever told in a Video Game, and one of the greatest stories told period. I would rank it along side such sagas as The Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight trilogy, and Star Wars. I laughed, I cried, and in the end, I was happy to see my characters go on(I got the good ending every time) and live good lives, but parting with these people I had grown to love so much was a tough thing for me. I grew to love Geralt and his sarcasm, I loved Yeneffer and Triss as companions to Geralt when he needed them most, I loved Zoltan the dwarf, I loved the mischevious bard dandelion who would always get into trouble through his romantic endeavors, I loved Vesemir as a father figure and the other witchers Lambert and Eskel as brothers, and most of all, I loved Ciri as I would my own daughter, and only wanted the best for her. The Witcher 3 is one of the best Fantasy stories ever told, and one of the best stories period. It shows that in such dark and morally grey times with no good sides, as the ones depicted in the Witcher Series, there is still joy to be had, people to be loved, and good to fight for. This is a message anyone can take with them and remember when things aren't going so good. It's this message which is the reason I hold the Witcher 3 so close to my heart.
The Witcher 3 is easily the best game ever made. The visuals are stunning, and the sunsets still make modern games look like PS2 Era graphics. The exploration is awesome, and the satisfaction from uncovering the different parts of the world is amazing. The combat is in depth and a joy to play. The complex character customization can be experimented with for many hours. The satisfaction you get from preparing for and killing monsters is out of this world. The side quests put the narratives of many other games' main stories to shame. But while these are all great, these do not make the Witcher 3 the greatest game of all time. The reason for that is because it lets us see and interact with these characters that we love and it lets us fight against the Wild Hunt who want to take that away. It let's make choices that determine the fates of those we care about and go on to see them live happy or sad as a consequence of your actions. And, as much as this phrase is overused, it makes you FEEL like a father, and by the end of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you will love these characters, whether or not you're a long time fan of the books or whether you're just a newcomer to the series. This game is the only game that left me feeling empty after finishing it. And while in some games, like MGS5, it means that the game wasn't finished, here it's because you get so attached to these characters that you can't let them go. And obviously sooner or later the game will be beat out by some other massive sprawling RPG. With the advancement of technology and more developers, it's bound to happen at some point. But even if it does, the memories that you forge with these characters will last for a long time. Because while games might be fleeting, memories are forever.