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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: CD Projekt RED Studio
Release Date: May 19, 2015


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt'

by Adam Pavlacka on Feb. 17, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Marking the final installment in the action RPG trilogy, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt combines decision-based storytelling flair with a living open world larger than any other in modern RPG history.

The Witcher franchise could easily be described as a series of big-budget indie games. Although CD Projekt RED's parent company made its mark by publishing localized titles in Poland, the development team is best known for bringing Andrzej Sapkowski's fantasy series, "The Witcher," to life as a series of video games. The team is also known for being staunchly anti-DRM, instead asking gamers to support them honestly, rather than pirating their games. The first game was a PC exclusive, but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings appeared on the Xbox 360 as well as the PC.

Unabashedly mature, The Witcher games don't shy away from sex or violence or topics such as racism. They don't revel in it or use it for shock value, but it is treated as just another part of life in the world of Geralt of Rivia. This tradition continues with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. As soon as the intro movie is over, the game starts up in Kaer Morhen as Geralt bathes in Yenefer's bedroom. Both are naked, not for sexual reasons, but simply because they're getting ready for the day. It's a short sequence, but it's a good example of how Wild Hunt treats mature issues. It doesn't pander, and it doesn't try to shock. It simply presents Geralt's world as it is, warts and all.

The sequence at Kaer Morhen sets up the overall story for the game and serves as an optional tutorial. The whole thing doesn't take very long, and it provides just enough of the basics to get you started. Veterans of the series can skip the tutorial part, but new players should give it a go. Combat in The Witcher games is a little different than what you'll find in other RPGs, and getting used to the two different types of swords and Geralt's magic signs is an absolute necessity if you hope to survive.

The world of Wild Hunt is large and expansive, but it's also dangerous. At the beginning of the game, Geralt has to play it safe. Jumping into combat with monsters above your skill level offers nothing more than a quick death. Survival is all about playing it smart, learning when to engage and when to retreat to fight another day. Just as with the mature content, there is no hand-holding here. The Northern Kingdoms are dangerous, and that's just the way it is.

After playing for a bit, it quickly becomes obvious that danger comes in many forms. While there are plenty of wild beasts roaming around, there are also fellow humans who you have to worry about. Not everyone appreciates the Witchers, and some want to harm Geralt because he happens to be one.

Much like the first two games, Wild Hunt offers plenty of opportunity for the player to define his own path in the game. For example, while exploring the first major quest line, I came across a bulletin board in one of the towns. The board offered a number of side-quests, which could be taken or ignored. Further along the main quest, I was presented with more optional objectives, all while still working on the major quest. Follow them up or ignore them all; it's your call.

After making my way through the first area, one of the developers loaded up a second demo level that's set in the Skellige Isles. Here, the primary quest was one of royal intrigue. A new king was on the verge of being named, when bears suddenly appeared in the royal hall and attacked the guests. The first order of business was to eliminate the threat and then to determine who's behind it all.

Since this mission was set later in the game, more of Geralt's combat abilities had opened up. Fighting felt more capable than in the early area of the game, with defensive moves like blocking and parrying being required elements. Oddly, what stood out the most here was the reliance on Geralt's Witcher abilities to find the next clue. Yes, it was an investigation, but it didn't feel like we were investigating, so much as using the abilities to view hidden footprints or immediately highlight a clue. For a series that prides itself on character freedom, this particular mission felt more like being led around on a leash.

To be fair, though, I had chosen the dialogue option that said I would investigate the scene. The option that I passed on offered the chance to accompany another character on an immediate quest for revenge. It is quite possible that the alternate path would have focused more on action.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming to the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I had the chance to play on the Xbox One, and overall, the game looks good. Combat felt fluid, and there was plenty of detail in the environment, though the frame rate on the demo build wasn't always consistent. Sometimes, everything was nice and smooth, while other areas saw a visible frame rate drop. Also of note, the Xbox One build hasn't yet been optimized to account for the Xbox One's modified gamma curve. Crushed blacks were visible in dark areas of the environment.

After spending an evening with Wild Hunt, it looks like it should deliver everything the first two games did and then some. The issues noted above are more technical than related to the gameplay, and CD Projekt RED still has a good three months to address them. It's difficult to say if Wild Hunt will attract new players to The Witcher franchise, but for those who already know and love Geralt, Wild Hunt will likely be a required purchase.

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