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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

It's not without its minor issues, but you'll continually be impressed either by the writing, voice acting, setting, combat, or freedom that you'll forget the trivial issues and immerse yourself in one of the most captivating games to date. There's going to have to be something amazing to release this year to dethrone The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from Game of the Year 2015 status in my opinion.

The Pros: 

+Top notch writing and voice acting
+Visuals are absolutely stunning
+Side quests have meaning and are written incredibly well
+Hundreds of hours of gameplay
+Gwent is an amazing distraction and very addictive

The Cons: 

-Movement can feel stiff and awkward
-Random smaller bugs
-Gwent isn't purchasable in physical for Rating : 

The Witcher 2 was my Game of the Year for 2012, so to say that I had very high expectations for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, would be putting it mildly. I'm happy to report that not only have they lived up to expectations, but vastly succeeded them and improved on many facets from Geralt's previous outing. New hardware has released since the last time we played with Geralt, so needless to say, CD Projeckt Red has made great use from the new hardware and is pushing them to the limits on console. Witcher 3 looks absolutely stunning at times, like seeing a gorgeous backdrop from a balcony, or an overview from a mountaintop. Virtually all facets of the game feels like it's been created with much thought and care, as even the smallest side quests feel grand either in gameplay or in story, and finding secrets in almost every corner of the world for Geralt to unearth.

The Witcher series has a massive and incredibly deep lore, stemming outside of simply its video game medium, so naturally the writing, characters, and plot in the series has always been captivating. Layer in absolutely top notch voice acting, and you have a recipe for success. The main storyline in Witcher 3 feels much more intimate and personal, as the hero Geralt will be reunited with familiar faces from the series, but is more importantly trying to locate his Ward Ciri, who is being chased by the Wild Hunt. I really don't want to get more into any of the plot as Witcher 3's storytelling is wonderfully done and should be experienced spoiler free. If you're new to the series or haven't played in quite some time, Witcher 3 does a great job at subtly explaining who returning characters and places are without bombarding you with too much information at once or boring you with an incredibly long recap. As you progress through the game, the true scope really starts to come into view. Not simply in square miles of land that you'll traverse, but with how the plot plays out, slowly allowing you access to each new area. The main plot is broken up into different acts, and just as you think you're nearing completion, it opens up even further but without dragging on or artificially lengthening for the most part.

Geralt is a Witcher, someone that deals with Monsters and supernatural in everyday life, and exterminates them... for a price. Most of the time you'll be tasked with slaying monsters and locating missing persons, but what Witcher 3 does so masterfully is that you're almost always given a choice. Not simply a black and white decision, as everything seems as it's a shade of grey instead of a clear right or wrong. Sometimes your actions will have consequences you won't realize until much later and unexpectedly. At times you're able to negotiate with people, buy them a drink to calm them down, or simply slay them, but it's up to you as Geralt to decide the proper course of action. As you begin to understand some of the recurring characters and interact with them more, you might start to question their motives, not simply because of the dialogue, but how it's said and their body language and gestures; not many games convey this well but Witcher 3 does very well.

In most games there's usually a ton of extra writing in books or elsewhere that you can read for some back story, but it usually gets overlooked or ignored. Doing so in Witcher 3 would be a great disservice, as all of the notes, books, and letters you pick up can be read, and they usually always have a reason to. Reading a book you just looted might add a new entry in your bestiary which not only gives you a history of the monster, but will actually tell you which Signs and other weakness it has to make Geralt much more opposing and combat, and will absolutely be needed on the harder difficulty levels if you wish to survive.

As you pass through towns in the absolutely massive open world you'll come across bulletin boards. Here is where locals place notices, either about points of interest like monster nests, bandit camps, or hidden treasure, or even full-on contracts for a Witcher to take and complete for a hefty reward. Think of these Witcher contracts as the game's minibosses. There's usually an element of sleuthing that needs to be done with Geralt's Witcher senses, either tracing footprints, blood trails, or a scent to his target. Don't always go in expecting the same outcome though, as there may be a second side to the story or a completely different surprise that you won't see coming. These usually offer great rewards and have you explore more of the lands, so they are a great distraction from the main plot. There is a fast travel system that can be used once you find sign posts, but many adventures you have will simply come from exploring the land and finding things off the beaten path, allowing for a grand sense of discovery.

If you need further distractions, there's also an included card game titled Gwent, which once learned, can become quite addictive. You start off with a small deck of cards and can obtain more and better cards by beating other characters in a game or purchasing them at different merchants. You're going to want to start strategizing and build a deck that works for you if you want a shot at beating the best Gwent players in the land though. The main objective of Gwent is to win best 2 of 3 rounds by having a higher tally of card strength than your opponent. You pick which faction of cards you want to play with, providing you have the minimum of 22 cards to play with, and you start the match with a random set of 10 cards.

There are fourtypes of cards: Close Combat, Ranged, Seige, and Special. Cards can be placed in its dedicated row and you're allowed one card per turn. The card's strength is tallied into a total and you win a round by both players having no cards left to play or if the other player passes their turn and whomever has the highest current score. Once you start earning a few of the special cards, especially the Hero cards that are immune to attacks and other negative effects, there's a tremendous amount of strategy needed to be successful. I do have three complaints about Gwent though:

1)      I've spent many hours playing it, distracting me from the main game.

2)      It's not a standalone game that I can play online against others and friends.

3)      It's not a real life physical purchase I can make to play with my friends.

While storytelling, characters development, and plot might be the staple the Witcher series is known for, combat arguably comes in a close second. Geralt is no ordinary man, he's a Witcher, and they have an assortment of tools at their disposal to deal with monsters and humans alike. Geralt uses two swords, Silver for slaying monsters and a Steel blade for dealing with humanoids. He can also use a variety of magical spells, called Signs, each of which have completely different uses and appropriateness in battle based on what type of enemy you're fighting. Mashing the light or heavy blade attacks won't get you very far, and you'll lose in battle quite quickly trying to do so. Geralt not only needs to vary his attacks, parry, and dodge, but also pepper in his magical attacks along with other tools at his disposal such as bombs, crossbow, potions, and oils if you want to succeed in battle unscathed.

Remember me mentioning the beastiary as a glossary of incredible information? This is where it comes into play, as you'll learn the vulnerabilities of specific enemies and can plan ahead of jumping into battle. Knowing that a blast of the Aard or Axii sign makes specific beasts open for attack can mean the difference between life and death, as will coating your blade with a specific oil that will give you an incredible damage boost. Sometimes you'll even use the blast from Aard to open secret passageways or the Axii sign in dialogue choices to provide different outcomes and open new avenues.

For all of the exploring and hunting to be had, there's just as much loot to be taken and used. Not only can you sell your findings, but you can also use these items to craft new alchemy potions or even weapons and armor. Items can also be dismantled and broken down into their core pieces, allowing you to use them to craft newer and better items in its place. The crafting system isn't terribly deep and involved aside from having to purchase and quest to find the best patterns and components, but it's highly addictive and very rewarding, usually much better than anything you'll loot or get from a quest itself.

Visually, the Witcher 3 is absolutely gorgeous, even on the consoles. You'll notice dynamic weather, foliage blowing in the wind, realistic shadows, and even light peeking through the treetops. The main city that you'll be spending many hours in actually feels alive instead of the typically large scale but empty feeling most games have. I need to give a massive amount of credit to the writing team though, as typically I tend to rush through the main story solely and bypass most of the side quests since they usually tend to be filler to arbitrarily add length to a game. This is absolutely not the case in Witcher 3 and even the smaller side quests have been crafted to be meaningful, memorable, or interesting in some way. I've probably spent half of my played time simply on side quests, Witcher contracts, and other non-plot centric events. Go explore, as you're going to find a slew of things to keep you busy and entertained.

Geralt's adventures though does have a few hiccups along the way though. I've completely crashed to dashboard twice (thank you auto saves), I've had random sound glitches, and even one time where every NPC had no face or animations where they were simply sliding around instead of walking. Granted, these minor issues will most likely get fixed with an upcoming patch, and it wasn't frequent enough to truly detract from the overall experience, but be aware that there are some minor issues that you're bound to come across when you put well over 100 hours into The Wild Hunt. That being said, I keep coming back to playing as the characters are wonderfully developed, the gameplay is smooth and addicting, and there's a massive list of quests I've not even started to tackle yet. The Witcher 3 is incredibly satisfying to play, very mature themed, and handles moral choices and consequences in a meaningful way. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is already at the top of my list for Game of the Year 2015 and absolutely needs to be played by any RPG fan.

Review based on a Xbox One version of the game purchased by reviwer.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC
Release Date: May 18th, 2015
Price: $69.99