In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the holy and the profane are always at war, and beauty and blood are always at war with each other. The show has always shown a contrast between the world’s physical beauty and its inherent violence, but this contrast has never been this unsettling or jarring. It’s not surprising that The Witcher 3 shows the immediate brutality of battle in a lot of detail. Many games fill the screen with severed heads and bloody guts. What makes this amazing adventure so special is how it shows the personal tragedies and sneaky chances that come with battles like these.
The Witcher 3 is a very special game, but it’s not just because of its rough themes. This open-world role-playing game is great in every way: it has great exploration, great creature design, great combat mechanics, and great character growth. But the things that people remember are the times that show how much they hurt. In one quest, you help two lovers get back together. One of the lovers is now a rotting hag with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. In another, a fat man who beats his wife has to find a way to love two lost souls who each test the limits of his love. Don’t worry that these vague descriptions will ruin important events; they are just examples of the problems that every resident has to deal with. There is no happiness without sadness on the islands of Skellige and in the city of Novigrad. Every victory costs something.
As the returning protagonist Geralt of Rivia, you, too, are sometimes confronted with the misery of plain life in unanticipated, unforeseen ways. The major plot, which has you searching for your ward and daughter figure Ciri as well as battling the otherworldly entity known as the wild hunt, frequently compels you to experience this misery.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings alluded to similar consequences, but The Witcher 3 personalizes them. In this series, political tensions are as high as they’ve ever been, and your decisions continue to redirect the fates of barons and kings in interesting ways. But if The Witcher 2’s emphasis on plot came at the expense of character development, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings bolsters the weight of the wartime conflict by establishing Geralt’s personal ties to every major player. The connection between Ciri and Geralt proves to be the story’s primary driving force, yet Ciri is not a damsel in distress, despite appearances to the contrary, particularly in this world.
The same set of actions are usually required for plot objectives, side quests, and monster-killing contracts: killing, conversing, and using your witcher senses, which reveal footprints and scent trails and transform Geralt into a particularly ferocious private eye. Every assignment remains as enticing as the one before thanks to the details. A change of scenery could be what transforms a routine contract into a battle for the ages: you pull out your crossbow, hit a screaming wyvern with a well-placed bolt from the sky, then stab it in the heart with your silver sword, all while a fire burns in the outpost beyond and lightning strikes rip across the night sky. Your state of mind may be disturbed by fear as you stomp through a gloomy swamp looking for ghosts and illuminating the haze with your magical lantern’s green light. You can fight werewolves and spar with monarchs and barons in The Witcher 3; but, the game’s most breathtaking moment is when a trobairitz with an angelic voice sings a somber ballad.
You conduct most of your cutting with the blades sheathed on your back, despite how biting the wit of some characters may be (Sigismund Dijkstra’s sardonic quips making him one of the game’s foul-mouthed joys). The Witcher 3’s fighting is a lot less taxing than The Witcher 2’s was at first; in fact, I advise picking a difficulty level one notch higher than you normally would, assuming you don’t start out on the hardest setting right away. The crunchiness of hitting strikes, the moans of human enemies burnt by your Igni sign, and the dreadful behavior of necrophages, wandering ghosts, and animals of the incomprehensible sort make combat enjoyable even when things get simple.
The Witcher 3 features the familiar magical symbols once more. Even though Geralt is not a wizard, he nonetheless uses magic to his advantage in battle. Over the past games, character growth has greatly enhanced, offering not just passive enhancements to your magical trap and force-push technique, but also changing their basic behavior.
From hour to hour, the urge to look at the landscape gets stronger. Some of the joys of being in the wilds are quiet. For example, you mount Roach and trot over the hill just in time to see a rich sunset, which is always a treat in The Witcher 3. The sky looks as beautiful and blood-soaked as the meadows below it because the reds and oranges are so strong. You find a boat and decide to go on an impromptu trip through the islands of Skellige. As you go, you take note of the shipwrecks on the beaches and cliffs. The music gets louder, and a soprano sings a happy melody that adds to the calmness. The peace is always broken, though, maybe by a trip into a dark dungeon where your torch shines on the holes in the walls and a snarling monster waits to eat you, or by a boy calling for help.
When it comes to platform differences, there aren’t many surprises, and the differences aren’t by orders of magnitude, but by degrees. The original review copy was for the PlayStation 4 version, which has a higher resolution than the Xbox One version, but Xbox One owners shouldn’t be upset about how the game looks because it looks great on all platforms.
Concerns are growing about how the game looked in early demos and how it will look when it comes out. However, the PC version of The Witcher 3 looks great, especially if you have a fairly powerful computer and can see the game in motion at its highest settings.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s next-gen update is a remarkable combination of new features, adjustments, and improvements that make one of the best role-playing video games of the previous decade even better. Consider this an invitation to try The Witcher 3 if you’ve never done so before. Even if you’ve played The Witcher 3 before, there’s plenty here to make the experience feel new.