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Hands-On With ‘The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’



Until about a week ago, I had spent maybe an hour total with the Witcher series. It’s not that the games didn’t look appealing to me, they simply fell into the always-growing list of intriguing games I never get around to playing. This changed when I was invited by CD Projekt Red to spend some time with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in a bar in San Francisco.

This trip, by the way, was made possible by the developer. They paid to get me there, offered me a place to stay, and I even got a swag bag, the contents of which I’ll be handing out to some of you in the near future.

I had only a very superficial understanding of what this series was about, and even that knowledge was limited to “this game is going to be pretty,” and “it’ll likely have boobs.” Five minutes into the demo and both had already proven true.

The Witcher 3 is currently slated for a May release, but even that’s not set in stone. CD Projekt Red has already proven willing to push the game back should they deem it necessary, and they seem open to doing it again if they have to.

After spending just over three hours with it, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. It’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s far enough along that I can’t see them moving its release date again unless something bad happens.

Have I mentioned that this is a stunning game, because it is. Unless their initials spell GTA, open-world games of this size tend to make sacrifices in their visuals. If The Witcher 3 did this, I didn’t notice. It’s pretty.

The game follows Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher and cat-eyed anti-hero from the first two games, who has been tasked with finding his apprentice, Ciri. Something about a prophecy that claims this Witcheress is the one who can stop the Wild Hunt — essentially a gang of all-powerful, human-hating war gods — from enslaving humanity.

Or maybe they want to eradicate humanity? It’s one of the two, I’m sure.

I only briefly got acquainted with the Wild Hunt when they descended from the heavens on a massive flying ghost ship (no joke), but they were sufficiently intimidating. The guy with the skull helmet was a real dick, too, in case you were wondering.

I have to say I was not at all prepared for how willfully incompetent this game would make me feel. It’s not that complicated, but each fight does require a certain amount of strategy — more than say, Dragon Age or The Elder Scrolls might require of you — and there’s a number of complex systems that demanded I get familiar with them right away.

The thing I had the most trouble getting comfortable with was Geralt’s arsenal of magical abilities that can be used to set enemies ablaze, slow them down, or deploy a protective shield around Geralt, if you’re feeling defensive.

If that doesn’t sound complicated, it’s because it isn’t. It’s only when you combine it with the rest of Geralt’s arsenal, which includes a number of consumables (bombs and whatnot) as well as his basic abilities, such as counter attacks, guarding, etc.

Creatures behave realistically, even intelligently. Larger enemies tend to use their size to try and overpower Geralt, while smaller enemies, which I usually found in packs, would often try and flank Geralt in an effort to surround him. Their unpredictable movements combined with how deadly they can be even for a veteran player makes every fight a challenge.

It would’ve been terrifying for a novice like me had I not been controlling Geralt, Monster Slayer Extraordinaire.

As I mentioned earlier, I only spent a little over three hours with The Witcher 3, and that’s nothing when you’re talking about a game that promises over a 100 hours worth of things to do. The world is massive and brimming with content, events, and places to explore.

I tried to do a little of everything before my time was up, partly because I wanted to glean as much info about this game as I could for this preview, but also because I was hooked.

Eventually, I had to set down the controller, but not before I had accomplished a fair amount.

I played a couple rounds of a Dwarven card game called Gwent, I brought an arsonist to justice, I felt bad when the arsonist was executed for a drunken mistake, I aided a man in his search for his missing brother, and I even killed a Griffon.

I also helped an elderly woman reclaim her lost cookware. I’m not above good deeds, however small they may be.

I was only able to bludgeon a few of the many critters who roam the world of The Witcher 3. I would’ve slayed more, but I have this problem when I play open-world games where I get distracted so unbelievably easy, so I often got sidetracked by mysterious markers on my map. I couldn’t not investigate, because doing so would let the Wild Hunt win, and no one wants that.

When I wasn’t investigating its stunning world, I would spend my time taking on packs of rabid dogs, mowing down creatures that scour charred battlefields for corpses to eat — I think they were called Ghouls — and clearing out nests of Drowners, which may or may not be the distant cousins of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I knew this series had epic fights, and my hunt for the Griffon did not disappoint. It was my primary objective, aside from finding a young woman named Yennefer, and it was so much more involved than finding the creature’s nest so I could murder it in front of any offspring it might have. This fight took preparation, I had to get to know my prey before I could engage in fisticuffs with it, and that made bringing it down exponentially more satisfying.

This game has sold me on The Witcher. I almost feel obligated to try the second game so I can go into Wild Hunt with a better understanding of this rich world that CD Projekt Red has created. It’s a beautiful game with a rewarding combat system, an engrossing story and some truly fantastic writing. Even the option side quests were well-written and interesting. That’s important.

If you’re new to this series, it’s about time you acquaint yourself with it. That’s what I’ll be doing.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is slated to release on May 19 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.