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I did not review The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. We already have a review. You can read that here. Our reviewer has played every game in the series.
I, however, know nothing about Witchers and their witching ways. Well, at least until a few days ago, when I got an early code for Witcher III: Wild Hunt on Xbox One. The role-playing game is also coming out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC tomorrow.
You might be like me, noticing the great reviews it has been getting and wondering if it’s safe to just jump in. These kinds of games are always plot-heavy, and it can be intimidating to go into a third installment without knowing what happened before it.
So, is Witcher III friendly to those, like me, who are playing the franchise for the first time? Well, after a few hours of gameplay, I’ll tell you what I think, and what I wish I knew.
What I liked
A fast start
A lot of role-playing games have painfully slow beginnings full of plot, tutorials, and boring combat that’s hampered by your lack of abilities. Thankfully, Witcher III has a pretty fast start. It still has a tutorial in the beginning that teaches you the basics of combat, but it’s pretty quick and also acts to introduce you to some of the main characters.
After that, it’s just a few cutscenes until you’re let loose on the game’s open world, free to explore the map and track down side-quests. Speaking of … .
I liked Dragon Age: Inquisition, but a lot of its side-quests felt inconsequential or often involved little more than killing things. Even in the first hour of Witcher III, side-quests have involved things like dialogue trees, chases, tracking, and potion-making. And each one has the same level of animation and voice-acting as one of the main story quests, making each feel just as important.
Starting off strong
In almost every RPG I’ve played, you start off as a weak character with nothing more than a basic attack and maybe one special ability. In Wild Hunt, you immediately start with a full collection of spells. You can still upgrade them later, so you have that sense of progression, but it’s nice to start with so many abilities.
Already, I’ve been given plenty of choices to make, usually at the end of quests. Sometimes, it’s as important as letting an arsonist go free or turning him in for execution. Or you make small-beans decisions like whether or not to accept money from an unsavory man for a legitimate job. Each choice feels like it’s important without the game having to tell me it is. I don’t gain points with factions or move up and down on a good/evil scale. The choices seem to stand for themselves.
It feels self-contained
I can tell that events from other games are being mentioned, but they don’t seem to have a huge impact on the story in Wild Hunt III so far. It sets up the main character with a goal while not feeling like an awkward continuation of a story I haven’t seen. So, while I know I don’t completely understand everything about the world, I know enough about my motivation.
What I don’t like
Walking around feels a bit clunky. The transition from walking to running on the analog stick feels awkward, which often leads to me smashing myself against a fence or blindsiding some poor pedestrian. The camera was too slippery and sensitive for my liking, but the game does have options to adjust it.
So many consumables
The Witcher III lets you use food, potions, and other consumable items, but it’s kind of a pain to use them. You can only assign two to use during gameplay (via the up and down buttons on the D-pad), even though you’ll likely have many more you’d like quick access to.
In fact, it seems like there are just a lot of items in general. I can grab herbs and plants from everywhere, which I do, and I know I can make potions out of them. But right now, despite picking hundreds of plants, I can’t make much. I don’t know if I’ll get more recipes later, but right now I’m not sure if I’m just wasting my time collecting so many herbs and flowers.
The crafting system is deep. It’s nice, in a way, to see a more old-school and realistic approach to making armor, weapons, and potions, but it’s also kind of annoying. You usually have to make minor items so that you can craft the stuff you really need. This leads to a crowded inventory and a lot of confusion as you’re constantly referencing multiple recipes to find out what you have to do to make that piece of armor you want.
Feeling left out of the political loop
The Witcher III takes place in a unique fantasy world that it doesn’t spend a whole lot of time explaining. On one hand, it is way more fun to learn about a world organically than to have a narrator tell you about it. However, I often felt like I didn’t know enough about the current political landscape to make informed decisions.
In the starting area, especially, you can usually choose to help out one of two factions that I wasn’t really able to tell apart. It wasn’t until a couple of hours in that I was beginning to feel like the one might be kind of evil. It was then that I did a little research and found that they were an invading force that orchestrated the assassination of kings in the last game.
Now, I’m not usually a big fan of those start screen codex entries that you give information with as much zeal as a high school textbook, but it might have been nice to have some way to learn a bit about this world without having played the first two games. Wild Hunt does have a glossary, but it only talks about the main characters. Even then, it doesn’t offer much info.
So, can you just jump into Witcher III without playing the other ones? Yes. You might not have as good a grasp on the world as someone who has played the entire series, but you’ll quickly understand enough about the main character and his motivation that you’ll become engaged anyway. You’ll also learn more about the mythology and politics as you play.
The only thing that really bugged me was not understanding more about the nations and factions, just because so many morality choices in the beginning involved picking sides between them. So, a little web research might help you there. Otherwise, if you’re a fan of deep role-playing games, you’ll find a lot to love in Wild Hunt.
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