With only a matter of hours to go until The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is available, it’s time to take a look what’s expected. After numerous delays and teasers, the wait is finally over, and the sword-and-sorcery genre of RPGs is getting a boost that fans have been wanting for a long time. We’re, of course, talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the third installment of CD Projekt’s wildly successful Witcher series and, if even half of the hype is to be believed, this one’s going to be worth the wait. For those of you who are new to the series, The Witcher is the story of Geralt of Rivia, a genetically enhanced monster hunter (called a Witcher, oddly enough), and his adventures through a dark world of fantasy and myth, political intrigue, and sorcery. Since its inception in 2007, this indie title has become something huge, winning awards left and right and giving the fantasy genre a beautifully dark twist; unlike most of your major fantasy titles, the world of The Witcher is never black and white. Of course, we fully expect The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to continue that trend, and here’s why.
Since this is supposed to be the third act of the Witcher trilogy, the story promises to wrap up all the loose ends from previous games, making it incredibly story-driven. As with most Witcher games, this one takes place inside the Continent during a period of great turmoil between the five great nations, more specifically between the armies of Nilfgaard and Redenia in a war of conquest. Our hero, the Witcher Geralt of Rivia, has been summoned by the Emperor of Nilfgaard to find Ciri, a powerful sorceress and heir to the Nilfgaardian throne, as well as Geralt’s ward, making her exceedingly important all the way around. The big attraction in Wild Hunt, though, is that we’re getting something that Witcher fans have wanted to see since the first game: Geralt is finally put face-to-face with the Wild Hunt, a legendary group of spectral warriors that he has been having visions of since the first game. Familiar characters like Triss Merigold and Vernon Roche also find their way back into Wild Hunt, and even some characters who, while incredibly important, were only mentioned in name, such as Geralt’s lover, Yennifer of Vengerberg. It’s a dark tale of magic, sex, destiny, blood, and a whole lot of monster slaying, all tasks which Geralt, the White Wolf, is extremely suited for.
If the previous paragraph wasn’t indication enough (or if you had to Wiki any of the names or places), the story of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is already immense. Not only has CD Projekt had two previous games to build up a mythos, but the Witcher series is already built on a series of novels that predate even the first game, giving us characters, locations, magic, and monsters that are richly detailed and who interact in dynamic and complex ways. If you’re a newcomer to The Witcher with Wild Hunt, you may find yourself reading and re-reading all the relevant materials in your journal to remember who’s who (and why you should or should not be killing said who), which can be a bit of a turn-off to people who are just in it for the hack-and-slash. Of course, knowing the exact ins and outs of everything isn’t mandatory to enjoy Wild Hunt; it just helps you get even more immersed in the story, getting the most out of a game that can be anywhere from twenty five to two hundred hours long. With a world and characters that are on par with Game of Thrones, you might find you want to take as much time as you can to enjoy all this world has to offer.
As far as gameplay goes, most everything should feel comfortably familiar in Wild Hunt. You’ve still got all your familiar basics, like your regular sword for humans and a silver sword for monsters, a set of spells, and the ability to create tricks and traps. If Wild Hunt is going to be anything like its predecessors, take special care to figure out how to use these traps; on lower difficulties and in smaller groups of enemies, your regular hack-and-slash will see you through, but once the monsters start getting serious, you’re pretty much required to come in smart and prep your battlefield with deadly, sometimes enemy-specific traps. CD Projekt has never been a fan of holding your hand through tough fights (a bit like Bloodborne, although to a lesser degree), and your boss battles are going to essentially require some prep work.
While die-hard Witcher fans may have no trouble finding the controls and figuring out battle plans, they will still have a bit of culture shock with Wild Hunt. For the first time in the series, you’re playing on a real open-world map, much like Skyrim but, according to recent measurements, around three and a half times as large. This can actually be a real improvement in some areas, particularly in the area of monster-hunting contracts; setting these out in an open world means that you can have a lot of contracts, which in the past was your primary means of making money. Combine that with the two proposed DLC packs that should add another thirty or so hours of play (and presumably, more map space), and you’ve got an incredible amount of gamespace to work with.
Of course, having a large map does present some challenges all its own, and due to CD Projekt’s track record, these problems are a bit magnified. Essentially, it becomes easy to get lost, get off-track, and just plain wander into areas you’re in no way ready to deal with, looking for quest points for hours before a giant monster finally puts you out of your misery; ask anybody who’s accidentally walked into a giant’s stead in Skyrim and you’ll get the idea. CD Projekt isn’t a huge fan of holding your hand, either, so it’s entirely possible for new, inexperienced players to get really lost and really confused really quickly, which can cause them to get really tired of Wild Hunt before it even gets going. Once you get to a level where you can protect yourself and know the terrain, however, these don’t become problems anymore, and you’re entirely free to enjoy this vast, beautifully rendered landscape.
While Wild Hunt may have a lot to live up to, it’s certainly got the lore and the mechanics to do it. We can expect to see some beautifully rendered graphics, a compelling story, and gameplay that even the big AAA games can learn something from. One thing’s for certain, though; fans of the series are definitely going to get a spectacular ending to Geralt’s tale, and they’re going to enjoy every single step of the journey.
Dusty has interviewed some of the brightest minds in the video game industry at E3, written for Lifehacker, and much more. Dusty is also a passionate PS4 gamer who has a BA in journalism.