Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt – a review

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I was struggling to find a book to review this week: okay, I have some with short reviews to expand on, but I can’t fully remember the key points that I had to make. And I am behind with my reading as I’m struggling with finding characters I like. I also wondered if anyone would notice me missing a week.

Would you have missed a review? Or are the reviews interesting?

However, I was determined to write something. I never said these reviews were exclusively about books so how about a game instead, I decided. This felt inevitable back in April when I posted W is for Witcher, looking at the origins of the Witcher games. That post looked in depth at some of the elements, but my experience playing the game was limited back then – but not now.

Let’s don our armour and sharpen the swords then.

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The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an action-adventure RPG based on The Witcher series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, it is the sequel to the 2011 game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, in which the player becomes Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher – a monster hunter for hire. He possesses superhuman abilities and is a master swordsman. a dying breed that makes their living killing the monsters that threaten people.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Polish: Wiedźmin 3: Dziki Gon) is the third and final instalment in the series of games developed by CD Projekt RED featuring the witcher Geralt of Rivia. The game was originally scheduled for release in late 2014, then pushed back to 24 February 2015, and finally released on 19 May 2015. During the first two weeks since release it had sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, more than doubling the total sales of its predecessor The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

The game has proved to be one of the most successful and popular games of recent years – if not ever.

Review 4.9 Stars:

Back in April, I was new to the game, but I was sucked into The Witcher world – and just starting out on my journey. Since then, I have logged over 500 hours of playtime, finished the main game and the two ‘expansions’ – Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. I am now on my second playthrough, using the New Game + feature, whereby a player can start the story afresh but with the level reached at the end of the first playthrough – so my Geralt was level 55 and the monsters were boosted too.

In deciding to re-play, I had to have found the game more than just entertaining – in fact, the storyline is engrossing with multiple endings possible and the settings are brilliant. That excellent storytelling has been great, underpinned by reading the 1993 collection of short stories by author Andrzej Sapkowski as well as his second series – see my reviews of The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny.

CD Projekt has built on the world of Sapkowski, and there are plenty of references to past events within both the main quest line and in the side quests – and the overall world-building is impressive. There is a clever aspect to this game – cheeky at times even as the depth of the narrative produces amusing references to other games, books, artwork etcetera. What other game would have a major-domo called Barnabas-Basil Foulty.

Graphically the game is immersive and, well-not exactly beautiful, except in the final region of Toussaint, but the settings reflect that this is a world ravaged by war as well as monsters. The countryside and cities – rough, bleak and vibrant – feel real albeit not cinema-realistic, but I never expect that in a game.

The gameplay element is more complex than other games with a lot to learn and master – and that has been ratcheted up in my second playthrough as I have decided to tackle it on the hardest setting – Death March. This time, I must prepare Geralt for battle and not plunge in all gung-ho – or he dies too easily. Some of that though, is down to oddities in aspects of the game mechanics, like Geralt’s a habit of auto-finishing enemies off while there are others still alive.

The quirks in the mechanics have been annoying – like his inability to jump more than a few inches – but these are very minor compared with the massive number of pluses. One minor irritation in the main game is the NPCs wandering the world who tend to bump into Geralt or his mare, Roach. In Toussaint, the people have more manners (or the developers improved the AI).

Some players have had issues with Roach floating in the air – but I had no problems, so I suspect this glitch was sorted in a patch. My Roach seems to wander off, but she is usually looking for something to eat or drink when Geralt is busy – extremely sensible. It would be cool to build houses but that is not an essential, although Geralt gets a vineyard to do up in Blood & Wine – with BB’s help. By then, you can also dye Geralt’s armour.

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I must end this lengthy player-review by saying that my favourite aspect must be Gwent. This is an in-game card game that is popular in the Witcher world and was invented by the dwarves – they get annoyed when a new deck is introduced in Blood and Wine, initiating a clever side-story. Most innkeepers, merchants and even central characters play Gwent, and some sell individual cards. Geralt can collect cards and take part in Gwent quests and tournaments – with trophies. I must admit that I even have a physical Gwent set with the game board and all five sets of cards. Does that make me a card-geek?

In summary, a great game that has justified the countless awards and accolades received. I will be enjoying Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt for many more hours playing on Death March – despite the quirks and glitches. I’m eagerly anticipating the rumoured Witcher 4 – even if it will be some years before it emerges. Plus, I still have five more of Sapkowski’s Witcher books to read.

Setting: 5*

Storyline: 5*

Gameplay: 4.5*

Graphics: 5*

Entertainment: 5*

Features: 5*

 

W is for Witcher

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The aim of my Blogging From A to Z Challenge is to find the origins of online games, some relatively modern and some with ancient roots. Gaming might well be a modern take on an art that is almost timeless – storytelling. A perfect excuse for a writer to delve a little deeper.

[Visit here for links to other A to Z participants.]

Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an action-adventure RPG based on The Witcher series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, it is the sequel to the 2011 game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Release Date: 19 May 2015

Developer/Publisher: CD Projekt

Genre/gameplay mechanics:  Players control protagonist Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter known as a Witcher who fights, rides, walks, runs, rolls and dodges, jumps, climbs and swims. Weapons include bombs, a crossbow and two swords: steel sword is used primarily to kill humans while the silver sword is more effective against creatures and monsters.  Geralt has five magical signs at his disposal; crafted mutagens increase magic power. Players can learn about their enemies and prepare for combat by reading the in-game bestiary. A dialogue wheel allows players to choose how to respond to NPCs. Geralt must make decisions which change the state of the world and lead to 36 possible endings.

Setting: Open-world with a third-person perspective, set in the Continent, a fantasy world surrounded by parallel dimensions and extra-dimensional worlds. Humans, elves, dwarves, monsters and other creatures co-exist, but non-humans are often persecuted for their differences. Europe was the basis of the game’s world, with PolandAmsterdam, and Scandinavia as its primary inspirations. Locations include the Redanian cities of Novigrad and Oxenfurt, the no man’s land of Velen, the city of Vizima, the Skellige islands (home to several Viking-like clans) and the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen.

Storytelling: The Continent is caught up in a war between the empire of Nilfgaard led by Emperor Emhyr var Emreis and Redania ruled by King Radovid V. Geralt of Rivia is looking for his missing adopted daughter, Ciri on the run from the Wild Hunt, an otherworldly force determined to capture and use her powers. The writing is infused with real-life aspects like moral ambiguity in a deliberate attempt to avoid simplification, impart authenticity, and reflect Sapkowski’s novels.

Further details: Game Wiki + Kirk Hamilton’s Beginner’s Guide to the setting, story, and more.

Releases + Expansions:

  1. Two expansion packs, Hearts of Stone(2015) and Blood and Wine (2016) were also released to critical acclaim.
  2. 16 DLCs were released that included cosmetic and additional gameplay content.
  3. A Game of the Year edition, with the base game, expansion packs and all downloadable content, was released in August 2016.

Formats: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Origins (Chronological) – these range from Sapkowski’s books, other writers such as the Brothers Grimm to Edgar Allen Poe, as well as Polish cultural elements. The main sources include:

  1. 2007 – In 2007 Polish video-game developer CD Projekt Red released The Witcher, the first game based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski‘s saga. CD Projekt had acquired the rights to the book series for about 35,000 zloty (approximately US$9,500) from Sapkowski, who wanted all the payment rights up front, rather than through royalties. However, as Sapkowski said in a 2012 interview by Eurogamer’s Zbigniew Jankowski, “The game – with all due respect for it, let’s say it openly – does not create any “alternative version”, let alone any further sequence. The game is a free adaptation that uses elements of my creativity, an adaptation made by other artists.” He also noted, “‘The Witcher’ is a well-made video game, its success is well deserved, and the creators deserve all the splendour and honour due.”
  2. 1990sThe Witcher appeared in Bogusław Polch‘s six comic books, which he drew from 1993 to 1995 – Maciej Parowskiwrote the story with Sapkowski, already a popular fantasy author.
  3. 1986 – Andrzej Sapkowski’s first short story, “The Witcher” (“Wiedźmin”), also translated as “The Hexer” or “Spellmaker”, was published in Polish science fiction and fantasy magazine Fantastyka. By 2017, The Witcher series encompassed two collections of short stories (1992-1993) and five novels (1994-1999). The 69-year-old author has become one of Poland’s most distinguished fantasy literary icons. Despite readers’ pleas, Sapkowski gave up the idea of continuing The Witcher His next series was the fantasy Hussite trilogy, the main character of which is Reinmar from Bielawa.
  4. Although the author denied any similarities between Redania and Poland in the books, the game developers do make use of Polish elements. Marcin Blacha, Story Director at CD Projekt Red said in a December 2016 interview, “We have the perception we were taught by the poets of Romanticism. Every time we look into the sources, we don’t study old Polish literature or archeologic manuals, but culture which refers to those elements. We don’t draw from the source itself, but from the pulp processed by cultures, and we try to make it look that unique way in which we ourselves perceive it.”
  5. 1820-1864Romanticism in Poland, a literary, artistic and intellectual period in the evolution of Polish culture, began around 1820, coinciding with the publication of Adam Mickiewicz‘s first poems in 1822. It ended with the suppression of the Polish-Lithuanian January 1863 Uprising against the Russian Empire in 1864. The latter event ushered in a new era in Polish culture known as Positivism.
  6. 13th-15th century – Marcin Blacha said, “…The Witcher is a tribute to the Polish language and to Polishness in general. At least I always treat the game that way”. For instance, supposedly, the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Grunwald(1410) was recorded for the sounds of battle, marching, blacksmithing, and the firing of arrows. However, it is impossible to focus on a specific era, although the 13th century might be the nearest – or is that because the game world says May 1272 – in another dimension.
  7. 12th century – Across Central, Western and Northern Europe, the Wild Hunt is a well-known folk myth of a ghostly leader and his group of hunters and hounds flying through the cold night sky, accompanied by the sounds of the howling wind. The supernatural hunters are recounted as either the dead, elves or in some instances, fairies. In the Northern tradition, the Wild Hunt was synonymous with great winter storms or changes of season.
  8. 6th century – The world in which these adventures take place is heavily influenced by Slavic mythology. The first authoritative reference to the Slavs and their mythology in written history was made by the 6th century Byzantine historian Procopius, whose Bellum Gothicum described the beliefs of a South Slavic tribe. However, as Marcin Blacha of CD Projekt Red said, “The truth is that every time we start creating some monster – like the botchling or a noonwraith – we don’t perceive this monster like pre-Slavic people did, because we have no idea what their perception of the monster was. We have the perception we were taught by the poets of Romanticism.”

Adaptations set in ‘The Witcher’ game universe – CD Projekt Red studio head Adam Badowski in response to the Eurogamer interview, said, “We want to develop The Witcher’s universe in other media, not only video games. We have Mr Sapkowski’s blessing and what we create is in line with his vision of the world, no matter how the saga will evolve. We want The Witcher’s universe to be a part of pop-culture like Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, and for our fanbase to expand rapidly. We just have to carefully and diligently do our thing.”

  1. 2011 – second video game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
  2. In 2007, Kuźnia Gier developed two card games based on CD Projekt’s The Witcher video game. One, Wiedźmin: Przygodowa Gra Karciana (The Witcher: Adventure Cardgame), was published by Kuźnia Gier; the other, Wiedźmin: Promocyjna Gra Karciana (The Witcher Promo Card Game) was added to the collector’s edition of The Witcher in some countries.
  3. Another card game, Gwent was released with The Witcher 3: Wild Huntas an in-game activity. In 2016 a stand-alone Gwent online card game was announced and then released as Gwent: The Witcher Card Game by CD Projekt Red.
  4. In May 2017, Sapkowski’s The Witcher was picked up by Netflix, to be adapted as a television series. Sapkowski will serve as a creative consultant on the project. The series of eight episodes is set for release in 2020.

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Recommendation: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt received critical acclaim, with praise of its gameplay, narrative, world design, combat, and visuals, although it received minor criticism due to technical issues, some of which were later patched. It received numerous Game of the Year awards and is considered to be one of the greatest games of all time. By August 2016, CD Projekt said that The Witcher 3 had received over 800 awards since its release.

The game was also a commercial success, shipping nearly ten million copies by March 2016. GameSpot and Eurogamer gave the game their highest rating.

In 2010, the game was included as one of the titles in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die

4.7 Stars: I must confess that I have been sucked into The Witcher world – hence this long post. Plus, my research is ongoing as a reader, writer and gamer. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is my first adventure in the world and the settings are brilliant. The storytelling is great, underpinned by reading the 1993 collection of short stories. Also, the side quests do tie into the overall world-building. The gameplay element was more complex than other games with a lot to learn and master. However, it was entertaining, and I got my partner hooked. As for its roots, well, that’s an ongoing quest.

  1. Setting: 4.75*
  2. Storyline: 5*
  3. Gameplay: 4.25*
  4. Entertainment: 4.5*
  5. Genesis: 5*

Alternative ‘W’ thoughts:

W as in When Women Were Warriors, the best trilogy since The Lord of the Rings, and also for Wonder Woman – the original comics, the classic TV series and the enjoyable 2017 movie.

+ ‘W’ Games played: World of Warcraft, which was my original W game – until the research started.

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