Our old friend FuryAc3 spends some time as a Witcher.
2015 see’s the return of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a gaming series that has been on the rise and a journey to behold. From respected PC RPG to the new triple-A next gen title looking to challenge the likes of Dragon Age and Skyrim this year. The game had its world premiere first play in Stirling a few weeks ago and we got to have some hands on time with it, to see just how it’s shaping up and if it should be on your most anticipated list for the year.
We were given the chance to play through two sections of the game, the first being the tutorial section at the beginning of the game and its surrounding area which clocks in at around and hour to an hour and a half in gameplay.
The game starts off as the last installments have with an epic cut scene which sees Geralt of Rivia, the series protagonist, tracking Yennefer of Vegerberg across a battlefield. As he moves through the remains of the battle, he has flashbacks to what Yennefer actually did there to track her movements. The stand out point in the cut scene has to be when Yennefer is confronted by a huge hulking barbarian. Let’s just say after what happens between them you’ll never look at a crow again in the same way.
Once you get to take control of Geralt you realise just how big and open the world is going to be from the get go. You can travel in any direction you like in the area. Though beware, if you do run off on your own path there is a high chance of you running into a group of enemies who are a much higher level than you. Though CD Projekt RED say that no matter your level you can defeat most enemies in the world, it may take time but it is possible. The first real moments of the tutorial sees you having to rescue a trader who is being attacked by a griffin.
It’s at this point you see why the game is called Wild Hunt as it features a real rouges gallery of monsters from Harpies to Leshen. The team at CD Projekt RED have really delved deep into the mythology of lots of different cultures to bring together some of the ferniest beast you’ll fight in gaming.
Hunting the griffin wouldn’t just be a case of going to find it and fighting it. What you have to do is research its hunting grounds, ask villagers who have seen it and try to find its nesting site to find out what its weaknesses are and where is the best place to fight it.
I asked Jonas Mattsson, senior environment artist, if there are any monsters he felt that were missing from the game or if there are any plans to add new monsters in the future as DLC?
He started by saying “If we were ever to bring in new monsters at any point then they will be free DLC, because the team don’t want to charge for small additions to the game. As it stands with all the monsters in the game we are happy with the amount and variety that the player will face.”
I then asked him if he had a favourite monster in the game. “Yes, it’s called a Fogler and they are found in foggy swamp areas and they try to attack you from out of the fog and for me it’s a very creepy monster to fight.”
I also asked if the day and night cycle will effect enemies by making them stronger or weaker? “The werewolves for example are stronger at night than during the day but as a Witcher you have to plan when to kill your prey and when it is at its weakest. The weather also affects the game in general, as it is not just a cosmetic effect to look and say it’s pretty, it will affect how you tackle missions too.”
The combat in the game is just as fast paced and fluent as the last two games, seeing the main combat focused on switching between your steel sword, which is powerful against non-monsters and your sliver which is deadly to monsters. Add to this the embalming system that returns from past games, which lets you cover your swords in different oils to give you different buffs and boosts.
You also have an array of spells you can use in battle to give you an upper hand and tactical edges. They range from pushing enemies back to being able to cast circles around them, which slows them down. Add to this that you also have crossbows and grenades as well and the combat is showing that it has a great depth to it in the amount of combos you can use in battle to gain the upper hand.
The key to winning in combat is to know just what weapons and spells are most powerful against the enemies you’re fighting. To help you with this, the game has a vast journal system full of hints and tips to help you when you are in combat which is updated as you adventure around the lands.
A big part of the game, besides the main storyline campaign itself, is the side quests that you will be asked to take during the game. Unlike most game that just throw side quests at you, which sometimes feels a little jarring, the Witcher 3 has a very organic system in handing them out as most of them you will find from just walking around the world. Once you have, you then find that they are more focused on the area you are in, than having to have you back track half way across the map. You can also find jobs to do on a bulletin board in the centre of most towns and villages.
An example of this is a side quest that sees you having to help someone whose wagon has fallen into a swamp. Though all is not as it seems, as what starts as a rescue mission soon turns into a double cross as he is actually a thief and is looking to sell the contents of the wagon. At this point you have two options, first is to get paid and split what you find forgetting the incident happened, or the second is to confront him and then have to chase the bandit until he returns to his camp.
This sort of organic free flowing mission shows real promise and is definitely a strong point to the game, as it’s a change from the standard style sub quest that so many games have.
I asked Miles Tost, the level designer on the game, how the team tackle this new style of side quest? “We treat every quest alike whether it’s a main quest or side quest, there’s a lot of love that goes into the quests in the game and we hope you can see this when you play. There are not just point A to point B quests that the game can mix it up a little when you’re playing through a quest to keep you on your toes.”
As level designer, how do you describe what a level in the Witcher 3 is like as it’s such an open world game? “Well you could say a cave is a level in the game or an interior of a house could be a level. Also I hope you like the interiors in the first section of the game. I make sure that there is a lot of detail, whereas other games maybe have very empty interiors but that’s just a side note though one of the buildings in the first section has a small Easter egg to be found. So it depends on the state of development what I am doing from planning out the route of a quest, to design the side quests in that area then down to what you’ll see in that area like trees and caves, so it can range from the large details in the game right down to the smallest.”
How did the game world evolve when you were designing it? “Well a lot of people ask what came first, the world or the content? Well it’s the content that came first and we outline the main quests and because of this we feel we have hit a soft spot with the balance of the quests in that they never feel repetitive. This is because we design them first and then change the world to work around them. This changes the shape how we made the locations as some of them are described as swamps but when it came to gameplay you don’t what to be walking through a wet swamp for too long. We added things like trees and abandoned villages to add depth to the location for example.”
The second section of the game we got to play is set several hours into the main game and was located on the Skellige islands. This is a very Scottish themed area in the game taking place in a huge castle in the Kaer Trolde region of the islands and seeing the Viking-like NPCs wearing traditional Scottish kilts and tartan. This part begins with Geralt attending a banquet in the grand hall of the castle held by his friend Crach to celebrate his children’s glorious return to convince the jarls to vote for them. Though this turns sour very quickly, as a pack of huge bears attack the banquet, leaving a trail of destruction and Geralt having to work out just how and why this happened.
This part of the game played out very differently to the first which was a lot more combat focused, whereas the second half was more like a detective section like you would find in L.A. Noire, seeing you having to use your Witcher vision to follow a trail of clues from blood stains to hidden safes to get to the bottom of the incident.
It was a welcome change of pace to the standard hack and slashing of monsters and demons and it also lets you see more of Geralts character as it was focused on him solving the incident and having to talk to a number of other characters to gain the information he needed.
Though not playable when I was playing the game, it will feature a second playable character that is called Ciri. She is the adopted daughter of Yennefer of Vegerberg and although very little has been said about her, she will be playable at points in the game, like how Catwoman was playable during Batman Arkham City, and will give you a totally different view on the events that are happening in the world.
Overall from what I played, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is shaping up to be one of the smash hits of 2015 with its 50hr estimated campaign completion time and its countless side quests with an epic scale in both combat and story. If you like RPGs and are looking from something to get your teeth sunk into, then the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt should be on your radar.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is to be released on the 19th of May for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.