Geralt of Rivia is a professional monster-slayer. He’s also the creation of Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski, who has written several novels featuring the mutated hero. The novels were good enough, even when translated into English, to see the character transfer mediums to the world of gaming. Geralt made his first gaming appearance, courtesy of Polish game developer CD Projekt RED, in 2007’s PC-only release The Witcher, popping up again in 2011’s The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
Now, if you missed the first two, you missed out. The Witcher was a buggy but ambitious first outing for CD Projekt that nevertheless managed to entertain and enthral. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings took everything that the developer did in the first game and polished it, resulting in the tight, varied and wholly entertaining (even on multiple playthroughs) adventure that gamers lost themselves in. And, come 19 May this year (after more than enough delays), you can expect a similar leap from the second to the third game in the series.
What else can we expect from The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt? Aside from the storyline that is, which sees friend Geralt in search of the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg and the origins of the Wild Hunt, which is causing more than its fair share of trouble in the Northern Kingdoms. Well, we’re going to get to explore these locations properly. Here are five reasons you’re going to love doing so, as well as two reasons that – while awesome in themselves – should terrify you a little bit.
Things To Love
1. It’s Freaking Massive
The Witcher and The Witcher 2 were role-playing titles, a genre traditionally limited in terms of location and exploration options. The first two games were tightly-scripted and, while there was a lot to see and do, you were still being led on a path by the developers.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is doing away with the limitations you’d expect from an RPG in favour of an open-world setting that can be freely explored by the player. The most notable game to take this route of late is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim but Witcher 3 has a bit of ambition behind it. The game-world players will explore is some 30 times larger than the previous Witcher titles and it’s also supposed to be around 20% larger than Skyrim‘s playable continent.
2. Your Choices Will Matter
Players are used to having the illusion of choice (looking at you, Mass Effect 3), where you can make decisions that eventually lead you down to a predetermined conclusion. Let’s face it, its hard to get away from that but the Witcher series has been trying its damnedest to make it possible to have a truly dynamic sotry. The Wild Hunt is set to step up the impact of player choice, with multiple pathways through everything from the simplest fetch-quest to main story events being a feature.
How they plan to allow players to explore this massive open world at their leisure while still retaining a coherent story remains to be seen but CD Projekt have delivered on their promises in the past and there’s no reason to expect anything different here. The series is famous for its shades of grey, where the obvious solution isn’t always as obvious as it might appear. We’re expecting them to turn that up to eleven for this outing.
3. Grown-Up Gaming
The Witcher series has been unusual in that it doesn’t shy away from nudity and sex to the extent that other games do. They’re part of the scenery in these titles but these events are never treated like smut or something to be avoided. So… er… yeah, expect more of that in The Wild Hunt. You can actively seek it out, if you like, but odds are it’ll just happen. Unless you say no (yes, you can do that).
But The Wild Hunt is about more than just bed-time activities. The themes that Geralt encounters on his adventures hasn’t changed much: Racism, murder, genocide, as well as anything in between, are the order of the day. Geralt will find himself having to make choices between factions, races, ethnicities or just two people that don’t have a clear answer to their problems. You’ll wind up learning about yourself, and your own prejudices, if you’re paying close enough attention.
Long story short, put the kids to bed before venturing into some very mature storytelling. Unless you’re prepared for some difficult questions headed your way, of course.
4. Combat For Everyone
Enjoyment of a game usually depends on how you can play. Do you go all-in, taking opponents head-on and absorbing whatever damage they can dish out, relying on your own ability to whittle down their health before yours expires? Do you hang back, taking pot-shots from range and eventually taking down enemies without putting yourself in too much danger? Or do you plan ahead, using potions and oils to give you an edge, like some fantasy version of Batman?
Whichever one you favour, the option to play in one (or multiple) veins is available in The Wild Hunt. And you’ll have to, because enemies are going to require various tactics in order to take them down. What works on one is not going to work on another, unless you’re tanking like a er… tank. And even that might not be enough.
Sword-based combat has been tweaked, though it’ll still rely on the steel (human) and silver (monster) swords. The game’s Signs, or magical abilities, have been expanded, with an all-new set of options coming for gamers to master. And potion, bomb and oil-making are still present, with a new Witcher Senses ability bringing everything together.
5. (A Lot Of) The DLC Will Be Free
One thing that CD Projekt RED is known for is being especially awesome when it comes to extra content as well as their approach to DRM (digital rights management). This time around is no different, as there are at least 16 piece of downloadable content coming to Wild Hunt players post-release. These will be steadily doled out to players and will be mostly cosmetic in nature – letting you customise the look of Geralt of Rivia. And his horse. As well as other main characters. But there’s at least one new section of gameplay coming gratis.
But CD Projekt will be charging for some additional content, in the form of the The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Expansion Pass. Why are you expected to pay for this little thingy? Because it’ll include an additional 30 hours of gameplay, divided up by Hearts of Stone (10 hours) and Blood and Wine (20 hours). These post-release sections will take players to No Man’s Land and Oxenfurt, in the case of Hearts of Stone, and Toussaint, a new game area, in Blood and Wine. Yeah, they can charge us for that – it’s still longer than your average game these days, after all. Expect Hearts of Stone in October 2015, while Blood and Wine will only release in 2016.
Things To Fear
6. It’ll Look Amazing (If You Have The Hardware For It)
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is going to look incredible. But not every platform is equal and while the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game are going to be visual feasts, the true banquet is going to be on the PC. Why? More powerful hardware, that’s why. But you’re going to have to make sure that your rig is up to the task.
If you’re after the best-looking game possible, you’re going to need a PC with: an Intel Core i7 3770 or an AMD FX 8350 processor, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia Geforce GTX 770 or an AMD Radeon R9 290 as well as around 40GB of hard drive space. At least. Time to look for a computer upgrade – you have a month.
The reason for all this hardware is the stated aim of the game: An open-world adventure where every area can be traveled to, without having to resort to load times. At all. When you factor in the graphics, draw distance and characters on-screen, as well as all those NPCs wandering around, The Wild Hunt is going to be a resource hog.
And let’s not forget the smaller touches, like a working economy based on resource availability which will give players a reason to travel around this gorgeous setting, even if it’s just to act as a trader in order to save enough cash for that next armour and weapon upgrade. The day/night cycle from previous games returns, dynamic weather will be a feature, realistic shadows will be all over the place and you’re going to be taking to the water with underwater locations, oceans and islands to explore. That all takes power and it’s going to look best on the PC.
7. Gameplay Should Run 200 Hours (And There Are 36 Different Ending States)
This pretty much speaks for itself. A playthrough of The Wild Hunt will take you at least 25 hours, if you happen to know all of the shortcuts and where to go. So, basically, you’ll need to have worked on the game. But a more realistic length, accounting for distractions (of which there will be many) will be 200 hours on a single playthrough. And since there are going to be multiple endings, along with “something like 36 states that the game world can end in”, according to level designer Miles Tost, there should be quite a lot of replay value. It’s a time-sink, and one that will be very hard to pull out of. At least three playthroughs will be in order, for good, evil and neutral. We’re not even going to consider the various permutations possible right now.