Home Gaming The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Preview – Witching Hour

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Preview – Witching Hour

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Walking through the streets of Warsaw, the PR head at CD Project Red explained to me how important The Witcher is to the people of his country. It’s a franchise held up as a national treasure – a gift that the president himself gives to visiting dignitaries. To the public, it’s a national symbol – a piece of literary and digital art that they can proudly point to and say “this came from home”. To say that creating a fitting conclusion to such a renowned franchise is stressful would be a gross understatement.

Except, that’s exactly what CD Project Red look dead set to achieve – and with a certain sense of ease too.

Sitting down to start a four-hour play session of The Witcher 3, there were a few things I expected. The numerous gameplay trailers and showcases had left little for me to discover on my own, a thought that immediately crossed my mind as the familiar opening sequence loaded up on the Xbox One, pre-gold build. Geralt, and the world of Novigrad, looked as spectacular in person as it has on the internet – but that was essentially where the similarities ended.

The Witcher 3 Preview 1

Spectacular is an appropriate word to describe just how breathtaking the world of The Witcher 3 is. Running what is essentially the worse of the three versions (since the Xbox One will only handle the game at 900p), Novigrad was dripping with details in every nook and cranny it could find. Lighting bounces off puddles created by your trotting horse (aptly named after Roche from the previous game) [Update: It’s actually named after the Roachnis, which is explored in the literature. Thanks anonymous hero commenter!], while the blowing wind adds the sense of a cool breeze to the abundance of foliage around you. The Witcher 3 often looks like a moving oil painting rather than a photorealistic recreation, and the atmosphere you get sucked into is all the better for it.

Things got even more impressive when getting up close and personal with the delightfully grim inhabitants of the lands Geralt explores. Facial animations are better than I’ve ever seen them in a game here, with subtle movements suggesting emotion where no script can go. This goes hand in hand with now predictably excellent voice acting, which brings together the old casts and mixes it with new, often established gruff voices (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance is absolutely superb, in case you had any doubt).

The Witcher 3 Preview 2

But The Witcher has never been about style over substance, and that wasn’t the case in the limited time I had with the game either. Following a much improved tutorial – played out during a flashback that gives a heap of context to the story – you’re given absolute free reign over where to go and what yo do. Maps are sprawling, and it’s one of the first times where I felt every inch of it could realistically be explored. Should you see a mountain top in the distance, you can bet there’s a track leading up there. Smoke from nearby villages invites you in, opening up even more juicy activities to get your monster hunting claws dirty with.

Walk up to a notice board or citizen in need, and you’ll quickly fill up your quest log with many errands to run. CD Project Red have been critical in the past of filler, fetch quests that most plague RPG titles and so it was easily my most anticipated facet to give a go. Getting my fill of monster hunting contracts, I set out to hunt down a particularly nasty Moonwraith, who had been denying access to a nearby well. The well is, incidentally, the only source of water around – since the rest of the streams have been run dead with the blood of those standing up to the invading Nilfgaardians. This was all established before the quest even began – in full, via dialogue, from the contractor in question.

The Witcher 3 Preview 3

Side quests in particular setup their own little micro-narratives that all weave into one another and impact the small villages you’ll trot endlessly to and from between. Sticking with this Moonwraith in particular, the quests began with a small confrontation at the well, followed by more savvy monster-hunting skills in the form of investigations. Geralt’s Witcher Sense highlights important items that helped me piece together the reason why the Moonwraith refused to leave the site, directing me to a bracelet that would allow me to finally send it on its way to the next level of life. The effect of this side quest became immediately apparent around nearby settlements, as folks thanked Geralt for his aid and even gave further insight into the horrific murder that took place there.

At first it seems like a higher-tiered side quest than most, but my next one was very much the same as far as quality goes. Here, a simple wolf hunt with a fellow hunter lead to an enticing exposition on what it means to be a monster, with Geralt identifying himself as one of the kin. The hunter, in retort, explained how his label of monster came about because of his sexual preference – which again tied into another little narrative tit bit that the previous Moonwraith story touched on. These slowly started to form a compelling history of the area I was currently exploring, and it sucked me in like no other RPG ever has. The story-telling, even in this small sample, was nothing short of exquisite.

The Witcher 3 Preview 4

The same could be said for the small slice of core narrative I was treated to, which wasted little time to get really interesting. This concluding chapter is all about finding Yennefer, after the amnesia-ridden Geralt managed to get back on track after the last game. Many trailers have teased her major involvement in the narrative, as well as that of former Witcher apprentice Ciri. Without giving too much away (even though I wouldn’t consider it a spoiler), a lot of what was thought to be the main narrative drive actually resolves itself in the opening few moments. Relationships between core characters was vastly different to what I expected, and the path I was set upon near the end of my play time teased me with a far more tantalizing tale than a simple cat and mouse chase. CD Project Red have been purposefully misdirecting their intention with this concluding chapter – which leave many unanswered questions before launch.

As for the aspects that haven’t changed too much, combat is relatively familiar in The Wild Hunt. It’s still all about fast strikes gracefully paired with perfectly timed parries and desperate rolls out of danger, although it does feel a bit tighter than the previous outing. What does change is the way alchemy and health are handled, with the biggest coming in the form of consumable potions during battle. You’ll still have to meditate to concoct them before engagement, but downing a pitcher of milk or Cat potion can now be done at any time. And it’s a good thing too, since Geralt’s health does not regenerate anymore. In fact, I often died for the simple reason of not remembering to meditate before a fight – which was equal parts engaging as it was irritating. It takes a fair amount to get used to after playing differently for so long.

The Witcher 3 Preview 5

And if there’s one thing that can be said for certain about monsters in The Witcher 3 (as well as pesky sword-wielding humans), it’s that they pack a hell of a punch. The Withcer 3 is a difficult game, and playing on the mild Normal setting saw me handed my armoured ass to me on several occasions. It’s down in part to the heavily tweaked Sign (or magic) system, which has now become an integral part of combat. The five Signs of old are still present, but carry a greater weight this time. For example, not throwing a shield over myself often lead to massive losses in life, and not making full use of Igni (fire) or Axii (Geralt’s force push) made my repertoire feel half empty. Signs were nice to have earlier on, but they’ve become an inescapable part of Geralt’s combat system this time around – which also adds nicely to the strategies you’ll need for different types of creatures.

The Witcher 3 Preview 6

It’s probably the biggest change to the remnants of The Witcher 2’s influence over the series, which still holds a surprising amount of weight on the game overall. CD Projekt Red might have ditched the smaller, focused hubs for a large, streamlined open-world, but none of the DNA that made it one of the best RPG experiences of this generation have really disappeared. Narrative strings fly loose in the wind, but all seem to end up tying themselves up nicely with each other – giving the sense of a strong, interconnected world throughout. These four hours are only a sliver of what the entire game has to offer, so for now I look forward to seeing if this high standard of quality is sustained through the suspected 200+ adventure.

There is one thing that I am absolutely certain of though: I was excited for The Witcher 3 before, and I’m even more so after getting my hands on it. CD Project Red may just have their best title yet waiting for us all.

Last Updated: April 27, 2015

29 Comments

  1. Nice write up! Didn’t play 1 and 2 but 3 is starting to even make me anxious to play it. I am even keeping my internet line on uncapped till after the Witcher so that I can download it without any hassles over how big it is.

    Reply

    • Tyler Richards

      April 27, 2015 at 17:52

      No joke dude, I had bought the Witcher 1&2 Enhanced Editions on steam in a sale for like 7$ total and never thought of playing them untill I saw the first trailer for 3. Against my feelings on watching a play through of an entire game I did for the first installment for lack of really wanting to play that far back for some odd reason and then actually started up the 2nd and have already put 30+ into it only just now getting to the 2nd (technically) town and have absolutely became enthralled in it storyline and setting. By far my most favorite story and the gameplay is pretty solid even with the pretty well pre-determined sword play. It’s a pretty massive world that you can easily loose yourself in just like that of Skyrim and I most certainly would recommend anyone to play it! Besides all that, with playing it you get to choose how certain things pan out in 3 by what you do in the previous installment just as the 1st to the second, as well as your characters lvl and abilities I do believe. Sorry for the rant but I hope it helps haha.

      Reply

      • Jonah Cash

        April 28, 2015 at 08:35

        I got 3 for free with the PC I had built, but I am sure I would have bought it in any case. If I read this article correctly there will be a sort of look back at 2’s events? Lets hope so, because I don’t have the time to play it at the moment and want to get 3 on my PC as soon as possible. I am currently busy with the Mass Effect series, which is my first play through and I am lost in that world for now!!

        Reply

    • Krabby Paddy

      April 27, 2015 at 18:40

      I would recommend playing the Witcher 2 if you have the time (which I know can be hard to come by). If you’re into reading, give the books a go, they’re quite good (although as fantasy goes I won’t rate them as the best I’ve read). My guess is that one will most likely appreciate and get a bit more enjoyment from the game if you have some background knowledge. Just a recommendation. Either way, even if you come into the Witcher 3 having no prior knowledge of the world and characters I’m sure it will be well worth every penny and time spent. A hype train crash seems highly unlikley from what has been shown thus far.

      Reply

      • Jonah Cash

        April 28, 2015 at 08:40

        I am hoping that they have a bit of a recap of the events of 2 in 3 to be honest. I am playing Mass Effect for the first time and I don’t want to give that up at the moment! Currently on the second game 12 hours in and I have a lot of missions left….

        Reply

        • CDoubleV

          April 29, 2015 at 06:58

          Speaking of that, can’t wait for Mass Effect 4. My favorite RPG’s have to be Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Skyrim, Mass Effect 1, 2 (Best), 3, and The Witcher 2. Still never played Witcher 1 because of the dated graphics and combat system. Witcher 2 doesn’t have the best graphics, but once you get 3 hours into the game, it sinks its teeth into you. Some awesome crazy plot events in the Witcher series that you don’t find anywhere else.

          Reply

          • Jonah Cash

            April 29, 2015 at 08:50

            Let me just get the first 3 out of the way before they release 4 ๐Ÿ™‚
            I am busy with 2, 13 hours in now and still lots to do. I like the games very much so far, 100% my type of game. Sad I missed them when they released, but now I can play them one after the other which isn’t bad at all.

    • ReaperOfSquirrels

      April 28, 2015 at 07:58

      The Witcher games are awesome. I’d recommend playing 1 & 2 if you’re going to go and get 3. Unfortunately I don’t think you’ll have enough hours to play through the first 2 before 3’s release.

      Reply

    • Kronos0999

      April 28, 2015 at 10:13

      Beware,man.I said pretty much the same thing you said and I was surrounded by pussies who started moaning that I should play Witcher 1 and 2 first as I am not a true ‘fan’.

      Reply

      • Jonah Cash

        April 28, 2015 at 11:09

        Hahaha. Oh I have a ridiculously thick skin, there is no one I know or have met that has changed my mind for me… Oh wait my 5 year old daughter pulls me around by my nose! But she is the only one.
        I hope the game has a quick recap mode somewhere…

        Reply

        • Theatticusera

          April 28, 2015 at 11:28

          I hear they’re making it accessible to newcomers as well as good for witcher veterans too so I’m sure there’ll be a decent recap. I only played the 2nd game so I watched a recap video for the first.

          Reply

        • GotNews4Ya

          April 28, 2015 at 11:36

          Your 5 year old daughter should tell you to play the Witcher 1 and 2.. Not because you aren’t a “true fan” or anything like that.. but because they are both fun and have rich stories.. I had never even heard of the Witcher before 3 was announced.. seeing how I was a Sony console owner most of my life.. and rarely played PC games outside of RTS’ or MOBA’s.. So.. When I checked them out via Let’s Play.. they really made me want to play them myself.. and boy was I never more right! They were amazing, and It just made the anticipation for the next one even worse, considering how great the story has been in the previous games..

          I just recommend you atleast checking out the Let’s Play’s like I did.. so you can get a taste of the Witcher before it comes out.. I even went as far as borrowing my Nephews Xbox 360 and trading him my Xbox One for a week to play The Witcher 2 on a Console.. lol

          Reply

          • Jonah Cash

            April 28, 2015 at 11:54

            I am currently playing Mass Effect trilogy for the first time, so I am pretty much rapped up in that at the moment. I have always been told to play 1 and 2 just never got round to it. Getting 3 for free, so I will see how it goes. If there are too big plot holes I will stop and play 1 and 2 first otherwise I will just continue on my merry way with 3!

        • Kronos0999

          April 28, 2015 at 13:16

          Yeah,it has the prologue thingy at the beginning of course.Man I pre-ordered this game about a week ago and I cannot and really I cannot wait for it to come.
          PS-give some hugs to your daughter for me,will ya?

          Reply

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    Reply

  3. Guest

    April 27, 2015 at 18:04

    Roachnis not named after Vernon Roche from the second game. In the books Geralt stated that all his horses were named Roach before he even met Vernon.

    Reply

    • Krabby Paddy

      April 27, 2015 at 18:57

      True, I suspect though that a lot of people who haven’t read the books will make this mistake. It is however somewhat fitting that the names are similar, as it does not seem completely out of character for Geralt to call a horse after Roche seeing how his relationship with Roche was portrayed in the second game.

      Reply

  4. anon

    April 27, 2015 at 21:56

    So stoked for this game!

    Quick question though… Am I the only one who can’t make sense of this sentence: “CD Project Red have been critical in the past of filler, fetch quests that most RPG titles and so it was easily my most anticipated facet to give a go.”

    Reply

    • Jonah Cash

      April 28, 2015 at 08:38

      If I understand it correctly it goes something like this: CD Project Red have had a lot of negative things to say of games that use the same “fetch” quest to make a game feel bigger… so he wanted to go and see if they are falling into the same trap or if they are making side quest bigger and more part of the games story than the other developers.
      Hope this helps.

      Reply

      • anon

        April 28, 2015 at 16:06

        I see now. I think they left out the word “use” after “most RPG titles”. Thanks!

        Reply

  5. Michael Mullis

    April 27, 2015 at 22:42

    So how exactly do you know this was the “worse of the three”, just because it will run at a lower resolution? You’ve seen the other versions to know what the framerate, AA, AF, controls, audio, etc: look like to compare?

    This thing where resolution is the be-all-end-all of what makes a game “worse” is what’s wrong with the gaming industry today.

    Reply

    • toko

      April 28, 2015 at 00:00

      Well, if the other “parameters” weren’t in serious danger, they wouldn’t have lowered the resolution, would they?

      Reply

    • Da Guest

      April 28, 2015 at 07:21

      you’re whats wrong with the gaming industry today, fool

      Reply

    • Thijs Van Abs

      April 28, 2015 at 23:51

      I can see where you’re coming from with this. PS4 has had (maybe still has) its fair share of games that lacked proper AF, so while that same game was 900p on the X1 and 1080p on PS4, X1 did have the AF. Let’s say for example the AF on PS4 version of W3 is not as good as it is on X1, it becomes a bit tricky on what to call the worse version. Or how about framerate? Maybe there’s more fradedrops on PS4? Is that the worse version then?

      Let’s just say this. If you don’t have a full hd tv (and plenty of people still own a hd ready tv) they won’t even notice the difference between 900p and 1080p. Even if you do own a full hd tv but it’s smaller than 50 inch, you won’t be noticing any difference. From what i have read on several sites, people, tests, you’ll notice the difference on screens 50 inch or larger and even the distance you sit away from it matters.

      I only have the X1 at this moment and i will buy the game for that one. I’m not even going to see the difference, because it will be the only version i play. I DO sometime want to see the true difference between the two resolutions, cause i’ve honestly never seen it.

      Reply

  6. chimera_85

    April 28, 2015 at 08:13

    Eish now still 21 days to release ๐Ÿ™

    Reply

  7. Spaffy

    April 28, 2015 at 08:23

    I have my leave days lined up for this ๐Ÿ˜€

    Reply

  8. vapidwolf1

    April 28, 2015 at 10:37

    Nice to know the xbox one version is fantastic,and as he said supposedly the worst version,as we’re not allowed to see the ps4 version until Microsoft says we are this is good news.

    Reply

  9. MrVux007

    April 28, 2015 at 10:48

    And this is why I hope they make a Witcher collection for consoles

    Reply

  10. SargonTheBatpandaOfTI5

    April 28, 2015 at 11:17

    This is going to be amazing. Really really amazing. Cannot wait.

    Reply

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