Of all the games I saw and played at Gamescom this year, none grabbed me by the testicles, demanding I played quite as much as The Witcher 3. It blew my eyeballs out of my head when I saw it at running at E3 last year, and it’s done so once again.
We sat down in the darkened, theatre-like booth, and watched a 45-minute live demo of the game. So yes, none of us have yet played the game, but we’ve been able to see it running, on a big screen, right in front of our own eyeballs. Matthew sat next to me, agape, his jaw very nearly on the ground. It was his first experience of The Witcher, and he pledged afterwards to buy everything CD Projekt has ever made.
It starts off with Geralt, the Witcher; a mutant trained from birth to hunt and kill monsters. He’s sat atop his horse, the head of a dead Griffin strapped to his mount. It’s obviously some sort of trophy, something he needs to pass on to somebody else to finish a quest. He’s on his way to Novigrad, the game’s largest city. He needs to head there to find information, and as he saunters up to the city, the level of detail is immediately striking. It’s visually resplendent.
It’s home to thousands of digital inhabitants, a full living and breathing city. Fishermen go out to sea, merchants ply their trade, blacksmiths sharpen swords and children play silly games and make up equally silly rhymes in the city’s cobbled streets. They all react as you’d expect to the time of day and the dynamic weather, heading indoors when it gets dark, scrambling from the rain.
Geralt’s looking for an “ashen-haired” woman, and to find her, he needs information. That information, for now, comes courtesy of a man named Dikstra from within the city. He in turn sends Geralt out to another district, a war-ravaged no-man’s land of a swamp, Velen – where he’s to look for a small boy like creature known only as Johnny. It’s half-way on the other side of the map, and according to CD Projekt RED, that trip, on a horse going at full speed the whole way will take at least 20 minutes if you don’t stop for any activities along the way. This being The Witcher of course, you will.
On the way there, we see a number of creatures and beasts – and just like the people of cities, the fauna have their own lives, hunting and foraging. There’s an entire ecosystem at work.
Using his heightened tracking abilities, he quickly locates the creature, who happens to be little godling. His voice is gone, and after a bit of a tit-for tat or two, the quest sees Geralt taking on a swarm of harpies with one of the new weapons in his arsenal; a mini crossbow. It’s great for taking out flying enemies and other creatures from mid-range. The whole combat system’s been given a bit of an overhaul, making it far more fluid and responsive – which is one of the major complaints levied against the game. He can even use the crossbow mid combo, using switching to his sword, and flinging out Igni, his fireball spell in succession. In The Witcher 3, quest, begets quest, begets quest.
He’s now freed Johnny’s voice from the Harpy’s nest, and Johnny sends him further on his path, to an old woman who speaks to three witches through a magical link with a tapestry., and the witches get Geralt to go even further…I’ll not spoil the rest, but I will say that the choices you make will have overarching, potentially devastating consequences on the game. I’ll also let you know that you’ll be treated to some of the most delightfully dark, twisted and macabre character design you’ll ever see in a game.
CD Projekt promises that there are no invisible barriers in the game; Geralt is now able to clamber up rock faces, jump over obstacles and even swim to find new locations. If you can see it, you can reach it, they say. We’ve heard that before, but I have a feeling that this time, It won’t be an empty promise. CD Projekt also says you’ll be able to tackle the game however you see fit, and that there will be “absolutely no linearity between key points”.
“Epic” is an overused word I’m loathe to use when describing games, as they’re usually anything but. This time though, its use is justified, and The Witcher 3 is real epic fantasy.
Last Updated: August 19, 2014