The Witcher series has always been somewhat of an outlier in the RPG genre. Not because the games aren’t great (they are) or because the setting is completely different from every other RPG (it isn’t.)
The Witcher games are so different because they take the basic fantasy elements that hack-and-slash RPGs are based on and build a grim, gritty, realistic and beautifully written tale out of them. In The Witcher 3, enemies don’t explode into fairy dust and float harmlessly out of sight. Far from it. Heads roll, limbs are torn and innards are spilled. And yet, the game doesn’t revel in gore just for the sake of it. Each action, each death and each injury is backed by fantastic writing and great character motivations. In essence, The Witcher 3 is what RPGs would be if they were written by George R. R. Martin.
Even with such fantastic writing and mature themes, The Witcher 3 would feel like an incomplete experience if it wasn’t backed by fantastic gameplay. The gameplay is what takes the game to an entirely different level of excellence. The Witcher 3 is set in a huge, sprawling world, brought to life by stunning graphics, fantastic combat and deeply satisfying exploration. There are several emotionally charged moments in the narrative, even when you’re taking on secondary quests. You will reunite lovers, make abusive, tortured people see the light and several other quests which are much deeper than they might appear when you read the initial description. There’s a deep sadness running through the world of The Witcher, and every person you come across during your journey will reaffirm this through their story. There are no free lunches to be had here.
Once again, you’re playing as the troubled protagonist Geralt of Rivia. Your journey, through Geralt’s eyes, touches upon several existential themes in deeply profound ways. Whether you’re watching people get sentenced to death or fighting against the malevolent force of The Wild Hunt, The Witcher talks about consequences, death and violence in moving ways. The Witcher 2 talked about some of these themes, but The Witcher 3 explores them deeply. There’s still a lot of political unrest around, and your actions will affect the narratives of the highborn and common folk alike. The story binds Geralt in meaningful ways to all of the major characters, giving your actions an added sense of weight. In particular, Geralt’s connection with Ciri is one of the catalysts for the plot. In this world, much like our own, being respected as members of society is a constant struggle for women.
This is an important theme that runs through the plot of the game. There are lots of strong female characters, and they have crucial parts to play in the story. The Lodge of Sorceresses in particular has some memorable characters. Ciri herself is no slouch with the sword, and she can hold her own in combat without needing Geralt around. The Witcher series has never shied away from nudity and sensuality in general, and there are several scenes where you get up close and personal with the characters.
The sheer scale of The Witcher 3 is incredible, and not just in the “make a large computer generated map that takes a long time to get around” way.. Every new place you explore gives you something meaningful to do. None of the stories and quests you will undertake in these remote places are generic material either. More importantly, all of your quests have some impact, whether small or large, which ripples through the progression of the story.
Themselves involve the usual monster-killing, trail-following and talking that your witcher powers allow you to do. Geralt is a good investigator, but he’s a particularly brutal one. The combat is delightfully varied, either due to the kinds of enemies you face or the terrain itself. You could be tippy-toeing your way across a muddy swamp or waging all-out war against a horde of wyverns. Your dialogue choices also reveal Geralt’s own leanings – he doesn’t care about the politics too much if the money is right. He’s a stoic man, and it serves him well. You might find the combat slightly easier than it was in The Witcher 2, but that’s not a knock on the game. Magic is still a key part of combat. Even though he isn’t a wizard, Geralt will occasionally use magical powers to turn the tide of battle. Sometimes you need a large sword, and sometimes you need to shoot fire out of your palms. Horses for courses.
You will get lots of loot drops on your way around the world, which allow you to customize how your character looks and fights. There’s a fairly deep customization system at work here, and players who like to tinker will be pleased. Oh, and you can get a shave and a fancy haircut. Potion usage also plays an important role, and you’ll have to balance the risk-reward ratio for using a witcher potion.
The Witcher 3 is a remarkably beautiful game. Whether you’re looking at a vast landscape or crawling in a tiny corridor, the attention to detail is staggering. The lighting effects, shadows and audio cues completely immerse you in this violent world. By any standard of excellence, The Witcher 3 is an absolute classic. Epic battles, fantastic writing, fruitful exploration and gorgeous production values make this an absolute must-have for RPG fans.