Man, Geralt gets all the girls. Hard to resent him, though. When you live a life as bleak and bloody as his, you can’t begrudge him even a little bit of sunshine and happiness.
That’s what stands out the most as you wander around CD Projekt Red’s open world epic: the Northern Realms are not a happy place. Everywhere you look, there’s war, there’s famine, there’re monsters, and there’re angry people looking to beat you up with sharp objects because of some combination of the above. Calling The Witcher III beautiful would only be correct aesthetically, and that’s part of what makes it such an amazing experience. Here is a fantasy world that is seriously dark, and you’ve been thrown into the middle of its darkest hour. It’s fun, but it ain’t happy.
The Witcher III begins as the realms are embroiled in war, a culmination of events in the first two games. Geralt’s mission now isn’t as grand in scope as it was in the previous installments. He begins the tale looking for his lost love, Yennefer of Vengerburg, and later, his adopted daughter, Ciri. The story is very much a personal tale as Geralt seeks, in all possible connotations of the word, the people he loves. It just so happens that the apocalyptic, dimension hopping army from before, the Wild Hunt, is seeking Ciri too. Because, you know, epic fantasy.
The premise of the Witcher III may be dark and intense, but the gameplay is as smooth as butter. Swordplay is gorgeously animated, and controlling Geralt is intuitive and easy. If you want there to be more to your martial exploits than hacking away with shiny backclubs, there are magical signs, rote spells. At higher difficulty levels, mastering all of these available tools is essential to your survival. Geralt moves well, and riding his horse, Roach (all his horses are named Roach) is as enjoyable a transportation mechanic as I can remember in a fantasy game. Fighting and exploring is, after all, most of what you’ll be doing in the Witcher III. I can safely say it knocks both out of the park.
This is an RPG, and an RPG means advancement, growth, and change for characters that drive the narrative. As Geralt completes quests and contracts and slays monsters, he grows stronger. This is reflected by distributing points to improve his various abilities. The player can either make his signs stronger, improve his attack strength or defense, or any number of other things. There is a large variety of paths you can steer Geralt’s development down, and this customization of sorts is a fantastic way to up the replayability.
Crafting is another big piece of the Witcher experience, as it seems to be in most all modern, open world RPGs. CD Projekt’s take on it is as rich and fulfilling as any I can remember. Geralt can make almost anything, from swords and armor, to potions, to mutagens, making himself stronger and more versatile. Getting better equipment and having the right potions is as important as leveling up when it comes to surviving this world, so crafting becomes far more than simply an exercise undertaken to clear inventory space. I liked having to gather ingredients for a potion much more when I knew I needed the boost it provided to help me overcome a particularly nasty monster.
The storyline is plainly, fantastic. It’s at once intimate and sweepingly significant. It has missions that take us into the politics and history of this gritty world, and those that let us get closer with the important characters in it. The Witcher hugs a grey line of morality, often offering you choices that are either extremely difficult, or not what they seem. It’s often you’ll end a quest questioning the decisions you made during it, and I love that. This is rarely a world of heroes and villains, but one of grim realities, and those who work to make their mark in it.
When you just need to make a quick buck without having your conceptions of right and wrong challenged, Witcher contracts are available throughout the world. It’s a nice change of pace to hunt a particularly dangerous foe for some desperately needed coin. The stakes of the adventure, no matter how high they seem to raise, don’t suffer from such intense, occupational activities on the side.
The graphics are stellar. I noticed some framerate issues and some laggy loading times on the PS4 version, and while this was often a bit jarring, it never broke my immersion or lessened my enjoyment of the experience. The sound design aided greatly in immersing me into the world. The music fits the tone and aesthetic of the Northern Realms perfectly. Overhearing conversations of villagers as I passed by was frankly awesome. The sounds of combat were sharp and satisfactory, and the voice acting was, for the most part, top shelf.
The Witcher III is CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece, and it shows off the high level of skill and commitment they’ve increasingly brought over the course of their flagship trilogy. It’s a triumph, a fantastic character study nestled within a fun, bleak epic fantasy so alluring and deep that is has already drawn me back for seconds and thirds. Once I sunk my teeth into the world of the Witcher, I couldn’t pull away.
About Our Rating System:
The Loresworn Order reviews games, movies, TV, books, and music on a four-point scale.
- No Medal, “Not Recommended”
- Bronze, “Okay”
- Silver, “Good!”
- Gold, “Great!”