by Matthew Thompson
Overwhelmed. That describes how I felt during the first few hours of The Witcher 3. I pretty much never play RPGs and this is my first experience with The Witcher series, so it definitely felt like I was tossed in the deep end. I’m being introduced to characters I should probably already know. I’m taking on heaps of loot that I haven’t a clue what to do with. There are oils and potions and armors to create, the latter of which seems to be a seven step process. So yeah… overwhelmed.
There was even a moment early on where I almost threw in the towel. I had just moved onto the game’s first major area, Velen. I was tackling a quest with a sorceress pal named Keira Metz. I was in the middle of the closest thing The Witcher 3 has had to a dungeon thus far. I was underleveled and still struggling to come to grips with the combat system. In short: I was getting my ass kicked. I even resorted to running from an enemy at one point; a sad excuse for a witcher I made that day. But a few days off to cool down and a new commitment to saving between all confrontations, let me clear this hurdle. Soon enough I’d have a handle on things and truly begin to enjoy the game.
One might ask why I tried The Witcher 3 to begin with if it was so out of my wheelhouse. Well, new releases I have been interested in have been pretty sparse this year and I wanted a game to chip away at over the barren summer months. Most of all, the fantasy setting really appealed to me. It is no secret that in recent years I have really gotten into reading fantasy literature. It started with A Song of Ice and Fire a few years back and I’ve now read a handful of different series along with some short story collections for good measure. You’d think as a gamer, I’d be swimming in medieval fantasy settings, but not really. As a non-RPG player, they are kind of rare. And The Witcher 3 has delivered on this front and then some.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has one of the most well-realized open world settings I have ever experienced. Varied locations await you as you progress through the game’s lengthy story. You’ll ride on horseback through vast countrysides. You’ll run through the streets of bustling cities. You’ll sail between mountainous outcroppings out at sea. There is a brilliant sense of discovery as you explore the many areas of The Witcher’s world not knowing what you will run into next. And just as importantly there are actually things worth discovering. That might be a new bomb formula or just an interesting location, but I think it is the quality of the side quests that really help the world come alive. I’m so used to the lazy copy-and-paste side missions of other sandbox titles that I can’t help but be impressed with how worthwhile The Witcher 3’s side content feels. It is crazy some of the stories and characters they have developed for optional content. Admittedly some of it shoots off from people you meet along the main story path, but it is still commendable what they have done and it definitely adds to the incredible world they have created here.
One thing that has always kept me away from RPGs like this is how story-focused they are. Now I like a quality story in my games as much as the next guy (and the one here is great so far), but I tend to get a little bored if the majority of my play time is spent chatting with characters and stuff like that. Side quests once again show their usefulness when things get a bit too yappy for my tastes. I simply take a break and go after one of the Witcher Contracts. These tend to hone in a bit more on the gameplay sending you out to take down various monsters plaguing the denizens you encounter. The combat in The Witcher 3 is merely adequate most of the time, but it comes off best in these battles that often confront you with large beasts to slay like dragons and griffins. Being prepared for these fights is half the battle, so you are encouraged to gather info on your foe, get the right oil for your sword and so on. It helps add some greater depth to these confrontations. Hunting for witcher gear is another good way to get a break from the more narrative-focused threads as well, putting the emphasis more on exploration as opposed to the contracts’ combat. Both of these help me maintain a pace that works for me.
The Witcher 3 isn’t without its issues nor is it my ideal kind of game, but I have found myself engrossed in the grand adventure it presents, one unlike anything I have played before. I plan to create more posts chronicling my time with The Witcher 3. I am still working out the particulars, but you can expect to see more of my thoughts on various aspects of the game throughout the rest of the year. Thanks for reading!