The developers of the open-ended RPG The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt describe their bold creation as a “morally indifferent” fantasy world, but it’s difficult to illustrate the true breadth of that claim. The world of The Witcher 3 is violent, desperate, dark, beautiful, and palpably old. It teems with quests and hidden dangers, alongside gritty heroes and the wrongdoers to match them. Playing Wild Hunt on PS4 for the first time, its world came to life in unexpected ways, but delivered a consistently rewarding introduction to a rich tale.
Those new to the Witcher series need not slink away, overwhelmed — The Witcher 3 is designed with you in mind. It begins with a prologue that deftly establishes the important characters and the stakes of the conflict around them. You play as a slayer of monsters — a Witcher — one in a long line of highly-trained, mutated beings that seek out and destroy threats against humanity. This background has gifted (or cursed) hero Geralt of Rivia with an unnaturally long life, and a set of skills suitable for his profession.
At the onset of The Witcher 3’s story, Geralt and his old master Vesemir are tracking a mutual friend (and in Geralt’s case, former lover) named Yennefer of Vengerberg. This raven-haired sorceress sent a cryptic letter to the pair and little else, leaving Geralt and Vesemir to track her down on horseback.
This scene quickly reveals the open world, which feels almost impossibly alive as Geralt and his mentor ride down dirt paths and weave through rich forests in search of clues. Peasants tend to their work, children dash through villages, and birds take flight from rustled trees. The attention to detail is admirable, and that extends into Wild Hunt’s combat system.
Danger lurks in all corners of the world, and comes in forms both human and otherwise. At the start of Wild Hunt, Geralt is armed with swords of steel and silver — best used to dispatch men and monsters, respectively. When in combat, Geralt can unleash light and heavy strikes, dodge in any direction, and parry incoming attacks. A perfect parry will result in a riposte (counter), giving Geralt a temporary edge over his opponent.
But Witchers have much more than blades to their name. Geralt’s order has a basic understanding of magic (simple gestures called “Signs”) and alchemy, both of which have a tremendous impact on combat. At first, Geralt has access to five Signs that can serve both offensive and defensive purposes. Quen, for example, forms a protective shield around its caster that can absorb one attack. Igni, on the other hand, casts a spray of fire before the Witcher in a glorious display of smoke and embers.
Geralt can also utilize a variety of potions and bombs to complement his swordplay. But keep in mind that reaping the benefits of alchemy requires ingredients, which can be scavenged from the world or purchased at one of many shops or inns.
The PS4 version of Wild Hunt looks gorgeous, whether Geralt is spurring his horse Roach through sweeping fields or just relaxing at the pub. The characters — including minor roles — are expertly written and acted, which bolsters an already impressive feeling of authenticity in the game world. In fact, some of The Witcher 3’s best moments come from random conversations between Geralt and the villagers, which give players several dialogue options for a branching narrative.
The team at CD Projekt Red has created something quite remarkable with The Witcher 3; a fitting endeavor, given the quality of the previous two adventures and the legacy that Wild Hunt will follow on May 19th.