The start of something beautiful
I came into The Witcher 3 having played bits of the two first games and absolutely loathed them. It wasn't ideal, but after falling in love with games like Amalur and the latest installments of Fallout I was more than keen to scratch that action rpg itch with something that seemed just casual enough for my taste.
I practically live here!
As a person born and raised in a Scandinavian country, it's hard not to get a little bit excited about the prospect of riding through what might as well be your own back yard sans the griffins and drowners. As Geralt you're put in this world to find Ciri and fend off the Wild Hunt while you're at it. It is semi-open in nature which means you can't simply point to the horizon and go «I can walk there!», you will have to fast travel to some spots. If the lack of that Skyrim level of freedom is a deal breaker, I urge you to not give a shit and play it anyway. While there are places you'll have to fast travel to, the space in which you're in at any given time is almost always huge, and you'll spend so much time there that this isn't really an issue. The plains of White Orchid and Velen, the bustling city of Novigrad and the countless islands of Skellige are all part of a rich and fleshed out world that not only feels lived in, but is filled to the brim with adventures to discover. Ciri and the Wild Hunt might your main objective, but getting deep into the distractions is where Witcher 3 really shines. Simply raiding a notice board of its content will increase your to-do list with quests, question marks to explore and new monsters to slay. It doesn't take long before the repetitive nature of the question mark events get tedious, but stumble upon a proper side quest and you might be gone for hours. A simple fetch quest is never just simple in Witcher 3. It will have you find people, search for clues and and discover new places. At one point I decided to seek out and visit all spots on the map that contained buildings, and ended up in a mysterious ruin where I found and investigated some clues and ultimately had to teleport into a completely new space filled with puzzles and mysteries. This setup isn't unique to Witcher 3 by any means, but I dare say the quality and the work put into it just might be. There is so much attention to detail to every quest, and such convincing voice work for almost every NPC in the world that it's baffling to behold. When they spun the 200-hour-content-PR-offensive they weren't actually kidding.
The main story is compelling and good. It's easy to get distracted from it, but the story beats are usually big enough that you can keep track of where you are and what's going on even though you just decided to wrap up 4 witcher contracts, find that hidden treasure and play and obscene amount of Gwent – the game's amazing primary extra time sink in the form of a card game. Occasionally you'll be put in the shoes of Ciri who posesses a different set of abilities and this is fine, but you'll soon be aching to get back into Geralt's shiny armor where you have the choice of doing whatever you want and not be pushed into a predefined direction.
Behold, I carry signs
Geralt's combat abilities are made up of good old sword fighting and a set of spells called signs and you'll be throwing them around a lot. You also have a crossbow whenever you feel like chilling out at a distance or bringing down pesky flying beasts. On normal difficulties you'll be able to pretty much stand up against everything as long as you evade, parry and attack in a reasonable fashion. It's when you up the ante that the systems within Witcher 3 really pays off though. Reading about the monster you're about to take down in your beastiary will teach you what oils you should make for you sword and what signs can weaken your enemy, all of which are necessary strategies when your opponents suddenly start pushing back. It's a good and fun system, and not overly complicated which makes setting people on fire very accessible.
The invisible man
You can't play Witcher 3 without stumbling over some pretty serious hiccups though. Even when writing this review a pretty long time after release, the game still lacks finesse in some of the essential parts like the hopeless inventory system. Character movement has later been improved, but that doesn't keep your horse from getting stuck into absolutely everything, and movement itself still feel imprecise and floaty. This means trying to point Geralt in a certain direction to interact with one of many objects available to you can be infuriating. Thankfully the frame rate got improved at day one, but it can get a bit hairy when there's a lot of stuff going on, particularly in battles where you absolutely don't need it to be. Having characters completely missing from a scene happen, and sometimes they don't even pop in at all. My last complaints are absolutely grounded in my very own preferences in games of this genre and does not affect score. For example I shouldn't complain about too much content, but I can't help but think that the huge amount of bandit camps and guarded treasures could have been swapped out for more varied content or maybe skipped altogether. There's just too much of it and stumbling upon another one is boring, specially when you want to uncover as much as possible and be excited about it. I'm also not a huge fan of equipment deteriorating. It's a rote mechanic that does nothing but interrupt my playthrough and doesn't really serve any purpose other than be annoying.
But does Witcher 3 scratch that itch? Undoubtedly. There are so many sights to see, so many interesting people to meet and a ton of the best crafted side quests in the genre. If you're like me and never got properly into the two first games, don't let that keep you from experiencing this one. It's solid despite some technical issues, and future patches promises to address these. Weekly DLC has been released since launch and future expansions promise to be the size of Witcher 2 so you can only win by sticking to this one. Also: Gwent.