It’s fair to say CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3, has met with universal acclaim. The hype train was building since last year and it appears to have delivered receiving a few perfect scores from reputable sites like Gamespot. However, my first few hours with the game on PS4 left a very different impression on me, than what I expected.
To begin with I have no idea how anyone can review a game the size of The Witcher 3 in such a short space of time. The game is simply massive, Coming in at a reported 200 hours. To put that into comparison with recent games, I saw the end game of Dragon Age Inquisition after 60 hours. This piece is certainly not a review, more of a warning about the incredible expectations this game has riding on it. Coming into this game, I have had some experience with The Witcher 2 on xbox 360. I found it brilliant in storytelling and tone, but horrible in combat. When I heard the new game had improved the combat, I was more than ready, when it arrived this week.
The first issue I encountered was more of a PS4 issue than game, but I will go over it anyway in case it affects anyone else. On PS4 you need to wait until the full game has installed before starting. I know this may sound basic but when a game says ready to start, I tend to start. If you don’t the game freezes at a loading screen, just after the first cut scene. There’s no explanation why, and after waiting 45 minutes I started to worry. Simply close application and wait.
The game begins with the aforementioned cut scene, fast-paced and beautiful, it had me ready to dive in straight away. With, the changing combat, I decided to go through the tutorial. I was in for another shock. The sensitivity of the character is almost unmanageable on default settings. The slightest twitch on the left stick throws Geralt into a sprint in that direction and a tap of the right sends him spinning so much, it can be disorienting. Thinking this was something I’d get used to, I persevered. The combat tutorial convinced me otherwise. While the combat is greatly improved, the sensitivity needed to be reduced to minimum to make the game control, like the third person adventure it is.
Continuing to the game proper, the lock on system for combat can be a little tricky. You lock on to one enemy, but very rarely do you fight small groups. the combat is challenging even on the normal settings, so you ma find yourself getting hit a lot more than you should. The L2 button can be held to keep your guard up and tapped to parry. Parry is difficult when fighting a group so it is best to guard and dodge or roll. Any hit from an enemy, does significant damage in the early game, so it is best to check up on Witcher mechanics before wading in. The problem however, is guidance. Witchers can, oil their weapons to fight different enemies, take potions for specific foes and use different creations from the extensive crafting menu. I am about 7 hours in and haven’t had these all explained properly. In case you think it is me, I am a side quest completionist so It is a design thing.
The Witcher can also us his ‘Witcher sense’ by holding a button, objects of interest in the area are highlighted for further investigation. This has already been used to brilliant effect in side-quests, that are genuinely interesting and complex. The mechanics of the ability are a bit tricky. When this is activated the camera zooms in behind Geralt. If you are using this while moving, say following a footprint trail, it is easy to get lost and lose sight of your target. It’s a minor issue, but with a game so immersive, it really grates at the beginning, especially when some of the items are small and you need to be looking right at them to interact.
The game also introduces you to a collectible card game called Gwent. This Hearthstone-esque game has you travelling around the world, beating other Gwent players and collecting cards for your deck. It is good enough to be a game in its own right but there is another glitch that ruins this. When finishing the game and hitting pass, the game crashes to dashboard. This seems to be only on PS4 but it isn’t great. The workaround seems to be losing the first time you play, then returning later and winning. This is the only Gwent issue I have come across so far. The fact that gwent seems so wonderfully thought out makes it frustrating that this simple bug might put people off it.
In a way that summarises my first few hours with the game. In it there is the potential for the 10/10 game to emerge. The characters are brilliant and not stereotypical in any way. The quests feature genuine grey areas of choice and the combat is meaty and visceral. Heads, arms and torsos get split and the bodies crumple in a satisfying way. There’s no pint in gritty realism if you are going to wimp out on the combat. The systems in he game are truly next gen, I had to stop on one quest and just stare at the wind effects. I realised that I hadn’t seen wind in a game like this before. The trees flapped about as the wind battered them, the clouds closed in and the whole world was dull. By contrast, the setting sun blinds you as you ride into it and the effects remain in cut scenes. One in particular had me talking to soldiers and the light blinded me as it shone behind them and glinted off their armour.
The collectibles in the game range from armour and weapon schematics to books which reveal secrets of enemies and beasts, so you can defeat them in battle. I can see myself becoming obsessive in the quest to collect them all and fill my bestiary.
So there you have it, my first few hours with the game. It doesn’t begin as the all conquering game that other outlets may have you believe. I found it gets off to a very shaky start, persevere and the majesty of the game will begin to hook you, just make sure you don’t write it off before it gets a chance to. Let me know your first impressions in the comments.