Does it hold up? A feature where I have a look at games from the past and see if they are still as fun and playable now as you remember or if they are simply rose tinted memories.
I’ve never really ‘clicked’ with The Witcher until the Netflix TV Witcher series. Everything about it simply crystallised for me why the characters and universe are revered so widely and why it has lead to numerous books and three video games. I’ve played the first game a bit and found it less of a gem and more of a clunky Dungeon Siege feeling RPG. I’ve used the 2nd game as a way to benchmark a graphics card’s capability and never got past the first few hours of 3. The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt languished on the shelf until a few months back when I pushed on past the starting hours and didn’t stop until it was done. How did the experience hold up now that the game is on the PS4, PC, Xbox1 and Switch? Time to toss a coin at the PS4 and have a look…
The Witcher – Wild Hunt
The games title is technically both The Witcher – Wild Hunt and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Surprisingly this little detail signifies what you can expect going in: On the one hand everything is easily accessible to someone new to the series and on the other hand you can expect interactions with characters from the past 2 games. The Witcher 3 really does set itself apart from other Action RPGs by being a superb balance between the two. You control Geralt as an action game: running, leaping, parrying, casting magic and slicing, second by second trying to stay alive. You also control Geralt discussing issues with the current state of the political climate, managing potions, weapon degradation, eating, crafting, inventory and levelling up buffs. There is a lot to get to grips with in The Witcher 3 but this lends itself to feeling more involved with the world around it. You will be wanting to figure out for yourself what monster you are likely to fight beforehand so you can apply oil to your sword, craft the right bombs, equip the right bolts and be 100% ready for the fight.
It’s no surprise that The Witcher 3 commands a huge following. The amount of content in the base game is ludicrous and you’ll likely find at least one thing you really enjoy. Although you might see the same villager face hundreds of times the outfits are distinct and the voiced dialogue is impressive. Every location will serve multiple uses: Not only will you need to clear it of vermin to bring the people back, there can be noticeboards with quests, multiple side quests from npcs, monster nests, hidden treasures, collectibles, playing Gwent and even more. You’ll travel from one end of the map to the other and encounter an impressive number of unique things. The path Geralt takes is the most enjoyable part of the journey and this feeling is strengthened the more you play. The Witcher 3 is also absolutely stunning. It runs smoothly throughout and although there are odd glitches from time to time you will find yourself stopping for moments just to stare at how lush everything looks. The finer details, the designs at play and the colours are just otherworldly. The same can be said of the superb soundtrack and voice acting. There are some stand out tracks in this arrangement and some of the greatest acting to match.
The interactions between characters is where The Witcher 3 stands out the most. It’s incredibly refreshing to have a title reflect adult relationships as adult and (for the most part) not just have sex scenes as titillation. There are some very touching moments to be had in the back and forth between Geralt, Triss and Yennefer (yes I did romance Yennefer OFC) Aspects of The Witcher’s quests and side quests feel a lot like Mass Effect 2. You’ll find a unique character in a pickle, get roped into the problem solving, decide how to handle it, get a bit of combat, a bit of travel and if all goes well, a bit of a reward. Without even realising it you’ll be slowly building the story and backstory to some surprisingly fleshed out characters. The main quest may have Geralt and Yennefer racing after Ciri to save her from the Wild Hunt, travelling the world and picking up clues but the path along the way is brimming with possibilities and ridiculous encounters.
The Witcher 3 is not without fault and there is a disappointingly high level of sexism in the design throughout. There are more revealing outfits than I can remember and a high number of strumpets in every city. It’s very ‘old school fantasy’ in a lot of ways with Geralt being a power fantasy super hero character, slaying monsters and largely getting through the world by sleeping with every attractive woman along the way. Even Ciri has a topless scene and it makes narrative sense but it does feel more like fanservice than necessity. If you see the mod that has Geralt walk like a strumpet you can see what I mean more clearly. The camera lingers just a little longer than needed at times and it doesn’t spoil the game but once you notice how often it happens it’s hard to unsee. The female characters are badasses throughout but sometimes you can tell if the character is a powerful witch simply by the amount of clothing she has been given.
The Witcher 3 is definitely not ‘the perfect game’ and I feel like a lot of people that hold it up as such do so with a few massive caveats. There are multiple endings for the game depending on your actions and those actions aren’t all that obvious. All of the endings don’t simply ‘end’ but have a small quest (with more options) leading to the final scene and it feels like rather than sacrificing a players choice for a tighter ending you can end up with a resolution that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The pacing is a little wonky throughout the main story experience with the first hours a slow slog until you get into the swing of things and various arcs taking a lot longer than expected. The last few hours are rushed with multiple linear moments and there are also little cutscenes in the closing acts telling what happened to those characters. The Witcher 3 is a great game but the best moments are in the middle of the very vast story. When you’re in the thick of it and hunting monsters for coin, chasing after Ciri and getting snippets of side stories, not at the end where your choices will be all but forgotten in the DLC.
Does it hold up? – Of course it does but remove the rose tinted glasses first 8/10
Hearts of Stone DLC
The Witcher 3 had 16 extra bits of DLC added to it but Hearts of Stone was the first DLC expansion that wasn’t just an extra quest, item or little DLC added to the main game. The Hearts of Stone content is very clearly signposted during the main game experience and when you start the Witcher 3 GOTY it does give you option to go without and load it separately later. I started with everything included for the full packed experience and accidentally triggered the occasional scene for the DLC simply by following on through the main story. Thankfully it’s easy enough to leave the quest before it gets too heavy and get on with it after the main ending. Once you come back to the expansion you can find it quite jarring, travelling to previously unexplored areas of the main game’s map. These areas are now populated with various tasks and people. It results in a bit of bizarreness to the tale and some real bitterness to the story depending on how your main game story ending was. I know for my ‘worst ending’ Geralt was in no mood for the DLC at all.
As with the main story, Hearts of Stone has the same problems throughout. It’s all very interesting, unique and beautiful but depending on your choices you might get an ending that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Once again the only woman entering into the sewers to deal with a monster is cast as a medic that wears a plunging neckline and becomes a romance option. Hearts of Stone also assumes you know certain past characters and events from previous games and although you can look up all of these details in the in-game glossary it makes for strange moments where 2 long lost friends meet up and you as the player are a third wheel waiting for an introduction. Once you get past the awkward starts the middle of the story is incredible: A quest that goes very wrong very quickly, a wedding filled with silly activities and a darker tone, diving into a painting, investigating a haunting, entering an auction and dealing with a genie-like character full of mystery. Hearts of Stone adds new interesting variety to the equipment with the ability to enchant sets and monsters that take a lot more take down. I ended up again with what was classed as the ‘worst ending’ but unlike the main game this made sense to me given I don’t think Olgierd von Everec deserved redemption and given his past actions that option is ethically muddy at best.
Does it hold up? – A Master of Mirrors but reflecting a few more issues 7/10
Blood and Wine DLC
I adore the Witcher 3’s soundtrack and it surprised me when Blood and Wine started how the one track I’d loved the most was actually from this DLC. Toussaint doesn’t try to cover its inspiration with most voices having a French accent and the setting is clearly modelled after an idealised painting of French countryside. There is such a vast amount of content crammed into Blood and Wine’s new location it really could have been sold as a new game. It fits nicer with the main game’s story than the previous DLCs as you’re taken to this new location on request from the Dutchy. What’s a nice surprise is how well this expansion introduces its old and new characters. When Geralt meets Regis they have enough conversation to pick back up where they left off and you as a new player feel like you now know what to expect going forward. The story and acting in this expansion is gobsmackingly great. There are some staggeringly great lines, events and moments in the twisty tale that genuinely surprised and delighted. The new vampires are ludicrously powerful monsters that have reasons for actions and you’ll be lifting the luscious veil of the towns to see the darkness that lies beneath and stabbing it before the day breaks.
As with Blood and Stone the sheer variety of quests is staggering and you can expect to feel like you’ve played an entire new game but its biggest problem is the balance. There are some puzzles and monster encounters in Blood and Wine so overpowered you’ll be itching to look up a guide or killed in a single blow. The previous problem with multiple endings is greater with 8 different endings and possibilities within them. There’s a nice little closer waiting at your mansion that you can upgrade as a side quest throughout but if you check online you’ll see there were multiple nice closers you can get. Player choice is great but not when you miss out on so much content. If I was ever going to go back and play The Witcher 3 I would pack my saddle bags and head off to Toussaint. It’s the best of the bunch and the scene where Geralt looks at the player and states, “I deserve a rest” hits a lot harder with news of CD Projekt’s crunch. I think they definitely deserve a rest. The wine didn’t need crunch, it’s a full red bodied claret that slips down nicely and satiates any hunger for more.
Does it hold up? – Far too many possibilities but a delicious drink regardless 8/10
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