It may seem a bit strange to review a game that’s seven years old and released on last generation’s consoles. It would be remiss to say, “Why not read a review of this from then?” or just point to all of its Game of the Year accolades. But that wouldn’t be fun nor a testament to just how good The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is. Yes, even after all of this time.
For many, this was their first proper foray into the Witcher series. Whilst that might seem odd, it’s not a game that punishes those for missing out. Instead it welcomes then, taking them along for its staggeringly deep world and story it tells, even before the two expansions on the story. For me, this was my Skyrim, racking up two hundred hours of Geralt’s monster hunting and world saving shenanigans. So it must be good, right?
Short answer, yes. But let’s look into why it’s deserving of your time, either going in new or revisiting the world of Velen in this upgraded version. Gather your twin swords and potions, we’re going in.
A Bard’s Tale
You’ll have to forgive me when it comes to recapping the story, however. Those two hundred hours certainly weren’t learning the various histories and world building events, instead more exploring and hunting. Suffice to say that by the third game in, a long and well-spun story is on display here. There is… I just don’t remember it all, nor would spoil it here.
There’s a war going on, between the empire of Nilfgaard and Redania. Tensions are high, as are relationships strained between varying species on the continents. Elves and human cohabitation has always been awkward, but more so now, for example. Geralt is summoned by the Nilfgaardian Emperor to find his daughter, Geralt’s former ward, Ciri. But what sounds so simple becomes far, far more complex as events unfold. Ciri has gifts, gifts that a sinister bunch known as The Wild Hunt are after. What starts off as a search and rescue mission soon becomes a much larger tale of saving the world and whatnot.
And that’s before the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine come into play. The former involves dealings with sinister characters, the latter chucks vampires and pretty landscapes into proceedings. Yet it’s not just the main stories than form the bulk of The Witcher’s gameplay and world building.
Hunting Off The Grid
Normally in RPG’s, it’s the main story that makes up the focal narrative point, with side quests just padding out the run time. Whilst there are a few quests here that are just filler, that cannot be said for the majority of Witcher 3’s content. It doesn’t mean it detracts from the main story either, by the way. It more… compliments it, making it a huge experience that fills the world it lives in.
For example, most RPG’S and/or open world games will have side quests. However, most of them are mere fluff, little experience traps to break up the monotony of story grinding. Whilst The Witcher 3 does have some of them, they are massively overshadowed by the majority of its quests. We’re talking ghoul-hunting, throwing babies in ovens (yes, really), romantic pursuits, magical lamps…
The list goes on, and that’s just the main game. The two expansions are also crammed full of deviations with rewarding narratives. It’s hard to explain without rambling or spoiling, but in short, the districts and areas here feel lived in. The game is at its best when players play it organically, taking in views and villagers asking for help.
It’s one of the reasons my clocked in time was high: because I travelled on foot/horse everywhere. To take in events at whatever time of day. To fast track everywhere is to do the game a disservice, as going off the beaten track is a reward in itself. I lost hours on one quest, forgot my main drive until someone mentioned Ciri, that’s how engrossing it can be.
Blunt In Tone…
As any modern RPG of the last two decades has it, dialogue in The Witcher 3 is played out with multiple choices. Not all, mind, but I’d wager a good 70% (or at least expansive/exposition choices). However, whilst it may seem like a black/white, good/bad kind of system, the narrative here is much deeper. Without wishing to spoil, we’ll use an early game example.
The first main story chunk is that of the Bloody Baron. A right arsehole of a tyrant, he wants Geralt to find his wife in exchange for news on Ciri. Now, logic dictates that in most RPG’s, you can be noble and helpful, or cause a ruckus and beat it out of the man. Or betray him, or something along those lines. Not so, as it transpires.
There’s some crones (again, keeping it light on spoilers) that seem like right shits. For the most part, they are. Yet they point you in the direction of something bothering them. So naturally, if they’re shits, it must inherently be a good nuisance. Once found, Geralt is tasked with killing said nuisance or helping it out. In my first playthrough, I’d was impartial and stuck the course with the crones. It worked, as such.
But on my second, I decided to side with the “wronged” party. It had a negative-ish ending to it, but (and this is important) it didn’t change the outcome overall much. Now, whilst that sounds inconsequential, it proves a salient point: witchers themselves are neutral, but the actions players take will affect them, if you follow. It’s been hard not to spoil, but that’s the magic of this game. Choices and consequences do matter, but not how you might think.
…Eloquent In Battle
The complementary veg to the story’s meat is the combat. Now, those who did play it originally will remember that it wasn’t without fault. Whilst it was in real time, there were some odd delays with swings and many, many collision detection issues. Fortunately, way before this, CD Projekt Red were very hot on patches for it all. Now, it’s nought but a memory.
Swordplay is the main tenet here, with archery and bombs bringing up the rear. On a basic level, Geralt is more than capable of taking on several attackers at once. Blocking, countering and finishing moves are all par for the course. But the finesse is that each aspect can be tweaked to suit each player. Want to stand back and favour explosions? That’s an option. Prefer using magical signs and wreaking havoc that way? Sure, invest in those skill trees.
Personally, I like the swordplay. Being Jedi-like with a sword and holding my own against groups of bandits never gets boring. Depending on what difficulty you have it, it can be a walk in the war-torn park or a tense battle each time. There’s so much variety, especially when players take the time to work on armour and builds for their witcher.
But then, this isn’t a walkthrough. You don’t need to know every facet of potion-brewing and what is the best witcher school armour (it’s Cat, by the way). The best way is to learn by doing. No, you want to know if a seven year old game is worth it in these modern times.
Is It Real, Or A Glamour?
In this current time, there are so many remakes and remasters of varying success. Some are projects of care and respect, others are farted out retreads with some HD upscaling for nostalgic profit gain. Here, thankfully, The Witcher 3 is treated with the former. CD Projekt Red have been touting this next gen version for a while, not resting on their laurels and just porting it.
For one, it looks incredible [but take in to account it’s seven years old]. There is a ray tracing visual mode, but only at 30fps. My TV doesn’t like it, so I favour Performance mode and that result above is more than passable. Character models have been jazzed up, with clothing looking like the texture it’s made of. Armour glistens and muddies accordingly, with faces bearing the burden of toil.
The lands look great, with barely any pop in on long draw distances and spanning vistas. I haven’t gotten to Toussaint on this new version yet, but I’m excited for when I inevitably do. In short, the quality of life improvements here are more than a quick polish from the Polish. Is it completely without fault though…?
Some Toxicity Seeps Through
As with any massive game, there are inevitably times when glitches or anomalies occur. On release, The Witcher 3 wasn’t on par with Skyrim’s bug-fest, but it had some glaring ones. Occasional hard crashes, clipping through the lands, that kind of thing. I can safely report that in my time with it, I had no major issues. The odd model clip, like above, Geralt’s knees spacking out when standing on different levels, but nothing terminal.
However, that doesn’t mean to say it’s a completely smooth, flawless ride. With ports/remasters comes the warts and all from original code at times, with this being no different. As I say above, nothing “game breaking”, but a few weird moments not unlike those 2015 days. Characters occasionally walking through rocks, enemies ragdolling skyward from a sword swing, that kind of thing.
It’s nothing that I’d want to complain about, because I know a game of this scope is going to have a slight wobble or two. Does it drive home that it’s an older game? Well, yes, but I bet it’s a lot more polished than most recent offerings have been.
Isle Be Back
Given that the game has been covered many a time since release, there isn’t any need for me to go too deep-dive in all its aspects. You want potion guides, or the best oils? There’s guides for that. No, the reason you’re here is to find out if it’s worth returning to Skellige, Toussaint and the like after all these years. Of course, if you’ve read this far, then the bias is clear.
As I said, this is my Skyrim. While some consider that the grail of western RPG’s, I can’t get into it. Yet the irony of that game being ported more times than Resident Evil 4 (or at least tied), and yet this only once, is a testament to quality over quantity. CD Projekt Red may have been hounded over Cyberpunk 2077’s release, which you should play now on current gen, but this is clearly a passion project of theirs.
The improvements on display here are gorgeous, with me genuinely stopping and taking in the views as I travel. That same wonderment I had back on its release is still there, rekindled with modern trappings to please the eye. Will I put the same amount of time in, or even more and eke out every aspect of completion? I can’t say, but considering I’m enjoying it all again rather than cruise through the campaign, signs point to yes.
And if you need anymore convincing, it’s free if you’ve got the original, or you can pick up the Game of the Year edition for pennies and upgrade that way.
A welcome update, The Witcher 3 is just as magnificent and engrossing as it was seven years ago. It looks beautiful, but still retains that rusty charm that sometimes creeps into a game so massive. Given that it’s a free upgrade, there’s no better time to get back into the world of Geralt and the Wild Hunt.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt – Complete Edition is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X and PC. All original versions are entitled to a free upgrade via their respective stores.
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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