Also available on Xbox One and Windows
The Witcher 3 is actually the first game in the series that I bought despite being the last game in the series that I played. It's a game that long intimidated me due to its gargantuan length, especially considering that I have the Complete Edition with both the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions as well as 16 more minor DLCs. A tall order of a game, to be sure. It's definitely a game worth playing, though, and well deserving of such a time commitment.
For those no in the know, The Witcher series is based on a series of Polish novels about the witcher (or monster slayer) Geralt of Rivia. This third entry does absolutely make reference to the previous two games, and while having previously played those two is not necessary to enjoy this game or understand its story, it definitely helps. There are, however, character entries in the journal and a location glossary that can help get folks who either haven't played the first two games or haven't played them in along time up to speed. Ironically, one of the things that makes the game approachable to those who haven't played the first two is one of the very few problems I had with the game - they leave out ENORMOUS chunks of narrative and context from the books. I've not read the books, so I don't exactly how much or what got left out, but I played both The Witcher and The Witcher 2 within the last six months, and there were multiple situations in which I had no idea what folks were talking about. Ciri, the central figure of the game's entire narrative, is - to the best of my memory - never mentioned in the first two games, but now she's the entire engine driving the story. The Wild Hunt had been mentioned as legendary wraith horsemen of some sort spoken of only in hushed whispers, but suddenly it's common knowledge to Geralt and his gaggle of friends that they're just douchebag elves from some other world. The problem is that - again, to the best of my memory - the player wasn't informed of that aside from just noticing that it's obvious to everyone else.
The combat and gameplay are much improved over the second game, and Geralt is an absolute treat to control. It doesn't feel nearly as forced and stilted as in the first game. The visuals are splendid, and using the PS4 Pro's boost mode ensures that the game runs at a silky smooth frame rate for almost the entire duration. The sound design, however, is what really steals the show in my opinion. The music fits the action and tone of the game better than most, and the ambient sounds of the world, be it the clopping of a horse's hooves or the gentle splash of the ocean against the shore, give the world a very real and organic feel. The voice acting, while not without its faults, is also quite good. I've been told that the original Polish voice acting is superior to the English, but as that's not an option on the PS4 release, I can't speak to that. My only real problem with the voice acting is less a flaw, per se, and more a stylistic choice with Geralt's characterization. He has that perpetually gruff, monotone voice that has become a bit of a trope for the rugged, tough hero. It's not that it's poorly done; I just think it limits how effectively and how deeply the character can be developed. There are few other very minor issues - some of the incidental NPCs' lines don't sound exceptionally well acted, but those are very minor occurrences that one will typically not notice more than a few times during a playthrough.
Turning attention to the two major expansions, each one contains as much content as one would expect from a full, stand-alone RPG, and the Blood and Wine expansion is longer than a lot of RPGs I've played. Hearts of Stone revolves around an enigmatic and terrifyingly devious otherworldly being known as "Master Mirror" and a man, seemingly immortal, who has entered into a contract with him and now depends on Geralt to free himself from Master Mirror. Hearts of Stone adds an enormous amount of content, but it adds that content to parts of the world that one would explore normally over the course of the base game. Blood and Wine, on the other hand, adds an entirely new area to explore - the Duchy of Toussaint. Not only are there TONS of side quests to complete in Toussaint and points of interest to explore, but the main story quest line is long and extremely well told with a narrative that will hook and fascinate players from the outset, not to mention the three possible endings for that quest line. In addition to all of this - and this was one of my favorite parts - part of the quests involve taking ownership of an abandoned estate in Toussaint, giving the player a house that can, to a certain extent, be customized and serve as a base of operations to rest and gain a few buffs.
The most impressive thing about The Witcher 3 to me was that it didn't wear out itself welcome. I've played games half this length that left me thinking "Okay, this was fun and all, but I'm ready for this to be over now" halfway through the game. I never experienced that with The Witcher 3. Certainly, there were games other than this that I wanted to play, but I never wanted to just quit playing this. That's a very uncommon thing for me when it comes to games of this length, and it was definitely a must for me to be able to make it through the game and all of the non-Gwent based side quests along the way.
Speaking of Gwent, there are a few minigames that you can play as parts of various quests or just for fun in the game. You have, of course, Gwent, a trading card game based on characters from The Witcher universe. It's a fascinating game and one that would do well as a fleshed out, stand-alone game (and lo behold, that's exactly what they ended up doing). In addition to Gwent, you've got fisticuffs and horseback races. While I ignored the Gwent side quests, I completed all of the fist fight and race side quests. They're not particularly complex - just beat the shit out of guys without weapons, armor, or signs; and ride your horse like normal but fast and on a set course, respectively. The fist fights typically just get you some money, but the horse races are how you upgrade your horse's gear - saddles for longer endurance, saddlebags for increased carrying capacity, and blinders to keep your horse from panicking as badly when either fighting on horseback or running through groups of enemies.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is definitely a landmark western RPG, and while it's not a flawless game, the whole is MUCH more than the sum of its parts. It's an experience that is distinctly unique and frighteningly engrossing. There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to massacre - you could play this game all day every day for two weeks and still have things left to do. If you're not a fan of MAJOR time commitment games or open world RPGs, then steer clear, but if those are your kind of thing, then make absolutely sure that you don't skip out on this game, especially with how good the value of the Complete Edition is.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.