Here’s why the “Skyrim-killer” will be exactly as good as that sounds
Epic. It’s a word often bandied around in games marketing. But by all accounts, CD Projekt’s hotly anticipated follow up, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is going to be truly epic. How big? Enormous. The scale of the new open world will dwarf even the mighty Skyrim by as much as a fifth, and developers have stated it will be a whopping 30 times bigger than previous Witcher titles. Of course, as any person with a Napoleon complex will tell you, it’s not the size that matters but what you do with it. But if the previous Witcher titles are anything to go by, this game will have depth as well as breadth, with great storytelling and compelling characters at its heart.
For the uninitiated, the series follows the exploits of Geralt of Rivia, a ‘Witcher’ – a professional monster slayer imbued with special abilities and enhanced reflexes – as he tries to navigate the moral minefield of a world wrought with civil wars, racism (towards elves and dwarves), and some fuck-off big magical beasts. But in Geralt’s universe there’s no bigger monster than the greed and lust for power of the influential.
Geralt’s abject disdain for politics strikes a chord with our own contemporary apathy, but does nothing to stop him getting sucked in anyway, forcing him to make complex choices at every turn which have real and lasting consequences. Players of the series have been drip-fed Geralt’s backstory, their decisions from the first game influencing the unravelling plot which looks set to continue for the third instalment. These are the real strengths of the Witcher franchise: a properly engrossing story populated with characters who always have shades of grey, driven along by tough moral choices that only the Mass Effect series can rival.
It’s refreshing in an industry so dominated by gargantuan American-based studios to see such ambition from an independent, European developer. The Polish studio draws from a different set of cultural influences than most triple-A titles and it shows. The Witcher universe is steeped in the deep history of Germanic and Nordic folklore in a way that feels more authentic than other RPGs. The humour is also decidedly un-American; dry, subtle and ironic as opposed to cheesy one-liners.
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CD Projekt should also be applauded for their approach to DRM and DLC, arguably the two most contentious acronyms in the games industry. They have pledged to release The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt free of any DRM whatsoever, a welcome boon for PC gamers still reeling from the debacle of Games for Windows Live and the clunky, awkward and at times prohibitive systems like Uplay and Origin. They also have a track record of releasing patches, improvements and extra content free of charge instead of the seemingly endless procession of paid-for DLC packs that are characteristic of other franchises.
So it’s upon these solid foundations which CD Projekt is building what could potentially be one of the games of 2015. The signs are promising, after the game received 55 awards at last year’s E3 gaming conference. Previous games in the series followed a fairly linear structure – quests could be completed in random order but players were restricted to a single area until the main plotline moved on. That’s all changed for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which will be a purely open-world format, with the introduction of horseback riding to ease transport. Provided this doesn’t hamper the plot and character progression, this should definitely be a welcome improvement, allowing more freedom and making the game world feel more alive.
The developers have promised 50 hours playing time on the main plot alone, and as long as 120 hours once side quests are taken into account. You might want to book next February off work now and start working on your cover story for friends and family.
Judging from screenshots and teaser trailers, the graphics look to be pretty breathtaking and truly “next-gen”. Based on the proprietary REDengine 3, we’re being promised no loading screens despite the vast scale. The game has been built with the new consoles from the ground up, and won’t be available on last-generation machines. Whilst this will alienate many, for PC, Xbox One and PS4 gamers this is quite exciting as so many current releases seem hobbled by the need to run on hardware which is nearly nine years old.
The plot will follow where the second game left off: with the Northern Kingdom’s in disarray and at each other’s throats, the great empire of Nilfgaard is invading from the South. But an even greater threat looms. The Wild Hunt, a ghostly army of spectral riders from another world – who Geralt’s backstory has been interwoven with from the beginning – are ready to unleash hell on this war-torn land. And it’s up to a lone monster-slayer to sort it all out. Or rather, it’s up to you exactly how it gets sorted out, with the development team teasing the prospect of more than 36 alternative endings. That’s more than you could shake a silver sword at.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is certainly shaping up to be a title that’s simply too epic to fail.
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Images: CD Projekt.