Witcher 3 Technical Oriented Review
As a gamer with a technical background I am fairly tuned in to the game that I play. I watch how events interact, characters walk, overall game play mechanics, and various things mainly because I find that some of these plague most games, and occasionally I find that real gem of a game that accomplishes many technical feats, like Witcher 3. In writing this review I wanted to give you a technical overview of the game without spoiling too much of it.
My intentions are to help you decide if the Witcher 3 is a game that you might like to play, before you buy it. I do not want to dazzle you with fancy hype words and hope you get a down to earth helpful review.
Saving, Loading and Pathing
The first topic is game saving and loading. The saving of a game is very fast, however for some reason the loading can be very time-consuming. This makes for cheap saves and expensive loads, and loads happen on death. I am sure there is a very good technical reason for the long loads, and the development team likely had little choice, but I am sure you will notice the long loads. For some people these may not be much of a problem. If you are like me, you'll be fine, as I have a lot of patience.
A very common problem, especially in games with complex scenes or worlds, is pathing. It can make or break a game, and in Witcher 3 it actually does what I consider a fantastic job, however there is some noticeable pathing issues in certain situations, but these resolve within a few seconds. I am impressed and enjoy the ability of enemies to path to my position no matter where I climb, jump, or run too, however there are instances where it is obvious that Witcher 3 falls short of an absolute miracle of pathing, however despite the falling short of perfection it still results in a very enjoyable experience.
What About the Dialogue Choices?
The dialog choices are very nice and full featured. I find that there is generally an option to just about any major stance or action, however at times it feels like I am prematurely led into making decisions. The dialog may give you an option to make a deal with a character, but exactly what this deal pertains to you have no idea.
In most cases Witcher 3 does a good job as it usually gives you a second chance to undo the decision you made in some unknown way, however overall I would say the dialog choices and interaction are very enjoyable and fun.
For the combat system, one of the problems of the game is any lack of real difficulty. The AI is nothing impressive, except for the fact that it does lack any major glitches or bugs, which is really nice. However, the combat is fairly standard and once you grasp the hang of it you essentially use the same tactics against all foes. Witcher 3 does offer some challenge when facing multiple foes, but you mainly end up kiting and leading the enemies off single file.
An aspect that I did find very interesting is that, with the difficulty turned up high, most monsters (even ones lower than your level) can kill you in a few hits.
I would have much enjoyed if the AI was more intelligent with group tactics, which could result in Drowners (aquatic looking monsters) for instance refusing to de-group to some extent, and instead forcing you as the player to attack, however you will not find this behavior. An aspect that I did find very interesting is that, with the difficulty turned up high, most monsters (even ones lower than your level), can kill you in a few hits. You're surely not going to just walk up to any monster and stand there while you turn your back and talk on the phone to find you're still alive, in other words.
In Witcher 3 you will fight many dangerous monsters that you may want to refer to as bosses, however the game in many cases makes no visual sign that you are actually fighting a boss, which is really nice and makes the entire game feel more dynamic and free-flowing. There is usually a cut scene before any major or possible difficult battle. Most bosses seem to mainly have high health levels, which is nothing impressive since this same technique has been played out in many games before.
Chewing the Scenery: Environments and Regions
The world environment is massive and highly detailed, while the graphics give everything a beautiful realistic look. It is a very enjoyable to just explore and walk through the towns. You can easily find highly reflective and realistic looking puddles in the town roads. The glare of the sun is impressive, and the lighting and shadows are very detailed and realistic looking.
I am not normally that impressed by graphics and I get more enjoyment out of good game mechanics, but I do have a high respect for a world where time and attention have been invested to make it detailed. A lot of games you may find try to impress you with the latest graphics technology, but Witcher 3 does not just try to impress you, but instead blows you away with the beautiful orchestration of it.
...Witcher 3 does not just try to impress you, but instead blows you away with the beautiful orchestration of it.
Also, I have read that the world is larger than Skyrim and from personal experience I would agree. If you have never played Skyrim then do not worry because the world is so large that you will find it very difficult to visit all the places in it, and in the end you may end up skipping many places just because of the sheer size. The world also features different biomes, and one of the most appealing factors was that even different parts of the same forest have different looks and feel, and this gives the world a memorable look. You can actually just about tell what forest just by looking at the trees and landscape.
You will find minimal guidance in the game for which area you should be playing in, and this makes the game really rewarding by allowing you to forge your own path, however it may prove frustrating for some new gamers. Luckily, for new open world players, the first region of the game is fairly centralized with most of the lower quests near the center, and as you gain in power you can venture out further.
This makes the game really rewarding by allowing you to forge your own path
However, in other regions you will find a slightly irregular pattern to questing. For instance you may accidentally skip an area with quests you could do, or you may even find yourself a little confused as you accidentally wander or find yourself in an area with quests that are difficult. I find that this design is more positive than negative once you get comfortable and learn to enjoy doing some exploration.
The entire world is actually separated into regions. From my experience and opinion it seems as though only the region you are currently playing in is actually loaded. This means that townsfolk are not running around in other regions, but it does mean that they may be going about their scripted or quasi-intelligent daily duties in your current region. I suspect that the game relies heavily on scripted sequences as anything else would be ground breaking, computationally expensive, and almost unheard of in main stream gaming.
The good news is that these regions are massive in size. At first I was not impressed to find the starting region to be what I considered a little small, but as I progressed to the next regions I was truly excited and happy about the massive size. I am sure the developers would have loved to create one massive region, similar to Skyrim, but due to technical restraints including load times and hardware limitations it forced them to "regionize" the world to some degree, and I find this acceptable and still enjoyable.
For characters and objects I found that the repetition was very little. However, there are some cases of it, for instance there is a specific traveling merchant that appears in many locations at the same time. This may have been intentional, but feels a little strange, and you may notice a few of the townsfolk in the world repeated across the different towns.
Every part of any forest, plain, field and mountain looks different.
The good news is that your going to have look hard and be very attentive, unless of course you have read this beforehand, then you might be likely to spot it easier. The plants and vegetation are also very complex and unique, or at least they seem by all my inspection I could muster. Every part of any forest, plain, field, and mountain looks different. You can just about tell what part of the world you are in by looking at your surroundings and that is something for a world this large that is difficult to do.
Questing, Time and Gear
The quests are interesting and fairly unique. I find that even though the basic lower level mechanic is fetch and kill that Witcher 3 does a really great job at making it not feel like a fetch and kill type questing system. This is a fantastic accomplishment, and it may have a lot to do with the excellent storyline, even for optional side quests. You will also find an enormous amount of side quests which will keep you busy for hours. The number of quests are also so great that if you try to do them all you will find yourself well over powered for the main story line, which I found enjoyable, and beneficial.
Time progression in Witcher 3 is realistic. You have beautiful sunsets, sunrises, nights, and days. The changes in time are realistic and the time period of the sunset and sunrise are very realistic feeling, although I have not actually tried to time them. Also, it seems that events can happen anywhere in the region you are currently playing in. This means that if you free a captive from a bandit camp then you can watch him walk all the way back to his home.I am not sure if he would have been instantly teleported to his destination, but it at least made me feel like that as I traveled miles south of him that he was actually still walking toward his home in real-time. The meditation feature is available, which helps to recover health, and it is very helpful since some parts of a quest only happen at certain times.
...but it at least made me feel that as I traveled miles south of him that he was actually still walking towards his home in real-time.
The gear in Witcher 3 is nice and the names of pieces of equipment is interesting. However you will find the usual system of striving to simply acquire the next sword with higher attack power or the next piece of armor with more defense. Most gear comes with various added stat modifiers which make an interesting experience, and can lead to some significant play styles, however for most gamers you will simply be doing the same technique you have done in many games before, which is just finding the higher level piece of equipment.
The character progression system is interesting. You have a few different skill trees where you can place skill points. You gain skill points on level advances and upon finding places of power. The interesting part is that out of the roughly 70 skills you can only ever have 12 equipped at once time, and early in the game you have as few as 3 slots. You can however switch them at will, and you are even able to reset your skill tree later in the game. However, in general you may find yourself, like with gear, simply increasing your attack or defense, and the usage of advanced or unique tactics is not required to progress and complete the game.
What's in the Story?
Reports about the main story have been not great by some. As a gamer who has played none of the previous games and have not read any of the books, I feel like the story was excellent. I found myself unable to easily guess what would happen next, and was very surprised at many events. Also, one of the most important technical aspects is the ability for the game to slightly alter depending on your choices throughout the game.
I can not say for certain but I have heard that a lot of different game endings exist depending on your choices throughout the game.
The Sub-Game Exception that is Gwent
A lot of games now days include some type of sub-game which you can play to earn extra coin, or for enjoyment, and the Witcher 3 is no exception. The one place that it is the exception is the quality of the sub-game, called Gwent. This sub-game is a game of cards with beautifully crafted cards and what I like to call complex but not too complex strategy. Once you get to playing it you will find that there are various tactics that you can use to playing against different players. You also earn and find cards throughout the game that enable you to face higher level Gwent players.
The only problem, if you would call it a problem, is that the game does heavily depend on the power of the cards in your deck. For example, if you play against a merchant, with a monster deck and he has a lot of high level cards then your chances of winning are slim to none. However I was able to look past this simple fact of the game, and actually find it very enjoyable compared to any other game I have played.
The Monsters of Wild Hunt
The monsters are very well crafted, detailed, and beautiful in appearance - or some may say ugly. You also have a full featured bestiary included in-game. Monsters also feature weaknesses and even though the combat tactics is generally the same for any monster - you will find that the potions, spells, and signs you use vary from monster to monster for effective killing
The monsters are very well crafted, detailed and beautiful in appearance.
The player detection in the game is fairly realistic, but difficult to actually define for the entire game. You can approach monsters and humans from directions that obscure their view of you which allows you to sneak up on them. However, the game does not offer any ability to sneak - so a rogue like play style would be very challenging and not very realistic. I am sure that some areas are scripted (from experience playing) and this would be expected as anything better would be something almost unheard of. So in some situations you are unable to approach in a stealthy way. You are not going to find vegetation and there is not much use in being stealthy, and this is also expected as the computational complexity of such a feat would also be unheard of - maybe in the future! Your primary ability to avoid detection is distance and a blocking view, such as hiding behind a house.
Spending Your Crowns
Another interesting part of the game is money. In Witcher 3 you will find money, known as crowns, to be scarce at first. As you progress it will become slightly easier to build up a nice bank of coin, but all throughout you will find it a challenge to keep the coin.
I really loved how coin became a reason in how you played the game, and it even affects your dialog options. When you are struggling for crowns you are more likely to make that poor farmer pay up even if he can not buy tool, or ask for your cut up front from a merchant you are doing a contract for.
In summary the Witcher 3 is a game that excels in a beautifully crafted world, a great story, a fun mini game, overload of quests, enjoyable AI, and decent combat mechanics, with a dynamic storyline. It may not be the most difficult game, however it brings a challenge that will appease any gamer.