- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 07 October 2015
- Written by JOHN MORANO | STAFF WRITER
While Game of Thrones has reached an impressive amount of universal critical acclaim, the video games based off of the franchise have been, to put it delicately, considerably less successful (or, to put it indelicately, they’re about as much fun as the red wedding). Thankfully, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, based on a set of Polish novels and comparable to George R.R. Martin’s epic series, is all that one could possibly want in a dark-fantasy video game, and then some.
To discuss the third installment, we’ll first need to start at the beginning with the original game, The Witcher. The Witcher clearly drew on a well-developed narrative setting (courtesy of its preceding novels), but for a 2007 video game, it felt awfully outdated with technical issues, antiquated gameplay mechanics, ugly graphics, goofy romances/sex-scenes, and an inconsistent plot that dragged it down. On the plus side, the world of The Witcher was fascinating, filled with lore, occasionally deep characters, political intrigue and social commentary. There was enough there to make it worth playing, but if it hadn’t led into The Witcher 2 and 3, I probably would have passed it by, as there are many better games out there. I’d probably rate it 7.5 out of 10 (in my book, that’s a good game).
CD Project Red, the game’s developer, clearly stepped up its game (so to speak) for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The graphics went from third-rate to beautiful and the gameplay went from tedious and isometric to responsive action-style gameplay. The soundtrack and voice-acting quality improved, and the plot, while already generally intriguing, received better writing and became a masterpiece in the minds of many. With all these improvements, the plot of The Witcher 2 was much easier to take seriously, and the fantasy felt much darker than the original. Rather than have the 25 or so romance options that the original had (complete with shallow, crude scenes), The Witcher 2 had only four romances, each of which was much more tasteful and provided meaningful character exposition. I personally feel the decision to handle romance in a more mature, tasteful manner gave the game more class, and am glad that The Witcher 3 followed The Witcher 2’s example.
Overall, I’d personally score The Witcher 2 at 9.5/10, with my only concern being how physically linear the game’s supposedly open world was.
Finally is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the conclusion to the trilogy and a 100-200 hour odyssey. I’m going to start out with the concerns, even though aren’t many and they’re rather inconsequential. The Witcher 3 has some minor bugs in pretty much every category: graphical, audio, and gameplay, but this is pretty much unavoidable in a game of this scale, and the worst of them have been fixed since I started playing (CD Project Red have released a ton of patches). Even without the patches, the bugs were rarely game-breaking; they typically constituted a slight annoyance at the worst. To me at least, The Witcher 3 felt smoother at launch than the critically-acclaimed Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, which has been the gold standard for years.
Although there are plenty of choices in The Witcher 3, the player has less control over the story arc than they might in similar games (such as the recent Dragon Age: Inquisition). In exchange for this you get a vastly superior, if slightly more linear, plot (a trade I personally am happy to make). When I reviewed Dragon Age: Inquisition last year, I gave it a glowing review, with the score 9/10. The Witcher 3 sets a new standard: it proves that games can have both meaningful choice and quality story (perhaps striking the perfect balance itself). Were I to review Dragon Age: Inquisition again, I’d probably score it around 8/10.
There is content present throughout The Witcher 3 that may disturb some, containing themes of horror with frequent use of the occult, sexual content, portrayals of sexism and racism, strong language, and graphic violence, including depictions of torture and mutilation. If you like dark fantasy, then you probably know what you’re in for; that said, I’m a fan of the genre myself and I’ve never seen a video game take it as far as The Witcher 3. Still, the content feels considerably less graphic than what one might expect to see in a dark fantasy TV series like Game of Thrones.
The Witcher 3 is hands-down the best looking game in its genre (probably outside of its genre, too). The soundtrack, an orchestral score that has a sort of tribal-rock sound to it, fits the content it’s set to perfectly. The characters of The Witcher 3 are phenomenally well written, with deep relationships and complicated personalities. Two characters deserve special mention: the first is Geralt of Rivia, a compelling protagonist, who embraces principles such as “the greater good” and “live and let live” (he’s not you’re stereotypical teenage protagonist with strong opinions and a big mouth). The other is Ciri, Geralt’s daughter, who serves as a secondary protagonist/major character, and is one of the best female characters I’ve ever seen in a video game. She’s doesn’t fit into the “damsel” or the “tough girl” category; she also avoids the label of “sex object” without being made a prude. She’s one of the most normal female characters I’ve seen, and it’s a refreshing portrayal to experience.
If you’re reading this review wondering if The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is worth playing (and weren’t driven away by the dark-fantasy content I mentioned earlier), then let me stop you right here. I can’t think of a better game to recommend than The Witcher 3 (if you’ve got about 200 hours to spare, that is). As for ratings, I’d give The Witcher 3 a score of 10/10, something numerous mainstream critics have already done. The Witcher 3 is as close to perfection as one can reasonably expect a game in its genre to be. Speaking in terms of Game of Thrones currencies, Dragon Age: Inquisition was a silver stag, but like Skyrim, The Witcher 3 is a gold dragon.
IMAGE TAKEN from thewitcher.com