The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the third epic in the action role playing series, The Witcher. Developed by Polish company, CD Projekt Red, and based on a series of extremely successful Polish books by Andrzej Sapkowski (extremely successful in Poland, at least), the games tell the tale of Geralt of Rivia, a silver-haired, scar-ridden, golden eyed warrior who has been trained for a century in the ancient art of killing monsters. But, in a world ravaged by war, political intrigue and betrayal, it's the humans that are worth fearing the most. Whether there's a troll causing trouble, or a dragon stealing children, it's Geralt that gets called in to clear up the mess. After all, he's not a hero - he's a professional.
Geralt is a Witcher. This means that from birth, Geralt was chosen and trained in sword play, combat, and magic. For all of his life he has consumed many ancient potions and had chemical substances pumped into his veins, causing his yellow eyes, his greater than average strength and endurance, and his ability to manipulate magic. Unfortunately, being a Witcher is something of a double edged sword, for while he saves countless lives killing monsters, many in the world depict Geralt as a mutant or demon, and are less than keen to have him around. But still, he fights on regardless. A simple man, he seeks only to do his job and do it to the best of his ability - but when you've lived for almost a century, you make friends and enemies, and sometimes the two meet.
Wild Hunt sees the land of Temeria in the process of being conquered by Nilfgaard, and the Nilfgaardians have been seriously winning. Having brought most of the world under the dictatorship of Emhyr var Emreis (voiced by Charles Dance - Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones!), there are but a few rebellions left to be crushed before the land entirely belongs to the Nilfs. Of course, this is of no great concern to Geralt. While mankind bickers among themselves, Geralt battles a greater threat: The Wild Hunt. A gang of ancient, immortal elves, the Wild Hunt are out to get and destroy Ciri, a Witcher in training, who is like a daughter to Geralt and the daughter of Emhyr. She possesses the Elder Blood, something which the Hunt are highly eager to get their hands on. But not if Geralt can help it.
The game takes place in an enormous open world - I mean seriously, it's huge! You could play this game for weeks and barely see all that the environment has to offer. CD Projekt Red has really outdone themselves, and very few open world games can compare to a land as epic, beautiful, free and gigantic as seen in the Wild Hunt. While there are several separate areas broken apart by fast travel and loading screens, the game mostly takes place in the largest area of Velen - a land that's simply stunning. Colourful and detailed, packed full with things to do and see, characters and places to interact with, it's a living, breathing universe that you can lose yourself in.
Speaking of stunning, the graphics in the Wild Hunt are just that. From the detail of a blade of grass whispering in the wind to the defined facial expressions of each and every character, some real time, effort and money has gone into making this game look incredible and it has most definitely paid off. The water reflects perfectly and moves with the tide, clothes crumple with movement, clouds drift slowly overhead, and, well, there's a lot of gore, too.
Aside from the central quest of finding and saving Ciri from the Wild Hunt, the Witcher 3 has plenty more to offer. There's side quests, side quests, side quests and oh - more side quests. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out there are more side quests here than in any other game. In a world so vast, people need help, advice, protection, and vengeance, and it's up to you to take up their requests. Or, you can stick to your Witcher role and take up contracts instead, hunting down monsters and killing them for money. You can find these quests on notice boards all around the world, and there are more than enough to keep you entertained and thoroughly challenged.
And even if questing isn't your thing, the Witcher 3 has you covered, as Wild Hunt even has its own in-game card game for you to play, called Gwent. Asking you to collect and build a deck of characters with different strengths and abilities, it's fairly easy to get the hang of - and there are plenty of challengers waiting to face off against you. No matter what sort of player you are, in the Witcher 3, it's highly unlikely that you will be short of things to do.
In a world so dangerous and deadly, packed with monsters and men alike to fight, Geralt needs to be prepared. Wild Hunt puts a lot of emphasis on the idea of researching and preparing before a fight, by encouraging the use of alchemy and crafting. The crafting system is intricate, with every bit as much depth as the rest of the game, and you can find "craftable" supplies almost everywhere in the land, from flowers to mushrooms to vampire dust and ogre dung. When you have the right combination of items, you can craft potions, oils and poisons that will help you in your battle against monsters, as many monsters are weak to certain substances. For example, when up against a werewolf, the fight would be extremely difficult if you're unprepared, as they can regenerate their health. However, if you brought with you a pre-brewed batch of Cursed Oil and lined your blade with it, each slash halts the werewolf's magic, allowing you to kill it - or indeed, save it.
In the Witcher, choice is a very important feature. As Geralt, you will be faced with a vast range of decisions and moral quandaries, and whichever option you choose, it'll affect the world around you and the outcome of the overall quest. You might choose to kill a man for his crimes or show him mercy. Kill him, and his family might seek revenge, but spare him, and you risk him committing the same crime again. But, the great thing about the Witcher is that there are no obviously good or evil options as there are in, say, Fable. It is a very grey, morally level universe, and you'll find that deciding what you feel is "right" or "justified" soon becomes very difficult. Much like real life.
The combat has come a long way since the previous game, Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. While many similar games only ask you to mash buttons to swing a sword, the battles here have become a lot more adept and reflex based. In the Witcher, if you get hit, it's really, really going to hurt, just like it would if you got struck by a blade in real life. So, the central focus of the new combat is being quick on your feet, jumping, dodging, rolling, side-stepping, making sure that you're too fast, or too nimble for an enemy to strike. It requires a lot more attention and a lot more skill than other games, which may make it less accessible to more casual players at first - but it's also a lot more rewarding.
The magic based combat is fairly narrow. As a Witcher, Geralt can use magic, but not in the way that a sorceress or mage might be able to. He simply has some command over it. He begins with five key "signs" that you can select and switch between, each with their own power. Some might cause damage, or confuse the opponent, or even protect Geralt from oncoming attacks. The set is fairly basic at first, but the intricate levelling system allows you to improve upon them if you so choose, increasing their range, their effect, their damage per second, and much more. Or if magic isn't your thing, you can simply put skill points into other features, such as powerful sword swings, or quick ones, or crossbow accuracy, or physical speed - the choice is yours.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a tremendous feat of gaming. The universe is fantastic and deeply immersive, the characters are well written and cleverly developed, the graphics help create a deep world to explore, and the immense amount of content provided in game will keep a player entertained for weeks on end, with several downloadable add-ons planned to expand the game later in the year. While the story may essentially boil down to a dramatic series of fetch-quests, it was nonetheless gripping and compelling, especially the intricately designed choice webs, which bring with them unforeseen and surprising outcomes. As games go, this one is going to be hard to beat for a long, long time.