Never work for free: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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The titular Witcher, Geralt, holding the heads of his targets

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Released: May 19, 2015

N.B: I wrote this post as I was experiencing the game. From opening the package to the actual gameplay, I began documenting it from the outset as I felt like trying a new approach to my ‘first impressions’ posts. If things seem a little jumbled or like I’m rambling then that will be why. I wanted to try and leave this as unedited as possible. Feedback of any sort is always welcome!

I don’t know if CD Projekt Red were just trying to butter up the players who purchase this game, but I was not expecting all of this extra content in the package when it came through my letterbox. I saw in bold letters in the corner of the box stating ‘Bonus Content’, listing a compendium, the soundtrack, a world map and two stickers. Now, I just expected to have to download these bonus features (not the stickers), but there it all was. Inside the case! I was so excited and impressed by the additional content that I momentarily forgot about the game itself. I bought the standard edition of the game and so I expected to receive only the game, as it is with many other titles. Not only this, but CD Projekt Red also included a note inside on how to claim 16 free DLCs (downloadable content), no matter which edition of the game that you purchase. Instructions of how to download these features were on the official website, where I saw the statement: ‘Dedicated to gamers who want more from physical box editions of games than just the disc and manual […]’. I’ve never been as touched by a video game developing company as I had in this moment. Firstly, I must say a huge thank you to CD Projekt Red for valuing their customers. Games do not come cheap these days and it is nice to have a few extra things to make up for the ever increasing prices. So, again, thank you CD Projekt Red for caring about your players.

It comes with the territory of being a literature student that I inherently love reading. The compendium that was so kindly included by the developers was a nice surprise. I found myself looking into the universe of The Witcher before I even put the disc into the PS4. I’ve not played the previous two games and so brushing up on a brief history of the game’s universe was a good way of preparing myself for what was to come. I’ve stated many times here that RPGs (role-playing games) are not my type of games, but I’ve been delving into them more often recently and I was excited to sink my teeth into this one. My initial excitement, however, was short lived. After waiting for two hours for the game to install, I expected to get straight into it but I was denied this pleasure. I watched the opening sequences which got me understandably pumped to play but then I was met with a loading screen that was seemingly stuck, but the tutorials kept scrolling by. I knew the game was huge (for perspective, it turns out that this game is 30 times larger than the previous Witcher games and 20% bigger than Bethesda’s Skyrim) but the PS4 was making worrying noises as though it was struggling to run the game. The long wait had me wondering if I had a faulty disc, but with a little more patience the loading bar finally started to fill and make progress. I was not overly impressed at the start when the graphics, textures and even sounds had to take a few moments to catch up with what was happening on screen. When the game finally decided to start playing nice, I was met with a beautiful and most incredible world. Unfortunately, my battle with glitches and the like was not over yet.

I kept the tutorials on for the time being as I still wasn’t familiar with the controls, but I found that they actually hindered what little gameplay I had managed to experience in the first ten minutes of starting the game. It made everything run extremely slow, which can become very frustrating, especially when it is telling you a simple and standard command such as something along the lines of ‘press X when walking towards a door to open it’. In my panic during a tutorial, I managed to jump off of a high tower and successfully killed Geralt, the protagonist, in what I think could be considered record time. Dying in games does not concern me as much as it used to after my ordeal with Bloodborne (2015), but the exceedingly long loading times even in between deaths is excruciating. Perhaps this is why CD Projekt Red provide bonus content, to keep us players occupied while we wait for the game to actually load. Joking aside, the game does run very smoothly once you get past the initial loading screens and jittery start.

With such a rocky start, my patience was wearing thin. The game did eventually begin to play out as it should do, until it decided to randomly crash and the PS4 automatically ejected the game after stating it could not read the disc. This was a huge disappointment and a real shame in my eyes. The game itself is fantastic. The story is compelling, the characters intriguing and the locations are nothing short of breathtaking. Despite not having played the previous games, I felt as though I knew these characters simply through their dialogue with one another. I was not able to fully absorb the game for what it really is due to these technical difficulties. A friend of mine explained that prior to the second game being available on Xbox 360, The Witcher series was exclusively for PC. This definitely explained the graphical issues and strain on the PS4 and was possibly an oversight by the developers. In the event that this was to continue happening, I came to realise that I could not spend hours on end playing this game to save myself from continuous frustrations of it crashing randomly. Then the miracle occurred.

After the game crashed for a second time within two hours, I gave up on it for a while. I had received messages from friends to say that I would enjoy the game to no end, and I knew this, which made the technical problems all the more frustrating. Fantasy is a genre that is near and dear to my heart, and so I was becoming increasingly dejected as the game just did not want to cooperate with me. I came back to it about an hour later and the first thing I noticed was that the PS4 did not sound as though it was dying from its endeavour to run the game. There were no graphical glitches, no problems with sound cutting out and even the loading time had been sped up exponentially. Was I finally able to experience the game as it should be played?

Once I knew that the game was not going to crash again, I became invested in the story and characters very quickly. I immediately cared about how NPCs (non-playable characters) would perceive Geralt’s actions and words, and so I became mindful of how I was playing the game. Although this may be due to a slight doubt in my mind of whether the game would decide to crash, but despite this I found myself interested by the lore. Having not played the previous games, I knew that I would be out of my depth in terms of references but I enjoy researching and I know that I will be reading up on the history of the universe to better familiarise myself with the game. The look and feel of this game made it seem as though I really was in a different world. From passing people speaking a foreign language to watching the most spectacular sunset, I had been completely taken aback by how amazing it actually looked. I started to forgive the long loading times as I came to understand the scope and ambition behind the game. Interactions between characters don’t feel forced, and even on occasion are funny. I felt as though I was watching something like Game of Thrones as I chose to speak to people for information and take on jobs in exchange for money. Coincidentally, I did converse with a character that is voiced by Charles Dance who just so happens to have starred in Game of Thrones.

I have not played much of the main story, though this is how I tend to play games as I don’t like progressing too quickly. Instead, I have been focusing on exploring locations and doing side quests. The optional missions have been very diverse, from helping an old woman obtain her frying pan to ridding an abandoned village haunted by a spectre. I have enjoyed each of them greatly and I feel a real sense of accomplishment once completing a quest. Although on many occasions, I do wonder if accepting payment is the right thing to do, but I too need to survive in this world and a Witcher isn’t known for taking on jobs for free. One feature that I have found to my liking is the use of Witcher senses, which allows Geralt to focus on points of interest and track movement in the surrounding area. At first I was a little unimpressed as it felt like Eagle Vision from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but eventually I came to see that it was a much more refined and sophisticated mechanism. Instead of just being able to spot targets, as it is for the most part in Assassin’s Creed, Witcher senses allows you to do much more. Tracking footprints and finding clues is particularly fun and I feel as though I am actually uncovering clues to piece together the wider story during these short missions. One of the biggest selling points of this game is the fact that everything feels as though it is being done for a reason and you aren’t wasting time or doing anything repetitive.

The controls are somewhat clunky and there is a slight delay or non-responsiveness to some actions at times, which can become irritating but it is quite minor in the grand scheme of things. Once you get past the occasional hiccup, combat flows fluidly and enemies are challenging, though not impossible. I am barely a few hours into the game and I have already encountered a myriad of beasts to combat. Not only this, but I have collected many books and information on creatures that I am sure that I will come across later in the game, which makes me even more excited and nervous to progress, but that’s half the fun. Alongside this, the world is masterfully crafted and the attention to detail is astonishing. It all feels very unique, which is definitely hard to come by considering just how many video games are around now. I was worried that the game would be like Skyrim (2011), which would have been all well and good but just not for me. I’m definitely more of a Fallout fan than Elder Scrolls, and I was not prepared to try and throw myself back into something Skyrim-esque.

To wrap up, the game is fantastic so far. The initial problems that I had after I had installed it, however, does make me worry that one day the PS4 will decide that it has had enough and just stop running it altogether. I did do a little research online and I found that graphical issues and crashes at certain points were all very common when the game was first released. Hopefully by now there have been patches to rectify this and I, along with other players, won’t be having anymore problems. After getting through these prevenient difficulties, I have found that I am thoroughly enjoying The Witcher 3. I will acknowledge that many references to previous games or the wider universe is going over my head at this point in time, but despite this the game remains accessible to new players. Allusions to the preceding titles are subtle enough for existing players to recognise, and yet lucid enough for new players to notice. Personally, this gives me incentive to look into the game’s history more scrupulously and I definitely look forward to doing that, alongside playing more of the game itself.

I recommend this game to people who love exploration, fantasy and spending a lot of time on games as this one spoils you with the amount of content there is to get through.

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