The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Preview

Witcher 3

It seems like it was just yesterday when the majority of the gaming world was being introduced to one Geralt of Rivia. Originating from within the pages of Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, Geralt was fully brought to life by the team at little known CD Projekt Red. Though the character also made appearances in movies and on TV, few mediums seemed as natural a fit for Sapkowski’s world as that of the RPG.

Designed for the PC from the ground up and utilizing a heavily customized Aurora engine from Bioware, The Witcher burst onto the scene in 2007. Gamers and reviewers alike were pleasantly surprised with the game, heaping praise on its dark and gritty world and mature storyline. Most of the areas that were criticized were fixed with the release of the Enhanced Edition, which was available freely to anyone already owning the game. Supporting fixes for a product already released unfortunately is no longer a given. Giving free content to your fans and playerbase instead of gouging them by selling DLC’s is sadly a rarity and CD Projekt built up a great deal of good will with that decision.

Their next game or attempt at a game was the ill fated Rise of the White Wolf which was slated to introduce the series to consoles. Though there was disagreement on the exact reason, the game reportedly was stopped due to financial arrangements not working out between CD Projekt and Widesreen Games who was handling development.

The official sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings released to a much wider audience in 2011 for the PC. It was viewed as a triumph for CD Projekt and was quite the evolution from the first game. Graphics on a high end PC were nothing short of stunning and the level of detail through the game world was amazing. The story and characters again were not just presented in classic good vs. evil format but in varying shades of gray. Though critics were generally extremely positive, fans of the series were both impressed and simultaneously disappointed with the release. Much of that disappointment originated from two areas – the first being a control scheme that seemed optimized for console and the other being the inclusion of DRM on retail released copies. This was cracked by pirates within a few hours and CD Projekts threats of prosecution caused such an outrage among fans that CD Project Red CEO Marcin Iwinski stated they would never release a title using DRM again. This was followed up with a successful Xbox 360 release which helped to expand the market for the title and was generally seen as well optimized on the aging console hardware.

Hardware limitations do not appear to be an issue with the newly announced sequel and final game in the Witcher trilogy, THe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt has claimed that the advances with the next generation console hardware and PC tech will allow them to tell the end of the Witchers story in a truly deserving manner. In addition to promising fans a presentation the likes of which they have never seen, there were some surprise in the direction the series appears to be taking.

Ending the series with a character that appears to be doing nothing if not getting more popular with each appearance seems strange enough, but a total change in the games direction and format is even more of an unusual approach. CD Projekt has stated that the Witcher 3 will take on an open world format and that it will be truly massive in scale. Instead of waiting for the inevitable comparison to Skyrim, they have already volunteered that it will surpass the massive game world of Bethesda’s beast. Claiming over 50 hours of side quest alone and a game world size that will set a new standard is a pretty big order to fill and CD Projekt seems to embrace the challenge.

The story looks to bring together the many facets of the dark society Geralt is both part of and shunned by. Questing will be changed to a tiered approach which is said to have three parts. These range in necessity from being vital to the story and its progression to being basically optional. Te developers are also promising that all quest and the choices you make on undertaking them or not and how you resolve them will have direct consequences. Romance will once again play a part in the story and will present Geralt with decisions that will not always be black and white. These choices and the path they present will lead up to one of multiple possible endings and with the distinct differences, serve to encourage additional playthroughs.

CD Projekt appears to of given up on the love or hate quick time events or “QTE’s” that were so prevalent in the Witcher 2. Not only are they moving away from that format, but they have announced that the combat system will be torn down and rebuilt. Combat had changed from the first game to the second fairly dramatically, so a change there is not totally unexpected. Combat will include dodging and targetting specific points of attack in a style that has already been mentioned to be inspired in part by Fallout 3′s VATS system.

Though the title sure does aspire to be every hardcore RPG gamer’s holy grail, is this the Achilles’ heel of The Witcher 3? A lot of games promise much more than they can possibly deliver and leave fans feeling disappointed at best and betrayed or bamboozled out of their hard earned money at worst. Bringing any one of the promised features, whether the beautifully crafted story, revolutionary combat system, jaw dropping graphics, multitude of quest, giant free roaming world to explore, replayability or tailored multiplatform support is a challenge. Making them each individually a reality and then blending the sum of the parts into a fluid experience will be both a test of talent and a labor of love of epic proportion. I am not necessarily a betting man, but if I was my money would go on CD Projekt to deliver. Why do I believe it will happen? Because these guys really seem to care. It may not be perfect at first, but they will work hard to deliver the best product they can and then own up to mistakes and oversights and work diligently to right them.

I will be keeping a close eye on the developement of the Witcher 3 and have no doubts that a spot will be cleared on my calendar to properly appreciate my time with Geralt. I can only imagine it will be bittersweet, exciting to see him through to the conclusion but sad to know that the end nears as we journey through his final episode in the Witcher trilogy.

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