Saturday 24 September 2016

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt review: Lore and behold the next great adventure

Published 26/05/2015 | 12:07

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

IT’S been many moons since a game has been hailed with the same hushed reverence as Skyrim, 2011’s epic role-playing medieval saga. But Witcher 3 justifies the hyped comparisons, gradually unfurling a sprawling realm full of adventure, intrigue and stories of human frailty — like an interactive Game of Thrones.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4/XOne/PC); rating: 9.5/10; age 18+

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Wild Hunt drops you back into the fantasy lore of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, a harsh, brutish world of occupying soldiers, roaming monsters and downtrodden, suspicious villagers. But by contrast the natural landscape teems with awe-inspiring sights, its multifaceted terrain highlighted by a dynamic day/night and weather system.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt: dramatic stories fuel the plot
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt: dramatic stories fuel the plot

It’s all held fast together by Geralt, the titular witcher with superhuman powers who’s driven to find his missing surrogate daughter before the pursuing dark forces of evil do. The plot echoes Tolkien, with the Wild Hunt comparable to the Nazgul, Sauron’s Black Riders. But to the game’s credit it develops many other strands, giving the player ample time to explore the nooks of its densely packed narrative.

Geralt is a fearsome, powerful character who with patience can easily hack and slash a path through his minor enemies. But at intervals he faces formidable ghouls and creatures that demand careful planning to discover their weaknesses and set traps.

In between such plot beats sit myriad optional side-quests, many with surprising consequences and delicately handled by some sensitive writing. Past instalments of The Witcher faced justified accusations of sexism (Geralt collected naked playing cards of every woman he slept with) and Wild Hunt doesn’t shy away from, ahem, human relations. But as much as the bare breasts and flirty chat seem a concession to the presumed male audience, the depictions nonetheless present a more rounded view of Geralt and his humanity. He’s not just a slayer, you know.

Not unexpectedly, Witcher 3’s expansive universe comes at a cost, with some awkward contrivances in the combat. A simple system of heavy and light attacks is rendered trickier than necessary by an uncooperative camera that gets stuck on scenery and leaves Geralt vulnerable.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt: face off against fearsome creatures and ghouls
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt: face off against fearsome creatures and ghouls

 

Inevitably too you’ll encounter more than a few open-world glitches. The inventory system is a mess, quickly getting littered with alchemic herbs and bits and bobs looted from the environment. Finally, the broad range of British regional dialects is slightly jarring, none more than so than the dodgy Norn Iron accents.

But these complaints represent mere carping set against an enthralling journey with Geralt in a thoroughly convincing country with a real sense of place.

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