Monday, June 8, 2015

Witcher 3 | A Mashbuttons Review

Nearly two years ago to the day, my Mashbuttons partner and I were in the upper private meeting rooms of E3, visiting the CD Project Red room to see our first glimpse of The Witcher 3.  Keep in mind, this was before the launch of the current generation of hardware.  We, and about 25 others went into a small rigged theatre, where the developers behind the game showed us a few scenes from the upcoming Witcher 3 game.  It was all in-game engine footage, and one showcased a scene that eventually would become your first "boss" fight by the windmill.  The second scene had you utilizing some of your Witcher senses to track a monster and learn about it, and how to kill it.  I remember walking out of the presentation and turning to my partner and saying "that's gonna be a killer game!". It simply looked stunning, gorgeous, and down-right full of depth.

That was two years ago...

Fast forward to about two weeks ago, and we have finally seen the release of The Witcher 3.  After a few short delays, CD Projekt Red has put out, one of the finest games in recent history, let alone one of the finest RPGs in the past decade.

Yes, I said it.  I loved Oblivion, I sunk hours into Skyrim, Fallout(s) and even Mass Effect; but none of those are quite as good as the little known AAA game that was ready to make waves.  And make waves it did.

The Witcher 3 follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (not to be confused with a witch hunter, but ironically, a monster hunter-for-hire).  We begin with a small prologue/dream sequence introducing some of our main characters, Geralt, of course, Vesemir, Geralt's mentor, and the young Ciri, who will become the main interest of all involved.  Being chased by the Wild Hunt, Ciri has been on the move for a long time, and Geralt is trying to track her down.  With help from returning characters Yennefer, Triss Marigold, and a slew of others, it's up to you (Geralt) to track down Ciri and help her in her ultimate defeat of the Wild Hunt, a race of creatures hell-bent on finding Ciri.

The overall, what would be called, the "Main story" is fairly straight forward, but is not without it's on twists and turns.  As you meet main characters such as the Bloody Barron, Triss Marigold, and even Ciri's own biological father, the Emperor Emhyr var Emreis, you explore the 4 vast expanses each subsequently larger and more complex than the last.

White Orchard, would be your training play ground.  Impressive in size to get your feet wet, I found myself progressing through the story enough to leave White Orchard, only to immediately return to explore as much as I can and uncover all the side quests, notice boards, Witcher contracts, etc.  You can spend hours exploring the landscape, and looking for a variety of events to hold your interest.  Tasks range from discovering locations, clearing Monster Nests, clearing abandoned villages/areas of either monsters or bandits, and allowing the villagers to return.  You could play Gwent, the built-in card game that at first seems like a throw-away piece of the game, but in retrospect is incredibly fun, and plays a role later on in the main story, so don't shy away from this seemingly trivial task.

Witcher Contracts are another task that are mostly outside of the main story, though everything is implemented so well, you can hardly tell.  They consist of getting a contract, investigating a scene of a grizzly murder, haunting, etc and using your Witcher senses to find clues to best use towards killing the monster you uncover.

Gear.  There's lots of it.  There's lots of swords, both silver and steel.  A Witcher carries with him two swords, a Silver Sword, best used to slay Monsters/Creatures.  Whereas a standard Steel Sword is most effective towards human counterparts.  You'll come across a ton of loot though along your journey, and in true RPG fashion, it's all about finding the rare "set" items.  Or in this games case, the Witcher School sets.  There are 5 Witcher sets in the game, focusing on the different Witcher Schools (Light Gear, Medium Gear and Heavy Gear) and most sets feature armor as well as silver and steel swords.  Also they each can be upgraded via diagrams starting with Normal, Enhanced, Superior and Mastercrafted versions.  For example, to obtain the final Mastercrafted version of the Griffin Gear, you must first have found/crafted the normal version, the found the crafting diagrams for the Enhanced, Superior and Mastercrafted versions and find a skilled smith to which to ready them for use.

Levels, lets talk leveling up.  So unlike most RPG's wherein each next level up requires more XP, The Witcher 3's leveling system is a little less daunting.  Levels 1 - 10 only require 1000 XP per level.  And by completing main missions or even side quests, you'll find yourself leveling up fairly quickly.  Once you break level 10, it moves up to 1500 required XP and beyond level 20 it requires I believe 2,000 XP points, but again, given some of the higher level missions you'll find yourself easily getting that if you're focusing on the main story.  I completed the story, with a final level of 36, but you can go beyond that, especially if you continue to play the game, which you can after you complete the main story missions...that is if you're a completist and need to get every last question mark on the map.

One piece of advice; get in the habit of saving often.  The game does have an auto-save feature, but it only works really when you're progressing in a given mission.  If you're just roaming the country-side, fighting enemies, unlocking locations, etc, you could soon find yourself up against some higher level baddies, and die and have to retrace your steps.  Trust me, this happened on a few occasions early on, so I got into the habit of heading into the menu and saving often.

Other than that, I have spent 250+ hours playing this game, and I will continue to do so when upcoming DLC's are released from CD:PR.  They've crafted a game so rich, and varied, it's tough to find it's equal.  It's currently Mashbutton's frontrunner for game of the year.

Mashbuttons gives The Witcher 3 10/10

*Note - Mashbuttons did receive a copy of the game from the developer for review, but it does not affect our score.

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