While PAX East isn’t quite as big as say E3 or its big brother PAX Prime, it still has a couple big fish swimming around the expo hall. CD Projekt Red’s flagship game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, was one of the big dogs of PAX East 2015 and it definitely put its best foot forward heading into its May 19 release date.
There’s a couple of major ways that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stands out from the crowd, and first and foremost is its deeply strategic combat. It’s all about about timing and using the appropriate signs at the right time, in The Witcher 3. I learned this the hard way throughout my many battles aganist an early boss-like enemy, the Griffin.
At first I just tried wailing on it like it was any other hack and slash action-RPG and was punished quickly. After a few fruitless tries of this, I mixed in my defensive Quen (shield) sign to give me more survivability. Still didn’t do the trick, but I certainly made progress. Next, I focused more on defense by dodging and picking the perfect times to launch my attacks. I did better but still no go. I eventually had to give up because I was running out of time with my demo, but my next move would have been to save my Quen for only when I knew I couldn’t dodge a major attack rather than just throwing it up whenever I could.
Failure in Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is that satisfying kind of frustrating (total oxymoron I know), similar to other difficult ARPGs such as the Souls series. That fight against the Griffin didn’t feel cheap or unfair. I just knew that I was lacking something in my strategy and that failure was ultimately my fault. Careful and thoughtful planning is going to be necessary for the tougher fights in The Witcher 3. Given how hard of a time I had with just this early boss (if it even is considered one), I can only imagine how intense some of the later fights will be. But, if it’s anything like the Souls series, victory will taste so sweet because how well earned each triumph is.
Also, although I didn’t make much use of it in the demo that I played, using your Witcher senses to track friends/foes or helpful items (think Arkham’s detective mode) is likely going to be a major part of the non-combat related gameplay. There’s also a good deal of branching dialogue trees when conversing with NPCs which seem to often end with Geralt of Rivia mind controlling people when he doesn’t get an answer that he likes.
Visually The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is going to be a showstopper. High-end PCs especially are in a for a real treat. What I played at PAX East 2015 was one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen, period. Galloping around on my horse Red Dead Redemption style and checking out the vistas was a real treat. Luckily there’s fast travel too for those that just want to get from point a to point b quickly.
In addition, not only do the characters look great, they also sound great too. The writing and cut scenes in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are very mature and well-written. This didn’t feel like just any other video game dialogue. Conversations felt natural and believable. All of the nudity and mature undertones are done tastefully and don’t feel like fan service or nudity as a tool to create controversy or shock. All of it is punctuated by the game’s excellent voice acting.
As far as the story goes, it’s difficult for me to judge as I’m not a veteran of the series. I briefly played the first Witcher game, but didn’t spend enough time with it to be able to pass any kind of judgement. Essentially, I’m coming into the series with a clean slate.
I got about an hour with it at PAX East 2015, and was able to get a decent feel for the storytelling. As I mentioned above, the voice acting is great, making following along a lot simpler than what I remembered in the first game. However, there seems to be a lot going on from previous games that I don’t know about. The Witcher has primarily been a PC series; this time though, The Witcher 3 will be launching on consoles alongside the PC version, meaning there may be a lot of players giving it their first go with the series with this one. If that’s you, I’d highly suggest finding a nice wiki to read up on so you have a better understanding of what exactly is going on.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is setting itself up to be a real late spring/early summer blockbuster. While the series has never lacked quality, based on my time at PAX East 2015, and what I’ve picked up on the series over the years, it really feels like this time around, CD Projekt Red has refined the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to be the perfect blend of hardcore ARPG action that can also be enjoyed by the masses. That is as long as they are dedicated to learning The Witcher.