The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Looking Back With Spoilers

Many games suffer from a little bit of distance. You play them and they seem great, but once the novelty has faded, so has part of their soul. I’d say Dragon Age: Inquisition is a good example there. It’s a game I enjoyed, but it’s also one I’ve not really thought about since its credits rolled.

With The Witcher III: Wild Hunt [official site] though, the scale of CD Projekt’s accomplishment still hasn’t fully sunk in, and probably won’t until the next big RPG that doesn’t live up to the many, many amazing bits of design that game offers. I’m of course talking of the big stuff, like its sweeping plot and open world. More though, I’m thinking of the details; the smaller stuff, like how the scripting system is advanced enough to stop a fight after a specific comment of “Wait, you’re Geralt?!” or the exquisite attention to detail on even the smallest of quests. It’s CD Projekt’s masterpiece; the Witcher experience they’ve been working towards since getting the license all those years ago.

And now it’s been out for a while, let’s look at some of the more spoilery bits.

Now, I started with that praise just to make it clear how much I both loved playing through the game, and massively respect the achievement of it. Oddly, in many ways The Witcher III does itself a disservice by making it all look so easy, so fluid, so natural, that it’s the slightly crap moments that stand out to be counted. The terrible levelled content early on for instance, where basic bandits are ludicrously powerful compared to Geralt. The deeply unfortunate decision to make the first area small and artificially cramped, hiding the fact that for most of the game you’re in a sprawling open world that almost never demands a loading screen. The tedious rehashing of plot on those loading screens. You know the stuff I mean. When something annoys here, it’s all the more jarring for it.

Which brings me to the main story. My biggest complaint about The Witcher III – and goodness, is this not a horrible one – is that in trying to do so much, its core does rather tend to suffer. It’s a fantastic game about Geralt the monster-slayer. It’s not so hot as a story about Geralt and Ciri, and much of that is down to utterly horribly pacing. The quest to find her is just so damn long and with so many distractions that her fate quickly fades into the distance. The threat of the Wild Hunt may as well not even exist, being glimpsed briefly in one early quest, getting sidelined until nearly the end, and not being particularly scary even at that point. The Witcher III also never quite recovers from its fake-out ending at Kaer Morhen, where you cash in every chip and call in every favour for what’s quite clearly the final battle… only to find out that you’ve still got several hours left. Adrenaline backwash isn’t a pleasant thing to swim through, especially for so long.

This final section is also something of a let-down due to a problem that’s plagued CD Projekt since the start of the series – its difficulty bringing in both existing Witcher fans and those who’ve never read the books. The Witcher III does it far better than its predecessors, and it has no trouble making Ciri a cool character play and to spend time with. It’s terrible though at conveying what book readers know about her, which becomes a real issue when the final act sets out to switch things around so that the Wild Hunt and the more metaphysical threat both become her story rather than Geralt’s.

With the original game, and in particular all the stuff with Alvin, it was easier to brush this kind of thing off – you wouldn’t for instance expect a Star Wars game to stop the action to explain what The Force is. The Witcher was very much a game of that ilk, aimed primarily at the legions of fans outside the English speaking world. By The Witcher II though, it had grown, with The Witcher III in particular being one of the biggest games of the year, and with all due respect to Sapkowski’s work, that’s entirely down to CD Projekt clambering from unknowns to the top tier of game development. (For comparison, you’ll note that the Game of Thrones RPG got zero attention back in 2012).

To give proper credit, CD Projekt has gotten much better at this over the years, with the move away from politics to a more bashy-smashy monster story definitely in The Witcher III’s favour. Even outside of that stuff though, it regularly pulls it off superbly. The quest “The Last Wish” is probably its best moment. If you’ve read the books, you know exactly what it refers to. If not, Geralt and Yennefer quickly set things up without too much “As You Know” dialogue, creating a quest that’s heartwarming whether you know of them, or only met Yennefer for the first time in the intro. It’s also pretty good at re-establishing what happened in the previous games by showing rather than simply telling, despite how much variance was possible from the complex web of politics and character choices.

With Ciri and much of what surrounded The Wild Hunt though, I often felt that element of being out of the loop and the drama of the big moments and reveals suffered for it. The fact that the big reveal is so tied to her background and relationships and insecurities that we’ve not really seen while she was busy exploring the world as a magical murder machine don’t really help. This may be a case of expecting Darth Vader to pause for a moment to go “BY THE WAY, I’M LUKE’S DAD – YOU KNOW, THE HERO AND STUFF”, but it did detract from both the drama of the ending and the emotional hook of her various fates once no longer imprisoned by being the Lady of the Worlds.

Even in the lesser parts though, I’m not saying The Witcher III did things badly, just not quite up to its own normally amazing standards. Alec has already written about the amazing Bloody Baron storyline, with its fascinating mix of brutality and sympathy for the devil. Most games would be proud to just to have that, but of course The Witcher III has so many more – the horrible story of Skjall for instance, the falsely accused craven, the vampire lord and his sadistic serial killing spree, the witches of the woods and their rivalry with another ancient spirit where human morality has no place, the plague spirit who tries to con Geralt into freeing her by playing the damsel card…

That actually ties into one of my favourite things about the whole game – just how much respect it has for its characters. The Witcher III obviously has fun with fan-service on a fairly regular basis, but never mind that. Even in those cases, there’s more to the characters than a weak ‘oh, well, sorceresses just like to look sexy’ level excuse – Keira Metz for instance quickly moving from that to focus on her frustration with her current state and desire for both immediate and long-term escape, just as Triss is seen primarily as a key member of the magical resistance and a powerful figure first, a potential notch on Geralt’s bedpost second. You don’t simply make a strong female character by literally making them strong, though certainly the sorceresses are – all the leads are given the equality of flaws, respect, and crucially, being fun that so often eludes the genre. Yennefer especially is wonderfully written, managing to convey both the sentiment towards Geralt and more importantly Ciri that their relationship needs, and the pragmatic coldness that lets her backstab whole communities and work with the enemy without so much as a second thought.

And god, is it a funny game. It’s easy to see it as bleak, with all the racism and warfare and cruel decisions, but in practice this so often acts as something for the writers to bounce humour off. There’s more warmth in The Witcher III than most games even get close of, from the friendship of comrades in arms whether they’re in a no-win situation or not, to random moments of comedy like the Witchers stealing Yennefer’s clothes to drunk-dial people over her magical phone, to Geralt persuading her into a terrible pun-war, to taking a turn as a flamboyant bandit to… oh, so many great moments. As much as the plot’s pacing issues meant I soon forgot about the Wild Hunt in anything but a “I wonder when they’ll actually appear” kind of way, the constant flow of surprises stopped the wild-goose chase ever entirely wearing out its welcome.

Not every bit of writing is a home-run of course, with Ves especially coming across as a moron this time. Those slips are relatively rare though, and perhaps there’s no better small example of how much CD Projekt’s writers have come on over the years than when trying to track Dandelion through his list of recent conquests – the joke of how many there are being a funny one, but everyone on the list then being treated like people rather than objects of fun. That includes the cross-dressing tailor who gets to tell jokes without being one, not least getting to tell the tale of Kalkstein’s death and why you don’t want to burn an alchemist at the stake without checking their pockets.

One of the best often overlooked bits of writing though has to be Geralt himself. I spent a bit of time after finishing The Witcher III replaying bits of the first games, and in the English language versions at least… goodness, what a jump up. The series has often struggled to convey the subtlety of his character – a man playing the role of an emotionless killer who gives no shits for politics, rather than actually being that. As much as it would make his life endlessly easier.

Here that comes across beautifully, especially in conversations with ‘monsters’ like godlings where he can let his guard down and let his compassionate side show without fear, in reunions with old friends who he’s finally back on an equal footing with after recovering his memories (a particularly fine line being Triss expressing how glad she is that nobody will be able to manipulate his ignorance any more, while casually mentioning that of course she’s been doing just that, as if she’d be able to hold her head up high around her fellow sorceresses if she hadn’t) and the options to break neutrality in the face of particular obscenities. True, the Geralt of the books would never be quite as pliable as player option allows him to be here, in particular when it comes to turning down a fee, but it works. His careful monotone is layered with a surprising amount of sentiment, backed up by some great facial acting in key moments. I mean, just look at this, from the Baron questline:

That’s amazing character work, right there – the mix of resignation and sadness encapsulated just in Geralt’s eyes, away from any actual plot detail. The fact that CD Projekt can do the same in tragic and comedy sequences are amazing, as well as convey key moments with silence and unspoken texture. Scenes like trying to maintain a cover while Triss is being tortured show the range beautifully, as do the warm moments when he’s finally reunited with Ciri. I don’t think anyone has ever done a better RPG protagonist, perfectly balanced between personality and player freedom.

On top of that though, it’s worth pausing for a moment just to acknowledge how impressive it is that CD Projekt manages to make him so consistent across so many different types of story and so many hours. I can’t remember a single moment where I suddenly felt that Geralt had been swapped out for an infiltrator, or was just a generic mouthpiece. To make the whole thing so much his story deserves major praise, grounding everything you see in a way that makes the pain and suffering and moments of relief feel real and important and worth caring about, not just vectors for more delicious XP.

Which brings us to the ending proper. Endings, I should say. The one I got saw Ciri successfully facing down the White Frost, the apocalyptic yet poorly established in-game threat beyond the Wild Hunt. Overall, I liked it, even though there was a fair whack of “If you don’t know all of this already, it’s not for you,” in the telling. Yes, a lot of the details are in the game, but I still felt a bit left out.

That said, it worked for me. In my game, Geralt had been supportive to Ciri, so she went to her destiny beyond him with a heart full of hope and confidence, and I actually liked that the epic battle took place off screen. It reminded me a bit of how I wanted The Walking Dead Series 1 to end. Here, Geralt’s job is to prepare Ciri for her fight, but he can’t be there with her for it. Therefore, nor can we. Whether she wins or loses that battle, it’s hers – the child surpassing the parent.

From then, she went on to become a Witcher in her own right – Geralt giving her a sword that would be much more touching if we weren’t certain she’ll sell it in three hours time once she out-levels it, but NEVER MIND. For me, that’s the ending that works best. Watching the others on YouTube, I’m less taken by Ciri becoming the ruler of Nilfgaard, largely because she hasn’t had a whole lot of time during the game to show authority that would come to bear in that role, and the idea of a ruler with a good heart becomes slightly less warm in the face of The Witcher universe’s shades of grey. Conversely, I found putting Cerys an Craite in charge of Skellige quite fitting because by that point she’d demonstrated enough skills to lead well.

(It’s also a little undercut by the fact that in-game Nilfgaard is rarely shown to be that bad, with the real problems for most of the people you meet coming from the likes of Radovid. Even only a glancing knowledge of the books quickly shows a much darker side to them.)

Finally, the bad ending of Geralt effectively committing suicide by monster… I’m glad I didn’t get that one, but it seems pretty fitting as well. The game has reinforced time and time again that he’s largely a relic who fights purely because it’s what he’s made to do, but that crushing blow at losing Ciri… yeah. If anything was going to push him over the edge, it was going to be that. In some ways, such a brutally bleak ending, lacking in any heroism save having at least tried, is appropriate. I’m glad it’s officially the ‘bad’ ending though, because what tends to ripple throughout the game far more strongly is how much heart it actually has – the chance for warmth in the cold, the importance of friendship in a cynical world, the price and reward of loyalty. Geralt deserves something after all of his trials, and I can’t think of anything better or more fitting than knowing his legacy continues and has found satisfaction, be it as an Empress, or a Witcher who happily follows his teachings and code by her own free will. After all, what use has he for gold and jewels except to trade in for yet another slightly better silver sword? The Witcher 3 lets him retire with something accomplished, that can never be undone by the likes of Radovid’s scheming or Weavess’ potential revenge plans.

In short, I like the ending a lot. It’s not the heroic sacrifice I was expecting, but it’s the quieter, more understated finale the series needed – a passing of the torch, a passing into a new era. As the quest itself declares, something ends, something begins. Well, after the DLC is all finished, anyway.

Of course, The Witcher III has its running problems. The combat is far too hard early on and then becomes far too easy long before the midpoint of the game, some specific quests aren’t as good as others, and it does have a tendency to rather boringly rely on “Use your Witcher senses to-” where it would be much more fun to actually, y’know, do stuff. The quests in particular would be a lot more fun if they weren’t so completely guided and had instead taken a bit more of a simulator approach to tracking foes and preparing for battles and otherwise acting like a Witcher rather than a sword-slinging psychic with the world’s first GPS embedded into his mop-haired bonce.

Overall though, I loved it while playing it, and I can’t wait for the DLC. I know it’s currently a bit up in the air as to what CD Projekt has planned for the series – talk of this being Geralt’s last story, but still leaving things open for a return to the world. Honestly, I kinda hope this is it. It’s the culmination of everything it’s been working towards, and a finer cap you couldn’t hope for. At this point, what I want to see more than anything else is to see it clear the table and start afresh, putting all those hard-earned lessons into practice on something without the baggage of both the books and its own previous games. Cyberpunk 2077 should be amazing, but what I can’t wait for is what comes after that. It’s a good thing it’s still some way off, giving the competition a chance to catch up.

Oh, and no. I still haven’t gotten around to playing Gwent. Sorry.

99 Comments

  1. LordCrash says:

    The ending of TW3 is easily the worst part of the whole game. Actually the whole last act of the game is a bad mess with a whole range of issues. Just a complete disappointment, one or two levels below CDPR’s potential and the quality of the rest of the game. They made a whole bunch of fundamental video game design mistakes there. It’s almost ridiculous if it wasn’t that sad…

    Witcher 3 (pre final act): 10/10
    Witcher 3 (after final act): 8/10

    I’ve written an extensive post on that on the Witcher forums: link to forums.cdprojektred.com!!!

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      For me, its biggest problem is pacing. It’d have been better if you found Ciri earlier and it didn’t feel like it was peaking with that battle – afterwards, even if everything is much bigger, you’ve kinda spent the adrenaline. Dragon Age Inquisition had a similar issue early on, where the villain just kinda vanishes and so your rematch is meh.

      • jecomans says:

        Did you go to Skellige before the Battle for Kaer Morhen? I did not. So for me the intense battle for followed swiftly by moving to a separate empty map, and the jar of that almost put me off the game. It took many hours to get the wind back in those sails. Maybe because of different approaches, but I actually thought the initial confrontation in DA:I built my anticipation for the next show down, whereas in W3 it deflated it.
        (Actually also; that big first battle in DA:I, I spent way too long running circles around the map waiting for cool-downs because everyone else had been knocked out. The Cold War wishes it lasted that long.)

      • blastaz says:

        I think the problem is with the fairly rigid levelling system and the way that boxes off areas and quests.

        For example I arrived in Novigrad for the first time having done all the barons quest line but not much else as every time I left the beaten path I came up against level skull bandits. I was around lvl 15. First quest I got was the lvl 24 welcome to the corruption in Novigrad smith quest. Next quest was lvl 9 grey main quest. It just didn’t make much sense why those two were side by side.

        I don’t particularly like auto lvled content, but the game (and da:I) could have benefited more from much better zoning. Or perhaps no lvling at all!

    • SMGreer says:

      Ugh.

      Look, truthfully, I only skimmed your lengthy essay but you start with the shaky foundation of using the basic three act structure of Star Wars as “perfect pacing” and tear down the Witcher 3 for not falling in line with it. Which is ludicrous for a whole shopping list of reasons.

      The pacing isn’t perfect but in a game like this, based on a story like Sapkowski’s, that’s a much more complicated issue that can’t possibly be compared with non-interactive media. Which leaves me a little baffled that you’ve the gall to say Cd Projekt made some “fundamental video game design mistakes” when you are referencing work from other media.

      Plus your constant misuse of the phrase “out of character” leads me to believe you’ve no idea what that means. I honestly just get the impression you ignored or missed key pieces of characterization or context for their actions and now lay that blame at the feet of the devs. You seem to have overlooked some important pieces of plot too. Ever single scene you complain about, made perfect sense to me and if I’d the time, I’d outline why. Above, Richard does go over some of the scenes you mentioned and why he felt they work.

      Your complaint about the choices surrounding Ciri being too subtle? Can’t say I got that, since the dilemma being posed to me in each instance was rather clear and not at all left to guesswork. Which lead to great payoff with the ending. For those who didn’t get it? Surely the intent would be to ask them to reflect on why?

      Each to their own of course, clearly it didn’t work for you but suffice to say I agree with Richard, the ending was in line with tone and character of not only the games but the preceding books. No “fundamental mistakes” at all in my book.

      • LordCrash says:

        There are some simple basic but fundamental flaws to the game:

        – the ending is deus ex machina spectacle creep
        – the main villains are no narrative, but mechanical ones
        – the so-called “choices” are not meaningful but badly desinged through and through
        – the player is punished for making decisions without proper information (capital sin in video game design)
        – the players are forced to do things that they should clearly have a choice to do not

        Whether you agree with my assessment of the pacing doesn’t cover criticism.

        And I know pretty well what “out of character” means. I’ve read the books numerous times. I know every bit of detail in them. Same is true for all three games. So, maybe you disagree with me. That’s perfectly fine. But it’s not because I don’t know what I’m speaking about.

        • Archonsod says:

          None of which are actually design flaws. Of course, I’m inclined to believe the people who produced a multi-million bestselling game are the ones who know what they’re actually about in this case.

        • jecomans says:

          Three particular things you say I am going to disagree with:

          Choices are not meaningful: Choice you make both in the main quest and side quests have, at various points, both/either major and minor effects on the main story, side story, the world and its inhabitant. And especially regarding the final outcomes in the main quest there are a decent number of, for lack of a better word, objectives that can pass or fail to get any particular ending.

          The player is punished for making decisions without proper information: So? Sometimes you don’t have all the information and you need to go with your gut. You can’t ‘fail’ for making the ‘wrong’ choice; you get a different outcome. You may also be rewarded by the flow on effect of what you do. Sometimes you don’t know everything and you have to live with the consequences. This is not an idea that I think you support well.

          And that that is a cardinal sin of gaming: No, that can be good design. If you had all the information what is the point of giving options beyond trying to achieve a black or white response. This is only true in the very occasional game where, for instance, building a character with the wrong stats makes parts of the game impossible. Not remotely true here. And, most importantly (and unlike Witcher 2, including his memory loss), there wasn’t a point where I felt the information I have as a player, and the information Geralt should have as a character, were mismatched. Notwithstanding character ability and level pacing issues. I don’t agree with the ideals of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ endings, or ‘efficient’ play; just the way you play. It is interesting for the player when design goes beyond a right and wrong way to play.

          I want to add that I’ve read the rather fantastic essay that you linked. I agree with many of your points, and disagree with a number of your conclusions. These are just a nitpick of things I disagree with more fundamentally.

        • jecomans says:

          Something I completely forgot, in response to the anti-climatic minor boss story moments. The general combat isn’t that great. And that is compounded by the fact that CDPR seem incapable of thinking of interesting boss mechanics. I suppose when evade>hit is the crux of your shitty combat, adding patience is about all you can do?

        • Guystokesau1 says:

          That’s the beauty behind this game, yes there are choices you have to make with little backstory but major implications, (spoiler alert) for me, one thing I hated was the games ability to rush your choices without giving you a warning sign that there is stuff to do elsewhere that you can simply no longer do if you continue on on some instances, but other instances where a clear message will pop up saying, if you chose to go on now, you will miss key information. For example, in my world, I never got to finish the assassination of radovid, and this infuriated me at first, but then after some thought, it was beautiful. I was on another forum reading through the posts, and one was of a poster venting all his frustrations about how in his world, ciri died all because he chose not to have a snowball fight, or he didn’t let her trash the lab. It clearly effected his real life emotions that ciri died, where as in my play through, ciri became a Witcher, and gerelt and triss lives happily ever after. I was going to respond to his anger by reminding him that its not the devs fault that he emerged himself in the story and the outcome wasn’t to his liking, but I then realized that I was angry myself at not having done something to radovid. This beautiful understanding setvin that we are to blame for the things we don’t like about how our Witcher journey ended, the devs are not to blame. We have to take the responsibility onboard ourselves. We are given all the tools to submerge ourselves in lore and understanding of key events, but the here and now storyline that we are focusing on is just so captervating that we get impatient and need to know how one set of events ends, that often we forget to step back and continue a “side quest” there is only yourself to blame in that case, and the fact that it may cause you anger, or it may validate your choice to step back and go help this person out real quick, we all play these games to be effected in some way. I applaud the developers for what the Witcher has managed, yet I realize if I had made different choices, I would most likely be very unhappy with my result and naturally blame the devs before finally coming to the conclusion that it was really my fault I didn’t get the happy ending. That in itself is a great accomplishment for any story teller, I imagine the fact that we take ownership of the story and tell the devs that it should have ended like this instead, is actually a very high form of praise in itself. Well done guys.

  2. Paul says:

    I enjoy your articles Richard, always pleasure to read, even when I disagree about something.
    I didn’t mind the pacing – searching for Ciri, knowing she is a bad ass who can take care of herself, actually nicely sidestepped the issue of “open world” versus “main quest urgency”. The fact that Kaer Morhen seems like the big final showdown, only for the game continue building up even more, was a pleasant surprise. I had the Empress ending, which I hoped for, and it was beautiful in that frozen White Orchard, in a very bittersweet way.
    Regarding the Game of Thrones game that nobody cared for – that is incredible shame, because it is also one of the best written games I”ve played – proudly next to Torment, Vampire Bloodlines, Witcher 2, Witcher 3 and New Vegas. Its only fault was that everything besides writing was mediocre, so not many people had enough patience with it (RPS did, I gave it a chance because of WOT here).
    As for TW3, it is my favourite game of all time, since it perfectly combines my love of open world exploration and nonlinear interactive narrative, and is so wonderfully well written. Also it helps that I love the books and read them several times over the last decade and a half. I really want to replay it already (after 200 hour playthough!), but I also want to wait for expansions and have it a bit fresher.
    Oh and gwent is so much fun. Its tournament quest too. And I never played CCG before, apart from Doom Trooper some 15 years ago. Try it out !

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      The start of the Game of Thrones RPG is bloody *awful*, but I was surprised by how well it picked up when the main plot got started. It very much felt like them needing that opening time to get into the groove. Ended up quite liking it for that, even if it had so many other issues that still dragged it down. Oh god, the voices for starters.

      • Paul says:

        At least Mors and Alester were voiced very, very well. For me, worse issues were boring combat and stealth. Still, great experience.

    • Booker says:

      Honestly, I liked the Game of Thrones RPG a lot. In hindsight I have to say it’s a lot better than Dragon Age Inquisition. At least it has some choices that change things and the story is quite good. I don’t know who has written this game, but it was as good as the books IMHO.

    • Samuel. R says:

      I’m always extremely heartened to see another fan of the Games of Thrones 2012 RPG. I agree that it’s writing was absolutely fantastic. Very strong character work. I picked up the game when it came out because I’m a big fan of ASOIAF, but I’ve also been pleased of RPS’ coverage of it – recognising that, amongst its flaws, there’s a fantastic game in there.

      New Vegas, Torment and the Witcher games (KOTOR 2 as well) are my high standard for well-written RPGs as well.

      I have such a deep nostalgic love for Witcher 1 that I’d have to count it as my favourite of the series, but Witcher 3 is definitely the best game of the series and one of the best video games I’ve ever played.

      As a fellow fan of the books, did you find the retconning of the Fake Ciri strange? Was one of my few problems with Witcher 3.

      • Paul says:

        I actually don’t think it is retconned, necessarily. AFAIK she was only indirectly mentioned in a letter from Shilard to Emhyr (he addressed her as “consort”). We simply do not know her status, but that does not mean she was retconned.

  3. DrHuge says:

    A really excellent post that encapsulates everything I both loved (the vast majority of the game, and the characterization and sheer humanty of Geralt) and disliked (the QoL and pacing flaws) about The Witcher. This is why I read RPS.

  4. pennywyz says:

    This game has some of the most awkward/awful movement combined with the most awkward/awful combat that combine to kill any sense of being a Bad Ass witcher. My wife independently came to the same conclusion. I feel like many reviews and articles mention it in passing, when they would have crucified other games for the same thing. I understand all of the positive things people are saying about the story, characters, etc. but I couldn’t slog through the actual gameplay long enough to enjoy it myself.

    • Paul says:

      I dunno man, I felt plenty bad ass
      link to gfycat.com

      • nearly says:

        But it hardly looks like you’re hitting people with a sword so much as diving into the middle of a cadre of bandits and spinning about as quickly as possible. Two of the people just kind of…fall down. I think that’s part of the awkwardness people are responding to, the way enemies just kind of drop when they’re killed. Well, either that or you get a finisher.

        That’s also not really the way the game starts. Personally, I find the skill system asinine, as you’ll have access to far more skills than you can equip if you spend your early levels exploring and don’t invest skill points in buffing individual skills. It’s frustrating to feel that you’re being hamstrung in the diversity you can manage until a point where half of the content becomes trivial. I guess on the other side, diversity would probably make it all trivial that much faster.

        I’m still too lazy to try any of the rebalances already on Nexus but it seems like really uneven design that I’m sure mods will help. Hopefully the developer that releases full combat rebalances will have some fun with this.

        • Paul says:

          This is Geralt’s fighting style, and it looks (and feels) very bad ass, which is what I was addressing. TW3 finally nailed combat as described in the books while also making it fun.

          • carewolf says:

            No it looks like he is a retarded monkey with a sword and has absolutely no idea what he is doing. The powers that be, just tries to please him by making enemies not abuse his insanity but line out nice and quitely to be slaughtered. It is slightly better than the batman combat, but the problem is based on the same type of (lack of) control and attempt to make unrealistic comic book fighting.

      • pennywyz says:

        To me, feeling Bad Ass in a game means using my coordination in conjunction with reliable mechanics to dispatch an enemy who is a real threat. It doesn’t feel that way when I’m getting stuck on the world’s smallest pebble, mounting my horse instead of dodging, or watching my sword intersect the enemy’s torso but no hit registering (among many other examples. It also doesn’t feel that way when virtually every enemy can be killed by dodge-dodge-hit, rinse and repeat. Add in the really odd leveling as others have mentioned (Can’t kill soldiers of a certain level because Video Games, even though I can dodge and get in clean hits all day??)

        I don’t want to be too negative about it, I’m really very happy that so many people enjoy the game so much. It just didn’t do it for me and I find it odd because normally I’m in agreement with the RPS community. Maybe the patch will help.

        p.s. Don’t tell my wife, but seeing the same exact sex scene animations with various different female faces was a bit of a letdown…

    • Jimbo says:

      I didn’t have this problem at all but a lot of people seemed to. Apparently they have just patched in a new optional movement system (presumably less ‘weighty’ and more responsive) which might be worth a look.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I think part of the problem is that you have to play in a fairly specific way – Geralt’s bad-assness isn’t based on being a million billion times stronger, but being more skilled and prepared than the people and monsters respectively that he faces. That’s as much about rhythm as anything else, as well as keeping up a good defence as well as offence. With that, you can fight ludicrously outside your league if you take your time (though it does take too long, and I don’t like that regular bandits are EVER a particular threat.) If you just charge in and try to clonk heads then it’ll WORK, but the combat system is built around a more subtle approach to kicking arse.

      Except for the bits that are broken, like Ydren being crazy powered and your wingmen like Keira very obviously doing no damage. But hey, I’ll take a few bits and pieces for all the stuff it does really well.

      • pennywyz says:

        Isn’t that part of the problem though? I feel like when games only work well when played in a specific, prescribed way we (video gamers) usually become much more critical than I’ve seen with this game. I’m not saying light the pitchforks, but personally I think it’s something I would have liked to read more about in a review about an open world game being praised for the freedom of approach it offers.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          I don’t think so, because the title of the game rather establishes that you’re not playing as a fighter, a battlemage, a spellsword or whatever, but a Witcher. In the same way that playing a Jedi Knight comes with expectations, you’re taking on a role that has specific, canonical ways of dealing with things – options within that, sure, but still not just anything goes. So a lot of the time you’re going to be underpowered unless you’ve used potions, you can’t just tank any damage, you’re never going to be a powerful mage, and there’s a lot of flexibility in the system for fighting with that in mind. You can cheese things as well, but I don’t think expecting the player to go “I’m too weak for this, I’ll go and prepare” is a problem, because about 99% of what makes Geralt special is that he does just that.

          • Premium User Badge

            Mungrul says:

            You know what? I think the biggest problem with the combat is that in starting hard but getting so ridiculously easy, it robs the player of a sense of achievement.
            If it had stayed as hard throughout, forcing the player to actually master the combat, it would have felt a lot more consistent and rewarding.
            Granted, at the very start it’s a little too unfair, and I had to rely an awful lot on the quicksave key, but I feel with a bit of tweaking they could maintain that difficulty throughout the game and provide a much more satisfying experience. One where Geralt’s a badass because you’ve had to learn to play like a badass.

            There’s also the over-reliance on food as health items early on, particularly with the two highest difficulty settings. Once again, instead of creating a more nuanced, maintainable system here (they should have put more focus on potions as healing than rely on food), the food system is completely supplanted as soon as you get access to the Ekhidna Decoction. It’s so ridiculously overpowered it makes a joke of the entire health system and forces a reliance on it. To the detriment of the greater potion system I might add, as it forces toxicity so high, you’re disinclined to experiment with combinations of potions.

    • jecomans says:

      I think gameplay in Witcher games has always kind of sucked, so when in the previews of Witcher 3 they said a Signs focused character was going to be viable, my eyes lit up. I focused on that, and the times I had to use the clumsy combat system to actually hit something were a formality.

      • jecomans says:

        Sorry, I slipped into that stupid mistake of calling combat gameplay. Witcher 3 has great gameplay, but it has not great combat.

  5. MrTijger says:

    Great article, Richard, thank you for wording my thoughts about the Witcher better than I could ever have.

    I felt that at the end, and I had the Empress ending, I was dealing with a real person in the form of Geralt and that the much maligned Yennefer was far less malignant than she first seems. Ciri too became, well, maybe not as defined a character as the other two but certainly someone I liked and rooted for.

    Yes, of course, Witcher III has problems and issues and you rightly and correctly pointed them out but damn, what a game and if this is what a flawed game looks like in 2015 I hope we get many many more.

    Mind you, when I started the epilogue and found Ciri I was increasingly worried, I really thought they were going to pull the rug out from under me and let Ciri die or something, the revelation she was leaving to become Empress (in my case) was a huge relief for me, personally.

    10/10? Maybe not but it sure feels like it, even the flaws have quality and I hope in all earnesty that when CDPR has had a well deserved vacation they will reconsider ending the series, they’ve reached so high now it would be criminal to just forget about this world.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      God, yes. As I think I said in the review, I spent about fifty hours waiting to find one thing that felt phoned in about it. My only real reason for wanting them to move on is that I think at this point a future game would inevitably be hamstrung by what came before, and I really want to see what they do with a clean slate. Cyberpunk is a perfect one, even though it’s another license, because there’s so much scope to pin whatever mood they like on it.

      • MrTijger says:

        Hah, yes, I know the feeling of “If they can get to this with the Witcher, imagine what they can do with a new IP!” but dammit, there just seems to be so much life yet in The Witcher universe! :) Still, 2 large expansions to come, thats a nice thing to look forward to.

        As someone who is maybe closer to what people at CDPR think and say, do you get the feeling that the succes of Witcher III is changing their minds on another run or are they focusing solely on something new?

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          I haven’t spoken to anyone at CDP since The Witcher II, so I have no idea. To some extent it felt like they were setting Ciri up as a new protagonist, but by the end it just felt like everything had been wrapped up on both a personal and global scale. The wars, the White Frost, the second Conjunction, etc. I suspect and hope that they’re planning to go out on a high, at least for the moment.

          They have however previously been careful about saying that this is the end of Geralt’s story, rather than their time with the Witcher universe per se. And there’s a lot of scope for doing stuff, be it giant scale RPGs or something simpler, like having Geralt in a Hitman style game where he’s going after monsters instead of targets and they can really dig into the subtleties of that.

  6. james___uk says:

    link to i.imgur.com

    Bravo sir! Well written article indeed, this is why this is possibly my favourite website! This made me think of the games story more and it really is something too rare in gaming, truly good writing! The game is such a briliant piece of work that I absolutely cannot wait for Cyberpunk because that can’t not be amazing (not to mention a certain cameo we may get in it ;) ). I played the first two Witcher games but they don’t really compare to this one, The Witcher 3 just blew them out of the water for me and I loved it throughout. My only real complaint is the white markers in the waters of Skellige, those are monotonous, I also found the horse handling to be funny at times but now that’s fixed? But crikey is the game good otherwise, I know the story isn’t perfect but I dam well appreciate it, there was great depth, emotion, character, and humor too for that matter. Bravo CDProjekt indeed

  7. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Spoilers be damned, I’m still only half way through so haven’t read beyond the intro but shall come back to this when I’ve finished. The one thing I’d say from my 30+ hours so far, that I’ve not heard anyone else mention, is it actually took me a good 10-15 hours to settle in to the game, I wasn’t particularly enjoying it til then, although that’s possibly because I was wrestling with whatever the 2nd hardest is, eventually gave up and dialled down one to the 2nd easiest. I was replaying so many fights, and on reaching Velen I was so under-powered compared to all these level 10+ bandits and monsters that seemed to inhabit every ? location. Story missions were the only safe bet, and it felt like a weird reversal of needing to grind story before I could explore rather than vice versa.

    Of course now I’ve levelled up and on easier difficulty I’m totally overpowered for most of Velen, but there’s still a load of Witcher contracts, secondary quests and ?s to explore. Just seems a little beginner unfriendly, it wasn’t difficult in a satisfying way just a ‘everything around you is higher levels than you stay inside the tracks please’ way. I think RPS mentioned in the review, random batches of bandits double your level just seems out of place, Geralt should be slicing his way through them regardless, but not beheading Cockatrice’s and Wyvern’s like there’s no tomorrow just because of arbitary levels. And the combat doesn’t seem much different to Witcher 2, in my head anyway. It still forces you to lean on Quen way too much, the fact you have to keep reapplying it every time you take a hit you end up using your stamina on that the whole fight rather than getting to use anything more interesting and fun. The one defensive spell should not be the most popular, its boring!

    Anyway, that aside I’ve since really, REALLY got in to it. It’s got that great ‘day in the life of a Witcher’ feel to it that you could see Witcher 1 was aiming for. And the world, the graphics, the variety, it’s beautiful. All these similar little villages in the same type of countryside but they FEEL different and real, in a way most games would try and achieve through weird gimmicks (this one’s on top of a massive rock; this one has waterfalls running through it; this ones in a permanent blizzard. *cough* Skyrim *cough*). I have genuinely felt for a number of characters: peasants, orphans (oh god, the orphans, I think I made a bad choice there) and dare I admit it – the Bloody Baron. Vile, violent, wife beating bastard, I know, but he seems so sorry. Talk about creating a sympathetic bastard. Well written character, I still feel conflicted about using Crow’s Perch as a second home thanks to the armourer there. Clever stuff.

    Biggest accolade I can give it is the wife walked past during the Bloody Baron’s awkward reunion with his daughter and she paused and said “Oh, there’s actual, like, drama in this one, I thought you were playing the dinosaur killing one” (the monsters sound like dinosaurs, you see). Pointed out it was the same game and she carried on walking, but trust me that comment is praise indeed from her.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yeah, I was a little underwhelmed in White Orchard, especially with the barriers making me think “Oh, wait, I thought this was an open world!” Thankfully, Velen.

      • Endsville says:

        I can see why White Orchard might have been a little unimpressive after the way the game had been hyped as being bloody huge but I also thought that it was a rather perfect after-the-tutorial tutorial, as a means of introducing the player to the various new mechanics and optional quests and other activities. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt if you were immediately thrown into an area as large as Velen but I’m certain that I would have been the opposite, overwhelmed by its scale and all the things to do, especially the number of side quests and how they may have clashed with picking up Yennefer’s trail. As it happens, I thought that the design of White Orchard was really impressive, everything positioned or connected in such a way so that you couldn’t miss it and could therefore prepare you for the future. To me, it was also a bit of a tease too, each new discovery a little tug at the curtain before the grand reveal of Velen. By the time I got there I was certainly pretty excited by White Orchard alone, that’s for sure.

        Anyway, nowhere near completed the game and with MGS V out in the near future, which promises to be huge and I expect will probably be bigger than I currently imagine, I honestly don’t expect I’ll be able to complete it by the end of the year, which is a bit mad, really, y’know, with two fucking expansions on their way.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          I kinda think the tutorial area would have been better if it had been in Kaer Morhen, where being sealed up for a while wouldn’t have felt as obvious as just hitting an invisible line and being told “Stop.” Would have meant shuffling things around story-wise of course, but still.

    • Cator says:

      Now that You leveld up a bit, I would really suggest You switch back to the 2nd highest dificullity. The combat really shines at this level, when it actually makes the player think (but it’s not as painfully dificult as it was in Whit Orchard)

      A case for the higher difficulity levels:
      link to polygon.com

      • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

        Yeah, I might just do that. Is getting too easy now, I’m button basking fast attack a lot now. Shall crank it back up see how I fare now I’ve got used to it all.

  8. SMGreer says:

    Great and thoughtful write up. Completely agree CD Projekt should leave The Witcher as is, I think they brought it to an end that’s so close to perfect, a return would come with near insurmountable expectations.

    I think the only real disappointment is we likely won’t get another RPG as good as this for years. Hopefully something out there is set to come from nowhere and surprise us.

  9. LordCrash says:

    Open world ruined this series…

    • Paul says:

      For me it was the opposite actually, finally TW3 fullfilled the potential the series had.

    • Samuel. R says:

      I think it did lead to the loss of some of the better and more unique aspects of the first two games, but also added a lot. I love open-world games, and adore the first two Witcher games, so Witcher 3 was very enjoyable for me, but I think some degree of more linearity may have helped – things like the ends of the second game having virtually no effect in the third game were irritating (the Iorveth/Roche choice the entire second game revolved around literally meant nothing in Wild Hunt – Iorveth doesn’t even appear!).

  10. Clavus says:

    Loved every minute of this game. Don’t get what everyone’s issue is with the combat, I’ve never really seen better examples. It plays fluidly if you dodge and combine signs well, and importantly for me, it looks fluid too. Made you feel like you’re a nimble witcher. Other games often pull you out of the experience with crude animation. Difficulty-wise I never had much issues on what I think was the 2nd-highest setting. They clearly show if enemies are beyond your level range, signalling you to flee (or go for a tricky fight using burning damage as your killing method). Mechanically I think this game was great. Story-wise it was amazing. Unprecedented scale of quality storytelling in games. The pacing being a bit off is simply because it’s also an open world, although they gave the story some nice points where it told you to go out and explore the world a bit before continuing.

  11. Sarkhan Lol says:

    I pity anyone who decided Lambert was not, in fact, a genius.

  12. Cator says:

    “It’s also a little undercut by the fact that in-game Nilfgaard is rarely shown to be that bad”

    That’s one of the many things I liked about the worldbuilding in this game.

    Nilfgaard stars as the supposed archetypical bad guys of the franchise (they wear black, their soldiers look like SS honour guard and they’re called “The Empire”), but the more You learn of them the more it’s obvious that despite the militaristic nature of that nation, they are also much more progressive people. Their land is the land of science and learning. Women are in positions of power, whereas in the Northern Kingdoms they are treated as second class citizens. They are not as inherently racist as their northern neibourghs (in the books Nilfgaard actually supported the Scoia’tael, even if it was only to use them for their own needs), and generally most of their NPC’s in this franchise are shown as much more sophisticated than the unwashed rabble of the lands of the north.

    Even the way they react to Geralt is telling. In Temeria, Aedirn, Redania or Keadven people spit at Geralt, hide their children away from him, and call him a freak and abomination, behind his back. Nilfgaardian NPC’s react to him with curiosity, fascination even. Northeners see Witchers as an afront to the Gods and natural order, whereas Nilfgaardians see them as a testament to the power of human ingenuity and mastery of magic.

    At some point in the game, despite them being shown as the agressors, I actually thought that it would be better for everyone in the long run, if they just won this war.

    • Samuel. R says:

      That’s an entirely valid perception in the game, and I go back and forth on the morality of Nilfgaard (a Nilfgaard not under Ciri at least), but as the article says – the books really do go into depth about some of the sickening aspects of that empire. There may have been subtle mentions of it in the games that I missed, because the books and games often get conflated into one big mega-story in my mind.

      • AnonymouseDude says:

        The darker edge of Nilfgaard is shown a lot in Velen as you encounter all of the hanged dotting each road. Two of Geralt’s missions also revolve around the killing of unarmed POWs by Nilfgaard, a war crime for which they have no shame.

  13. Hitchslapped says:

    Am I the only one bothered by the missing romantic conclusion?? I first decided to go with Triss because I didn’t know much about Yen at that point. Then as I got to know Yen better I liked her alot more so I decided to romance her. At that point I found out about the threesome thing and replayed everything from before I romanced Triss to only go with Yen.
    Well… what a fucking waste of time. Nothing happened. Instead of the threesome scene you get no scene at all. Why didn’t the include a bloody final moment where they got to talk before the final battle or something like this. The whole romantic story felt unfinished and immensly unsatisfying.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Hmm? There’s a Yennefer sex scene in Kaer Morhen, which is a far while after the Triss one. There’s also the endings that continue the romances to their conclusion once the big problem of saving the world is dealt with – at that point in the story though the focus is on Ciri, which seems to make sense. Plus a whole load of stuff earlier on, like the unicorn scene with Yen and Geralt’s effective-date with Triss during the quest at the mansion.

      • Hitchslapped says:

        Yes I got all the scenes, but you can basically do everything with both Yen and Triss and then get the “threesome”. If you choose either one of them you get exactly the same without the threesome. There should have been a final scene if you chose just one of them.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, the game doesn’t support both romantic options equally well. I chose Yennifer, and it felt right all the way to the ending. From what I’ve read, Triss just stays in the background for the rest of the story if you choose her.

      • Cator says:

        CDPR allready stated that they will add some tweaks to the way Triss romance ends. Nothing groundbreaking, probably some additional text. But I believe we are going to have a proper send-off or a new dialoge tree with her, instead of Triss just brushing Geralt off with the now infamous “well?”, in the final stages of the game.

  14. Zenicetus says:

    Ahhh… you’re overthinking it. Ciri worked well enough as a framework to hang the main quest on, and I can think of many worse ways to they could have done it. It ended up being a story not just about Geralt, but about his extended family. I got the same ending (Ciri the Witcheress, or whatever) and I almost teared up at the end. It was a perfect ending for both of them, and Yennifer (yeah, my choice).

    My only complaint about Ciri is that I never got completely comfortable with her combat mechanics, because those episodes are so short. But she’s so overpowered it doesn’t matter anyway.

    Flaws be damned, it’s a masterpiece of a game. Between rising budgets, and the fact that it took two previous games to work out how best to present this particular fantasy world and lead character, I fear there won’t be anything like this again, anytime soon.

  15. notenome says:

    First, great article.

    Second, I disagree with you a bit about the ’empress ending’ and Ciri in general. Speaking as someone who has never read the books, I found Ciri to be, well, amazing. And as I have (tried) to argued lengthily on the RPS ‘Witcher 3 and Gender’ thread ( link to rockpapershotgun.com ) I think the ending just radically altered my entire narrative experience with the game, in a very positive way.

    I would argue that TW3’s main theme is parenting (or fatherhood) and the ending encapsulates this perfectly. Unlike every-other-game, what determines the fate of the world, literally, is how good a parent you were. Not how good you were with a sword or the side quests you did or who you sided with, how good a parent you were. That’s beautiful.

    And in playing the Witcher 3, my own opinions on parenting changed from ‘oh god no’ to ‘wait, I get to spend all this time with this really cool person, and watch them become even cooler?’. Which is why I liked the ‘best’ ending so much, because its Ciri definitively leaving the nest (‘this is my story Geralt, not yours’) and choosing to be her own person, and not who Geralt would like her to be. This is a game that begins with you training a young Ciri to be a witcher, and ends with her deciding that’s not what she wants from life. So to me the ‘best’ ending is the best ending, because it gave closure to my video game experience of being a parent. Though not personally, because I really didn’t want her to go. I wanted her to stay. But it was her choice, and I had to respect it.

    Yeah, it has problems. But the Witcher 3 is my game of the decade. I liked the Witcher 2, but Christ, did I not expect this.

    • axfelix says:

      My biggest problem with the empress ending was that it didn’t have the two minutes from the beginning of the witcheress ending where Geralt mentions Avellach and Yennefer.

      Particularly if you’ve chosen Triss (which is great for how irritable it makes Yen at Kaer Morhen, and otherwise kind of disappointing, though as with the empress ending, I didn’t exactly get there on purpose), it doesn’t give Yen anywhere near the send-off she deserves, after how well she carries the at-times-wishy-washy last chunk of the game. I’m all for succinct and poignant (I liked Mass Effect 3’s original ending, so there), but the empress stuff felt left-field enough as is, and to have that without any mention of the ensemble other than Cerys and Triss in the vignettes afterward made it feel like it was all developed out of order then stitched together at the end. The game is so unbelievably good moment-to-moment that it’s easy to overlook the stitching elsewhere, but it was a bit of a bummer here.

    • Samuel. R says:

      I agree that a major (probably the primary, as you say) theme of the Witcher 3 is parenting – see the tree/Crones story, the Bloody Baron’s, Geralt/Yen/Emhyr/Ciri, Crach/Cerys/Hjalmar, and so on. Would love to see someone write up a bigger article or essay about how that theme works throughout the game.

      (*Sidenote: If Iorveth had been included in the game it would have been interesting to see that theme explored through the idea of elven fighters as the absence of elven parentage, as young fertile elves going to war rather than reproducing and the continuation of the race suffering because of that. The moral issues around that are interesting and the books delved into them from time to time*)

      While I find the Act 3 mechanics that decide what ending you get clunky in execution, I love that the ending of the game is determined by a player’s “parenting choices”. I also think it’s beautiful.

      The Empress ending was the natural ending I got, and it’s definitely my favourite (though I adore the suicide ending, it’s bloody fantastic – not a big fan of the Witcheress ending, though). I feel like it showed real growth and captured some of the transitional themes of the books better than other parts of the game trilogy. I’ve seen arguments on this matter, but I really do feel like the Empress ending reflects best on Ciri’s own agency and choices – while she refused to choose whether to go to Vizima or not, and you made that choice for her, she reflected on what she learned there and *she* in the end chose to try and do large-scale good through embracing that political position of Empress. I like the contrast of the hope and trust the player/Geralt has in Ciri, with the cynical bent the whole book+game series has on politics…it gives the Empress end a nice ambiguity. I loved the ambiguous nature of the book’s ending, and while I think the book’s ending is the best stopping place for the overall Witcher story (and a fantastic ending besides), I think the games are excellent sequels and the Empress and Suicide endings of Wild Hunt are also fantastic ending points for the overall Witcher story.

  16. montorsi says:

    Stopped playing after 20 hours and haven’t looked back. Biggest waste of $45 this year, by far.

    Hell, even Arkham Knight was better bang for the buck.

    • derbefrier says:

      I wouldnt be that harsh. Its a decent game I guess but I got bored and quit after about 10 hours. The game is just very derivitive in my opinion. Its really nothing special.

      • Hitchslapped says:

        What I hated the most is all that meanlingless crap on the map. “Treasures” that aren’t even worth to get of your horse. Destroying dozens of monster nests for some crafting stuff. Freeing villages…for what?? After a short while I just googled which question marks where to places of power and that’s it. Bloody open world crap. It was the same with Dragon Age Inquisition: “Hey developers, it’s open world. Just jizz as much collectable crap all over the map as you can so the players won’t get bored”

        • Paul says:

          It is too bad they left the point of interest markers enabled by default. You should have disabled them in the menu. Exploration feels very natural afterwards. Focusing them as the meat of the game is completely wrong way to look at the game.

          • Samuel. R says:

            Although I knew in the back of my mind all the elements of the UI were customisable (thanks to CDPR talking about it in pre-release videos), I totally forgot through all my dozens of hours of gameplay -_- Really wish I had remembered, as I think disabling the question marks on the big map would be a FANTASTIC improvement to exploration, and reduce the whole Ubisoft-y desire to “clear the tedious tasks on the map”. Would make it just a pleasant surprise when you stumbled upon something when exploring.

            Whenever I do another playthrough of this game (probably when support for the game has ended, and it’s had all its expansions, I’ll do a big trilogy run through) I’ll definitely be doing that. Maybe even disabling more aspects of the UI – could be tedious, but I’ve heard some say it really does help with immersion and appreciating the beauty and exploration aspects of the game.

        • Cinek says:

          It’s still by far better than Skyrim or… well… pretty much every other open world RPG ever.

          • Booker says:

            Exactly! No one has ever done an open world RPG better. CD Projekt Red actually bothered to fill the whole world with unique quests, unique story and dialogues you only hear once too. I was entirely happy with the way the Witcher 2 worked, but if you really have to do open world, do it like CD Projekt Red managed to pull it off…

        • Booker says:

          Then simply don’t go there? Do you know what optional means?

    • FriendlyFire says:

      Thanks, I was looking for the mandatory hyperbole-filled negative nancy comment thread.

  17. Jac says:

    That ancient spirit the ladies are fighting is actually their mother who became corrupted. There’s a book in one of the tents when you go to their little festival of delights and a couple of the npcs say “who was the other lady, another sister”.

    Detail like that is just amazing, I actually felt deflated when it ended because I didn’t want it to.

    Other than that I actually enjoyed the pacing, although agreed it didn’t really reinforce the idea of being in a race against time to save the world. I also found Ciri’s voice to be a bit hit and miss, and a bit Oliver Twist street urchin ‘cor blimey guvna type stuff.

    • Samuel. R says:

      I thought Ciri’s voice actress was very skilled, but not a *perfect* fit for the character. Actually, while I overall liked the writing of her in the game, the character did lose a fair deal of depth from the books…a lot of her darker aspects were kind of ignored.

      The voice actress was the women Hawke from Dragon Age 2 right? Pretty sure I heard that somewhere. Only even played a man Hawke so I’m not positive.

    • lordcooper says:

      What’s to say that book isn’t actually propaganda and the spirit never actually got corrupted.

      • Booker says:

        But the spirit was killing all this people around the tree, so it was definitely evil too. The crones wanted the spirit dead because they saw it as something threatening their power, but that doesn’t mean the spirit was good.

        I actually felt a lot better about killing the spirit, when I found out you return later to fight the crones anyway. It’s not like you allowed them to get away with it all unscathed.

        • Jac says:

          I killed it as well. When the sisters originally did so it says that they did it to protect the lands but obviously they became just as corrupted too. Not sure what happens if you free it?

          I got the same ending as Mr Corbett, which meant there was still a sister on the loose. One of the other endings has you go back to kill it apparently.

  18. Henson says:

    I got the bad ending.

    Up to that point, there were already plenty of places in the story where I got a bit misty-eyed. The Baron apologizing to his child. The aftermath of Kaer Morhen. The storytelling works so well, so often, and I was fully on board.

    The ending broke me.

    At first, it felt disconnected. ‘Did I get the bad ending? I think I got the bad ending.’ Like it happened to someone else. And then I insisted on getting a good ending. Finding out what the mechanics were that determined which ending you got. How I acted to cause this terrible state of affairs. I had to go back, to fix it.

    I loaded a save, put the game on Easy, and rushed through. And died. And died again. Hitting a brick wall. Unable to proceed. I couldn’t fix it. I had to stop.

    You know, people often make an ultimate goal of storytelling in games, of whether a game can ‘make you cry’. It’s a shallow criteria, but not often met. And I cried. No, I didn’t cry. I wailed. I forced all my grief out in a silent scream. I don’t care about Radovid, I don’t care about the elves, I don’t care about stopping the White Frost. I just want Ciri back.

    • zhivik says:

      I got that too on my first (and only so far) playthrough. At first, I felt cheated, then utterly depressed. Affer having a thought, however, I came to realise hwo great that game was. The saddest thing of all was that after I looked at the mechanics, it turned out I was only a single choice away from having Ciri survive the final battle, which felt really devastating. One choice and it could all have been so different. And I totally agree with you that I didn’t care about anyone else but Ciri – neither what happens to Temeria, nor what to my friends – only Ciri mattered. To make it worse, I also had the Red Baron commit suicide, even though I had the sister take the throne in Skellige and arranged Radovid to be assassinated (though I had to kill Deixtra after that).

      Our reaction is a true testament how great the writing in this game is. The Witcher 3 never leaves you indiferent. Yes, bad thngs happen, but that’s life. You make decisions without having any idea about the consequences – well, it happens quite often, too. So I am not sorry that I got one of the bleakest possible outcomes, and I am going to play the game again (probably after the big DLCs come out). There are very few games that have managed to drain me so much emotionally, but I am happy that we have them.

  19. Tim James says:

    I liked the lead-up to the ending and the change in stakes because they simply put it out there and let it be. There was no need to do a big Hollywood-style reveal, or have Elizabeth breathlessly tell us about the universe. Like the rest of the game, it was perfectly natural. It humanized the villains and put everything else into perspective.

    Then again, I’ve always been an ending apologist. I think people get too cranky about them.

  20. coppernaut says:

    My only regret, is sending Triss away on that boat…

    Did every side quest possible that was available, and it made the main quest extremely easy. I regretted after I beat it not putting it on anything above ‘Sword and Story”. I thoroughly enjoyed the game though. The funnest parts were probably the Witcher contracts for me. They were just always so interesting. I didn’t play Dota 2 for nearly a month because of The Witcher 3. Now I suck at Dota 2. Thanks CD Projekt Red. :p

    • zhivik says:

      The reaction of Deixtra after I sent off Triss was priceless. I felt so sorry about my decision, even though I’ve read the books and I was looking forward to reuniting Geralt and Yennefer, going back to the very beginning of the series. Despite my regret for Triss, The Witcher 3 more than made it up with The Last Wish quest, quite aptly named after the short story with the same name.

      These little bits are what I love about this game the most, it involves you really deep into the story and you get the feeling you are a part of a real, living world. I think this is the best testament for a good RPG, not combat mechanics or character customization.

  21. Firkragg says:

    I agree with most of your points mr. Cobbett, but i’d also like to add its one of the best father-daughter simulators i’ve played in a while. The subtlety of how talking and advising Ciri in the last part of the game affects the ending is one of my favorite things about the game. You could choose to be overprotective and dominating, sapping her of confidence and losing her trust, or actually treat her like a person in her own right, with her own goals and feelings.

    I’m a 25 year old male, no girlfriend (and certainly no kids of my own!) yet the relationship between Ciri and Geralt excluded any and all feelings of attraction to Ciri, simply because Geralt, my avatar, both in the books and in the game strive to be a father figure to her.
    One scene the really sticks to mind, not only for its laudable subtlety, is the spa scene where Ciri recovers after being chased by the Wild Hunt. Ciri can choose to go nude or take a towel to cover up. Having read the books and understanding Geralts motives for wanting to find Ciri, of course I chose the towel option; something Ciri’s spa partners remark upon as “odd”. Letting her go nude would have felt wrong to me, especially because of Geralt. It would have felt like I would be peeping, and by that extension, that Geralt would be peeping through my eyes, something he’d never do.

  22. Laurentius says:

    Witcher 3 as far as I can tell (still in Skellige ) is great or maybe even fantastic game. Best game of the series, definietly but it is alos the worst Witcher game of the series as well. When W1 didn’t do particularly well in capturing spirit of the books at least it tries and even succeded at some moments, W2 really ssparated itself from Sapkowski’s work and W3 exists on compleltly different plane. It’s personal taste but being a fun of books ffrom their inception it is huge let down for me.

    Also CDPR take on marrying open world and strong narrative failed, yes they tried but ultimately failed, it is way better then Skyrim and DA:I but it is not even close to success. You may call it pacing problems, etc , fact is it didn’t work out, W2 is way better at keeping player griped with the story and actually making sense, in W3 you really have to turn off normal thinking and blind yourself with “video game logic” to bear with how story progress.
    On strictly mechanical level, unfortunate open world = mmorpg trappings that often plague cRPG results in very boring leveling system, overleveled enemies onehit killing you and being hp sponges and loot and crafting loosing all of it charms (of I’ve found sick switcher sword diagram but it’s for lvl25 character and Iam 12, it’s completly killing it ).

    PS. Also I like W3 combat, still think W1 levled group system sword fighting was the best at showing how badass Geralt is, heads just rolled.

  23. Geebs says:

    The Witcher 3 really nails two things – the monster hunting (you really can just pick a road and travel from town to town, picking up contracts along the way), and the father-daughter relationship between Geralt and Ciri. I don’t know if it really comes across to non-English players, but Ciri has an Estuary accent despite being a princess, because she’s spent most of her time since childhood hanging out with bandits, peasants and Witchers.

    The way they handled Ciri pushing back against all of the people trying to tell her what to do was brilliant, too; “Firstly: bollocks. Secondly…”

    The Wild Hunt was ruined by the explanation, though. They’re supposed to be a cross between an inexplicable force of nature and the sort of haughty, wild elves that Tolkein wrote about, having parties in the woods and messing with people, and you’re not supposed to know why they do what they do. “Bunch of boring grimdark dudes in armour” misses the point.

    • Sakai says:

      Well, its what Wil Hund in the books is, just elves from another dimension. :)

      • Geebs says:

        Yeah, but they’re poetic elves who are indiscriminately ruining everybody’s day just because it’s in their nature and they don’t care.

        If you explain them as having such a boringly practical motive, they become just another faction; and then none of that mystical “riding with the Wild Hunt” stuff makes any sense because they actually seem to spend most of their time sitting around feeling sorry for themselves.

  24. jecomans says:

    By the sounds of it we got most of the same outcomes in our initial (my only) play-through. Cool, because I liked them.
    I was not super impressed with the first two Witcher’s, but in Witcher 3 CDPR has finally made a game indicative of their clearly apparent talent.
    I agree the ‘false’ ending that is the Battle of Kaer Morhen was kinda a downer. Not because it was bad; indeed I thought it was one of gaming truly spectacular set pieces. But because right their after I set sail for Skellige and suddenly found it really hard to stay engaged with the game. In terms of pacing the interminable amount of time dedicated to Novigrad bored me. I don’t like cities, and not much I found interesting happened in that one.
    I think one of the great bits of writing was the way they maintained the essence of Geralt as a character who are inhabiting, with his own ways, codes and mores separate to the play, whilst also allowing enough leeway that the player could become invested in their particular version of that character.
    But to me, because the core game is so damn good, my biggest disappointment is the end game. I think it is to be expected that the climax of such an epic adventure would be filled with a sense of emptiness and nostalgia at the closing of its telling. But the world just seemed thoughtlessly dead afterwards.

  25. 2late2die says:

    I find it interesting how many people find that mid-point battle so problematic because they feel like that should’ve been the end. It’s true that it starts out feeling this way, and yet as the battle progresses it quickly becomes obvious that there’s no way that’s going to be the end. It was clear fairly early on that the Wild Hunt would have to be be defeated entirely and so when at the end of that battle it didn’t happen I was like, “yep, this ain’t over yet”. And I kind of loved that because in a way, my realization that this wasn’t the end and my potential frustration with that was a reflection of what the characters felt themselves, after all they also thought this was going to be the final battle. In my opinion that was extremely well executed.

    I’m also surprised at the pacing complaints. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect, but as someone who hasn’t read the books, or played through the first 2 games to any significant degree, it felt pretty good to me. I never felt overly lost – yes, there were a few characters I wish I’d have known more about, but even then I was enjoying the mystery. It was nice not having the game hold my hand and give me a big exposition on every new character. Overall, despite not being familiar with many of the characters and not knowing anything about Ciri other than what the game told me I still felt like I really got to know her well, and understood the weight of her choices.

    As much as I enjoyed the gameplay and the open world, to me the strongest aspect of this game is the story and the characters. CDPR did a great job of fleshing out this world, getting us to fall in love with these characters and really feeling for them in their bad moments, while also laughing with them in their good ones. Now that I finished the game I’m going to put it to the side and wait for the DLCs, at which point I’ll replay it all over again, making some different choices along the way.

    • Booker says:

      Couldn’t agree more about the Kaer Morhen fight. I thought that was brilliant. Every other game would have made this the end battle, Witcher 3 just has this in the middle of the game. It made perfect sense and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

  26. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Got the good ending with witcher Ciri and it felt really good for me.
    With regard to Geralt and the other characters the game is a rare treat being strangely warm, humane and moral – not in the way evil and atrosities are accurately portrayed but rather also friendship, loyalty, care.
    Never have I seen characters in a video game look so genuinely sad (didn’t play Wolfenstein because I’m from censorship country) or desperate without artificial sobbing or anything to spoil it.
    Plus faces look like real persons and that helps a lot.

    Game journalists recommended difficulties from 1-4, most of that was ill advise. I started with 3 and thought well that’s tough. Both the named werewolf and the mist dude kicked me several times but thing is unlike say Dark Souls in TW3: you can outlevel anything and by Skellige the game got rather boring, only popping some drinks for the “hard” fights and doing “a little” dodging.

  27. lif_andi says:

    Registered specifically to say that I really enjoyed reading that. Thanks for this :)

  28. AnonymouseDude says:

    I am replaying the game now after putting more than 200 hundreds ours into it the first time.

    It is a masterpiece to me. It has a “sense of place” that is the best I have experienced in a game. The only game that comes close in my mind at establishing a coherent world is The Zone from Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl.

    There are also set-pieces that were stunning. One that comes to mind is the introduction of the bard Priscilla. It was one of the loveliest moments spent in a game, yet also full of portent and foreshadowing. Another was a brief scene between Triss and Geralt where the love triangle with Yennifer is hanging over them. There are things done with light, shadow, camera views, etc., that show the strong feelings the two of them still have for each other — and set up that you may have to make a hard choice later.

    Oh, and the Bloody Baron quest where I ended up trying to redeem the devil and maybe somewhat succeeded, though at a high price (a village dies).

    Even what should be throwaway little quests turn into something more. An old woman that gets to return to her family home, though at the cost of learning a horrible secret about what happened to her estranged brother. The fat “god” hiding under the ruins who has to go on a diet. The werewolf who doesn’t want to harm anyone, but is manipulated into it through a love triangle to tragic results.

    Not all endings are happy in this world.

    What also drove the game was the ironic humanity of Geralt. The times he clears an abandoned area and sees the locals return and shows just a small hint of satisfied expression. There is no gold to be had, but he did what only a witcher could do and apparently felt good about it. I also liked that he could choose not to charge a fee for certain acts if he felt it compassionate — or pointedly refuse it as tainted (as with at three quests dealing with Nilgaard).

    Elder Scrolls games want you to have a blank slate and they can be fun. This game locked you into Geralt of Rivia. I came to like being my version of Geralt of Rivia. He was brave, honorable according to his code, loyal in his own way, and cared little for the fate of kings and emperors — but deeply for those close to him.

    And yes, some of the game was laugh-out loud funny. The little quest with the fake Witcher and how Geralt chooses to deal with him per “the WItcher Code” was one I liked a lot.

    It was thousands of such moments that moved this to my personal game of the year.

  29. Jediben says:

    Best RPG ever. I haven’t cried at a game before but when Vesimir… oh god….

    • Paul says:

      I actually broke down even before Vesemir – at Baron burying his dead child, at Geralt reuniting with Ciri. Such a damn masterpiece.

  30. Elisabetta611 says:

    To be honest, while I enjoyed playing this game A LOT and am already owning the paid DLC…er….Expansion Pass, the constant drooling and hyping is starting to get ridiculous. Esp. with the juvenile digs at BioWare (Why are they necessary if this game is oh so great?) and the willingness to overlook flaws other devs wouldn’t get away with?

    I.E. Importing doing diddly squat again, decisions from previous games mean nada, which is particularly grating if you went with Iorveth in TW2.

    Or the oversexed design every single female character in this game has to suffer? Or the constant maiming, torture, rape and murder of women used as plot devices? The worst example being Keira Metz if Geralt makes the “wrong” choice. And Geralt’s “Little girl” speech is among the most sexist writing ever to appear in a game, nvm Roche reprimanding Ves for charging into battle with an open shirt……

    Clunky controls, the very obvious graphic downgrade, the Deus Ex Machina ending…….

    Now let me make one thing very clear…..I enjoyed this game a whole lot. But the constant thoughtless drooling over it makes its flaws only more grating.

    • Booker says:

      Well obviously the things you perceive as flaws aren’t perceived as such by others or at the very least they don’t care about that at all, which is why it’s then not taking away anything from all the fun and enjoyment.

      Also the BioWare thing is sometimes there, because lots of people wanted to like Dragon Age Inquisition but were massively disappointed by it. I for one am really sad I bought it, I was fooled basically, by the reviews who didn’t describe the game properly. If I would have known right away what kind of game it was, I never would have bought it. If I wouldn’t have been so disappointed by DAI, I would have already forgotten all about it.

      Especially in hindsight it’s so bad. And the Witcher 3 did IMHO everything right or at the very least drastically better than DAI did it. Or, the Witcher 3 is the game I wanted to play when I bought DAI. And it makes me happy that I finally got the game I really wanted.

      And I want to play the Witcher 3 again and I will. Thinking back, all I remember are all the awesome scenes in it. I couldn’t be happier, there is really nothing more a game could do.

      So their is no drooling and hyping here. Of course you have to describe a game, that is among the best games you have played in your life with positive terms. For derogatory remarks there’s always DAI after all.

      • Elisabetta611 says:

        Booker, you not minding things such as misogyny, objectification, maiming, rape and murder of women in the narrative of this game (The third game set a new record there, it was so over the top) doesn’t mean others do not. It has been pointed out before. And people were FURIOUS about the “Import” fail and the graphics being downgraded.

        I honest to God don’t care if you liked DAI or not. (I like both games for different reasons) Whether you thought it was bad or not doesn’t matter any more than me not feeling that way. As a woman, I felt TW3’s constant use of rape, violence and sexualized torture and murder of women was disgusting and low quality writing. I don’t particularly like RPGs where I can’t create my own character (Though I’ve grown fond of Geralt) and the additional homophobia, racism and so forth in TW3 also isn’t something in its favor.

        I am currently replaying TW3 myself and I’m enjoying yet. Your very last paragraph confirms what I have been criticizing in my original comment. Blind drooling and hyping AND juvenile digs at the more successful competition.

        DAI was and is a great game. (So is TW3 for different reasons) It dared things CDPR has yet to approach in any shape or form. Women are more than lust objects and “cunts”, “bitches”, “whores” and “hags” in its narrative. Non-het, not-white people exist in it. The white, straight male gamer has no issue with TW3, I am sure. A lot of people who care about representation, women and narratives where we are treated with at least some dignity and competence see it differently. (I do have issues with DAI too though, just as many as with TW3)

        TW3 was and is a great game for many reasons already listed. I am having a blast playing it again. I am really excited for the expansions. But I repeat: Mindless hype isn’t doing this IP any favors.

  31. tamberlane says:

    In terms of gameplay and scipting – TW3 is a hell of a story driven RPG, a masterpiece and a game changer.
    In terms of the alignment with Sapkowski’s original literature, the last part, reaching from Eredins defeat till the end of the game, feels far-fetched and way out of canon.
    A Deus Ex Machina isn’t a bad thing itself, but in the narrative context of the books and former games it feels like from outer space!
    In the books, the White Chill and White Light of Ithlinnes Prophecy is described as part of the great natural cataclysm that will destroy the world. Like an asteroid hit or the explosion of the sun.
    Cirilla, though blessed with the Lara Gene, isn’t the one expected to counter Ithlinnes Prophecy, to defeat the White Frost, because no one can. But her descendant is suspected to be the one who opens a Gate which enables Aen Elle, Aen Seidhe and even Humans (if you trust Avallac’h) to travel to other dimensions, flee from the apocalypse and begin life from scratch.

    In the game, a note found on Skellige says when the Njaglfar appears, another sphere conjunction will happen and that only the carrier of the Elder Blood is able to cut the connection between worlds…
    This is fine!

    This “conjuction” is nothing but the kind of another “gate” over a tower, which is directly connected to a universe/the source of the White Frost…
    This is maybe imaginable!

    That Avallac’h sends Ciri into the Portal (“Go Nuts!”) to defeat the White Frost…
    This is complete implausible!

    Ciri is not shown what she did in there to stop Armageddon (Deus Ex Machina!), but succeeds apparently.
    This is laughable. How the fuck do you defeat “weather” ???

    She then returns to the world (or decides against that), lives as a witcher (or not) and acts like proving the prophecy wrong was a piece of cake…
    This is complete ridiculous!!!

    TL;DR: Fine Game, but seen in context with the novels the ending is way out of canon.

  32. S Jay says:

    This is definitely game of the year, no, century.