When Previews Attack: Revisiting My First Impressions Of The Witcher 3

On The Witcher 3 [official site], preview events and getting it wrong.

Before I’d played it, I thought The Witcher 3 might turn out to be a disaster. I wrote about my apprehension, attempting to explain that everything I’d seen looked extremely pretty but that I felt only the surface had been shown. There might well have been a glorious game beneath the surface, I was keen to stress, but I hadn’t seen enough evidence to describe let alone praise that game.

I was wrong, as everybody now knows, and what a wonderful feeling it IS to be wrong in a situation like that. Previews are tricky things to write because most games can’t be judged as incomplete fragments. We’re asked to devour videos, presentations, vertical slices, unfinished code and short hands-on sessions, and we talk to developers who are usually talented and passionate. It’s natural, as a critic, to counterbalance the promises made and potential seen with a healthy dose of pragmatism.

Usually, I try to cut through the guesswork and claims to identify what I’ve actually seen or played. That’s not always possible or useful though. If I see a combat system or crafting mechanic, there will be some speculation involved as to how exactly those things will work over the course of an entire game. What are the specific rules and how much variety is likely across the thirty, forty or sixty hours I’ll spend with the game.

It’s easy to fall into all kinds of traps when speculating – if some aspects of a game are recognisable, as is almost always the case, it’s tempting to speculate that they function exactly as they do in other similar games. Because so many games fit the formula A meets B with a mechanic from C, critics often recite their ABCs without fully recognising the words that the letters spell out.

And so it was with The Witcher 3 preview I wrote almost a year ago. I saw a pinch of A, a pile of B and a complete lack of D, so I wrote about my concerns and a lot of people thought I was being a total C. Now that the game has stolen my heart, I’m going to pick out parts of that preview so that we can all remember how WRONG I was.

Whether The Witcher 3 achieves its loftier goals or not, it will almost certainly serve to spoil the cluster of buildings that often constitute the capital city of a digital fantasy kingdom. Novigrad, the largest city in the game, is enormous. Geralt arrives on horseback and rides by the docks, where boats ply their trade and the cry of the fishmongers can be heard (thanks, Fink).

The scale of the environment is staggering and the NPCs that inhabit it apparently have their own schedules and behaviours. People spend the day going about their business, whatever it might be, and when night falls, they head home or to taverns. It’s a living city, at least to some extent, although the visible interactions with the populace either involve nudging them aside, like an Assassin, or receiving quests from them.

Well well well. I wasn’t wrong at all! The scale of the urban environments is one of my favourite things about The Witcher 3. The inhabitants of those places aren’t as unique as I’d hoped but I have no argument with the sense of place.

Outside the city, Geralt performs parkour as he scrambles across cliffsides and searches for alternate routes to his objectives. He’s able to use his witchy (witchery?) senses to track and hunt, overlaying glowing red foot and claw marks onto the terrain. When he finds his prey, combat is violent, fast and fluid, with special abilities interrupting enemy attacks and tipping the advantage in his favour.

I was overly kind to the combat! It’s violent and fast, but it’s not as fluid as it looked in the developer walkthrough.

The presentation’s forty-five minutes involve what feels like forty-seven minutes of dialogue, much of it delivered in a lovely soup of regional British accents. It’s all a bit daft, as tales of swords, destinies and corsets tend to be, but even when a godling called Jonny (Dobby the house elf cosplaying as Gollum) provides some light relief among he grim and the grit, the script seems to be almost entirely earnest.

Sample lines – “Do you have bollocks?” and “You need a knight-errant or a witch hunter, not a witcher.” I mentioned that line to Graham, unaware of the distinction between a witch, one who witches and a witch hunter. He suggested witchers might have unionised their slaying, creating a division between them and the strike-busting witch hunters. Seems likely.

Here I was wrong. The Witcher 3 surprised me in many ways but the characters, dialogue and voice acting were the biggest surprise of all. I like Geralt’s weariness and the complications of the world. It’s a place I enjoy spending time full of people that I enjoy spending time with. I still maintain that the section shown was a poor example of that but I was far too dismissive. That comes at least in part from having skipped the first two games, after playing for a few hours each, and having no connection to the world or characters through the novels or anything else.

My occasional aversion to fantasy lore aside, there’s a pleasing fairytale quality to Geralt’s hunts. He’s not punching orcs, he’s seeking half-forgotten creatures and dangerous rumours. Rumours with teeth and a bulbous eyes. And he’s doing it in one of the most beautifully detailed environments I’ve ever seen. It’s stunning to look at, both in terms of its preposterous scale and the intricacy of every texture, tree and living thing. It’s a place that I want to spend time in but, despite the open world claims, on the evidence of this short visit it’s a place in which time is spent listening to instructions, following quest markers and hitting things until they die.

There are alternate routes to find, I’ve seen that with my own eyes, but the destination has always been a verbose quest-giver or an angry monster. There’s no single moment, outside the city walls, that makes the extravagant world seem like more than a backdrop for a series of encounters. The order they occur in will vary as players explore as they see fit rather than being pushed in a specific direction but despite the beauty of the place, it may not contain as much surprise, improvisation and mystery as the most convincing fictional spaces.

Here’s the biggest misreading on my part (or miscommunication on CDProjekt’s part). I’m glad that I picked up on the folklore aspect of questing because it’s the strongest part of the game. The Witcher 3 throws out fetch quests and replaces them with learning and preparation. What I didn’t understand last year was how fundamental a shift that would be.

The Witcher 3’s open world isn’t necessarily about multiple choices and credible behaviour – it’s about encounters and quests that feel like a natural extension of your existence in that world, and that’s a revolutionary shift from the disconnected whack-a-moles and rabbit-holes of many open world RPGs.

For one moment, as Geralt traipsed through a swamp, ominous stomping flooded out of CD Projekt’s meaty bass system. Local wildlife, large, we were told. It sounded bloody enormous and didn’t appear to be related to any current quest. And apparently it wasn’t because instead of encountering the source of the sound, or even turning around to look at it, we were plunged into another dialogue-heavy cutscene, at which point the mystery interloper apparently ceased to exist.

Still a frustrating moment. Whether it was an intentional tease that backfired (in my mind at least) or a slight accident, the demonstration had been tightly focused on scripted quest encounters so I was hoping for something a little more dynamic. A wandering beast would have fit the bill and the immediate jump into a conversation – which took Geralt out of the world and into a separate state – highlighted a lack of cohesion between different activities. Conversation was an instance in which that creature no longer existed.

In the game I’ve been playing for the last couple of months I don’t care. Almost everywhere I go, indoors or out, I travel to seamlessly. The Witcher 3 is the RPG I’ve wanted to play since Daggerfall and the abstractions of its world rarely detract from the remarkable sense of place.

Misinterpreting a game based on video footage is common. It happens all the time, whether the video has been designed to intentionally mislead and disguise or not. What’s rare in the case of The Witcher 3 is how accurate the video was, the excess of the graphics aside, and yet how large the gap between watching and playing turned out to be.

Perhaps it comes down to the fact that wonderful highlight reels and atmospheric sequences can be extracted from The Witcher 3, but none of them can communicate the feeling of existing in that world and enjoying the quiet moments.

More than anything though, previews are an issue of trust. Do I trust that what I’m seeing will translate into an enjoyable experience and that the quality will hold up through the entire duration of the game? Even if I believe the boldest of claims, do I trust that the developers will be able to meet them? The Witcher 3 seemed too good to be true and, in some ways, it still does. In attempting to create something so enormous, so solid and so well-crafted, CD Projekt convinced me that they were selling a fantasy of the wrong kind.

This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.

44 Comments

  1. caff says:

    Interesting you say this, because all the previews I’d read on this where very vague. This normally means there are issues, but it appears most journos were genuinely in the dark. What a pleasant surprise then, that it turned out well for players and reviewers.

    • Rizlar says:

      It is indeed interesting, you get the impression some things make it much harder to preview or even review a game. TW3 looks like a big, sprawling slow burner of a game. I’m gonna have to play it now aren’t I. >.<

  2. Cinek says:

    I enjoyed every £ spend on a preorder. I really wish more AAA games would live up to this standard.

  3. heretic says:

    I really want to play this! But… I need to work on that backlog a bit more and wait for prices to dip a bit :P

  4. Unclepauly says:

    It’s one of the very few games where I think it’s worth more than the asking price. I’d gladly pay $100 for a game of this size and quality. Don’t tell the publishers that though.

    • xalcupa says:

      Absolutely agree.
      W3 is for me perhaps the best game I have played for quite some time.

      Was actually gifted the game by a friend but purchased an additional copy just to support the developers.

  5. Lacessit says:

    I’m really glad you wrote this post Adam.

    As a big fan of the witcher games I remember reading that preview of yours. I had already preordered on the strength of the first two games. And that piece you wrote made me a bit worried. But it also made me think: ‘He’s complaining about the writing? In a witcher game? Is this the Adam Smith I know and trust blindly in everything game related?’ So I reasoned you’d had a bad fall and weren’t entirely lucid.

    I stuck with my preorder and my faith in CDPR. And Lo, I was rewarded tenfold. But a small part of my mind was a bit sad, because my favourite game and my favourite reviewer hadn’t got on. And maybe I started doubting that my taste WAS nearly the exact same as yours.

    So this piece sure put a smile on my face, as I can trust you unconditionally again. Lead me to the masterpieces once more gentle Game-Leader!

  6. Kefren says:

    I didn’t enjoy a lot of Witcher 1; Witcher 2 got me a lot more immersed in the story. I own Witcher 3 and will get round to playing it at some point. I am sure it will be brilliant, and swallow my evenings.

    “The Witcher 3 is the RPG I’ve wanted to play since Daggerfall”
    I don’t dispute that, obviously. For me, the ultimate RPG would be first-person perspective though. I’ve never played a third-person game that hasn’t created at least a small gap between me and immersion. As soon as I can see the back of the character I’m meant to be, my brain pulls up and keeps telling me that it is just an illusion and I am playing a game. I can’t imagine how much I’d hate System Shock 2 if it had been third person; it was the first person perspective which immersed me so much I often genuinely forgot I was playing a game.

    Obviously the perspective isn’t the whole thing (I was never immersed in Oblivion – it felt like an annoyance nearly the whole time), but for me to fully believe in the world it needs to be a first person perspective. Even games with limited freedom but some fun mechanics, such as Dark Messiah of M&M, would have fallen flat if it wasn’t for the first person perspective.

    So yes, I will play Witcher 3; yes, I will enjoy it; and all the time I’ll have a niggling feeling that I would enjoy ti so much more if I could be presented with the illusion of seeing things through Geralt’s eyes.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      There is a first-person mod for GTA 5, so it’s not unprecedented to make a third-person game into a first-person one. The Witcher devs are very much mod friendly, but I don’t know how powerful or multifaceted the modding tools are. I haven’t played any other Witcher mods than my own mod for The Witcher 1 (a Malkavian Mod homage called The Weird World of the Witcher) and didn’t like The Witcher 2 enough to bother looking at what kind of mods the Redkit could create. Looking up mods for games I’ve already played will only delay my backlog decreasing efforts, so I’m trying to only play new stuff now.

      Personally, I don’t feel a lack of immersion when playing third-person games, because my mind is always aware that I’m playing a game. It’s just a different experience and has different advantages/limitations. I often prefer third-person in RPG’s, because I want to be able to get an overview of the world while I’m exploring it, knowing the layout/enemy positions instantaneously. First-person is better for tight areas or in shooters. The melee fighting in Dark Messiah wouldn’t have been as intense with a third-person view, but the Jedi Knight games always switch to third-person when using the lightsaber, so I’m used to third-person melee.

  7. aircool says:

    I’m still convinced that Witcher 3 isn’t as good as it thinks it is. The combat is boring and shallow, even more so after playing Shadow of Mordor.

    Whilst the open world offers lots of opportunity for exploration, it’s all a bit samey, and the peasants are as dumb as mince. I do enjoy the underground sections as they’re a bit more focussed , but the hunting and killing of monsters doesn’t live up to the promise of the first hunt in the starting area.

    Most of all, it’s the combat and movement (I’ve not tried the new movement yet) that keeps kicking you out the immersion and stops Witcher 3 from being no more than a good game.

    Give me Witcher 3 with Shadow of Mordor’s combat and you’d be onto a real winner.

    • bleeters says:

      It’s the lack of scaling or consistent enemy distribution that bugs me. Far too often when slogging through Velen, I’d be happily butchering drowners or bandits that were around my level only to jog forward a few feet and run into something several times mine that I had no realistic chance of ever defeating. At one point I wrapped up a pretty entertaining main story quest at around level 6, headed to the nearest map marker, and found a treasure chest guarded by 14-15 wraiths. Velen is also strangely full of quests that are listed as requiring mid-high 20s and 30s, which for a zone you’re exploring at something more around the 4-10 region, seems kind of bizarre.

      Ignoring how much this throws me out of the narrative – I mean, Geralt of Rivia needs to go practice and gain experience to be able to fight some random drowners or a noonwraith? Really? The guy took down a dragon a few months ago – it’s just made exploring kind of a mixed bag. There’s no real discernable pattern to how enemy levels have been distributed sometimes, leading to setting off into the unknown and only sometimes finding something I can actually do. Id regularly ride into some nowhere village, check the notice board that was my entire reason for coming here, only to find quests I couldn’t even touch for dozens more hours that just end up cluttering up my quest log.

      • suibhne says:

        The character and loot leveling, and the hard level gating for both, is by far the worst part of the game. It’ll be hard to fix in a mod because it’s so thoroughly a part of everything. I still love the game, but I was disappointed that CDPR made such a major misstep in an otherwise wonderful creation.

      • jonahcutter says:

        I absolutely love Witcher 3, but having to once again start at the beginning and level up a middle-aged Geralt is an enormous hole in the game’s structure. One the devs just blithely ignore. The videogames lol solution.

        Which perhaps makes the game+ mode they are going to implement the superior way to do a full playthrough of Witcher 3. An experienced, skilled Geralt who is merely tweaking and improving his already well-developed skills and gear, as opposed to the incongruity of yet another newbie-Geralt start to the third game in the series.

      • Unclepauly says:

        You would rather have skyrim like enemy leveling? No thanks. Also, it is quite possible to beat enemies much higher level than you, it just takes extreme patience and preparation, the mark of a good Witcher.

        • bleeters says:

          Yeah, sure, with an emphasis on the patience part, because enemies that’re much higher level than you have their health bars tripled by the game and become highly resistant or immune to most attacks. I spent the better part of twenty minutes beating on a noonwraith that was three times Geralt’s level at one point, and barely scratched its gargantually inflated healthbar. No thank you.

        • Awesomeclaw says:

          It’s also extremely frequent that you get completely steamrollered by enemies a few levels lower. I’m level 8, and currently trying to kill two L5 alghouls. I’m fully equipped, have applied oils, etc. Full health including amped up shield to game over screen is two hits. I’m not necessarily against enemies which can kill you so easily, but the general controls for this game are not at all tight enough to get away with it. Several enemies also have extra abilities which totally break the level scaling. For example, the infamous werewolf is mathematically impossible to kill at the recommended quest level.

          I’m still on the fence as to whether I think Witcher 3 is a straight up, capital B, capital G, Bad Game. The story and quests are interesting and well presented but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the combat is so poor, the game is filled with totally baffling design decisions, and CDP still doesn’t seem to have learned from the mistakes of the previous two games.

          • bleeters says:

            I actually didn’t find the first werewolf that bad even on death march, but I also had the luxury of having upgraded bombs that set it on fire for several seconds and kept it from healing.

        • gabrielonuris says:

          This. Make a game where enemies and loots scales accordingly to your progress, and people complain about the lack of progressive feeling. Make a game where you start as lvl 1, with enemies and loot with their own lvl cap, and people find it “too hard”. My personal opinion? Oblivion and Skyrim were both a (bad) joke, if you are in a open world game and find a monster stronger than you, take the other way and lvl up a bit, then you come back and get your revenge, it feels extremely more rewarding.

      • Blackcompany says:

        I played the game almost right at two hours before I requested, and received, my refund through Steam. And this was the chief reason why.

        I wanted to be immersed in Geralt’s story. To complete the journey I began with the first game and continued with the second.

        Instead, I’m starting over at level 1, struggling to take down the most basic of enemies. This, after fighting a dragon on a tower top a short time (in Geralt’s time line) ago. It was jarring, nonsensical and frankly stupid.

        I had sincerely hoped this would be the video game RPG to do away with the D&D, pen and paper background systems. After all, we had already restored the abilities in the first game, and then tweaked and improved them in the second. There existed literally no reason for a “Level 1 Geralt” here at all.

        The choice to stick with these tired systems was not the only reason I decided on a refund. The world of the Witcher 3 is huge and my time is limited right now. But this system sure didnt help the Devs’ cause any, either.

        • Rizlar says:

          Dude, buy it again, it is an amazing game. The writing and the world totally immerse you in Geralt’s story and the combat is much improved over 2.

          The lack of time argument makes sense, it is a massive game. But you really would be missing out to skip it for some niggly feeling of underpowerdness at the start of the game.

      • kud13 says:

        Isn’t the whole point of exploration to encounter challenges, though? And, as far as I’m concerned, it makes perfect sense that if you wonder into an ominous cave, in the middle of nowhere, you may encounter something that’s much bigger and badder than you, leaving you to run away (tactical retreat), and come back with better gear, improved oils/brews, and preferably having read a book on how to kill that particular monster.

        Although I agree that the levelling is horrendously broken (I spent my first 10-15 hours exploring every nook and cranny in the western part of Velen. Now i’m level 18, doing level 12 main story quests in Novigrad, whereas the game thinks I should be in Skellige by now), I definitely don’t think Bethesda-style level scaling is the solution. I enjoyed my first hours, being barely Lvl 4 out of White Orchard, constantly running into “skull”-rated lvl 15+ critters.

        On Normal difficulty, the metric is, Geralt can easily dispatch enemies up to 5 levels higher than his current level. Anything bigger, and it’s a serious challenge.

        Really, though, I think it’s the amounts of XP you get from clearing bandit camps, and especially for “liberating abandoned settlements) that lead to the over-leveling problem. That’s certainly something that modders should be able to tweak, to make sure you get less XP, but keep the loot (them main reason to clear so much of the stuff in Velen is because loot usually contains alchemy recipes)
        Still, I’ve loved all the Witcher games (2 being the weakest, imho), and TW3’s probably the best game I’ve played in years. I love the writing for most quests, and generally, I want to do optional stuff even if I’m over-levelled and will get no XP for it.

        My next playthrough I’ll try to keep the “scavenger hunt” stuff to the minimum and see how the game levels purely through main story and the appropriate-level side quests and Witcher contracts.

    • horsemedic says:

      I don’t understand what you guys want. To be able to steam roll all the monsters from the very beginning because that’s what Geralt would do? Maybe he would, but then you have no, er, gameplay.

      As it is, if you complete even a moderate amount of side quests and understand the simple combat mechanic, you should be steamrolling everything in the game by level 11 or so. That’s why I stopped playing: because engaging with the massive, beautiful world over-leveled me and made the game no fun.

      Solution: Make all the enemies twice as hard so I can have fun fighting them, and their models three times as big so you feel immersed.

    • OmNomNom says:

      Yeah this is what has put me off playing more so far although I plan to dive back in soon. Maybe i am just not far enough into the game yet but so far (on hardest difficulty) it hasn’t been particularly challenging and feels like quite a linear story driven romp despite it pretending to be pseudo-open world.

      It is a nice looking game but it isn’t what I would call spectacular, a lot of the excitement has come from new gen console gamers who haven’t seen much that looks this fancy.

      The combat always was my biggest bug bear about the witcher games, that and not really being able to choose much in the way of character development. I mean Skyrim and Fallout are clunky as hell but they are great fun because of the different ways you can play especially with a lot of mods. W3 makes me feel like I wouldn’t get much out of a second playthrough. Also, the ‘magic’ is pants and might as well just not be in the game.

      I don’t mean this to be a hate post, I do LIKE the game it just doesn’t seem to have gripped me by the balls like it has so many other people. This being said I also have yet to really get into DA:I for very similar reasons (grindy, ropey combat) and I loved DA:O

  8. RogerMellie says:

    Yikes mate, don’t be so down on yourself. I don’t expect anyone to be ‘right’ when doing a preview as I know they haven’t played the game yet. Impressions is all you can hope for.

  9. Laurentius says:

    It’s a great game and I have a super fun time playing it for almost three monts now but two things should be clear: marrying open world with story driven game didn’t pay off as CDPR told us it would. This beautiful crafted world is still a window dressing, pretty yes, but very shallow.

    • notenome says:

      Well….

      Look, all games are illusions. If you *want* to break them and see the man behind the curtain, you will. There is no game that will not, with enough prodding, unravel in some way.

      What I will say about the Witcher 3 is that it gives you the world, and if you want to meet it half way, you can. For example: there is a quest in Velen where you look for a woman’s husband, you go into the woods and find his corpse. When you tell her this, she cries and then walks into the woods towards the body. If you just choose to ride off after telling her, its a sad and cohesive scene. But if you want, you can go walking with her into the woods, whereupon she will reach the body and not do anything, and then obviously the illusion is shattered.

      Ultimately, it’s the players choice to decide if they want to take-or-break what the game offers, but I cant fault the game for being ‘breakable’. It offered a lot, and personally I chose to take and appreciate what was given.

      • horsemedic says:

        He’s not complaining the world is breakable, but that it’s shallow.

  10. zat0ichi says:

    ‘m still sore about the downgrade. I cancelled pre order and am waiting for redux edition (if it happens) to be released before playing. Don’t normally care, watch dogs :meh:, arkham knight :chuckle:, Spore? ok that still bugs me.
    Anyway It’s obvious why and its fair enough. Massive game that needed extra revenue to fund production which was harpooned by next gen consoles being not as next gen as they said they were going to be. Only fault of CDPR is to believe the hype and get tied to releasing on those platforms. You cant polish the 2 console builds and a drastically different PC game with the resources they had. Easy solution is to rip it down to the lowest common level.
    BUT
    What still sticks in my throat like a serial killers member in a super max prison is the official response from CDPR. They very specifically mention first few trailers but NOT the december 2014 gameplay trailer. That was the reasonable downgrade form hype trailers I was expecting.
    And then all atmosphere was sucked out of the game along with vegetation and tessellation.
    That build they used for the 35minute gamplay trailer is in their servers somewhere. I want to know if the public will ever get their hands on it. I’m a dad and my gamin time is precious. I’m not going to play an amazing game only to find that its released in its full glory later. I have patience but the CDPR silence is deafening. The tinfoil hat brigade come out to speculate why.
    I dont care.
    I just want to know if the december 2014 35minute PC gameplay build will ever see the light of day.
    Hairworks was a cheap handjob when we were expecting the co-ed threesome of full Nvidia volumetrics and full tessellation.

    • JonathanStrange says:

      The gameplay from that demo is all in-game exactly as it went in the preview, CD Projekt weren’t lying about that. The difference mostly seems to stem from some changes to whatever lighting and effects they were using. Fire doesn’t look as good as it did in the early trailer and there were clearly some visual effects at work in the demo gameplay that aren’t in the released game. But in terms of actual content it’s all there and for what it’s worth, the game still looks downright amazing.

      I’m not going to defend the practice of ‘downgrading’ but in Witcher 3’s case it really is quite mild and seems for the most part to have been more a matter of ‘reaching for the stars’ than any outright deception ala Watch Dogs and the like. CD Projekts reaction to people claiming downgrade really didn’t help either, but even so it’s hard to be at all mad when the game still looks and plays amazingly.

    • jerf says:

      Still, it’s the best looking RPG to date, by far. Even after the downgrade. Adding a bit of SweetFX/ReShade to the PC version on Ultra settings makes it almost on par with what was shown pre-downgrade.

      I started playing Inquisition after finishing Witcher 3, and kept thinking how bad it looks compared to Witcher. Well, playing Inqusition after Witcher 3 was not a good idea at all, it turned out to be considerably worse in almost every aspect, but that’s a different story.

      • zat0ichi says:

        The interior lighting, fog/cloud effects and 75% of the tessellation are gone and no sweetfx will bring it back.
        I played the first hour or so (yes I did that) and the swamp lacked any kind of atmosphere. The first tavern interior was incredibly disappointing.

        I could have forgiven the hilarious npc pop in and the folliage, death from 3 ft falls, inventory, and general gameplaywonk.

        The effects that are missing would have needed a shitload of work to scale with quality sliders and also provide an off option for consoles.
        The rudimentary knowledge I have of tessellation maps indicates all the stuff they took away had to be rebuilt!
        No wonder it got delayed.
        From December gameplay vid
        link to youtu.be

        To release build with re lighting of everything to compensate for no volumetrics etc.

        That was a massive rebuild done in short order.

        And the December built exists…

  11. gabrielonuris says:

    This game is pure magic; seriously, in all my gaming life I never played something so well made, so well paced. I’ve never read The Witcher novels, and to be honest before the first game I didn’t even know what a “witcher” was (in my language it’s translated as “bruxo”, which means “wizard” in english; needless to say, I played it in english, ofcourse).

    I remember reading an interview somewhere, where CDP said W3 wouldn’t have fetch quests, although the game would have 150+ gameplay hours, and I though: “right, I don’t believe you”. Boy I was happily wrong.

    • Archonsod says:

      They took it to the other extreme though – I remember wondering about an hour or so in how anyone got any farming or the like done when every piece of arable land seemed to be infested with ghouls, wraiths, werewolves and the like. I’m not sure that being the fantasy equivalent of a pest controller is that much of a step up from being it’s delivery service.

      • MattMk1 says:

        The number of enemies is exaggerated in virtually every CRPG, and no open-world RPG is ever to scale – if it was, it’d be empty as hell, and you could spend hours looking for things to do.

        There is a lot of enemies in W3, but at least the density varies significantly in a way that makes sense – the parts of the country which haven’t been touched by the war yet don’t have nearly as many, while the ones near battlefields have more bandits/deserters and ghouls.

        And 90% of the time, you don’t actually have to stop and fight if you don’t want to.

    • nearly says:

      They may not have lied about the lack of fetch quests (although, come to think of it, isn’t the entirety of White Orchard and most of the first 60 or so hours mostly a fetch quest whether or not you’re following the main storyline?) but I don’t think most of the content is that much better. It’s a very technically impressive game but behind the scenes, it’s a lot of the same old open-world RPG mechanics that we’ve seen time and time again already. Most of the quests are “go here, talk to this person” or “go here, kill this thing” or “go here, use your witcher senses.” Mix and match those three nuggets of gameplay and you’ve got the average Witcher 3 quest. I’m a bit peeved to see the return of the “I have a thing you want, so go find my lost goat for me even though you are supposedly on an urgent mission,” and I was definitely peeved to see the Chapter 1 opening sequence lifted almost straight out of Witcher 2 and plopped into the main questline in Witcher 3 (“Wandering in the Dark” quest).

      On top of that, just wandering around doing non-main quest stuff isn’t all that engaging. I find the map worse to navigate than Skyrim’s (recall that you couldn’t see the roads without a mod due to clouds on the map) and there’s very little to intuitively navigate without opening the world map constantly since the signposts only function as in-game fast travel stations. The game has also has a pretty serious case of Ubisoft open world map. Even if we’re not given quests to “Kill 10 Bandits,” you’re still going to end up doing quite a lot of it, and looting a lot of useless junk.

      Some of the mechanics are cleverly concealed and covered up but it’s a lot of stuff we’ve seen and never really struggles to re-invent the wheel so much as portray it in a new light and with fancy spinners. I guess that’s what people are looking for though: something that hits all the right buttons in the right order and gives you the right reward for doing so. If there were any serious changes to the formula, people wouldn’t like it nearly as much.

  12. csbear says:

    I have only put in a couple hours so far in W3, but am liking what I see. I am not really a “combat person,” and play most RPGs mainly for their story, ambiance, and immersion, so I’m fine with the combat. Anyway, can’t wait to dive in deeper…

    But if there is one (A)RPG that really sucked me in the last couple of years, it was Dark Souls. The feeling of loneliness, despair, dread, and its Gothic setting really grabbed me. One thing about DS that I loved so much was the absence of music. I felt it was a strong contributor to that lonely feeling. Sitting next to a bonfire after escaping some unspeakable horror, gathering my thoughts, and feeling helpless…all in silence.

    If I were to pick a couple of my favorite RPGs in the last couple of years: Dark Souls, Planescape:Torment (played it for the first time), Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Pillars of Eternity, and Divinity:OS.

    Hopefully, W3 and Serpent in the Staglands, which I am playing now, will also be up there as well.

  13. ScottTFrazer says:

    I saw a pinch of A, a pile of B and a complete lack of D,

    Game publishers take note. To get a good preview from Adam, give him the D early and often. ^_^

    I was completely skeptical about Witcher right up through about the 2nd week after release. I still haven’t bought it, but now it’s because I know I don’t have the time to devote to it that I need. I’ll definitely be picking it up at some point, maybe after I’ve finally finished DA:I.

  14. kikito says:

    The camera is Geralt’s worst enemy, especially in closed spaces. If you ask me, they should let it clip through walls.

  15. bobueckerlele says:

    My two cents: Got 20 hrs into the game before I realized it was based on a book. Read said book, realized my decisions for Geralt 1.0 needed revisions and have since restarted the game to have my character more reflective of what I feel is true to the story. It’s made for an interesting revisit but it’s also opened up my understanding of just how faithful CD Projekt had been to the original lore. When you’re playing this game, you really feel like you’re in a complete world; not one that’s been constructed of bits and bobs meant to simulate a complete world.

    For my money, this is the element we look for in a truly timesucking RPG.

    All of the problems in this game, and they abound, are for me a necessary evil which happened to make it so I could play this game years sooner than I otherwise would have if they’d have QA’ed it to the point where the problems didn’t exist.

  16. horsemedic says:

    I don’t understand what you guys want. To be able to steam roll all the monsters from the very beginning because that’s what Geralt would do? Maybe he would, but then you have no, er, gameplay.

    As it is, if you complete even a moderate amount of side quests and understand the simple combat mechanic, you should be steamrolling everything in the game by level 11 or so. That’s why I stopped playing: because engaging with the massive, beautiful world over-leveled me and made the game no fun.

    Solution: Make all the enemies twice as hard so I can have fun fighting them, and their models three times as big so you feel immersed.

  17. Kefren says:

    The irony in my case is that after a few hours of the Witcher 3 I just can’t bring myself to play it any more. I had completed Witcher 1 (which was mostly a chore but I persisted) and Witcher 2 (much more enjoyable) but I think my expectations for Witcher 3 were just higher than it can deliver. I really can’t face loading it again! So £140 (£40 game, £100 for new graphics card to run it) and 4 days of downloading and I have at least learnt that I don’t like this kind of game. Reminds me of Dragon Age: Origins, which I hated too and couldn’t play past the first few hours.

    I can see why others might like 3rd person RPGs like this. And yes, the graphics are good (though it makes buggy bits stand out even more, such as a soldier leaning on a table, but about 12 inches above the visible table surface).

    Totally personal to me and my prejudices, but I just found so little nigglign things that added up to frustrate me and keep pulling me out of the game.

    – The controls. Oh, how I hated them. My “use/activate” key to get on the horse – great. But pressing it again doesn’t get off the horse – there has to be a separate key for that. Likewise my run/speed-up key should make the horse go faster – but no, that requires a different key. I jumped in the water – I have keys for down (crouch) and up (jump) – but no, you have to have separate keys for “dive” and “swim up”. It all meant that instead of using a single set of controls I had to have more and more of them, spread out further and further. I felt like I was battling the interface.

    • Kefren says:

      – There were all sorts of hovering text (names of people etc), continuously reminding me it was a game. I turned off the minimap, but the game took no account of what would really happen. Example – I was told “Ask the Nilfgaardians about Yennefer” I went up to all the Nilfgaardians I could find, and talked to them, but they didn’t tell me anything. In real life they’d have sent me to their commander, or I could have asked where he was, but no – nothing. They were totally dumb. Frustrating. I hated having to bring up the map at all, it was full of icons giving away the locations of everything (including secret treasure caches – right there on the map, as if Geralt had been to Treasure Island and bought every map in the world, or was secretly plugged in to the Matrix.

      – Although the graphics are good, being in 3rd person means my view is far away from the things I want to look at closely (items on the floor, faces and so on). It makes me feel removed from the character, like a TV camera, as if I need to squint all the time. I don’t think I can play 3rd person games like this any more.

      – I was tough in Witcher 1 and 2. In Witcher 3 I picked a fight with a common Nilfgaardian soldier. He beat me up in seconds. Huh? Where were all my fighting powers? I tried it with other common soldiers. They beat me up too. Then someoen asked me to find their treasure box in the swamp. I worked out they were lying, possibly a murderer, confronted the man – and he ran away. I couldn’t catch him, question him or anything, the game just took control from me and let him go. I was supposed to be the great witcher!

      – I hate invisible walls in games that make no sense. I remember them being a big annoyance in Dead Island and Two Worlds 2. Well I wandered down a road towards something interesting on the horizon on a wide open road – screen fades out, tells me I am leaving the play area, turns me round. So much for freedom.

      – The last straw was the griffin. I saw that it was getting revenge for its mate being killed. I could understand that. I didn’t want to kill it. But the game gave me no other option. Why couldn’t I use feathers from its dead mate and pretend I’d killed it? It would have been fun to try that, get the info, then have it revealed I’d lied and have a new enemy – something where I could make my own choices, not be funnelled down a path. You know, role-play. We summoned the griffin and I couldn’t bring myself to fight it. It reminded me of the dragon at the end of Witcher 2. Powerful and awesome, and with more right to live than half the soldiers and nobles and royalty we meet in the games. So I walked away. Went to see the commander, tell him to stuff it. Try and persuade him some other way, or trick him, or find another way of tracking Yen, or speak to someone else with information. It wouldn’t let me. I used Axii on him, took control of his mind – but there was no option to get information from him. I drew my sword to threaten and attack him – but the game wouldn’t let me. Yet again taking away my freedom to make choices and tell my own story. The game was only giving me two choices – fight the griffin or uninstall. It was so patently not the RPG I wanted to play that I went for option 2.

      It’s obvious a lot of love went into it, I like the devs, and I’m glad other people enjoy it. There are many nice things like great graphics, great voice acting, humour. But I just couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t feel I was there; no immersion for me, no compulsion. [Just for info, some games that do have immense immersion, where I forget I am playing a game for me: Dungeon Master; Thief 1 and 2; System Shock 1 and 2; Penumbra 1 and 2; Amnesia DD; Doom 1 and 2; FTL; HOMM2].

      Still, at least realising that I don’t enjoy it now saves me over 20 hours of my life! As you get older you realise that if you’re going to play a game, it has to pull you in more than it pushes you out. It’s subjective, and we’re all different.