The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [official site] is only a couple of days away! The final adventure of Geralt of Rivia, and CD Projekt's chance to prove that they can take the RPG skills they've honed in the first two games to a sweeping open world. We'll have a review up for you as soon as possible, but until then, here's some CliffsNotes to get you up to speed on what's happening, where to buy it, and why you haven't already seen a WIT.
The Witcher 3 review. Where is it, you lazy people?
Irritatingly, CD Projekt has yet to send out PC review code. Any review you've read or seen has been based on the PS4 version of the game. Since I'll be doing the review, I've yet to actually read any of them, though it's currently floating at a Metacritic of 92. That means that according to Science, it's not as good an open world game as Grand Theft Auto V, but is at least a better movie than Sex Tape. Not being a fan of the former or having seen the latter, I cannot comment. Still, a promising start.
What Witcher 3 versions are out there to buy?
There's the basic game, of course. Currently £40 as a pre-purchase on Steam, shooting to £50 after release, £32.99 on Amazon in open mockery of the fact that digital distribution should be cheaper, and £41.50 on the creators' own GOG.COM just to be confusing - thanks, regional pricing! That said, you do get £6.20 off a future GOG purchase to offset that. Please do not spend it on a copy of Jack Orlando: A Cinematic Adventure. You just don't want to do that.
As far as DLC goes, everyone gets 16 free DLC packs, including new beard and hairstyles for Geralt, a new look for his sorceress love Yennefer, and a set of Temerian armours good for man and horse alike. There's also going to be two 'epic' expansions, and for those you need to pay. One is set to be 10 hours of game, the other 20 - Heart and Stone set in Oxenfurt, and Blood and Wine, set in the region of Toussaint. Heart and Stone is due for October, Blood and Wine for next year.
The expansion pass to get both of them is £20. There's a package on Steam that lets you pre-purchase both at once, but don't do that right now. If you buy the base game and then the DLC, it comes to £60, if you buy the pack, it's £65. Unless my maths fails me, that's another £5 that could have been better spent actively not buying a copy of Jack Orlando: A Cinematic Adventure.
For the rich, the Collector's Edition comes with the soundtrack CD, a book on the Witcher universe, a map of the world, a set of stickers, a wolf medallion, an art book, a steelbook cover so that if the lights go out, you can find your copy of the game with a magnet and hug it in the dark, and a 25cm tall statue of Geralt fighting a griffin that looks to be shouting "Oi! Get off my back!" This version is about £140, though seems to be out of stock everywhere now. Still, if you shop around... This version doesn't come with the expansion pass though, which seems distinctly tight-fisted.
The Witcher 3 system requirements?
Quite a beefy PC! The biggest holdup is going to be RAM. It's one of the first games to demand 6GB and ask for 8GB, as well as a good looking graphics card and a 64-bit OS.
The full, official specs go like this:
Intel CPU Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz
AMD CPU Phenom II X4 940
Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 660
AMD GPU Radeon HD 7870
OS 64-bit Windows 7 or 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1)
HDD Space 40 GB
Intel CPU Core i7 3770 3,4 GHz
AMD CPU AMD FX-8350 4 GHz
Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 770
AMD GPU Radeon R9 290
OS 64-bit Windows 7 or 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1)
HDD Space 40 GB
How long is The Witcher 3?
Second-hand, we've heard from other reviewers that you're looking at 60-100 hours.
I'm new to The Witcher universe. Uh. What's a Witcher, anyway?
Witchers are well trained, heavily mutated monster-hunters who travel the world as a freelance weapon against inhuman prey. They're far tougher, faster and sturdier than any normal man, able to shrug off the worst diseases and freely quaff magical potions that would outright kill a normal person when they need a little extra boost. They're also able to use basic magic in the form of Signs (which are like firecrackers next to a nuclear bomb when compared to what Sorceresses can do) but come in very useful in all manner of situations. They're not popular people, but they're handy to have around, identified easily by their cat-like eyes and magical medallions.
Their weapons of choice are swords - on the surface, a steel sword for men, a silver one for monsters, though as is often pointed out, both are for monsters. They're not unkillable. They are, however, very hard to kill. Except at the start of The Witcher 2, where Geralt was quite unbelievably shit at fighting for a while. (Hopefully that'll have been smoothed out a bit...)
Right, right, but "Witcher"?
Yeah, it's a slightly odd word. The original Polish word is 'Wiedźmin'. It's been translated as both 'hexer' and 'warlock' before. Warlock is probably closest, a man with witch-like magic, though doesn't really jibe with Geralt being more of a martial fighter with a few extra tricks up his sleeve.
Either way, Witcher is now the accepted translation.
Okay. And what's going on?
Long story, and until playing the game it's tough to know exactly what pays off and is relevant. In a nutshell though, Geralt was a legendary witcher... until he died. Waking up with amnesia, he found himself caught between two factions - a protective order of knights called the Order, and a non-human resistance movement called the Scoia'tael. Searching for his path brought him into contact with a strange child called Alvin, who turned out to have a rather dark future, as well as the sorceress Triss Merigold, with whom he'd soon develop a relationship even if the player decided against it. Defeating a larger threat to the world also put him in the good books of King Foltest of Temeria, who he promptly saves from an unknown assassin - one who has witcher eyes.
The sequel, Assassins of Kings, doesn't go very well for Foltest. Another witcher, Letho, manages to kill him, and Geralt takes the rap for it. Sprung by Foltest's spymaster, smart enough to spot when bullshit is going down, he escapes and finds himself in the middle of a war for a strategically important valley and a Sorceress scheme to seize power. Things can develop in many ways, but the consistent part is that he starts having flashbacks of his former love Yennefer, believed dead. As the game ends though, he discovers that she's still alive. Cue something of a cliffhanger.
Who's this Yennefer then? And to save time, this Ciri person?
She's a powerful sorceress, about a hundred years old but using magic to look like she wants to. She's also something of a mother figure to Ciri, a princess who... okay, buckle down a bit. Within the Witcher universe is a concept called the 'law of surprise', which Geralt uses a few times. Essentially, it's "We'll let fate work out what you owe me for this" - the promise of something found at home that wasn't expected, which typically turns out to be a child. For the Witchers, it's a fairly standard way of getting new recruits for their rather unpleasant training regimen - Geralt himself just for starters.
Ciri was one such prize, though in the end Geralt didn't actually claim her. Ciri ended up orphaned and moving around quite a bit, with her life and Geralt's reconnecting a few years later after she gets kidnapped. After that, he gives her some Witcher training, Yennefer shows her the ways of magic, and everything else you need to know should be in the game. She's a playable character in it, so we'll probably be spending quite a while on her story. Enough, anyway. She also has a connection with the titular Wild Hunt, so we can probably assume she's not in it just for the heck of it.
And what's a Wild Hunt?
Bad news. It's an army heralding death and misfortune, led by the King of the Wild Hunt. In real-world mythology, it's been said to be led by the Norse god Odin (leading to one of the most badass parts of the almost universally badass Dresden Files books). In The Witcher universe, it's full of spectres and doom. Geralt had run-ins with the King of the Wild Hunt in the first game, most notably at the end. They were only mentioned in passing in the second game though.
Can I import The Witcher saves?
Apparently so, though doing so in the second game made very little difference.
Can I see a few trailers?
I want to read the books!
Splendid, though they haven't all been translated into English. There's a short-story collection called The Last Wish, plus three novels - Blood of Elves, Times of Contempt and Baptism of Fire. Another, Sword of Destiny, is due next week. The games take place after them, in their own continuity.
I want to watch the TV series/see the film version!
When does The Witcher 3 unlock?
If all goes well:
May 18th, 4.00 pm PT (Los Angeles)
May 18th, 7.00 pm ET (New York)
May 19th, 00.00 am BT (London)
May 19th, 2.00 am UT (Moscow)
May 19th, 8.00 am JT (Tokyo)
What are those plastic bits on the end of shoelaces called?