Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)

2016 Golden Minecart Awards:

  • Best Continuing Support (PS4)

2015 Golden Minecart Awards:

  • Best RPG (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1/2)
  • Move None
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Title: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (31.5 GB)
Release Date: May 18, 2015
Publisher: CD Projekt RED, Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

DLC Review(s) For This Game:
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Gameplay:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the first game in the Witcher franchise to release on a PlayStation platform and CD Projekt RED runs into some speed bumps on the console. But can they overcome the speedbumps and deliver a compelling video game?

Wild Hunt tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, a legendary witcher who is looking for a loved one. The loved one is his former apprentice Cirilla a.k.a. Ciri who has gone missing. Ciri is like a daughter to Geralt and she has found herself in quite a bit of trouble with a monstrous organization known as the Wild Hunt.

The Wild Hunt is best described as ice vikings and when they show up it means everything around them will suffer. They are a dangerous group and Geralt must journey through the huge world and find Ciri before they do.

I will avoid spoilers because the story of The Witcher 3 is one of the best I have played in a long time. Every twist and turn in the main quest and even in the secondary and side quests all feel important to the story. The game has an amazing script and not a moment is wasted. Even the usual fetch quests that plague role playing games feel like they have value. Every piece of playable content adds to the world and builds this universe.

The Witcher universe has a long and storied past and each mission I played only helped add to the game’s lore. Small quests that came from ordinary villagers helped show the struggles they have suffered from the many wars and monsters that plague them while big quests show how much a decision can affect everyone.

… a neat way to dish out quests …
You will run into all sorts of characters in the world from the average villager, to the noblemen, to monsters in need of help from Geralt, and it is up to you to help them or let them suffer and it all has a weight of importance on the world.

Quests are picked up through the story, random encounters, and community bulletin boards. Scattered in most villages will be bulletin boards where villagers post bounties, requests for help, and just warnings of dangers. You can pick something off the board and it will be added to your quest log and then you can make that your current objective from the menus.

A neat thing about some of the posts is they can be indirect objectives that you will not know how to solve until you have already solved them. What I mean is, there could be a post just warning the community of something and later you can stumble across something that happens to be related to that earlier warning and then that quest is complete or will expand into more. It is a neat way to dish out quests and gives the player more control in what quests they want to have tied to their player.

VelenNovigrad

Quests tend to be multi-tiered in the manner that they tend to not be solved as easy as doing one task. They often branch out into other more complicated tasks. Some have tough decisions to be made that will affect how Geralt is treated by NPCs and others are there to just build depth for the universe.

I often found myself thinking a side quest or secondary mission would only take a few minutes only to see that mission branch out into multiple quests or just take up to thirty minutes to an hour to complete. And that is not a complaint, it just shows how consuming this game can be and when the developers claim that there’s about two hundred hours of content in this game I can seriously believe them.

… you will be riding your horse often …
The variety in quest objectives is aplenty with missions going from the mundane “help me find this person” to putting on a play and performing it. The Witcher goes all over the place in what they have Geralt do and that works incredibly in the game’s favor. A lot of role playing games that expect the player to spends hundreds of hours playing tend to get stuck in repetitive gameplay loops of just endless fetch quests and while Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has its fair share of fetch quests, it keeps things fresh enough to avoid making them feel repetitive.

Yes, you will end up solving a fair share of missions with violence, but there is the right amount of wacky and story driven content to make most overlook that. An aspect that I appreciated was the amount of missions that had multiple ways of being solved. The game will always give you one or two options of solving most missions, but at least a couple of times I was able to find another way to solve certain missions that was not one of the suggested routes. That kind of openness is much appreciated, especially for an open world game.

Quests are woven together frequently in the game and this leads to some issues where it is easy to feel lost or like you have hit a wall. Usually when this happens in the game it is because you have a loose end to tie up in another quest. The game does not spell this out clearly so sometimes you have to go with your gut or leave a mission open to tackle another quest till the two quests tie in to each other.

Now, to cover basic mechanics for the game we should start with the character’s movements which I do have some issues with. Geralt moves with some weight to him as I found him to make the controls sometimes feel clumsy especially in my first hour or so. I do not feel like the controls feel as smooth as they should and it may have to do with physics of the game.

… a really cool mechanic that made it feel like a detective game …
I often found myself stumbling around stairs and corners as if Geralt was falling forward due to the weight of his armor. This takes some getting used to, but after an hour or two I became accustomed to his movements and have only on occasion had issues with it. It just feels like maybe other games are better at centering the characters around corners or they have more finesse and Geralt just barrels through doors often hitting the sides. It’s an issue that players can get used to and after a while it becomes less and less of an issue.

When not running around you can ride your horse, Roach, and because of the size of the world in The Witcher 3 you will be riding your horse often. The controls for riding are pretty straightforward, you press the Cross button to gallop and have a jump button. The horse’s movements feel pretty natural and only suffer from small issues like not jumping correctly over fences and dealing with corners like Geralt.

VelenGate of the Hierarch

Speaking of the world, did I mention that it is huge? Because the world is huge. It is hard to stress how big the world is, but there is so much to discover traveling through the lands and villages. While riding Roach or using the fast travel posts will make traversing quicker I recommend going off path as much as possible and seeing what secrets lay hidden across the map.

As a witcher Geralt has the ability known as “Witcher Sense” which is basically detective mode. In this mode Geralt focuses his senses and can find footprints, blood marks, as well as having a hyper sense of smell and hearing. This is used to track monsters and people and it’s a really cool mechanic that made it feel like a detective game. It came in handy too in solving some missions without the use of magic or violence.

Combat in the game translates pretty well to the controller. You have your light attack and your heavy attack for your melee weapons and a parry system using L2 to block and parry opponents in melee and sword play. Geralt needs two swords for combat, a steel sword for humans and animals, and a silver sword for monsters and magical creatures.

… a ton of potions and recipes to collect …
The sword mechanics become very important in making combat easier for yourself because while the steel sword can do some damage to monsters and magical creatures it is nowhere near as effective as the silver sword. So you need to be aware of what sword you are using at all times. This is done by either hitting the Left button on the D-pad for the steel sword or Right button for the silver sword.

It should be noted that while the silver sword is highly effective against humans it should not be wasted on them because weapons do degrade with every blow and you do not want to be caught against a ghost with no silver sword in hand. The game does an excellent job at making sure you are using the right sword by auto drawing the correct sword most of the time, but that is not always the case, so looking at your HUD is recommended.

The combat between opponents feels very animation heavy which means you have to pay attention to the movements of characters in battle. On the easier difficulties you can button mash your way through some of the game, but eventually you will have to pay attention and learn animations. The game can be very brutal, even on the medium setting, and you have to be patient in a fight against multiple enemies and use every tool at your disposal if you plan to have any success regardless of difficulty.

VelenNovigrad

A nice element that I only brushed upon in my playthrough due to my preferred play style is the alchemy aspect. There are a ton of potions and recipes to collect that will help Geralt in battle and from time to time you will have to dabble in it. For certain creatures a potion is either required or it will aid you in battle. You find this information using the game’s bestiary which lists all the creatures and their weaknesses. These potions are put together using the many collectible items in the game and often time they are very effective. The downside is that they can require a lot of ingredients that I did not have the patience to hunt for.

In addition to sword fighting, you are a witcher, which means you have magics at your disposal which are called Signs. These Signs give you much needed help in battle and can be upgraded over time to become more powerful. Some of the Signs I used often were the Protective Shield Sign early in the game when my armor needed the boost, the Fire Sign which sends a wave of fire at your foes, a Telekinesis Blast to knock opponents down, and a Mind Control Sign to stun and or temporarily make an enemy an ally.

… environments have an excellent variety …
These become very handy in intense battles and once leveled up become vital to your success. To initiate a Sign you tap a shoulder button which puts the game into slow motion, click on the Sign you want, then use it with R1. Only one Sign can be used at a time so you have to switch to slow motion to change them out and they are tied to Geralt’s stamina.

The leveling system is pretty standard as you gain experience points (XP) for every mission you complete. After each level you gain an Ability Point which you can then spend on your abilities like fast attacks or stronger Signs. This works as intended with the only issue being the game’s interface. The inventory system and ability tree menus are clearly the work of a developer mainly known for working on the PC. I say this because the menus look and feel like they were made with a keyboard and mouse in mind. It can be difficult to tell what you are currently highlighting and moving through the menus would be much easier with a keyboard and mouse.

Visuals:
The Witcher 3 is one of the better looking games on the PlayStation 4, especially when taking into account the size of the world the developers have made. The world is vast and the environments have an excellent variety that helps make it feel like it’s “lived in” rather than just a game with a couple of towns and huge fields to fill up space. There is an excellent day and night system that, with the weather system, combines for some stunning visuals. From a sudden rain storm to the daily sunsets it all comes together to make a beautiful world to roam around in.

White Orchard CemeteryVelen

Character models for both main characters and non playable characters look great and avoid the plastic doll look that other games suffer from. The characters in cutscenes and the world move naturally and their lip sync is done well. The game transitions from gorgeous cinematic cut scenes to in engine dialogue trees and action almost flawlessly with only a small drop in visual quality. We still have not hit the point where cinematics match the in game world, but Wild Hunt gets close to doing accomplishing this.

A big part of this franchise has always been the monsters because the witchers hunt them and this game features some great designs. From the grotesque to the badass, the world is filled with some interesting beasts. There are so many notable creatures that I came across while playing and I do not want to spoil their parts in the game. I just have to tip my hat to the art directors because their work should be praised.

… frame rate issues, while improved, still exist …
Now because of what the Witcher 3 is trying to accomplish on the PlayStation 4, the game does suffer from its fair share of technical issues. This is mainly in reference to the frame rate issues as the game can occasionally drop from its capped 30 frames per second. This happens the most when traveling through the more populated towns like Novigrad. In these areas you can noticeably see the frame rate drop. It never becomes a slideshow by any means, but it it is still obvious when the game is dropping frames.

Other technical glitches can be seen with NPCs popping in and out of geometry from time to time, but again, this is in the more densely populated areas of the game. When traveling in the forests and smaller towns throughout the world the game runs smoothly and I rarely noticed a dip in quality in those areas. Though for huge chunks of the games you will find yourself in populated cities for many many hours.

Fortunately CD Projekt RED has issued a couple of patches since the game launched that have fixed a few of the technical issues (as of 1.03) which is great, but the frame rate issues, while improved, still exist.

… the actors are working off of a good script …
Audio:
The great debate in the Witcher’s history has been people either liking or disliking Geralt’s voice acting. Geralt’s voice is somewhere between Solid Snake and Christian Bale’s Batman. I will admit that at first his voice was somewhat bothersome, but after spending time with the character I grew to love it.

The thing with witchers is that they have been stripped of emotions and are just rugged badasses. Because of that, I feel the voice actor they picked does a remarkable job in capturing it in his voice work. As for the other voice actors, their work is excellent. This game is character driven and each main quest and side quest is there to build the world and the voice work achieves this. It helps that the actors are working off of a good script too.

The game is accompanied by a score that fits within the time period. It is a blend of medieval scores with some choir work as well. I did find the background music to be quite loud during cutscenes or during battles when it was important to listen to dialogue so I would recommend going into the audio settings and adjusting that as needed. That is really my only knock against it and it is an easily fixable problem. Outside of that small issue, the music fits nicely and is just another notch in this well crafted world.

VelenVelen

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only with no online modes or connectivity.

Conclusion:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games I have played, not only on the PlayStation 4, but on any platform. The story is filled with twists, turns, romance, action, and all sorts of things that make a story compelling. The amazing storytelling is delivered by great voice acting and writing which is on top of solid gaming mechanics that make it a must play. The game is definitely a time sink and players can expect to spend dozens and dozens of hours digging through this world and discovering all of its secrets.

It has its problems here and there with an unsteady frame rate and could have used some better optimization for consoles. But if you can look past some of its flaws you will see an amazing game here. Fans of role playing games, open world games, and action-adventure games should all take notice. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be a frontrunner at the end of the year when Game of the Year discussions are held and it deserves all the praise it gets.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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