By Nicholas Simonovski
I can recall when The Witcher 2 was released a few years ago. A close friend of mine had spoken about how good it was, but had also mentioned its difficulty. Being the kind of person who enjoys a challenge but would rather avoid the frustration, I decided to steer clear. Last week however, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a hands-off demonstration of The Witcher 3 at Bandai Namco’s head offices, with three developers talking about the upcoming title and giving us a 30 minute gameplay presentation too. Looking back, and now knowing what we have in store when The Witcher 3 launches later this year, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little regretful missing out in Witcher 2. I can say with relative confidence that what we have coming up is pretty damn promising.
The first thing that was mentioned to us during the presentation was the sheer size of the map in this game. Moving to now a completely open-world environment, we were advised that world of The Witcher 3 would be 35 times larger than the size of the last game, with one of the many islands in the game being the entire size of The Witcher 2 itself. One of the great things about the new world was that it was described as being completely explorable. Michał Platkow, the head of PR at CD Projekt Red, said that if it looks like there could be something interesting in a particular area of the map, there would be. Examples of this included huts and castles on the mountainsides and ship-wrecks located throughout the seas. It was also claimed that to travel from one side of the map to another (by boat I should add), would take approximately 40 minutes. Unfortunately however, we were told that we couldn’t re-create the Sydney to Hobart race in the game (I know, I’m just as disappointed as you are).
The massive map aside, what makes The Witcher 3 look so promising is how alive the world is, and how much there is to do. It was confirmed during the presentation that the game would boast over 100 hours of gameplay, with 50% being dedicated to the main storyline, and the other 50% towards side-quests. The NPCs were also responsive to what was going on around them. While we were unable to see examples of it during the demonstration, Platkow mentioned that the people of the world would react to the weather, for example they would be out and about during the day, but would seek shelter when it rained, or which would retreat back to their homes at night.
Continuing on with gameplay, one of the major (I suppose obvious) features of The Witcher 3 is encounters with the monsters of the world, and while I can’t comment on how they were in the previous two titles, they look utterly amazing in this game. Of the two beasts we were shown during the demo they were detailed beautifully and each had their own unique appearance, attacks and special ability. One larger bull-like beast had a third-eye which would impair your vision making it essentially impossible to see, while another was able to control the environment and use it against you. While some monsters are random encounters others had to be coaxed out, and this required a combination of knowledge about the beast and it’s environment. Random encounters with monsters needn’t always end with either you or your target being killed, with the one in the preview managing to run away mid-battle.
Combat in The Witcher 3 looks fairly organic and flowing, with no apparent lock-on feature like in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, although with no hands-on with the game it was hard to gauge just how organic it truly is. During our interview with Michał Płatkow he did mention that improving combat was a focus during the development of this game, so here’s hoping that’s the case.
In addition to this, The Witcher 3 also introduces what is known as a ‘witcher sense’, which works similar to eagle vision in Assassin’s Creed or Lara Croft’s survival instincts in Tomb Raider. Similar to Tomb Raider, you are able to use your witcher sense as often as you like, with it lasting for a few seconds at a time. While engaged, it allows you to notice what were described as ‘mutations’ to the environment, such as damage or trails left behind by monsters you could be hunting. At the same time it will also heighten Geralt’s abilities, allowing you to hear things in greater detail, or even to hear sounds that you couldn’t before.
Choices and consequences are also an important part of The Witcher 3, where in one part during the demonstration we were shown the option to either help an NPC by dealing with three attackers standing outside his home, or by choosing to ignore it and walk on. In the presentation we decided to save the NPC, but we were told that the leader of the three attackers would eventually try to find out what happened, indicating that there would be further consequences for either Geralt or the NPC that was spared. Throughout the various dialogue sequences I also noticed that some options were highlighted in blue, and while it wasn’t discussed what these would do, I assume they’d change how various situations play out (consider the paragon options from Mass Effect for example).
The only one gripe I had with the game during the presentation was the fact that the map and mini-map seemed to be lacking detail – there was never any indication where key locations or people were, although we were reminded that this was a pre-alpha build, so I’d assume features like this would be added in for the final build.
The ability to create potions has returned in The Witcher 3, with the developers advising that you would now be able to drink your potion and delay its effects until when you required them (this is to do with Geralt’s metabolism). Skill trees also make their return, with three skill trees in The Witcher 3 – alchemy, swordsmanship, and signs. With the inclusion of water-travel, Płatkow advised that we could potentially see battles with monsters take place at sea, although wasn’t able to confirm at the time whether we’d see the ability to actually swim in the water. He also mentioned that while there was talk to allow players to import their saves from the previous Witcher titles (for PC players), this presented some problems going from Xbox 360 to the Xbox One.
As I said at the beginning of the article, from just the 30 minutes of gameplay we were shown, The Witcher 3 is shaping up to be truly amazing title. The new world looks absolutely amazing and the level of detail is quite simply, fantastic. The draw distance is solid and the sights are just jaw-droopingly beautiful. I didn’t pick up the last title because I feared it would be too difficult, but after this preview, I’m pegging The Witcher 3 as a definite day-one purchase.
Many thanks to the people at CD Projekt Red and Bandai Namco for allowing us the opportunity to check out The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3 launches on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC later this year.