Colin was sent to Stirling Castle to go hands-on for the first time with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Our preview started pretty much at the start of the game. A prologue segment which set up the initial story, showed off the game’s mechanics and just familiarised the player with the way The Witcher generally does it’s thing again. After all, if you’re a PC fan of the series it’s nearly been 4 years since Geralt’s last outing.
Ah yes, Geralt and not Gerald as the Mac’s autocorrection seems to want to name him. Everyone’s favourite, slightly monotone, professional monster and mythical creature hunter is back for a third excursion and this time you’re having to hunt down the Child of Prophecy. Wait, not hunt! Track down, yes that’s better. We probably shouldn’t be hunting children in 2015. Anyway, in times of war, the Child of Prophecy becomes a powerful, living weapon that can sway the balance of the world.
At this point it’s pretty clear - If you haven’t played other entries, there’s a fair bit of backstory you’ll be missing out on. I wouldn’t say it’s that hard to pick up, it’s just quite a formidable task in order to get your self up to speed. CD PROJEKT RED do offer a stylishly animation recap video in an attempt to refresh your memory or actually bring you up to speed, but it’s nothing compared to actually playing the previous titles.
Back to the game, after an initial attack from the unforgiving world of The Witcher we were on our way. Geralt & his fellow elder witcher, Vesemir ride through the landscape of Temeria in order to find Yennefer of Vengerberg, an old lost lost love of our somewhat nonchalant hero, who you might remember from flashbacks in a previous title.
Just before the pair reach the quaint village of White Orchard, we encounter the first main hurdle in Geralt’s Witcher 3 path. Cowering in fear is a local merchant who, while on his way to the local village is attacked by a Griffin, the mythical creature with the torso of a lion with the head and wings of an eagle. After a quick fisticuffs with said Griffin, we send it on it’s way and the merchant, who appears to be sporting a John Lennon 60’s style hairbob reappears. Geralt goes on to reassure him that the beast has gone and that he’s no longer in danger. The traditional Witcher conversation tree once again returns allowing you to carve your path through the game in the way of your choosing; in this situation I decided to demand a small fee for saving the life of the local merchant before sending him on his way. What? I can feel you judging me! Well, it is only fair, I did just save him from being breakfast for a behemoth. Other than needing to replace some ruined stock and perhaps a new horse after his current one appears to be missing half it’s torso, I’m not sure the poor merchant really needed that money.
We travel onwards to White Orchard, through the lush landscape that surrounds us. The world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is ridiculously detailed; trees sway with the creamy blossom flourishing on the branches, water flows and ripples in near by lakes that follow the main path into the village and people go about their busy lives with children throwing skipping stones, women using washboards and geese panicking as you approach on horseback as you become engrossed in this believable fictitious land.
My first problem with our lengthy preview occurred after entering the village tavern in search of Yennefer. After chatting to some of the local drunks and miscreants, I was invited to take part in a game of Gwent - A fully fledged Hearthstone-style card game found within The Witcher’s world. According to the developers Gwent is “a game of initial simplicity and ultimate depth, something beloved by both road-weary travellers during long nights around the campfire and elegant nobles looking to liven up dragging dinner parties.” But I just found it confusing. Though this is completely down to the tutorial and something CD PROJEKT RED have assured me they were looking into after similar feedback from other press and testers.
My second problem was with Roache, Geralt’s noble and somewhat senseless horse. Pressing the Left Stick/L3 button (I played on PC with a Xbox One controller for the most part) calls Roche wherever you are in the lands; think Red Dead Redemption style. After recent games using that button layout for sprinting, I found myself calling Roache in times where he was pretty much the last thing I would have needed. Perhaps the biggest annoyance in my three hours of playing, putting Roache to sleep would have been the more effective option. He managed to get stuck at least four times - A few moments in a tree where I’d be able to mount my faithful friend only for him to spin on the spot in a clockwise fashion, a couple of times where I’d whistle for him to arrive at my side for him just not appear.
I shouldn’t complain too much, it’s still four months away from release and the developers actively took our suggestions on board and really felt passionately about what the press had to say. Two slight niggles in an early build that was otherwise excellent. I honestly haven’t been the biggest fan of the series to date; I didn’t play the first and I played most of the second before giving up. So, I when I sat down with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time, I did so with very little anticipation and excitement. I stood up after three hours and was grasping for more. I was sucked in. I need to keep exploring, I need to keep fighting and I need to know more.
There’s one the thing that really makes The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stand out to me. Passion. CD PROJEKT RED aren’t your huge development assembly that you’d find at Ubisoft or Electronic Arts. Every developer I spoke to at the preview event felt the same way; you could tell that this wasn’t just another project to them, it was nerve-wracking, exciting and mostly, it was everything them.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is something that really needs to be seen to be believed. The level of detail is jaw-dropping at times and sure, it’s probably a bit daunting to newcomers, but rest assured, you won’t want to miss out on this adventure come May, it’s going to be unmissable.
Platform played PC (Three hours) & PS4 (20 minutes)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out May 19th 2015 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. You can preorder your copy from ShopTo today!