REVIEW: ‘The Witcher’ returns with a wild time

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  • reviewed on PS4 / Rated M / $59.99 / released May 2015
  • FINAL: You NEED this game. 5 out of 5 stars

In “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” players are treated to another visit with Geralt of Rivia, a medieval monster hunter. As “Wild Hunt” begins, Geralt is searching for his missing daughter Ciri, whom he adopted in a previous adventure. A more-than-capable fighter in her own right, the now-grown Ciri is at the center of the mix of politics and action that drives the game. The setting and characters for “Wild Hunt” come from a popular series of Polish fantasy novels, and the game deftly connects “Game of Thrones”-style visuals with “Grand Theft Auto”-esque missions and exploration.

The Witcher 3” has two great strengths. First is Geralt himself, a man whose occupation (“Witcher,” just like the game’s title) precedes him everywhere he travels. Although he initially presents as a stereotypical gruff anti-hero, Geralt is actually a deceptively brilliant character. He cracks jokes and can be sarcastic, but he never lands with an arrogant Hollywood Action Star tone. Geralt is dry and subtle. He is a man with abilities that set him apart from others, yet his job requires that he mix with locals of every station. There is a weariness about Geralt, but he responds to that with a quiet humor.

The game’s second strength is the impressive breadth and depth of side-quests available to you. What could be dull distractions from the main quest are unexpectedly robust and multilayered, unfolding into solid adventures in their own right. There are hours upon hours of activities in “Witcher 3” outside of Geralt’s search for Ciri, which is already a long and detailed quest.

Combat, however, is another matter. “The Witcher 3” relies on a complicated system of weapon enhancements and item management grafted onto clunky dodges and parries. It is just not worth the time it takes to master it; instead you might as well bump the difficulty down to a level where that complexity is not necessary. The system rewards deliberate strikes and patient blocks, but poor targeting and frequent enemy dogpiling put you one mob scene away from a restart at all times. Geralt himself feels slow and over-animated, meaning that every dramatic action – swinging a sword, launching into a run – takes too long to finish, leaving you with a disconnected, floaty feel. “Witcher 3” is one of those games where you can hop on to a horse, spur it into a fast gallop, and end up stuck running against a tree because the timing required to turn the horse is to slow to properly steer it.

Thankfully, the game’s sheer volume makes up for occasional immersion-breaking weirdness and funky combat. There are surprises packed everywhere, from suddenly-striking visuals (wow: the first time you reach a city!) to flashbacks with a playable Ciri (more of that, please!) to a deep in-game collectible card game.

If you have never played a “Witcher” game before, do not worry much about feeling lost in the continuing narrative. Yes, “Wild Hunt” does follow and build upon two previous games, but there’s plenty of exposition and hand-holding to help it make sense to a new player. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” is a massively enjoyable experience that will fill months of your game time.

This review is based on product supplied by the developer. Image courtesy CD Projekt Red. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

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