Playing this game in 2020 while watching the Netflix series I must admit that I was already invested in the story even though I have not played the first 2 Witcher games or read the books. In my opinion the story is not very well laid out in this game for those new to the world, however I already knew I was going to be interested in the main story and the character of Geralt, and my background knowledge kept me interested more than I would have otherwise.
I was also a bit intimidated going into the game knowing how massive it was and never having played this sort of western RPG before. I wondered if it would be too much for me to take in.
I started the game on Blood and Broken Bones (Hard) which is something I never really do, but I wanted to be challenged by this game. I am glad I did this too as early on I tried to trek toward the main story mission quickly and got eaten alive by some wolves. This made me reconsider how I was going to play this game. The prologue White Orchard area took me around 8 hours and that was because I decided I wanted to do every single side mission and discover every single location before going forward with the story. This is the first game in a long time that a game made me want to do that, which made me realize how special this game might be.
Visually the game looked dated, as it was more than 5 years old, and there were more visual bugs than I expected, but not enough to take away from the experience. The music and fully acted voices were commendable, though, and have stood the test of time.
After the prologue I was absolutely hooked, and I wanted to explore the whole world of the game even though there were some technical bugs and there was still so much I didn’t understand about the mechanics, the inventory, and the story.
The combat in this game is great and deserves a lot of credit for not growing stale after long hours of gameplay. The third-person slasher combat is built on the basics of having a slash, a block and a dodge. Geralt has a quick attack and a strong attack, a quick dodge and a long dodge which gives the combat a little more variety, but where the real depth comes in is with the Witcher abilities. Geralt has 5 different magic abilities that change combat immensely and give the option to go about each confrontation differently.
The options do not end there, though, as Geralt also gets access to a crossbow and bombs which add more ranged combat options, and even though I tend not to use those items it is great to know those options exist.
Combat got even deeper as I learned to balance Geralt’s stamina bar which is used for dodging and for casting spells. Geralt also gains adrenaline over the course of a fight, which adds another dimension. Eventually when items and potions are added in there becomes a lot to pay attention to in a fight, even though at lower difficulties or against weaker enemies just mashing quick attack would be enough.
Looting and Crafting
This is a truly daunting game to dive into and I think that the inventory and crafting has a large hand in that. The first time I looked at my inventory I said to myself “what is all of this stuff?” and the game never really does a great job of answering that question.
Crafting weapons, armor, bombs, and bolts, brewing potions, oils and decoctions, upgrading gear with runestones and glyphs, and all the materials, recipes, and diagrams needed in order to accomplish all of this combine for a complicated system hidden behind cumbersome menus. Each of these alchemy or weapon crafting systems might be more palatable on their own, especially if they were more simply laid out, but as they stand, they are too convoluted and many questions about them go unanswered. I needed to look up guides online to get a good grasp on all of these, which is a big misstep, but it does give hardcore players the option to sink a lot of time and resources into maximizing their Geralt for every fight with all of these minor advantages.
Personally, I stuck to a couple go-to potions and mostly only crafted and upgraded weapons when they were labeled “Witcher Gear” which, again, are not well explained in how they are different from normal gear. Altogether I rarely brewed or crafted but I also never knew whether I should sell my extra runestones, crafting materials, etc. or if I will eventually want them. This was frustrating but ultimately this inventory management is a big part of the game.
For players at lower difficulties I could see almost never touching the alchemy and crafting systems, which is not ideal for what was clearly meant to be an important part of the game. These options all add minor advantages to Geralt that all add up to be a deep and special part of the game that ultimately fell a little short for me due to the lacking introductions to the systems.
However, even before I understood these systems looting houses and enemies still felt so rewarding. I truly felt gratified when I discovered a new town and took everything they had into my inventory, even if half of what I collected were crafting materials I would never touch.
Along with the gratification of looting comes the gratification of gaining levels and skill points. The skill point tree gave me the ability to make my Geralt feel unique and searching for places of power to upgrade my skill tree further was a huge part of what pushed me to keep exploring every point of interest.
However, experience is gained very slowly, and main story missions will be the quickest way to level-up but exploring the world and gaining experience slowly from side missions is still gratifying. The skill tree is laid out much more simply than the crafting systems, but again it adds another dimension to being able to customize and maximize Geralt to my liking which is something a great RPG needs and I felt rewarded whenever I took the time to get into all of it.
The mission structure in this game is easy to understand, with main story quests clearly labeled and a multitude of side quests available in every direction by finding notice boards and exploring points of interest. Again, this is the first game in a long time that I felt like I wanted to do every side quest and they all felt satisfying. For a game as deep and massive as this it is commendable how few of the side quests seem like filler.
Whether trying to level up, looking for rare crafting diagrams, or wanting to find new towns to loot, I always found a reason to keep doing side missions and continue exploring.
The gameplay loop of side missions was usually looking for a person, using my witcher senses, fighting an enemy, repeat, but there was more behind each mission. Many gave a unique challenge like facing a new enemy type or solving a new puzzle, but the stories behind each mission and the rewards for completing them were reason enough for me to keep going.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Gwent here. Gwent is a mini-game of cards that is sometimes a distraction from the main game but more often a truly fun experience in its own right and only adds more incentive to wander the open world with Geralt looking for anyone to play against while compiling the perfect Gwent deck.
One big gripe I have with this game, though, is that along with the menus and user interface being confusing and having incredibly small text sizes. As someone sitting on a couch and not right up against a monitor, I had a hard time reading anything. Thankfully all the characters were fully voiced so it wasn’t an issue there but reading books and inventory descriptions was nearly impossible.
My bigger concern is with the map, though. Not being able to zoom in more on the map was frustrating at times, especially since I sometimes needed to distinguish the very minor difference between the white icon of a monster nest that I have yet to destroy and the light grey of a monster nest that I have already destroyed. The game also gave me a white dotted line of breadcrumbs to follow the quest I am tracking on my mini map. However, the dots were so small and similar in color to the roads that it often looked as if there was nothing there. These things range from minor inconveniences to real accessibility issues that are truly disappointing.
Again, having seen the Netflix series, I knew I was going to be interested in the main story, but I didn’t know how invested I would get into the rest of the world, the side missions, and the characters outside of the main story. I stated already that the stories in the side missions were great, but they really are incredible bits that add so much to the larger story and world. Some of the most memorable moments in this game for me were found in the side missions, but the main story is also incredible and extensive and I still have so much to see.
The combat and RPG elements of the game kept me entertained and wanting more, but the world was truly were the deepest and most satisfying that I have experienced in a video game, even if it takes some time and effort to be truly immersed.
Wandering around as Geralt in the open world, slashing monsters, discovering new locations and towns, and completing side quests all felt so rewarding and engaging. Finding and looting every house and enemy to find minor advantages was gratifying even though the inventory was confusing and dauntingly large, and the game did little to guide me on how I should be using my resources.
This, in a way, added to the game’s depth. I always felt like there was more to learn and more ways to improve and the game provided me the opportunity to dive as deep as I wanted to into any aspect, from the story, to the crafting, to the combat and beyond. It all required some effort on my part, but it was always worth it.
I obviously have a lot to say about this game and might be being harsh on its flaws knowing that it is referred to by many as the game of the generation, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time and would recommend this game to anyone looking for an immersive world to dive into.
Deep RPG Elements
Rewarding Combat Options
Confusing Inventory and Crafting Systems
Frustrating User Interface