Can The Witcher steal Skyrim’s RPG crown?

Monday, 23 June 2014 15:30 GMT By Matt Martin

Yes, is the short answer. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks like it’s an RPG you can lose hours and hours in, says Matt Martin.

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If there’s one thing I love about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – and Oblivion before it – it’s the sense of exploration and the ability to get lost in a rich fantasy world. I haven’t completed either game yet, but I’ve put in around 200 hours combined. I may not have been too bothered with the central storyline (fight the dragons, stop hell from invading the land, or whatever), but I’ve never been bored of meeting weird characters, running errands for murderers and saving strangers from cruel death in a dungeon I had no idea existed hours earlier.

Now, after two splendid linear entries from CD Projekt, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is taking the next step for any role-playing series by giving the player a non-linear open-world to explore. From what I’ve seen so far of the game, I have a lot of faith that The Witcher 3 is going in the right direction. Here’s seven reasons why I think it’s going to be one of the biggest games of 2015.

Cities feel like communities

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Novigrad is the largest city on the map, with CD Projekt claiming there are some 7,000 inhabitants. From a casual tour of its streets I can see it’s also clearly split into distinct districts. It looks almost organic in its growth in that there isn’t clear planning to each area, and the pubs, warehouses, temples, brothels and houses have sprung up as its inhabitants have grown. It feels like a real community here to, with fishermen going out to sea in the early hours, buskers playing for coins, children running through the streets and haggling merchants looking for trade. They are also said to react to the time of day and weather, although I toured the city during a sunny day, drinking in the lively atmosphere and didn’t see any particularly radical changes.

Novigrad is a place for main character Geralt to keep his wits about him, resupply, learn about the world and pick up quests, rather than run around swinging his sword. When I think of games that have created a successful city and surrounding areas full of a lively community – Mass Effect’s Citadel, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos – The Witcher 3 easily holds a candle to those.

It’s bringing PC beauty to consoles at last

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The Witcher 3 was one of the most visually impressive games I saw at E3 a couple of weeks ago, and that was during a week where I spoilt by good-looking games. There’s incredible detail in the game, from the ugly monsters and creatures that inhabit the world to the foliage and fauna. I’m not usually one for standing around and cooing over a sunset like a god-damn hippy, but the reflections in pools of water, the detail in the brickwork, the light cast across the map is something very special. Remind yourself of it with this Griffin Hunt sequence below.

It’s dark in tone and delivery

One of the strengths of The Witcher world is everyone’s a bit unpleasant and odd. This isn’t your usual tale of sneering orcs and brave-hearted knights. Characters in The Witcher 3 capture that nasty medieval vibe, where favours are paid for and everyone is essentially looking out for themselves. During my E3 demo I helped out Johnny, a fairly wretched Golem-like godling who had lost his voice. When he did get it back he proceeded to tell me his favourite part of the day is emptying his bowels in the morning. He introduced me to three old women depicted on a tapestry as beauties but who in reality were knacked, festering old crones. And so it goes, one disfigured character after another… these are the people that keep me coming back for more. It’s a very dark fairy tale world.

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