The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – two key factors of a world to get lost in

By Brenna Hillier
4 March 2014 13:18 GMT

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt throws you down in a beautiful world and gives you a better reason to stick around than collecting a few hundred random objects, Brenna says.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


Coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One later this year.

The third title and an end to a trilogy; CD Projekt RED hasn’t ruled out further Witcher games but this game will provide closure to the current story arc.

The Witcher series is based on a series of eight books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Released between 1992 and 1999, the series is hugely popular in multiple European languages, but to date only the first four have been translated into English.

Polish fantasy fans are intimately familiar with the universe of the Witcher; CD Projekt RED chose to tell an original story with many overlapping themes, events and characters rather than recreate the books.

A couple of friendly chaps from CD Projekt RED turned up in Sydney recently to give we poor starving Australian journalists a chance to see a purpose-built demo of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, previously shown only behind closed doors or at big international conventions.

Now that The Witcher 3 has taken the series open-world, it’s time to dust off the inevitable comparison to Skyrim that must legally be included in any and all open-world RPG discussion. The first Witcher game was built on BioWare’s Aurora engine, but with The Witcher 2, CD Projekt debuted its own tech, with spectacular results – especially from such a young team. Nevertheless, since Skyrim was only vaguely contemporaneous and a very different style of game it seemed a little rude to put them side by side.

With The Witcher 3, though, we’re seeing the first next-gen engine from the team, and it hopes to surpass the masters of the genre. Until Bethesda produces its own next-gen engine we can’t know how that rivalry will work out, but we can look at The Witcher 3 as an example of what The Elder Scrolls team ought to shoot for.

Remember when Skyrim was first unveiled and there was a lot of excited talk about how the vegetation and weather effects were so luscious and special? All that stuff about snow drifts piling up, and real physics on water? And then you got out there and it was, while undeniably lovely and more than impressive, not quite what you’d expected? That’s the nature of previews, I’m afraid – the developer tells you a bunch of cool things about its back end tech, and you dutifully become much more excited than the end results warrant.

CD Projekt didn’t tell us anything about its tech, it just put the game on screen and let it speak for itself. The Witcher 3 is heard most clearly during quiet moments, when the world is allowed to speak. At times when the controller sat idle, while the staff explained something or answered a question, it gave me a chance to take in the individual blades of grass and wildflowers that covered the ground – literally covered, not just patchily decorated like a man not yet confident enough to rock a chrome dome and still doing that disastrous comb over thing. To watch the breeze ripple them. To admire the gleaming – and apparently not even final! – textures of Geralt’s mail, which flowed and clumped around his body, individual links shining as they caught the light.

Watch on YouTube

I have died and gone to graphics heaven.

Leaving Geralt to meditate allowed us to watch the day-night and weather cycles in action, showing the dramatic variation available in just one location, but the demo we saw took us through several locations – a castle on a cliff face, the prosperous little village that clung to its ankles, the ocean, an island headland, a ruined and overgrown keep, a sulky little hamlet in the boondocks, and an ancient forest. Each of these locations was startlingly different from the next; you might run through them in a few moments and not notice the differences, but you could also stop and take in the commendable variations in assets missing from so many comparable large-scale games.

I don’t have candid screenshots or footage to show you what I mean, and I lack the language of graphics tech to explain the differences, so let me just break it down – The Witcher 3’s landscapes make Skyrim look extremely last-gen. The Witcher 3’s ocean makes Assassin’s Creed 4, heretofore the acknowledged king of beautiful oceans, look distinctly cross-gen. The Witcher 3’s character animations – well, actually, okay, apart from the sizzlingly attractive fencing, the animations look a little rocky at this point, while largely static and stone-faced characters suddenly pinwheeling their arms in gestures and throwing facial expressions around like they have sudden itches. I don’t know how much of that is CD Projekt RED’s dramatic European style and how much is work in progress.

Head to the second page to read about The Witcher 3’s “personal story” approach to side quests.

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