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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt announced, goes open world

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has made its debut in the latest issue of GameInformer US, and boasts a completely open world.

The issue's cover has been scanned and uploaded to NeoGAF along with a few details harvested from within.

The open world is said to be 40 times as large as The Witcher 2's, 20% bigger than that of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and will take up to 40 minutes to cross on horseback.

The story, like the world, is not divided into chapters or acts. The open world is enabled by a new streaming technology enabled by the new CDRED Engine 3, and includes no loading screens. There will be fast travel, though.

Protagonist Geralt has recovered all his memories, and probably as a result is not interested in fighting for a faction. Instead, he wanders the world slaying monsters and solving mysteries, as in the books. Despite the non-linear setting, CD Projekt is doubling down on cinematics and storytelling, with over 100 hundred hours of scripted quests.

The story is said to come in three flavours. The first is quests the player sets for themselves, such as slaying monsters or crafting to level up and earn better equipment. In the second level, major plot lines in key areas will resolve the Nilfgaardian invasion storyline. Players don't need to complete every area's major plotline, or may make a decision not to begin, but not completing a set of quests can have consequences for another, like an area being abandoned or an ally coming to your aid. However, the environment won't undergo dramatic visual transformations as it did in The Witcher 2, and some plot lines conflict, forcing the player to choose.

The third narrative thread is Geralt's search for his lost love and some sort of conflict with the Wild Hunt. The game can be completed by pursuing only this storyline and ignoring everything else. CD Projket wants to focus more on romance and less on sexual encounters this time; the trading cards are not making a return.

Although Geralt can go anywhere, monsters don't scale to the players level, so presumably some areas are best elft for end-game. While wandering the world, Geralt will encounter monsters, animals and human characters, all of which may attack if they consider him a threat. Weather is dynamically generated, and what kinds of creatures are encountered and their behaviours are modified by time of day, among other factors.

The image on the cover shows Geralt riding with an adult companion whose face cannot be seen. Mounted combat is on the cards but CD Projekt hasn't nailed it yet so isn't making promises, but ships are available, and will float on water thanks to a new physics engine. Both horses and boats can be upgraded.

Mini-games will vary by location, with the example of knife-throwing in Skellige provided. These optional diversions offer rewards but aren't needed to drive the story. While out and about, Geralt will also be offered monster-slaying commissions, but won't receive contracts. Killing monsters often yields otherwise unobtainable alchemical ingredients and mutagens, which will unlock parts of his skill tree.

Sometimes these commissions wil require investigation, and Geralt will be able to spot slues in the environment using his Witcher senses, activated with the left trigger. It's not just a matter of spotting gleaming items and hitting a button, though; Geralt will mutter to himself, or view memories, in order to communicate his problem solving skills to the player.

In combat, the more Geralt has learned about monster, the more likely he is to identify critical strike locations. CD Projekt RED is still balancing the combat and hasn't decided between real-time special moves or quick time style events for certain abilities. CD Projekt hopes to address the difficulty problems of the previous games, and is reworking combat considerably.

Geralt now has 96 combat animations, as opposed to 20 in The Witcher 2, but to avoid the player being caught in long animations, three major changes have been made: every button is mapped to a single strike; every move takes about the same amount of time; and all moves can be interrupted to dodge or block.

Geralt no long runs in combat, but strikes even faster, and instead of rolling, he pivots. Enemy AI is all-new, and there will be no scripted boss encounters. Bosses do still feature, including an ice giant.

For those who'd rather avoid combat, Geralt can use the environment to distract and evade, as for example when he uses the sign of Aard to annoy wasps so they attack guards, and then use Igni to scare them off. There are around a dozen objects that can be used in this way.

Magic has been rejigged; each of the five signs has a basic effect which can be upgraded while still retaining the original use, too. In addition to magic, Geralt has a swordmanship and alchemy tree. The alchemy tree is all about potions, and CD projekt promises improved inventory and crafting systems, including customisable crafting items, and the ability to substitute similar items in recipes, modifying the final results.

On the gear side, finding unique ingredients and special recipes unlocks powerful artefacts, but even standard armour sets have a unique appearance. Plus, you can change Geralt's hairstyle; a feature recently added to The Witcher 2.

CD Projekt RED has doubled its development team since The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. It did not give platform information beyond a mention of "all top-of-the-line" consoles, suggesting a potential next-generation release (hello, PlayStation 4). The GameInformer cover describes it as a "must see next generation RPG".

A video has been made available; check it out below.

Thanks, Dan.

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