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Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - title

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - box art

In a Nutshell

  • Gameplay: 75
    Combat mechanics are deep and provide plenty of options for the player, but you'll have to overcome fidgety movement, sluggish attacks, unreliable target lock, and an erratic camera.

  • Visuals: 90
    A vivid, lush, organically-detailed world with excellent lighting, weather effects, stellar character models, and great thematic visual cues is blemished slightly by the re-use of peasant models and the occasional pop-in of textures and whole characters.

  • Audio: 91
    Strong voice-acting (at most times) makes characters compelling and sympathetic, and consistent (but exaggerated) regional accents helps to build the world. The soundtrack is pretty awesome.

  • Value: 99
    A huge, gritty, and believable world with varied and satisfying side quests, complex characters, and genuine consequences.

  • The Wild Hunt*: 78
    The branching, multi-threaded plot is significantly undercut by the openness of the world and the apparent lack of consequence for failure to progress.

  • Overall Score: 87 / 100

  • * denotes wild-card score category
Developer(s):
CD Projekt Red
Publisher(s):
Warner Bros. Interactive
Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PS4, XBox One
ESRB rating: Mature (17+) for:
blood and gore, intense violence,
strong sexual content, nudity,
use of alcohol, strong language
Genre(s):
Open world RPG
Players: single-player
Official site:
thewitcher.com

Let me tell you a little story. It's a story of my first few days with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This is a game that I eagerly anticipated. The previews for it were grand, and I expected it to be everything that Skyrim wasn't, and more! I was all ready to give my first 100/100 game review! I spent some time juggling whether to buy the game on PC or PS4. I knew that PC would likely be a better overall experience, with prettier graphics, shorter load times, and the eventual ability to mod. But I decided to go with PS4 instead for two reasons:

  1. my cousin had pre-ordered the PC version, so I could play his if I wanted to see if it was any better,
  2. I wanted a good showcase of what the PS4 is capable of compared to high-end PCs.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - open map
Previews talked up the large, dynamic world, in which your decisions supposedly have major consequences.

Bad first impressions

Oh boy, The Witcher 3 did not make a good first impression with me!

I started the game on the hard difficulty. I had just come off of Bloodborne, so I was in a mindset to be challenged. My first two reactions to the game were fairly negative. Load times seemed long, but then again, the world is supposed to be open and seamless, so loading shouldn't be a frequent necessity. I also had some comfort issues with the controls in the tutorial. I dismissed them as a result of my unfamiliarity with the game and assumed I would get used to it.

The biggest problem was trying to figure out how to reliably heal. I kept losing vitality in small skirmishes, and it just wouldn't recharge. I kept running out of potions, and the game wouldn't let me make more. I had to throw away the empty potion bottle in order to craft more of the healing potions. I assumed this was a glitch.

Does the game require absolute perfection from the player? If so, I wasn't sure if I could handle it. The combat controls are sketchy to say the least. As I got into the game proper, the nagging discomfort that I felt in the tutorial was only amplified as the game threw more enemies at me. Even Geralt's "fast attacks" are lumbering compared to most enemies, and he is fidgety in his movement. Enemies are swift and relentless. It was hard to find an opening for my own attacks without taking damage, and my finger started getting tired from holding down the block command that only sometimes worked. The dodge commands also seemed unreliable, the camera never seemed to focus where I wanted it, and the target lock was nigh useless. It didn't help that the spell and accessory wheel is cumbersome to use.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Nithral
I almost gave up on the game at this first Nithral fight because I had completely forgotten about
the meditate feature, and didn't have any healing items (not that healing items do much).

I eventually hit a brick wall in which all the attrition set in. The sloppy combat mechanics constantly sapped my vitality, and I gradually ran out of healing items which the game was unwilling to provide more of. I ended up in a boss fight with literally half my health gone and no healing items left. My NPC companion spammed lightning spells at him, but these did no damage and only got him stuck in a corner so that I was unable to get behind him and actually attack. To make matters worse, my weapons started breaking, and I had no replacements, and only one repair tool. I tried lowering the difficulty, but it didn't help. It seemed to be a no-win scenario.

I had to reload from an earlier save and tried some other quests to hopefully gain experience, levels, and supplies. I tried exploring the world to gain experience from random encounters, and I sometimes come across mobs of monsters and try to draw the sword and start blocking as I approach. Instead, I go into Witcher sense mode, since witcher sense and block are the same buttons. Often, the enemies get close enough to attack me before the game switches me from witcher sense mode to block mode, and so they get to leech some health away with free hits. This lead to some cheap deaths.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - witcher sense in combat
Witcher sense is overloaded to the block button,
leading to some cheap hits while exploring.

I jumped between the quest menu and the map (because the map could only track a single active quest at a time) to try to find a quest in my level range that was nearby. I tried a missing person's case that lead to a warewolf den. The warewolf proved impossible for me to take on, since his health regened faster than I could cause damage. So much for that "doable" quest.

I tried picking up the lowest-level monster contract available (a level 5 one), and died to some kind of porcupine alghoul enemy that damaged me everytime I attacked it. After a reload, I was able to beat it, and for some reason, it didn't damage me when I attacked anymore. Weird. What had I done differently? But my health was low, I was once again out of healing items, and I wasn't even halfway to earning my 5th level yet. The next set of bandits killed me.

I was about ready to give up, as I was getting sick of staring at the long load screen every time I died and not having any sense of learning or improvement. I started squinting at the microscopic text of the menus to desperately find something to help me progress. It was then that I noticed the Meditation option in the menu. It was something that I had forgotten about all this time. I tried meditating for an hour thinking it might restore at least some of my hit points. I figured a full 6 or 8 hours would be required to fully heal. But, much to my surprise, that single hour fully restored my vitality. And it refilled my healing potions. Armed with restored health, some new weapons, and the knowledge that the constant war of attrition that I'd been fighting with the game was unnecessary, I pressed on, defeated the bandits, and managed victories against some other mobs of enemies in the overworld!

Perhaps now I could finally start enjoying the game?

This game certainly has a steep learning curve. But admittedly, most of my early troubles were largely my own fault for not remembering to use the meditation feature. So I can't blame the game or the developers for my own stupidity, especially since they did introduce the meditation mechanic in the tutorial. Though they probably could have slowed the tutorial down a bit and introduced more mechanics gradually, since I suffered from pretty severe information overload.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - swarmed
Being swarmed in combat is frustrating due to a poor camera and unreliable dodge and block commands.

I can, however, still blame them for the dodgy controls and combat mechanics. Even after lowering the difficulty to normal, getting a better feel for the flow of combat, and getting into the habit of regularly meditating, I still do not enjoy the combat encounters. All the same issues described above still apply. Only the painful attrition was alleviated. The witcher sense still caused some cheap hits at the start of battles, since many quests require you to wander around forests and caves holding the damned Witcher Sense button. The weapon wheel is still cumbersome. Target locking is fidgety. And so on.

I appreciate a combat system that requires finesse and precision from the player, and The Witcher 3 certainly does require finesse and precision. But The Witcher 3 doesn't feel nearly as comfortable as some other recent action games like Shadow of Mordor or Bloodborne. One-on-one fights against a competent swordsman or high-level monster are fine (and sometimes very fun). But most of the time, you're being swarmed or ambushed. Being swarmed by the drowners and bandits that the game loves to throw at you is frustrating because of lock-on problems and your block and dodge commands not behaving reliably. It's particularly bad for aggressive monsters (like drowners and nekkars), because at least bandits will stop to block, which gives you a chance to try your own counter attack. Bandits can be parried; I don't think monsters can. Monsters attack relentlessly, so I have to wait seemingly forever (holding down the block button) for a tiny sliver of an opening to get my own attack in.

There's also a nearly unforgiveable control latency issue when coming back from cutscenes or menus. There's a fraction of a second in which the game won't accept controller inputs, but the game is still running, and Geralt can be attacked without being able to take any action to defend yourself. Once, a boss one-shot killed me after coming out of a cutscene before I was even able to take an action. The screen basically faded into a scene of Geralt dropping dead.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Character customization
Only a small number of abilities can be equipped at any given time, requiring careful planning by the player.

The obtuse leveling system only further confounds the combat mechanics. Leveling up gives you ability points to spend on unlocking new abilities or upgrading existing ones. But there's also this weird ability slot system that only allows you to activate certain abilities at any given time. It forces you to specialize Geralt in certain skills, even though he's supposed to be an expert in all the skills he knows. You have to very carefully plan your progression right at the start of the game in order to avoid investing points into skills that you're not going to have enough slots to equip. This doesn't give the player very much leeway to experiment with different skills, abilities, and combat strategies before having to settle on which ones they want to focus on.

This system feels like it was intended to work similarly to a wizard in Dungeons & Dragons. Geralt can re-assign which of his learned abilities he equips at any time (similar to a D&D wizard preparing her list of spells for the day), but he can't re-assign which abilities he has points invested in. New ability points are fairly few and far between, you can't afford to spend them whilly-nilly on abilities you may never use. Fortunately, a post-release patch added a potion that allows you to respec Geralt. It helps, but you only get one of them, and buying additional potions costs a lot of money.

To the game's credit, this character advancement system does make it so that the character does't feel as overpowered as you might in other RPGs like Skyrim. You gain new abilities and magic attacks, but you don't just get arbitrarily stronger and more deadly. So bandits and drowners remain competitive and dangerous if you don't stay on your toes. It's a better system than Oblivion's level-scaling nonsense, as it maintains a sense of parity between everything in the world, while still allowing the player to feel like you are getting somewhat stronger. But experience points don't feel particularly valuable, since character advancement feels like a very shallow curve.

The combat mechanics do eventually start to develop some depth that encourages and forces the player to be much more deliberate and less button-mashy. Larger enemies and humanoids with two-handed weapons can break your blocks and sometimes can't be parried. In some cases, this can lead to some intense cat-and-mouse skirmishes if the enemy isn't constantly barraging you with attacks. Unfortunately, my ability to enjoy such fights is still limited by whether or not the dodge and block commands cooperate.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - higher-level enemies
Higher level enemies with heavier weapons can't be parried and can break your blocks,
forcing you to be much more deliberate, careful, and creative in your tactics.

Trying to make up for bad first impressions

Getting through those early tribulations allowed me to start to enjoy the expert world-building and story-telling that CD Projekt RED has accomplished. Almost from the start, the player is thrown into a wold ravaged by war. You find ramshackle shanty towns populated with [almost disbelief-shatteringly fit and supple-breasted] starving peasants and refugees living in abject squalor. Whole villages can be found abandoned and left in ruin. The countryside is dotted with destroyed roads, collapsed bridges, crumbling cottages, and blood-strewn battlefields swarming with flies and ghouls scavenging on the unburried bodies of soldiers. What few bridges are left in-tact are guarded by military police. Everywhere I went in Velen, I saw subtle and not-so-subtle visual cues that reminded me that I was in a battered and broken war-torn country. This all provides a great sense of context for your interactions with soldiers and war-weary civilians, and makes for one of the most provocative and poignant war settings of any game ever made. It was a setting that made Skyrim's civil war questline look like a game of checkers ... that no one was playing.

Velen's ramshackle shanty towns, starving refugees, and blood-strewn battlefields
created a sense of context and really sold me on the backstory of a violent war.

Many of the quests are also really interesting and engaging. Most of them aren't explicitly combat quests, and instead, they often require some kind of investigation. Geralt is a very observant, analytical, and thoughtful character. These traits come through in dialogue, cutscenes, and also in actual gameplay. The player is reliant on a special "witcher sense" that highlights interactable objects in red or orange, so the player rarely has to rely on his or her own insight. It feels a bit like a cop-out, but it is the industry standard for this sort of thing. It feels like almost every quest has at least one "Use your Witcher Sense to find something" objective. It does eventually start to get old, since you just follow a trail of breadcrumbs left by the developers.

Having to spend the time to follow tracks or blood stains to track a monster through a dense forest, or having to look through documents for clues to where a missing character might have gone, or searching through a person's belongings for incriminating evidence, all highlights the more curious and intellectual nature of Geralt's character and the power of knowledge. I love these objectives when they are part of a monster contract. It gives a kind of simplistic X-Files + CSI feel that really does make me feel like an active, knowledgeable part of the world, rather than just an outside observer.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - tracking a warewolf
Most quests have an investigatory nature that requires the character to use intellect to solve problems.

The game includes an in-depth bestiary and character bios that will act as quick references for the player to catch up on elements of the game world that you probably don't know unless you've played through every nook and cranny of the previous games. Information about beasts and characters are unlocked when they become relevant, and are updated whenever new information is obtained. It helps to enable the player to make decisions and prepare appropriately for an enemy based on the knowledge that Geralt should have. Reading a bestiary entry to find out what potions or spells a particular beast might be vulnerable to can be invaluable information and make the difference between victory and defeat.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - bestiary griffon
The bestiary is helpful for Witcher contracts
- which I rarely did.

Sadly, you can't coat your weapons with these potions once combat has been started, so if you're ambushed, or a cutscene begins the battle, then you won't necessarily have time to prepare. So these potions pretty much only work for the occasional "Witcher Contract" monster-hunt missions that you might take on, since those usually require you to do an investigation to determine what kind of monster you're up against prior to actually facing it. By the time I had gotten to Novigrad, I had basically stopped doing witcher contracts because I was already overleveled for the story quests, and all the side content was starting to drag on. So all those potions that I'd been learning how to make and collecting have just been sitting in my inventory ever since.

Individual quests can also really drag on. The characters really love to talk on and on, and many of the dialogue trees seem to just collapse to the same outcome anyway. Every quest I take on seems to open up two more, and a lot of times you need to complete the tributary quests in order to resolve the main quest that lead into it. It eats up so much time! It's fine when the quest and characters are engaging, but there are a lot of quests that just seem unecessarily contrived and obfuscated.

After spending a week of round-about questing to track down the gangster Junior, the whole quest ended
in a dull sword fight with grunts, and one of the most painfully awkward cutscenes in the game.

I remember tracking down a gangster named Junior across a whole province expecting some big, dramatic resolution. After all the trouble that I went to, and finding that he's as sick and twisted as Jeoffrey from Game of Thrones, I was all ready to smugly give the bastard what he deserves: his head in a bag. But instead, I got a boring fight against a handful of weak guards, followed by a really awkward cutscene with some really stilted voice-work, robotic motion capture, unconvincing dialogue, and uncharacteristically reserved camera angles. Geralt briefly showed some promising restraint of his bottled rage, but the actual dialogue just didn't seem right, and there was an odd sense of displacement between the characters as if they weren't actually in the same room.This long quest with all this build-up just kind of ended in a pathetic whimper of a poor dialogue tree and a prompt whether or not to kill the bastard. It's as if the developers spent all their time and effort rendering the nipples of the dead hookers instead of providing proper directing to the voice and mo-cap actors.

Producing and performing in a stage play is one of the more creative and enjoyable quests.

But there are also plenty of quests that are absolute gold! I really liked one quest in which you have to produce a stage play in order to lure a comrade out of hiding. You chose what kind of play to have the author write, give it a name, and read the script to memorize your lines, cast the lead actors, and even hire ushers. On top of that, the play's theme mirrored the game's themes of racism in an attempt to provide a social justice message within the context of the game world. So in addition to being a lot of fun, it also reinforced the game's own narrative themes, making it more satisfying than a generic time-filler quest. I enjoyed it so much, I'm planning on incorporating it into my next Dungeons & Dragons campaign!

The quest that really won me over to this game was the Bloody Baron's. It was one of two options for the player to find an early clue to progress the the main quest, and I almost passed it up because I had already resolved the other option (because it involved a witch, and Geralt's a witcher, so...). But I decided to visit the Bloody Baron anyway, and see if he had any more information to offer. And boy, am I glad I took this detour!

This quest completely sold me on the developer's ability to create complicated and compelling characters, since the main protagonist felt kind of bland from the start. The baron comes off (initially) as honorable, but his violent temper and preponderance for drink as a result of the war has created a tragic family crisis all of his own making. Yet, despite the mountain of blame that lies almost entirely on his self-destructive shoulders, I couldn't help but sympathize for his series of tragedies and his seemingly-genuine attempts to make things right. His facial animations and body language are incredible and did a tremendous job of conveying the pain and heartache that he was suffering. He felt as real, complex, and human as any video game character that I've seen since James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2. And he's just a fairly minor, ancillary character, rather than anything close to a main actor!

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Bloody Baron's tale
The Bloody Baron provided a tragically gripping - and very human - tale of a family torn apart by war and vice.

This questline, by itself, is a microcosm of everything I adore about this game (and narrative gaming in general). It helps to build the world with believable and sympathetic characters who are genuinely affected by your actions and choices. It's up to the player to wade through the moral ambiguity and make decisions based on your own observations and investigations of the world and its characters (without having to color-code the dialogue options based on whether they are "good" or "bad"). And you have to live with the consequences of whatever choices you make. Long after multitude of Jarls what's-his-name from the towns of Skyrim have completely faded from my memory, I will still remember the Bloody Baron from Witcher 3, and his gut-wrenching, heart-breaking story.

The religious right wrong

The world itself is also rich and nuanced. Major overarching themes of racism and prejudice are expertly woven into the game's narrative. The beginning of the game warns the player of this concentrated propaganda effort that the religious majority is making to destroy the reputation of magic users (witchers included). The player may run into a few problems with locals early in the game, but it doesn't feel like a very big deal at the start.

But as we get into the large city of Novigrad, we start to see the real harm that is being done by this propagation of religiously-motivated racism and bigotry. We see good people just trying to scrape by with whatever underground work they can do because they can't offer their skills and services openly to the public. We see them being mistreated and having their property vandalized with little or no legal recourse. Geralt receives verbal harassment (and sometimes even threats) from random strangers as he walks down the street. There's one scene in which Geralt has an encounter similar to being "pulled over for being black", in which someone from the morality police stops him and warns him about how he'll be keeping his eyes on Geralt, waiting for him to inevitably slip up.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Witcher prejudice
Geralt and his friends are the victims of recurring racism and harassment.

In another instance, Geralt calls out a street-corner firebrand for accusing witchers of being "useless freaks". Geralt asks if the firebrand has ever saved anybody's lives, and when the firebrand can't answer, the crowd disperses and dismisses the firebrand as a coward. Apparently, this firebrand goes crying to the religious morality police, agents of whom eventually track down Geralt and attempt to arrest him for "heresy". It definitely shines a blinding light on the sense of entitlement and the childish persecution complex that major religions display.

It is kind of disappointing that Geralt doesn't have more obvious, outward signs of his "freak" nature. He doesn't seem to receive as much outright hate as many of the companions that he interacts with. So the player rarely has to face the brunt of the game's racism or really feel what it's like to be a truly oppressed party. Instead, you have to live it vicariously through the friends of your vicarious avatar (double-vicarious racism?)

Society's dislike for witchers seems to have evaded the countless peasants who actively seek Geralt's help and clearly still need the services that witchers offer. In fact, many people don't even seem to recognize that he is a witcher. Bandits and thugs keep challenging him, apparently mistaking him for a weak old man. You'd think that the twin swords and colored eyes would be a give-away, but apparently not. We see other witchers being persecuted and hunted by mercenaries and society, but not Geralt. Everywhere he goes, nobles and kings are lining up to chat with him, and everyone seems to want his help because nobody else is competent enough to do their own dirty work. I guess maybe the point is to emphasize how unjust and impractical the bigotry is, but not having to experience the bigotry more first-hand seems like a huge wasted potential.

Motivational disconnects

Actually giving the help that's routinely demanded by NPCs seems contrary to the character's stated purpose and objectives. After all, I always felt awkward for stopping to help some random town's monster problem when the main quest was supposed to involve racing against time to find a loved one before the enemy finds and kills her. No wonder I'm always one step behind; I keep faffing about doing side quests.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - So close...
The unending barrage of side-quests and meandering story quests gradually deflates all tension from the search for Ciri.

There's a set-up for a very high-stakes narrative and character-driven design, but the game just doesn't want to commit to its own story, and instead it falls into the common open world trap of just dropping the player in the sandbox without putting any pressure on the player to progress the narrative. It's unfortunate that the game's main quest and story don't seem to be affected much (if at all) by Geralt's decisions or actions early on because so many of the individual quests require the player to make tough decisions that have definite (but unknown) consequences. Perhaps the best example is Letho's side quest. I turned down helping Letho because I thought that I was supposed to be rushing to find and rescue Ciri. But this was a fallacy. There is no in-game consequence for delaying finding Ciri for as long as you care to delay. Helping Letho makes him available to help you out in a later story-critical quest, and so there's no ludic reason to tell him "no".

Perhaps if the game established very early that taking the time to do side quests would jeopardize your ability to complete the main quest(s), then you'd have motivation to stick to Geralt's supposedly hard-line "I do work, and then I get paid" philosophy. If the player had to make the difficult choice between altruistically helping commoners (and hopefully changing their ingrained prejudices towards witchers), or actively ignoring the plight of peasants because you had more personally-important things to do (and thus, reinforcing their prejudices), then there would have been a nice little organic feedback loop between the narrative and the gameplay. You might complete your goals with less risk or injury to your friends, but at the cost of creating a hostile population that can easily be played by your enemies.

This ludonarrative dissonance is probably my biggest issue with the game. The combat mechanics end up being serviceable once I remembered how to meditate to heal my character and got used to the clumsy dodge and parry. The individual quests work well enough on their own to be engaging. But there's kind of two games going here. The one that the writers want you to play is this tight, slightly-branching, narrative-driven game about saving your friends from impending doom. The other one that the coders want you to play is the more open-ended game about trying to do your job as a witcher in a world that's supposedly growing increasingly resentful towards you, but which can't back up that resentment in any meaningful way. CD Projeckt RED just couldn't seem to chose which one they wanted to make, so these two paradigms feel like they're in conflict with one another.

The narrative-driven game doesn't work well because you keep getting distracted with comparably meaningless side quests that just feel like they're getting in the way of what you're supposed to be doing. The whole game can be played in the sandbox manner - and works just fine from a gameplay standpoint - but it's a narrative dead end, and you'll have to put up with the game constantly nagging you to get on with the mission that the writers spent so much time writing. But that nagging is always a bluff.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Gwent
Don't we have more important things to do
than play MAGIC: the Gathering?

The most obvious counter-productive side quests are the silly card game and fight clubs. Geralt really seems like he should be above these sorts of diversions, especially since he's pursuing a potentially time-sensitive, life-or-death matter of apocalyptic proportions right from the start of the game. Taking up a few monster contracts to practice his skill and earn travelling funds in support of this end makes enough sense that I'm willing to look past some of those side quests. But card games and tavern brawls?

If you're not dedicating some time to the card game at the start and collecting the free cards by defeating almost every merchant that you meet, then your deck will very quickly become outmatched. So when the game suddenly throws a story quest at you that requires you to play the card game, you're either screwed, or you to have to go all the way back to the Velen countryside in order to grind your way through the A.I. players for better cards, instead of just being able to start picking up the card game when the story opens up a bit.

Things get a bit better as you approach the midpoint of the game and beyond. The consequences of your earlier actions start to play a role in the game, and the patience that the game afforded you earlier begins to dissipate. Certain characters won't wait around for you indefinitely anymore and will move on to new locations if you dally too long. You'll have to catch up with them in the other regions of the map later.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - package
Package includes a physical instruction manual,
compendium, map, and soundtrack CD.

Fan service, or not fan service?

This game is also very reliant on the previous games for its backstory. So much so, that the boxed version of the game even comes with a physical compendium pamphlet that describes characters and events from the earlier games. Reading it is recommended, but not necessary. Many of the meetings with known characters occur early and are incidental and optional. These early introductions help put a face and some context beside the names, so that you're not quite as lost if the character comes up again later.

And even if you didn't buy a physical copy of the game, most of this information will also be available in the in-game appendix. Character bios and background of historical events will be unlocked as they become relevant, and you'll get notifications when new appendix entries are added, so that you can keep up with the new people and names that you're being introduced to.

There is a sense of payoff for helping these former allies. While it may not be apparent from the start, these characters can become helpful in the main quest later in the game. This mechanic will become apparent, since you'll be explicitly assigned to recruit assistance once you hit a certain plot point. There's kind of a subtle Mass Effect 2-like recruiting mechanism going on that is completely hidden to the player until it becomes relevant to the main story.

This game's story is very dependent on - and makes regular call-backs to - the previous games.
A lot of your choices involving these characters feel very contrived and annoying.

Despite the mechanical benefit from assisting your former allies, the mechanic does further disservice to the game's main questline by actively rewarding the player for going out of your way to help them. It's especially bad since these quests could have been delayed until after the aforementioned key plot point. As it stands, there's no reason to neglect these other characters' pleas for help, since the narrative requires that your actions have no consequence on whether or not you find Ciri. So in that sense, all these cameos go back to feeling like hollow fan service, rather than something that is meaningful to the game's plot. It also doesn't help that interactions with many established characters feel very contrived, especially when the story branches starts to show their seams during a lengthy sequence of cutscenes at Kaer Morhen.

Nowhere does the game fail harder than its romance subplot. Triss' character really feels tacked-on and under-developed. The player doesn't get much opportunity to interact with her, and I felt cheated by how the game railroaded me into making choices that I later regretted because I had no opportunity later to even try changing them. It was as if the designers went out of their way to make sure that players who tried very hard to "do the right thing" would be punished, as if they were all adherents to the 265th Rule of Acquisition: "No good deed ever goes unpunished". And unfortunately, I was stuck with it because I didn't have the time or patience to go back and replay the game to make more informed choices.

On the cusp of true greatness

I have very mixed feelings about The Witcher 3, but I found myself liking it more and more as I played it. On the one hand, I want to say that I love it for the strong characters, atmospheric world-building, and some truly incredible quest design and writing, and I want to give the game credit for trying to add consequences and a sense of personal responsibility for your actions. But I can't ignore the fact that there's also just as many dull characters; repetitive environments; poorly-written characters and quests; a horribly shallow and mechanically hollow romance subplot; and a somewhat aloof main plot. I certainly can't ignore the uncomfortable and unresponsive combat controls and mechanics.

And then there's other nagging issues that kept cropping up and degrading the experience:

  • Menus (at least on the PS4) are slow, laggy, and buggy,
  • Can't read documents when you first pick them up, forcing you to have to navigate through the inventory to read them,
  • Can only track one quest at a time, and quest resets to the current "key" quest instead of to the last objective you had selected,
  • Mini-map doesn't zoom out when you travel in a boat (which is meant for traveling long distances), so it's hard to navigate around coastlines or through obstacles because they are larger than what is visible on the mini-map.

These aren't game-breakers, and some nagging annoyances are to be expected in any game of this scope. If you like open world RPGs and games with strong narratives, then The Witcher 3 stands tall and proud as one of the best games in the genre. It's just too overloaded with fluff content for its own good, and so the main narrative doesn't get the focus (or sense of risk) that it deserves.

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Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed IV: Black FlagBack to the Future Episode OneBack to the Future Episode One
Backbreaker FootballBackbreaker FootballBanishedBanished
Batman: Arkham CityBatman: Arkham CityBloodborneBloodborne
Bloodborne: the Old HuntersBloodborne: the Old HuntersCatherineCatherine
Cities SkylinesCities SkylinesCities Skylines: After DarkCities Skylines: After Dark
Cities Skylines: SnowfallCities Skylines: SnowfallCities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4
CitiesXL & Cities XXLCitiesXL & Cities XXLDark SoulsDark Souls
Dark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLCDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLCDark Souls IIDark Souls II
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First SinDark Souls II: Scholar of the First SinDark Souls IIIDark Souls III
Dark Souls III: Ashes of AriandelDark Souls III: Ashes of AriandelDead Space 2Dead Space 2
Demon's SoulsDemon's SoulsDmC (Devil May Cry)DmC (Devil May Cry)
DreadOutDreadOutF.T.L. (Faster Than Light)F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)
Fallout 4Fallout 4Fallout ShelterFallout Shelter
Final Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XIIIFive Nights at Freddy'sFive Nights at Freddy's
Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)God of War IIIGod of War III
Gone HomeGone HomeGrand Theft Auto VGrand Theft Auto V
L.A. NoireL.A. NoireLifeless PlanetLifeless Planet
Lollipop ChainsawLollipop ChainsawMad MaxMad Max
Madden NFL 11Madden NFL 11Madden NFL 12Madden NFL 12
Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 15Madden NFL 15
Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 17Madden NFL 17
Mars Rover LandingMars Rover LandingMetal Gear Solid V: the Phantom PainMetal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain
MiasmataMiasmataMiddle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMiddle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
NCAA Football 11NCAA Football 11NCAA Football 12NCAA Football 12
NCAA Football 13NCAA Football 13No Man's SkyNo Man's Sky
Papers, PleasePapers, PleasePortal 2Portal 2
Red Dead RedemptionRed Dead RedemptionResident Evil RemasteredResident Evil Remastered
Rock Band 3Rock Band 3Room 404Room 404
Sid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New WorldSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization VISid Meier's Civilization VI
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising TideSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising Tide
Silent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill HD Collection
Silent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSillent Hill DownpourSillent Hill Downpour
SimCity (2013)SimCity (2013)SimCity BuilditSimCity Buildit
SomaSomaSpider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Edge of Time
Spider-Man: Shattered DimensionsSpider-Man: Shattered DimensionsStar Trek TrexelsStar Trek Trexels
The Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man 2The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC
The Evil WithinThe Evil WithinThe Last of UsThe Last of Us
The SaboteurThe SaboteurThe SwapperThe Swapper
The Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThis War of MineThis War of Mine
This War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little OnesTomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)
Total War: AttilaTotal War: AttilaTotal War: Rome IITotal War: Rome II
Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai
TrineTrineTropico 5Tropico 5
Uncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUntil DawnUntil Dawn

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

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College football playoff expansion is inevitable. Who should get in?College football playoff expansion is inevitable. Who should get in?01/16/2015 Advocates of a college football championship playoff may feel a little vindicated after the inaugural championship game earlier this week. The #4 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the #2 ranked Oregon Ducks with a decisive three-score lead. And they did this after also defeating the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. For years,...

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UNLV hires Bishop Gorman's Tony Sanchez as its new football head coachUNLV hires Bishop Gorman's Tony Sanchez as its new football head coach12/11/2014 UPDATE December 17, 2014 : Sanchez unanimously approved by UNLV board of regeants As of this afternoon, Tony Sanchez has been unanimously approved to start his 4-year, $2 million coaching contract for UNLV's football program. UNLV's board of regents has unanimously approved Tony Sanchez's head coaching contract. He's already...