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A New Bar Is Set: Beer Pairing and Review for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Nitty Gritty:
Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Release Date: 5/19/15
Prior to the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, there have only been two RPGs that I regard as game changing to the genre. The first was Baldur’s Gate, an isometric dungeon crawl that redefined what an RPG could do in terms of storytelling, gameplay, music, and graphics. The bar was set to a new high. No other RPGs could compete without maintaining the same amount of quality and scope. Many tried, many failed. Then came The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This game was able to have NPC’s move around, go eat, go read, go for a stroll, then go to sleep. You actually had to look for quest givers, as they moved throughout the day. There was always something to see and do. The vistas were gorgeous and the music was hauntingly beautiful. The bar was set once more. RPGs as we knew them were changed yet again.
And now, with the release of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s time to move the bar yet again. The game is uncompromising at its depth, unparalleled by its size and scope, unbelievable in its quality. If you have a PC that can handle it, you need to stop reading this for a minute, buy it, and continue reading this while it downloads. It's that good.
The plot continues the story of Geralt of Rivia, everyone’s favorite white haired monster slayer. If you haven’t played the first two games, you might find yourself rather confused as to the complex plot. Unless you plan on playing the first two, I recommend reading a Wiki of some kind so you at least know what’s going on. That being said, the main story plot is probably the least interesting part of the game. You are looking for an old protégé who is being hunted by an army of bad guys from another dimension. The rest is just details.
The set pieces here are stunning. From the grimiest castle keep to the prettiest meadow, you’ll be taken aback by the quality of the textures, of the wind that gusts through the trees, of the rushing rivers, of Geralt’s glorious white locks flowing in the breeze. The game requires a DirectX 11 video card and at least 6GB of RAM, so if you’re on the low end of the requirements spectrum, it’s time to upgrade. This is the game that’ll make the upgrade worthwhile. You're just going to have to trust me on this.
Combat has historically been a little on the lacking side of the Witcher games, yet CD Projekt Red managed to get it right this time. There is a certain flow to it that takes a little getting used to, but once you get a feel for it, there is a lot to like about cutting down your foes with finesse and grace. There is now satisfaction in using the Witcher signs (Witcher’s version of special magic spells) along with this nimble dance of death. I haven’t decided whether I like the Xbox 360 controller better than the mouse/keyboard scheme. They both have their positives and negatives. Sadly, Geralt can be a bit of a bear to control at times, especially when I need him in a very specific place or when I’m trying to loot something next to another targetable option. It’s not really a big deal, but this is the third game in a row where I’ve had similar issues. Since oodles of other games handle this with no problem, I feel like this is a pretty rough oversight.
This game is also the first time I really felt like I was a Witcher, and not just a guy calling himself that. There are a bunch of contract missions where your task is to negotiate a rate, track the monster, slay it, and profit. The previous games had similar type missions, but they all seemed a little too story driven to make much of an impact in that regard.
This is also the most open Witcher game. While not the sandbox the Elder Scrolls games promise, there is a good amount of freedom in what to do next. I’m reminded of Dragon Age: Inquisition more than anything in its style. The maps are separated, yet extraordinarily large. And, unlike Dragon Age: Inquisition, the fluff isn’t really fluff, but actual side mission with meaningful conclusions. You’re not collecting 10 ram hides in this game. Instead, you’re clearing out a town of a monster so they can move back in. When you kill it, they actually move back in. This isn’t even major quests either, but random areas you uncover as you explore.
The overall sexuality the previous Witcher games have forced upon you has abated a bit as well. While there is still a fair amount of nudity and adult sexual themes, there isn’t the same amount of juvenile gratuity in regards to Geralt’s sex life. No longer are there nudey cards or near pornographic sexual encounters. The sex is tasteful for the most part. This is a welcome addition, as since it is actually a game for adults, it was in their best interest to be adult about these things.
Perhaps the best addition to the third installment of the Witcher series is the card game Gwent. Gone is the subpar luck of the draw dice poker game. Now is a game that stands on its own, even without the rest of the game to help it along. Gwent reminds me of the similar battle card games of Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, but it has a flow of its own. Each side is a battlefield with three levels: front lines, archers, and siege. Each card corresponds with one of the three levels and is assigned power between 1 and 10. The results provide for some serious strategic gameplay. It also compels you to search for better cards to continuously refine your deck and play more challenging opponents.
It should also be stated that this game is absolutely gigantic. I have spent about 70 hours playing through the main quest, some sides, some Gwent, some exploring, some more Gwent, some treasure hunts, and a little more Gwent. I know I haven’t seen anywhere near all there is to see. The replay value for this game is simply through the roof.
There was a lot of anticipation for this game, and frankly one of the few I was actually looking forward to this year. It not only surpassed my expectations as an RPG, it has transcended what is possible in an RPG, raising the bar ever higher in terms of immersion and gameplay. This one cannot be missed, provided you have the hardware to run it.
By the Numbers:
Graphics – 10 - The textures are amazing, the vistas are breathtaking, and the world feels completely real. If there was an 11 to my score chart, it would be that.
Sound/Music – 8 - The main theme from the previous games ebbs and flows throughout, along with some added new tunes. It's mostly appropriate, save for the absolutely atrocious inn songs.
Price/Value – 10 – It’s $60. It’s worth $60 by a long shot.
Gameplay – The best Witcher game in the series. One of the best RPGs of all time
Replayability – 10 – Over and over and over again. That’s pretty much how I’m going to play it.
The “Skew” Factor – 10 – There is little that doesn’t work in this game. It’s a must have.
Bottom Line – 10 - It’s going to take a great game indeed to remove this game from the pedestal for the best RPG to date. It stands to be regarded as one of the best games of all time.
Probably the best trailer ever...
The Beverage Pairing:
As of right now, it is not possible to obtain a Redanian Lager or a Kaedwenian Stout, so I had to make do with what I had. My recommendation for a game where getting lucky is fairly commonplace is A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale by Lagunitas Brewing Company. It has a surprising amount of flavor for how powerful it is, and it finishes better than it should. Like the brutal world of the Witcher, the alcohol content can be unforgiving, so tread lightly.