After settling on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as the game I should finish in 2020 I’ve been putting in the hours over the last few days to reach that goal. Scary to think it has taken me this long considering I had posted thoughts on the matter back in 2015 but there you go! I’m finding this is one game that makes it hard to stick to the main quest line and that’s because they are just so damned good.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
So… after tying up loose ends from my original time on the game while helping Triss evacuate mages from Novigrad and Dandelion settle into his new establishment, my Geralt has finally landed in the island region of Skellige after finding no traces of Citi in Velen or Novigrad. Helping Yennefer get her hands on a magical artifact it quickly becomes clear Ciri is no longer there either. However with Skellige’s ruler having passed away and people vying for the throne you can’t help but stick Geralt’s nose into some affairs to find out what’s going on. So far I’ve faced off against a frost giant, fought sirens and helped coronate a new ruler. And while doing all of that I was building up my Gwent deck too. It’s all been absorbing stuff and they all have nothing to do with the main quest line.
Speaking of Gwent… that mini game is one hell of a distraction and you can see why it was spun off into its own title. Collecting enough cards to make a versatile deck helps to further this as a means to absorb your time. For me it works well as the rules are easy to pick up and remember as are the perks for the cards and when to use them. There’s still a random element that can decide the winner from the moment you are dealt your cards but the games are quick and the stakes within The Witcher aren’t too harsh when playing to win the cards off NPCs. For me the best strategy has been to often play to lose the first round and force an NPC to spend as many of their valuable cards as possible. Hopefully by that point in the game I have enough good cards in reserve to clean up the next two rounds for the win.
My time Skellige did finally point my Geralt to finding Ciri and finally coming face to face and it’s a credit to the writers how the character changes once he is in the company of his adopted daughter. His paternal streak comes out and adds a dimension to he character that really truck chord with me. At this point you’ll also have passed a key point where you have been warned that progressing further will cause some quests to fail – with so many to choose it’s not always easy the first time to see which are worth your focus. So you think now the game is coming to an end but then it continues to surprise with much, much more to do. I’m glad it did too because having the while team together added a new dynamic that revitalised the story once more. Not that it needed it but the added boost was welcome.
You soon find yourself in a siege, travelling to distant worlds and taking on foes both old and new which leads to an epic conclusion where Ciri finally comes into her own. The ending turned out better than I had imagined and left a genuine smile on my face. People often say that the best levels, missions, etc happen at the beginning of a game because the developers focus on the first impressions as few players will get through to end… this is a good example of that logic being proven wrong. It has been an exciting experience to play through the main story! The end cinematic also gives you a few hints of the results of decisions made or quests not completed which is good if you want to try the New Game+ mode.
It’s easy to see how how players can be dragged into the world of The Witcher for long stretches of time. Picking up new Witcher contracts from village message boards or helping passers by is such a natural part of the gameplay that it’s easy to accumulate things to do that’ll either tie you to a region for longer than planned or give you incentive to return later in the game. Or in this case, now that I’ve finished the main story, to go back to take a look at a few of the more interesting ones! The variety and number of stories being told means that even fetch quests have plenty to interest a player. This quality of storytelling from the writers and quest designers made it an easy decision to invest in the two expansions ( “Hearts of Stone” and “Blood and Wine”) so there’s going to be plenty more distractions over the next week as I keep on playing. 🙂
The game is by no means perfect. Even now you can have difficulty with summoning your horse Roach or simply riding them straight but I think it’s much better than it was at launch. Though I do wish I’d seen the famous “Roach on a Roof” bug… I’m so hoping the Netflix series does it just once to win the Internet. Swimming is a pain too but you can mostly avoid that except in a few cases. There’s a lot of micromanagement of resources for crafting and alchemy that can take time to get a handle of and isn’t entirely necessary except maybe early on when you need to scrape together enough to get a crafted item. I also found that I had junk from when I started my game years ago that I didn’t even realise I could sell for money and free up my inventory. The game’s DLC also has options for different outfits for Ciri, Triss and Yennefer but some cutscenes (which I assume are videos and not in-engine) switch to the default which was disappointing considering how well it was handled everywhere else in the game. Surprised that developer CD Projekt Red didn’t factor that in when working on the DLC.
But these are all small complaints in the grand scheme of things. The game still looks outstanding with huge areas to explore. On top of that there are plenty of unique locations that you only see for briefly but it still feels like no expense has been spared to ensure they are of the same level of quality to serve their purpose in the story. The audio backs it up with an incredible amount of voice acting plus a sensational soundtrack that will get stuck in your head for a long time afterwards. You can see how these helped inspire the Netflix series in the direction it had chosen. But it’s also the small details that are important and the game does really well here. Sailing a boat between two cliff faces and hearing the wind whistle by as you’re passing through is a detail that may only apply for very specific areas in the game but it was done.
So for the next week I’m planning on playing both expansions to finally bring my first full play through of The Witcher 3 to an end. It’s been years in the making but worth it in getting to this point. It wasn’t a quick path to completion either as I’m guessing it was around 30-40 hours of play time to get to this point. Thankfully I was on holidays and could sneak in a lot of late night game time. Taking into account what I had already played and the additional quests left to complete I’d say it’d be around 80 hours minimum for the completionists out there.
With games often having a limited shelf life due to waning interest and new distractions I’m happy to find that I was able to get back into this and see Ciri’s story to the end. And if I want to play again there’s New Game+ and plenty of achievements left to earn too. Beyond that I’m trying to decide if I should go back and take a look at the earlier games which I have in my pile of shame. I did start playing The Witcher, running on the engine from Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights game, a LONG time ago but have lost the save so it would be a fresh start. The sequel which also launched on the 360 I’ve never seen but apparently runs well in Xbox backward compatibility so there’s plenty more to see. That I’m even considering taking a look at either is a good sign of how happy I’ve been playing this. After all, there’s a whole lot of story I’ve missed out on! 🙂