The biggest role-playing game of 2015 is now available with all its DLC in one single collection – but does it still live up to the hype?
Value for money is a hard thing to quantify in video games, given the ever-changing price tags and the vastly different running times. But getting your money’s worth is not a problem anyone is ever going to have with the Game of the Year Edition of The Witcher 3. The base game alone contains hundreds of hours of gameplay and now it also comes with two sizeable, high quality expansions as well. If you missed out on the game last year, the only problem now is finding the time to appreciate it all. Since few console owners will have played the original two games, the simplest way to think of The Witcher 3 is as a cross between Dragon Age: Inquisition and Skyrim. It has the third person view, moral choices, and multiple open world environments of BioWare’s game, but the real-time combat and open-ended structure is more reminiscent of The Elder Scrolls. For some genre fans that will be all they need to hear, but The Witcher 3 is more than just a new spin on old ideas. The Witcher games are based on a series of Polish fantasy novels and star Geralt of Rivia – a supernatural monster hunter called a witcher, who despite his abilities is distrusted and persecuted by much of the populace. Despite being the final part of a trilogy it’s very easy to get the gist of the largely self-contained story, which revolves around an invading demonic army. Much like the Elder Scrolls games it’s a fairly distant concern for much of the game, and simply exploring the countryside and making a living are much pressing concerns for the first several (hundred) hours. Although they were far from linear the first two Witcher games didn’t have any true open world environments. But The Witcher 3 is 20 per cent bigger than even Skyrim, which is impressive but at the beginning actually creates an unfortunate sense of déjà vu. The Witcher’s fantasy world and creatures aren’t so distinctive that the procedural style first few hours – of learning the controls, getting a feel for the game world, and taking a first look at the Ubisoft style map filled with tempting icons – doesn’t feel worryingly overfamilar. It takes four or five hours, but eventually The Witcher’s own personality begins to shine through – as well as your own influence on the world. Choosing to rescue a villager from a gang of thieves or curing a sick herbalist isn’t just a case of earning experience points and then moving on. Your actions can alter everything from the prices in shops and the side quests available, to whether a town is prematurely invaded. But so too can everything from the weather to the time of day, creating what is one of the most believable and interactive video game worlds ever seen. It’s also one of the most attractive, although again we suspect many will be slightly disappointed at first – as a result of watching too many trailers that are clearly taken from the PC version. But the console versions still look great, with the epic landscapes enhanced by some excellent art design and good use of colour. In terms of pure gameplay the most consistently enjoyable element is the monster hunting; encounters with larger foes which are so dangerous that you have to research and plan well in advance. Lures have to be created, lairs recced, and information sources pumped for information on weak points. Some of these steps can be skipped if you’re foolhardy, but not only are these some of the toughest battles in the game but your careful planning works extremely well at increasing the tension. And yet in the year or so since its original release the actual combat has become the most controversial aspect of The Witcher 3, with many complaining that it’s clumsy and imprecise – with an unhelpful camera and lock-on system. This is inarguably true, but much like the mediocre gunplay in Half-Life 2 it somehow doesn’t drag down the rest of the game. If you go in expecting something with the grace and tactical nuance of Bloodborne, which The Witcher 3’s combat superficially resembles, then you will be disappointed, but it’s never a complete failure and inventive use of magic spells can make up for many of its shortcomings. Using spells called Signs allows you to lob fireballs, set traps to slow down enemies, or use what is basically a Jedi Force push. Most Signs also have a kind of secondary fire mode, where, for example, a simple trap can be transformed into a magical firing turret. Some Signs can even be used outside of battle, to influence conversations Ben Kenobi style. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4) – combat is not its strong point Lesser enemies can also be studied beforehand for an advantage in combat, with Geralt possessing a supersense that not only lets him track smells and footprints but also highlights weak points on a foe, which can then be aimed at specifically using a brief slow motion effect. On top of this you’ve got potions and explosives which you craft yourself using collected items. The crafting system becomes extremely complicated when you’re dealing with weapons and armour, as the exact nature of the raw ingredients – many of which are vital body parts culled from defeated enemies – greatly influences the resulting equipment. In terms of storytelling the mean streak of misogyny from the earlier games is gone (you actually control a female character now, in a few linear story sections) but there’s still an element of try-hard machismo about the whole setting, especially in Geralt’s absurdly gravelly video game hero voice. But the great achievement of The Witcher 3 is that you can refine his outlook to either play up the role of virtual badass or be the more morally-driven character we were more comfortable with. There’s never been a video game with both this volume of moral choices and real and surprising consequences for them, most of which are entirely unintended. Bad things often happen despite the best of intentions, and entirely self-motivated choices can actually lead to a positive outcome for all. And while there are a few moustache-twirling villains most of the characters in the game are far more nuanced; which is to say they’re as petty, altruistic, and apathetic as any real person would be in their situation. As for the DLC extras, here you can find full reviews of Heart Of Stone and the recent Blood And Wine. They’re both very good and Blood And Wine in particular adds an enormous amount of new content and a whole new area of the map. But then developer CD Projekt RED has already become famous for such generosity, and this Game of the Year Edition also includes the 14 slices of much smaller DLC that was given away for free. It’s minor stuff like new haircuts and small extra missions, but is very welcome all the same. For a game series, and developer, few mainstream gamers had ever heard of a few years ago The Witcher 3 has emerged as one of the most impressive games of the current generation, in terms of scope, ambition, and technical achievement. The fact that its few flaws are so obvious and yet still barely affect the overall experience is not only a testament to how much The Witcher 3 gets right but just how much of The Witcher 3 there is in the first place…
Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/31/the-witcher-3-game-of-the-year-edition-review-bigger-is-better-6100470/?ito=cbshare
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