Fantasy was never really my thing. I had a casual interest in The Lord of the Rings but I’d never fallen down the rabbit hole of all things magical and supernatural. Dark Souls seemed too difficult (I’m a filthy casual) and I was definitely 10 years too late to get into World of Warcraft.
Yet this changed when on a whim I bought a game with a menacing-looking guy with amazing grey hair and piercing cat eyes on the cover. It was of course The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and that handsome chap has a name: Geralt of Rivia, who you assume the role of. He’s a Witcher, a mutated human who is trained to slay monsters.
It turns out that the world is infested with all sorts of creatures from ghostly wraiths to corpse-eating necrophages, towering giants and many more grizzly things that want to tear you apart. Yet, do not forget that this is actually the last game in the series, which usually would be the absolute worst entry point but The Witcher 3 is incredibly accessible to newcomers, with an extensive glossary and story that doesn’t mind reiterating past events.
You never feel lost at any point as you begin the search for Ciri, Geralt’s (sort of) adopted daughter who is being pursued by a nefarious and enigmatic force called The Wild Hunt. You must follow a breadcrumb trail of clues as you desperately try to find her with the help of many friends along the way.
There is an astonishing amount of characters to meet in this game – Geralt is one of the most popular people in any town you visit, shaking hands with everyone who passes. Yet everybody you meet from Yennefer of Vengerberg to Dandelion and Zoltan Chivay feel essential to the story no matter how small their part. You quickly come to like your supporting cast in the same way you would get attached to your crew in Mass Effect.
It’s an essential part of worldbuilding and The Continent where The Witcher 3 takes place is one of the most immersive worlds that you can find in a video game. The three main areas you’ll find yourself in are the swampy, war-torn land of Velen, the ever combustible city of Novigrad and the glorious splendour of The Skellige Isles.
Whether you’re bogged down in a marsh or treading lightly through the hazy fog that surrounds a forest, traversing the world is never a chore and is often a breathtaking experience. There’s huge diversity in the vistas you get in each region and you’re tempted to use the fast travel system as little as possible because otherwise who knows what you might find.
The Witcher 3 can be at its greatest when you just stumble upon something, a blood trail by a cart leading into the forest, a bandit camp or an abandoned sawmill, you’ll always be rewarded for exploration. One of the mechanics that can help you is Geralt’s Witcher Senses, a Batman Arkham-style approach to picking up clues where Geralt’s heightened sense of smell, hearing and sight can pick up trails to follow as detailed by NME before.
When it comes to combat itself you have no shortage of options. With Geralt being a Witcher he has a few nifty tricks up his sleeve to mercilessly tear through whatever monstrosity you happen to be fighting. You have five different magical signs which give you special abilities, Igni (fire), Aard (push), Quen (shield), Yrden (a trap) and Axii (hypnosis) with some abilities suiting some enemy types more than others.
Levelling up also gives you a chance to power up your signs, combat moves, alchemy and gain one of the special abilities. A personal favourite is Whirl which gives you a sword attack where you spin around mindlessly in a circle like a Beyblade. This gives you a multi-faceted approach to hunting down those precious Witcher contracts which see you come face to face with some of the most dangerous enemies in the game.
You can be the type who constantly drowns yourself in potions during a fight, the type who prepares every single blade oil and bomb they can find, or you can go all out attack and just hope you’ve brought enough food to constantly heal with. The preparation and adaptability required for each fight creates a different challenge with each monster and that makes for an incredibly rewarding boss fight experience.
To aid you in preparation you have the Bestiary, an extensive catalogue of every monster that you’ve slain and encountered. It gives you a full rundown of which signs, bombs, oils and more are effective against them and each one even gets their own little biography. You can spend hours just reading up on each one, scrolling through the story of each monster and learning about them in so much detail which really immerses you in the world that CD Projekt Red has built.
The amazing soundtrack also has to be mentioned, it gives you the perfect swooning violins as you tread along a sunlit mountain path, the galloping adrenaline rush of drums as you jump down into a Chort’s lair and the perfect wild howls and cheers during the celebratory moments.
CD Projekt Red enlisted the help of the Brandenburg State Orchestra and Polish folk musicians to create a sound that feels truly authentic to the world that they’ve built and it only serves to make the most impactful story moments hit even harder. You can even listen to it on a seperate disk if reclining to Polish folk is your kind of thing.
Now we need to talk about Gwent, the card game within The Witcher 3 that is compulsive to the point where you can spend hours destroying NPC’s in order to grow your collection and completely ignore the actual main story. You grow your deck by beating poor pub owners and blacksmiths and mercilessly taking their best cards before challenging the main story characters you meet along the way.
You collect cards for four different factions, The Northern Realms, Nilfgaardian Empire, Scotia’tael and Monsters (with The Skellige Isles being added in the DLC) and use whichever faction’s unique trait suits you best. Just like Pokémon, you gotta catch them all – I menacingly strut into town, challenge the nearest NPC I can find and beat them to a pulp (as much as you can with a card game). It makes up for all those years I was too kind with Match Attax trades.
The Witcher 3 is undoubtedly one of the most engrossing fantasy RPG’s of all time, with a boundless sense of adventure, set in a beautiful world that is populated by incredible characters and a roster of terrifying yet oddly mesmerising monsters for you to hunt. I’m four playthroughs in and I’m yet to have stumbled across everything. No doubt I’ll be picking up my silver sword for round 5.