When it comes to hype for new generation titles, there are few that compare to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from Polish developer CD Projekt Red. Following the critical and commercial success of the first two games, the franchise has developed an extremely dedicated cult of fans who are waiting for the game’s February 2015 launch with bated breath.
Wild Hunt is certainly shaping up to be worth all the hype, judging from a closed-door developer demo at E3 that NZGamer.com got to take a peek at and a chat with the game’s lead producer, Piotr Krzywonosiuk.
What stood out right from the start were the visuals - and when I say “stood out,” we’re talking the kind of attention-grabbing that Stark Tower might do if it suddenly materialised in Dunedin. Which is to say, Wild Hunt looks damn good.
We’ve gotten a glimpse of this before, from the handful of trailers and screenshots that have been released to date, but it takes looking at the world in a live playthrough to really appreciate the attention to detail that has been put into every little aspect of the game. Every tree, every blade of grass, and every brick making up the buildings in the city of Novigrad are picture perfect, with every asset looking like it’s been crafted just for the spot it’s in. CD Projekt Red even went as far as researching the kinds of foliage that grow in different climates, and how these all fit together in a greater ecosystem in the real world, to ensure a world that is as authentic as possible.
Not only are the visuals stunning, but the environments and behaviour of non-player characters do a stellar job of setting the scene and creating a great sense of immersion. I wasn’t even playing, and I felt like I was right there with Geralt of Rivia as he delivered the head of a gryphon to a shady-looking man in the back room of a tavern. (Or maybe I was? After all, I have his business card.) Novigrad creates an claustrophobic sense of crowded liveliness, a stark contrast to the equally imposing loneliness of a desolate swamp area at the other end of a fast travel. The world itself is huge - according to the developers, its 35 times the size of that of The Witcher 2 - and every inch is explorable with no invisible barriers.
Unfortunately, the demo was only 45 minutes long, which made it hard to really convey the openness and freedom that is typical of a Witcher title. We were shown a series of quests as Geralt tried to find information about a woman he was looking for, and though the plot developments were interesting, what was on display ultimately looked like a linear series of fetch quests linked by cutscenes. The team running the demo assured us that this was purely due to time constraints, and that the actual game would allow players to come and go from different questlines and approach the game however they want. Based on past efforts and CD Projekt Red’s well-earned status as the “people’s champion” of game developers I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, but what was actually on display was a tad underwhelming.
The same is true of combat, which looked rather one-dimensional in the demo. When I asked Krzywonosiuk about this after the preview, he assured me that battles would be deep and tactical, but as far as what I actually saw, it looked like a pretty straightforward “hack and dodge” affair with enemies that are not particularly bright. Wild Hunt also introduces a crossbow that Geralt can use to attack from afar, but likewise, this was a case of “shoot and dodge.”
On the other hand, the RPG elements, like skill trees and gear progression, looked impressively complex and open-ended, even though we only got a brief glimpse. If you’re a role-playing fan, which is really who CD Projekt Red is targeting here, you’re going to have a lot of toys to play with.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is easily one of the most anticipated new-gen games on the horizon, and it’s definitely worthy of that status. It’s absolutely stunning to look at, with a huge, open world, and a promise of freedom that we know this team can deliver. Combat looked lacking, but we’ve been assured there is more to it than what we saw, and the in-depth RPG mechanics will likely more than make up for this.