Those of you unfamiliar with award-winning Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s universe of The Witcher have missed out on some two and a half decades of rich, high fantasy lore that has slowly grown in popularity. Meanwhile, those fans that have followed the franchise through its many iterations in novel, graphic novel, short story, television, film and video game form are likely waiting with bated breath for the next installment of CD Project Red’s critically acclaimed adaptation of the series. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is slated to drop in just under a month – May 19th, 2015 – on those frenzied RPG addicts after a long wait (it’s been two years, two months, and 17 days since its announcement, but who’s counting?).
Anticipation is at fever pitch thanks to a mountain of incredible source material and a stellar track record, but what evolutions in gameplay can we look forward to in Wild Hunt’s final form?
What To Expect…
Geralt of Rivia, the series’ titular hero, has certainly seen dynamic change between the first two installments of the series. Most apparent was an already beautifully realized universe in The Witcher made even more luscious thanks to three and a half years of graphical development and the introduction of a wholly proprietary engine the developer used in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The luster of the game engine shone, receiving numerous awards for best use of technology in a game that year, as well as best graphics in a game. While the gameplay in the first Witcher game was panned by some critics as being clunky, Assassins of Kings added a more fluid combat, spell, and trap system. The system of choices that drove the narrative in the sequel also stood as an improvement, with vast-reaching consequences that impact the endgame and add a huge amount of replay value. Overall, The Witcher 2 stood as a larger, more polished, fine-tuned role-playing world that was an absolute stunner of a video game to look at.
The narrative arc follows the titular Witcher, a specially trained and genetically-enhanced human with unique powers, as one of the last of his kind. The story in Witcher 1 sees Geralt choosing to fight with three different sides: the Scoia’tael, or the Squirrels, consist of freedom-fighters of who are also Elves that engage in guerrilla tactics; the Order of the Flaming Rose, a group of knights who are tasked with protecting the country of Temeria; or choosing the middle path and allying with neither group, a path that is considered to be maintaining Witcher neutrality. Throughout the course of his journey, he encounters other Witchers, evil mages, and even plays a crucial role in deciding the fate of a civil war.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings continued its immersive thread set in the dark, medieval fantastical land of Temeria, with as much emphasis placed on decision-making and allying with groups as its predecessor. In fact, the decisions feel more impactful and far-reaching than the first by the time the climax of the narrative is reached, which is a major accomplishment in its own rite. Many moral paths does he encounter that are not black and white by nature, and mature themes emerge where more impactful decision-making is visited upon by the player. In the third iteration, players can expect to adventure through a main story with no shortage of sidequests in a setting that is supposedly 30 times larger than other Witcher games. With a world rumored to be 20% larger than those set in Skyrim’s own massive landscape, travel throughout the continent of the Northern Kingdoms is assisted by things like sailboat, horseback and fast travel.
A Bigger Landscape, A Bigger Community
And that’s contributing to a much wider community. We’re seeing huge communities growing online right now everywhere from Witcher, to World of Warcraft, to even online poker which has grown rapidly over the past decade. And they’re becoming more important and part of the gaming experience than ever before.
For the likes of Witcher, a bigger landscape will bring more and more gamers into the community. In fact, you only have to look at Twitch.tv and the vast amounts of players streaming the game on there to see how popular it is already.
We’re seeing major communities in gaming spaces like Twitch.tv. As mentioned, the likes of World of Warcraft have tons of people streaming their game, whilst even in the online poker realms, which Witcher 3 is getting involved with in their minigames, has really seen a huge take off thanks to Twitch, so much so that it’s actually making celebrities out of players. Jaime Staples a Twitch streaming poker player has just become a ‘Friend of PokerStars’, and the same could happen with The Witcher should the new, enlarged universe really get players excited, transforming some of the best players into industry celebrities.
It’s our way of connecting with people right across the globe, and in particular when it comes to role-playing games, it’s a market which will continue to skyrocket.
Tens and tens of thousands of players already love the game, with it growing quite the cult following, and we can expect that to perhaps even challenge the levels of WoW, should CD Projekt RED follow through on it being 30 times larger than previous games.
Which will be added further with The Witcher 3 continuing this trend of improved gameplay mechanics and convincing story while it adds another four years of ever-evolving graphical enhancements to this luscious digital world. Seriously, you have to feast your eyes to believe the mapping and lighting effects going on. There is so much graphical love crammed into every nook and cranny in this game: the stunning conceptual design and artwork is truly brought to life. The fact that it is a seamless, open-world game puts this on a very short list as far as being a technological masterpiece, on par with the recently-debuted, jaw-dropping PC version of Grand Theft Auto 5. Expect to invest some 100 hours into the game if you want to explore all the content it has on offer, a good 50% of which is sidequests.
More Minigames To Come…
The last installment in the series featured several minigames like arm-wrestling, arena matches where you can fight waves of enemies, fist-fighting and even a gambling game called dice-poker.
Reflecting the trend of gambling minigames within games and gambling online with the rise in popularity of online casinos, CD Project Red has instituted a far more robust version of dice-poker in The Witcher 3. It’s called Gwent, and it draws from the likes of Magic: The Gathering and more recently from Blizzard’s now iconic card game, Hearthstone. This digital version of table-top card-dueling features 150 cards with four different classes. With such a robust system that expands on what some players panned as a somewhat pedestrian form of gambling in the last game, can we expect to see some form of online, head-to-head gambling system with players’ customized decks sparring for in-game riches and glory?
Thus far, the developer has remained rather mum on this issue, but one expects there to be a community for this kind of thing. Regardless, there’s a ton of potential here for what figures to be an initially simple game with lots of complexity to be an addictive game within the game.
Geralt’s New Skills
Geralt gains new abilities, too, following the trend of the series: in addition to the aforementioned horseplay and sailing (including fighting in both of these scenarios), expect him to engage in combat fluidly switching between melee (using an interchangeable set of steel swords for natural and silver swords for unnatural enemies, respectively), spell, and trap mechanics. This time, more movement options are granted thanks to the revamped engine, which harkens to the satisfying open-world freedom of interaction with the environment a la the Assassin’s Creed and Unchartered series. Expect there to be an emphasis placed on various aspects of stealth gameplay as well as hunting and pursuing enemies through the dynamic day and night system, even going underwater with a new swimming ability.
Additionally, players now have even more weapons at their disposal with abilities like the use of a crossbow, the original crafting system still intact for brewing up goods, and all new spells (called signs in the universe) to tinker with. For the first time, a second playable character will be available this time around, another melee master with supernatural powers named Ciri. Players can expect to slay a multitude of enemies in human, non-human and monster form, each dynamically affected by the day/night system: one example the developer offers is how fighting a werewolf will change the enemies depending on the time of day.
Witcher On The Way
No doubt about it, The Witcher 3 is poised to be one of the year’s biggest releases and a near lock for a game of the year candidate. The Polish developer has even garnered praise from the likes of their Prime Minister and President Obama, who gave it to the POTUS as a diplomatic gift. If that doesn’t merit some head-turning press for the company’s next outing, nothing will. Look forward to being immersed in many, many hours in the life of a Witcheronce the game ships in T-minus four weeks.