Here’s the deal: Game Rant’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review codes didn’t arrive until Monday, just a few hours before everyone else got their hands on the game. As far as reviews go, that’s a problem: as everyone knows by now, The Witcher 3 is absolutely gigantic. While our editors have clocked around fifteen hours of game time so far – usually, more than enough time to form a solid opinion about a game – they’ve barely scratched the surface. All that time, and The Witcher is still getting started.
A comprehensive review is still a few weeks away, but many readers probably want to know now whether or not the game is worth picking up. Based on the first dozen plus hours, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” The Witcher 3 is a sprawling, messy, and incredibly compelling fantasy adventure that may not reach its lofty goals, but gets close enough to make the journey absolutely worthwhile.
First off, the bad news is true. On the PlayStation 4, the game stutters, drops frames, and occasionally crashes. So far, nothing’s popped up that’s as bad as the Xbox One save-corrupting bug, but the game’s frozen a couple of times, erasing progress. In addition, the game doesn’t look as good as its 2013 reveal trailer, the text is too small, the menus are ugly and unintuitive, and Geralt’s controls feel clumsy and imprecise.
Guess what? Absolutely none of that matters. Even on consoles, the game is gorgeous. The Witcher 3’s detailed settings and breathtaking landscapes are worth sacrificing a few frames per second. Even better, the game is just as big as CD Projekt Red promised. While the beginning area, The White Orchard, seems perfectly manageable – and even a little repetitive – the rest of the world opens up after a couple of hours, and it’s full of interesting things to do and see. The Northern Kingdoms would be a terrible place to live, but it’s a pretty great place to visit.
The Witcher 3 might have the best-designed quests of any RPG ever, too. Missions in games like World of Warcraft or Dragon Age: Inquisition can feel like busy work; in The Witcher 3, everything – no matter how trivial – has a point. There are the story missions, of course, which propel the main narrative, as well as Witcher Contracts, which require careful research and planning before taking down particularly troublesome monsters, but it’s in the side quests where the game really shines.
So far, every secondary mission has a strong narrative backbone, with at least one plot twist or legitimately challenging moral decision thrown in. Quests usually follow the same formula – talk to a villager, look for clues using Geralt’s “Witcher Vision” (basically, Arkham City’s Detective Mode), and kill a monster – but the circumstances are always different. The stories are all fairly intimate, too, making Geralt’s decisions feel both important and personal.
That extends to the main plotline, as well. So far, there’s not much to it – the titular Witcher Geralt looks for his adopted daughter, Ciri – but the edges of the story ooze with details. The political machinations of the gentry and the lower class’s suffering give the world texture, while Geralt’s personal stake in the quest makes him an easy character to identify with.
So far, fighting is the only weak link. Mechanically, the combat system falls somewhere in between the Arkham games’ rhythmic button taps and Assassin’s Creed’s semi-automatic “parry until there’s an opening” sword fights. Most of the strategy comes during preparation, not combat itself. Making sure that Geralt’s equipped with the right potions, explosives, and oils is key, while battles quickly devolve into mashing the dodge button and occasionally attacking. The gory finishing moves sell Geralt’s prowess with his blade, and players will feel powerful, but early on the combat is a little too easy (although the game is much more challenging – and arguably more satisfying – on the “Blood and Broken Bones” difficulty setting).
All this, and that’s without talking about the detailed crafting system, the horse races, the fighting pits, or Gwent, the in-game collectable card game. There’s a reason for that: quite simply, we haven’t spent much time with those yet. The Witcher 3 is going take many, many more hours to properly evaluate, and our review will be coming as soon as humanly possible.
In the meantime, judging by the opening hours, anyone who’s interested in open-world games, RPGs, or Game of Thrones-like fantasy can safely pick this one up. As long as you can tolerate the bugs, you won’t be disappointed.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out now for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.