THE WITCHER 3's Massive Map, Smoother Action Brings Next-Gen Promise to Franchise

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Credit: CD Projekt RED
Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Credit: CD Projekt RED

Polish indie developer CD Projekt RED is back with what they claim is the final installment in their Witcher series with Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Geralt the Witcher is back and the political machinations he faced in the previous game have given way to a larger threat; The Wild Hunt, a supernatural army that spreads terror and death. This ancient army has returned, and the infamous monster hunter Geralt seeks to destroy them for reasons both personal and professional.

At a lengthy hands-off demo in the private CD Projekt RED conference room at E3 2013, attendees were reintroduced to the anti-heroic Witcher via a custom CG trailer that was said to encapsulate what the game, the player character Geralt, and the world he resided in were like. Returning from a successful monster hunt with the creature's head, Geralt takes his pay from his employer who himself is busy trying to hang a young woman for supposedly being a witch. Implored by his companion to ignore the situation or at least make it quick if Geralt just had to get involved, The Witcher blazes through the small mob, saving the woman and leaving her to decide if the ringleader will live or die by putting him in the perilous situation that she herself was just in. After the trailer, the presenting developer explained that Geralt is a monster slayer and that monsters come in all shapes and sizes.

When the in-game demo began, the presenting developer described that The Wild Hunt had recently ravaged a small fishing village, killing everyone save one traumatized fisherman. Geralt is hot to talk to this man and get back on The Wild Hunt's trail.

Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Credit: CD Projekt RED

Here we saw Geralt travel by foot, horse and sailboat while the developers described the game's full day/night cycle and weather effects, warning non-nautical gamers not to set sail during storms. They added that gamers could get that clue from the AI of the townspeople as on a nice day they would be out at the docks launching raiding parties, but during storms they'd be in the village hall getting drunk.

Rather than sail all the way to the village where The Wild Hunt refugee had fled to, the developer showed off the world map where the fast travel system would almost be a necessity, as the world of The Witcher 3 is 35 times larger than that of the previous game, including one island that was larger than the entire landmass of Witcher 2.

At his destination island, Geralt engages in a little freelance monster hunting, taking on a large mutant deer-wolf who attacks not only with its claws and antlers but a spell that darkened the players vision, leaving the only visible things lit indirectly, like the glare of the sun or Geralt's sparking fire attack. Intriguingly with the creature at apparently low health, it bolts rather than fight to the death, leaving Geralt to have to hunt it down to finish it off.

Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Credit: CD Projekt RED

The developer running the demo passes on that opportunity and heads to the nearest town. After interrogating the refugee about The Wild Hunt he gets involved in a sidequest involving a 'forest spirit' and a generational struggle over control of the small village. It was a case that perfectly illustrated the 'choose the lesser of two evils' philosophy of the game's branching story. Here Geralt decides to back the younger generation and kill the creature in the forest over the wishes of the elders to preserve it.

Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Screenshot from The Witcher 3
Credit: CD Projekt RED

To accomplish this task Geralt must use his skills as a monster hunter (in the form of Witcher Sense mode, which works like the Arkham franchise's Detective Vision) to first find clues to what kind of monster he's after (out of the 80 in the game that each leave their own tracks and clues) so he can destroy it properly. After doing so using the game’s more smooth and action based combat system, he returns to the village to find the younger residence have slaughter their elders and taken over. The player/Geralt decides to just take his pay and leave them be, though in an animatic cutscene we learn that the village was far from being saved and was overrun and destroyed just three months later.

Witcher 3's beautiful, massive, load time-free open world will be released in 2014 for PC and the next generation of home consoles.

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