A game of witchers

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Sigh. It&rsquo;s been a damned good year for video games so far, at least in my opinion.</p>

We have had both the sublime Bloodborne and the interesting twist on the shooter in Splatoon. Then, in mid-May, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt completed the threesome of 2015 games with great gameplay.

Based on a set of Polish short stories and novels, The Witcher 3 follows series protagonist Geralt of Rivia in his search for his surrogate daughter Ciri. His status as a “Witcher” means he’s undergone mutations that give him superhuman senses, strength and endurance, as well as telltale catlike eyes. All of this is in the service of breeding the perfect monster hunter. He tries to discover where Ciri has gone, as she is being chased for reasons unknown by the titular Wild Hunt: mysterious dark riders whose forays into death and destruction make them an omen of misfortune. As with most open world games, this usually involves hours of entirely unrelated side activities.

While I still feel like the art design of a game like Bloodborne is more beautiful, the world of The Witcher nonetheless has great technical beauty.

Play the game with headphones on, keep still and just take in the world. The wind blows, bristling through the trees and grass, strong across the field. The trees visibly bend in the breeze. The thinner white trees bend nearly horizontally, yet remain unbroken. When you activate Geralt’s Witcher sense, focus on what you hear and see. You hear a growl from far away, no, three or four growls. A pack of wild dogs? No, sounds too feral. Wolves.

You play in a breathing world when you play The Witcher 3.

Geralt’s superhuman senses turns you into a medieval super-detective, making you feel like Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. You spot clues at a monster attack, piecing together the events that took place, and where the beast may have gone. Even when you face the creature in combat, reading up on their weaknesses and preparing in advance will make the eventual encounter much easier.

Geralt is the best character model; he really showcases the nuances of the facial animation in the game. As an unemotional mutant hunter man, he doesn’t emote through flowery overacting motion capture. It’s the subtle changes in his face that make his character. A slight smirk at something he finds funny. A slight cringe at something that he finds painful.

Writing gets woefully shoved to the back of video game budgets, but the dialogue in this game is uncharacteristically excellent, likely owing to the characters’ origins in a novel. A werewolf languishing in the curse of unending hunger. A gruff overweight spymaster who also happens to have a knack for dry humor. The infamous Bloody Baron, who proves to more complex than an unredeemable alcoholic tyrant and wife-beater.

Even the world itself has character, I could write this whole article about the characteristics of the city of Novigrad alone. The Polish and general medieval European influences, along with the fantasy lore, make it a masterpiece of world building.

It is a grimy and grey world filled with corruption, ignorance, serial killers and truly wretched creatures. Its inhabitants face the threat of being burned at the stake for the simple crime of not being human.

Geralt is not an idealist, and Witchers are pragmatic: they slay monsters for money, not out of the goodness of their hearts. Being a “good” person in the grey world of The Witcher doesn’t manifest as an idealistic and visible protest against the discrimination and wrongdoings of the game’s world. Manipulating the grey morality around you to your own desires, and perhaps help a person or two while you’re at it, is the best you can do. And there’s no guaranteeing your meddling won’t backfire.

Game of Thrones fans would be remiss to not consider giving this game a go, or at least checking out some footage online.

It’s not a perfect game. Combat is a bit clunky, especially after the sublime hunting of Bloodborne. The consoles try their best, but the game is clearly optimized for beastly PCs. And as with all massive game worlds, even the best will have their share of glitches.

But in a sea of games that are simply products for consumers, The Witcher 3 was made for a deep experience. A Polish developer, telling the story of Polish fantasy, developed for those who appreciate unique experiences.

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