Gamescom 2013: Eyes-on with The Witcher 3
I didn’t get to see The Witcher 3 at E3 this year, but Darryn – whose experience with the franchise is a limited to staring at pictures of digital boobs – did. He just could not shut up about the game afterwards; it even winning our completely meaningless Best of E3 award. As the WRPG guy, I made damned sure that I’d see it at Gamescom. And I’m glad I did. Because eyeballgasms.
The Witcher 3 is the final video-game tale of everyone’s favourite white-haired monster-slaying bad-ass, Geralt of Rivia – and he’s out to find and vanquish the Wild Hunt, a supernatural spectral group of demonic huntsmen that are being rather naughty in the world of men.
While we didn’t get to play the thing, we were treated to some live, pre-alpha gameplay footage. We knew it was both live, and pre-alpha because it crashed twice and on one load, was playing at twice the speed it should. Technical issues like that can be easily forgiven though, because once it was up and running, it was really quite breath-taking.
When it finally worked, we found ourselves looking upon Geralt, on horseback. his quest – for now – is to solicit information on the latest attack perpetuated by the Wild Hunt from the local Jarl. Once there, he’s pointed in the direction of a small village to the South– and already the game’s massive expanse is made evident; Geralt can get there any way he pleases; by foot, by boat, on horseback, swimming (if you have that sort of patience) or through fast travel. According to CD Projekt Red, the physical land size of this game is a whopping 35 times the size of the Witcher 2.
Did you play the Witcher 2? That game was huge! 35 times that and you pretty much have an entire country. And despite all that vastness, you’ll likely never get bored; there are a number of random encounters outside of the actual game. You’ll come across, for example, a group of bandits attacking a farmhouse while you’re tottering up the road. You could just ride on past them, ignoring the farmer’s pleas or perhaps, being the hero you are, you’ll go up, slay the bandits and free the peasant.
Thing is; either could have further implications and ramifications in the game. Those bandits you just killed could be henchmen for some powerful warlord – and you’ve probably just pissed him off, only to be in his sights later in the game. Or perhaps you’ll run in t a great big, terribly difficult to kill beasty that uses its hypnotic magic, at the cusp of defeat, to get away – but also wants revenge later on. Now, in a much more open-ended game, Geralt has to actually be a Witcher; tracking down and hunting said anima; half-stag, half bear, all terrifying.
Even at the village, following the main quest line, the game offers up surprise. after getting the information he needed from a villager, another rushes in, announcing that yet another villager has been attacked by some evil being; a monster from the woods – opening up a wholly optional side quest; but one that’s intertwined with the main narrative, effectively blurring the line between them.
Conversation reveals that the village is fractured; the elders want to placate the beast through worship, while the younger villagers are out for blood; and it’s up to you to decide which path to take. In this instance; Geralt tracked the monster down using a new focus mechanic that helps him locate monsters; you’ll have to look up info in his big book of monsters to now what you should be looking for. At the end of it all after a double cross, some politics and a lengthy boss fight, it was revealed that because of your actions, the village was eventually thrown in to constant battle with its neighbours, and eventually succumbed to them. Probably should have made other choices then. And this was from a side quest. CD Projekt promises that quests like these, coupled with the main quests will give players over a hundred hours of gameplay – and if it’s anything like this, we could be treated to one of the very best games ever created.
One thing to note is just how incredibly atmospheric and frankly beautiful the game is. It’s not remarkably different, visually, to the Witcher 2, but the level of detail and the effects that flesh it out make it all breath-taking. In one bit were were shown, Geralt was meditating, time moving faster than usual. The sky rolled from day to night and back again, bringing with it some weather effects; a brewing storm and torrential rain, every blade of grass and leafy tree affected. What made this special is that the weather actually impacts the game; the once calm see was now a turbulent torrent of water – and taking a boat out on that, right now, would be a fool’s errand.
And the detail of it all; the lighting, the audio, the everything left a giant gaping hole in the back of my head after my mind was sufficiently blown.