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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, It’s the end of days and there’s a ghost in the well. Who you gonna call?

There’s something about the expression on the peasant’s finely textured face that suggests he hates Geralt. Is it because our hero is a mutant monster-hunter, or has the peasant realised that Geralt’s swords are worth more than his house? The shabby gentleman has bigger problems, like chronic thirst. Local rivers are contaminated, and the only other source a well in an abandoned village nearby is haunted.

We’re an hour into The Witcher 3’s prologue and already distracted. The world is gorgeous and full of needy peasants with problems. There’s also a wider mission to find Geralt’s sorceress lover, Yennefer, but the rolling hills and forests of this rural region are too rich to just gallop by. What right-minded adventurer would pass up a haunted well?


We whistle for our horse and ride towards the ruins. It’s morning, and a lurid sunrise stains the world bright orange. A breeze is disturbing the trees and long grass. It doesn’t look quite as crisp as the early screenshots and videos, and hopefully CD Projekt RED can fix the problematic screen-tear before launch, but The Witcher 3 is already the best-looking RPG world ever. Hopefully the studio will clean up the bugs, though. The horse runs perfectly along worn trails, but occasionally goes more horizontal than we’d like on lumpy terrain.The well is a menacing place.

Geralt’s Witcher Sight a vision mode that reveals clues like torn-up bodies and dropped items of interest highlights a red blob in the bushes, which turns out to be a charred dog corpse. Ugh. We find more charring on the floor and a journal in a nearby ruin that recounts the last days of a local farmer mourning the loss of a loved one. Geralt deduces that the spirit must be a Noonwraith a ghost that appears at midday every day to take unwary travellers. If we’d wandered through the area at noon, we would have seen the ghost first-hand and solved the mystery immediately.
Charging into major fights without preparation makes them a lot more difficult
Every sidequest we tried during the demo was as involved as this. CDP might just have delivered on its promise of an RPG with no fetch quests. Missions do lean on Geralt’s Arkham City-style detective vision, but that means you spend more time exploring and almost none reading reams of text. The only exception is the journal which tracks the monsters you meet, with notes on how to kill them. It’s here that we learn that the Noonwraith must be lured into a trap spell to give it corporeal form, then we can kill it with a silver sword.

Oil and slaughter
This is a relatively simple case. Some monsters require you to craft potions and oils. That means you’ll want to find recipes, pick flowers or roots and combine them with the clunky crafting interface. Charging into major fights without preparation makes them a lot more difficult, so you’ll have to master crafting and alchemy if you don’t want to drop the difficulty a notch. The Witcher 3 controls like a modern, accessible adventure, but under the hood it betrays the series’ origins as a fiddly PC RPG. Those rituals do make the monsters feel dangerous, though. They’re not disposable fodder.

The fight with the Noonwraith proves this point. Geralt’s magic trap normally slows enemies to a crawl, but it causes the shadowy spirit to take on the form of a screaming banshee. Fighting is a simple matter of stringing light and strong strikes together, and dodging every so often. Geralt can parry, but that’s useless unless you’re facing human opponents. We lure the ghost into view and hit it with fast attacks to whittle down its health.

Enemies hit hard, so it’s advisable to keep your protective shield spell active. Unfortunately, switching spells means breaking the flow of combat to pick from an option wheel. The combat system also struggles against large monsters such as Griffons, where your dodge can’t put you beyond their reach. Geralt’s new mini-crossbow lets you damage them a little at distance, but expect a few frustrating fights.

Still, sending the Noonwraith back to hell is fun. Peace and water return, and Geralt gets a payday. More importantly, we’ve had a good taste of The Witcher 3’s world. In spite of combat and interface niggles, and some technical problems, it’s as huge and detailed as we’d hoped. It’s going to be epic; we just hope CDP fixes the little things.

Mostly armless
The Witcher 3 is way more violent  than we first thought 
The developer has kept the game’s advanced dismemberment system quiet. Geralt lops limbs off enemies with startling regularity, and his strong attacks slice enemies clean in half. The fire spell has a chance to set clothes alight, causing enemies to run around the battlefield screaming before collapsing into a blackened mess. Geralt walked out of one fight dripping red like a gooey jam monster. This is a good thing.

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