The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, It’s time to ramble on

Despite our best efforts, somewhere along the way we booked a one-way ticket  to  Rivia and boarded the hype train. It was easy enough to  do; after all, everything about CD Projekt RED’s perpetually delayed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt screams ‘next-gen starts here’. It is without question the biggest open-world to ever be presented in modern RPG history. It’s been awarded so many ‘most anticipated’ medals that Geralt’s armour is beginning to look ostentatious instead of intimidating, and, let’s be honest for a second, the raw passion seeping from the pores of CD  Projekt RED is electrifying.

But The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been kept behind closed doors for so long now we were beginning to wonder whether it was simply a mirage; a hallucination born from the litany of mediocre open-worlds we've trudged through in the last 15 months. That said, we’ve finally had a chance to get our hands all over Geralt’s third and final adventure, and you better believe us when we tell you that something special comes our way, folks.

Unlike The Witcher games of the past, Wild Hunt takes place in an open-world. If we’re talking sheer size alone, well, it’s pretty bloody impressive. You’ve no doubt already heard the ‘20 per cent bigger than Skyrim’ statistic thrown around in passing at one time or another, but it turns out that was a gross underestimation. Cobble together just two of The Witcher 3’s areas Novigrad and Skellige and you’re looking at a playing area of 52 square miles of land to romp around, underwater ecosystems to explore and a metric hell ton of monsters to introduce to your silver blade. To put that in perspective of RPG-to-beat Skyrim, Bethesda’s entire map barely covered 16 square miles. It’s adorable that a game from 2011 is still considered king of a heavily-populated genre, though we’ve got a feeling Geralt is just about ready to start an uprising.
“You better believe us when we tell you that something special comes our way, folks”
Then again, a gigantic open world is nothing but a hollow shell without content to populate it. One of the biggest concerns raised following the announcement that  The Witcher 3 would be embracing an open-world setting was that players would yearn for a return to the structured, and immensely well-paced, walled garden areas of previous games. We collectively feared CD Projekt RED had bitten off more than it could chew as it attempted its first Xbox One game that the narrative would be lost under our attempt to develop orienteering skills to make it through the dense forests, untamed seas and rolling green hills. Thankfully our chaperoned hands-on session has done an admirable job of relieving us of our fears.

“It has certainly been a big learning experience, that’s for sure,” confides level designer Miles Tost  “Bringing this series into a full open-world setting has always been the ultimate goal, though that’s what the studio has always wanted… but previously the team has been hindered by available technology or budget.

“There has been a lot of experimentation to get to the point we’re at now with The Witcher 3. Obviously, we didn't just show up on day one of development and nail the entire thing right away. It was a constant process of iteration and trying new things, but I think we’ve now come to a point where we’ve achieved a really good balance and we’re where we want to be.”

Tost doesn't need to tell us about the “constant process of iteration”; it feels like we’ve been waiting for The Witcher 3 forever. Honestly, there was a time where it felt like it might never come out. But with the renewed 19 May release date in sight, content is locked down and the studio is off hunting bugs. The results are clear; while our playtime was restricted to the prologue area an opening section designed to give new and existing players an opportunity to grasp the core concepts of monster hunting and interrogating the environments for quests and lore it’s immensely polished and well considered.
“Wild Hunt takes place in an open-world. If we’re talking sheer size alone, well, it’s pretty bloody impressive”
“We don’t want to build an open-world game, and then withhold that entire open world at the start just because you’re a ‘beginner’, or because past Witcher games haven’t been open world,” Tost explains. “The open world is really good at serving our goal of teaching players the ways of the game and encouraging them to engage with it. You’re very much encouraged from the start to venture away from the obvious routes and see for yourself what is happening away from the main quests.”

Admittedly, the early side-quests we encountered outside of our main quest which had us tracking and dispatching an almighty griffin with Geralt’s sweet blend of swordplay and magical abilities felt somewhat shallow, we can’t deny that it feels great to play. Sure, helping wounded or stranded NPCs, playing pub games and searching for collectibles dotted around the large region aren’t the most exciting side-quests in the entire world, but we’re just happy to finally play an RPG that places as much emphasis and importance on polish as it does size and scope.

That’s the take-away from our first hands-on session with  The Witcher 3: it feels like a true next generation experience. It looks stunning, the particle effects and animations in particular make the combat feel slicker and more visceral than we ever anticipated. The freedom to explore and track monsters as you please is liberating. CD Projekt RED has always argued that  The Witcher games are about being Geralt; about seeing a world through the eyes of an outcast and getting lost in the danger and excitement of slaying ridiculous monsters. As the studio explores new ways to tell stories, introduces new gameplay mechanics and delivers some of the best graphics we’ve seen on the Xbox One to date seemingly without sacrificing performance we’ve got a feeling that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt might just seta new  benchmark for the RPG genre.

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