Monday, 1 June 2015

THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT - Gamertroll Review - PS4 (Vr. Rev), Xbox One, PC

The Witcher 3 could very well boast the longest list of worthwhile quests Gamertroll has ever seen in an RPG. The opening 5 minutes confidently sets the pace for what is to come: swearing, monsters, forensically detailed corpses and Geralt's hairy arse. Geralt of Rivia is the series' Batman-voiced protagonist and the titular Witcher. Sure, you'll see equal coverage of female naughty bits during the opening too, but you'd better get used to seeing the former: the women might change, but you're gonna see old whitey's scarred backside more than anyone else's before you punch this game's ticket.

That's being fatuous of course, the much talked about sex scenes make up but a tiny piece of the game. If you hunt for smut, you will find it, but what we actually have here is a sprawling RPG where hack and slash combat, wandering and exploration takes up the lion's share of gameplay time. What Polish developer CD Projekt Red (henceforth CDPR) have achieved with their graphics engine brings the joyful experience to life in a singular way. Gamertroll can honestly say that he has never seen woodland in an open world game portrayed so convincingly.

Having said that, The Witcher 3 is not the most 'outright' good-looking game when seen at a glance. It's only as you play on, that the layers of detail become more apparent. It's then you begin to fully appreciate the effect of the biggest visual achievements in the game.

Many of the innovative Graphical tricks that have long been employed by game developers to give us the impression of true shadows are not tricks at all in The Witcher 3. These are true geometrically accurate shadows blending gloriously with other similarly calculated shadows in the glare of the Sun and the moon.These shadows are cast by multiple elements all blowing interdependently in the breeze and the effect is spectacular, giving the game's natural environments palpably different aspects and atmosphere's right across the day and night cycle. Moreover, this carefully crafted world provides just the kind of absolute immersion required of a game that seeks to rob players of so many hours.

Do yourself a favour though, make early use of the comprehensive HUD options menu to get rid of some of the more intrusive displays. Why some Jeb-socket saw fit to pollute the view with so much unnecessary HUD clutter by default, Gamertroll will never understand. Why would we want a permanent on-screen reminder of how to run and jump or get on a horse? They might as well have had a huge glowing arrow pointing to Geralt to aid more forgetful players.

Clear away that nonsense and you're left with one hell of a vista. It's not just the massive woodland and swamp regions that boast such fine realism, wherever your wandering takes you, be it visiting the impressive larger cities or picking through the eerie aftermaths of great battles, the authenticity of the locations are both exciting and novel in their detail. Strolling around in the aftermath of one of those muddy, body-strewn fields summons a distinct gravity: they are just as you'd imagine an historical battlefield like Agincourt would look post slaughter. The positioning of each cadaver is a carefully staged viginette telling the tragic story of a person's last moments. Gamertroll has never before come across the grizzly sight of a horse and rider still suspended upright on defensive wooden stakes. There's a Box ticked. This care and attention is lavished on all the areas found in the game, a staggering achievement considering it's size. The Witcher 3 constitutes an amazingly detailed vision.

The accompanying soundtrack is also worthy of note for it's production quality and unique

vocals. There's always a pleasant ambient soundtrack playing when charting rural regions which changes pace once you gain entrance to the towns. Numerous bards, local performances and sympathetically composed lute music plucks away in populous areas and cutscenes with nicely varied and contextual combat music rounding off an accomplished audio package.

Warning: Gamertroll is about to briefly discuss the accusations of sexism and racism that have been leveled at the game since launch. If you're not interested in that, please do skip past the next two paragraphs.

The thorny issue of sexism has seen significant attention, not least because of comments
made by Anita Sarkeesian and members of her organisation Feminist Frequency. Counter to those views, Gamertroll has observed nothing to get in a twist about here beyond the standard damsel tropes or the odd character with a top cut so low her areolas are visible when she turns. Pretty standard stuff really. There's even equality of sorts: As mentioned previously, the screen lingers over Geralt's arse as much as those of each of his conquest's in the sex scenes. CDPR would have to have done a lot worse to get justifiably noticed above the usual white noise of video game sexism. There is very little of the clumsy chauvinism found in the first Witcher game: like the infamous inclusion of bonus Gwent cards awarded for nailing female characters in the no pants dance. Sure, that was funny, but poorly advised. The point being, that The Witcher series has come on in spades since then. Gamertroll has noticed Feminist frequency comments betray an unfamiliarity with this title, compounding the suspicion none of them actually bothered to play it properly. If they had, they'd know The Witcher 3 isn't a suitable vehicle for their agenda.

One interesting eccentricity of the game that people have also questioned, pertains to it's
human populace. They are exclusively Caucasians. Not one of a cast of thousands is a person of colour. Nobody out in the Gaming community is losing any sleep over it and it is not offensive, but merely odd once you notice. After asking around and really thinking on it, Gamertroll has a vague idea that Andrzej Sapkowski might have always intended to write about the theme of racial inequality, but only under the safe and innocuous guise of the Elves, Dwarves and halflings. These fantasy races get short shrift in The Witcher and there are even storylines featuring racially motivated murders and their repercussions. Just a theory.

Anyway, enough of that. Back to the escapist subject of gaming.

It seems rather like many high profile reviewers were just so stumped for 'negs' that they could only come up with that sort of cultural impact stuff as a counter-point before slapping a 10/10 on it anyway. It's astonishing that that's all they could dig up because great as it is, The Witcher 3 does have a fair collection of fails. None are enough to
bring the house down but I'll point them out, cause it would be a lie to say it's all prime cut. What kind of review would this be if Gamertroll didn't tell you about the gristle and chewy bits? There'll be more on the good later, but here's some of the stuff that rubs:-

For one thing, the movement is more than a tad stilted. The jumping and vaulting action to skip over low obstacles is stodgy, sometimish and downright infuriating when you are in a hurry. In combat attempting to move over a 2ft fence whilst locked on can be the death of you. Even finer controls can be a bit spazzy too, to the point where you will often find yourself nudging the control sticks for a few seconds just to find the sweet spot where you can actually press X to loot a fallen enemy, climb down a ladder or face a fast travel post. Anything really that requires Geralt to put himself in a precise position can illicit unnecessary irritation.

It's all a bit 'sloppy Joe' but forgiveable, whereas the swimming controls most certainly are

not. They are a clusterfuck. Should you chance your arm to check out that submerged chest or just escape with breath to spare? Any gamer worth their salt will always try to loot that chest and for that, The Witcher 3 will slap you in the tits time and again. Either Geralt will plunge in the wrong direction and get stuck or swim right up to the shallows but inexplicably fail to surface and you'll start to drown by inches. It's no advance over Tomb Raider's cacky swimming mechanic of 20yrs ago. Then, that sort of thing was passable: now it's analogous to cold, snotty porridge nobody should have to gulp down.

Which brings us to the real shame here, Geralt's obvious difficulties with movement and swimming are a contagion that couldn't fail to at least partially infect the combat system. Engaging and disengaging the target lock-on manually is a joke. Eventually the realisation dawned on Gamertroll that it's just better to let the game do what it wants and dodge, roll and parry around it's random target decisions. For this very reason fleeing a combat when you're outmatched is a needlessly stupid affair. You'll often be unable to stop the auto-lock from re-engaging so that instead of moving away from danger you just end up performing the wrong contextual action or circling slowly into more enemies. The only option is to keep tapping X and pushing the stick away until the interface wakes up and releases you from the melee.

That's not to say that combat is no fun at all, because it can be tremendous fun once you have command of a few bombs and Witcher signs. These extra attacks help punctuate and control fights in a satisfying manner while the addition of special items like crossbows also serve to spice thing up.

Once you learn to go with the flow, you'll be dancing around enemies like a pro. The only problem is that after our recent taste of Bloodborne's champagne-quality combat, sampling The Witcher 3's clumsy fight execution, is at the beginning at least, like slurping mud from a stool bucket.


Returning to some more of the good news: as with the previous, lesser known Witcher games, the voice acting and dialogue scripting in English at least, is interesting and littered unforced humour. When I say the English version is excellently voice-acted it's simply because that's the only language this Troll speaks, but
take it from a Brit, the variety of British regional dialects found in the game are hilariously accurate. Gamertroll just knew the Witches of Crook back Bog would have Welsh, Barry Island accents before he even caught up with them in the flesh! It's amusing to think how thick British accents fit a medieval fantasy game like this so well. It's an all the more impressive localisation effort considering the author of the source material, Andrzej Sapkowski is Polish.

This quality of scriptwriting and delivery even makes Geralt's aforementioned silly Batman voice somehow work in practice when it should have rendered him a farce. Some of the dialogue is priceless in fact. Those looking to play the game in front of their kids should be warned however, the authenticity of the contempory British dialects extends to the kind of liberal swearing you'd expect. Peasant's will often welcome Geralt "to our shit hole". It's common to be called a freak, a prick or a twat and fans of profanity will no doubt celebrate the proliferate use of the 'C bomb'. Even the little tykes swear at Geralt in this game!

Cutscene Whiskey drinkers rejoice for there are no QTEs to be found in the game!

In a brief departure from the wild praise, sadly, most of the world's extras have repetitive grunts or only a single line of communication no matter how many times
The staring contest went on for 9 hours straight
you attempt to talk to them.
 Even main characters walk alongside you during quests with stupid "talk to *person's name* press X" boxes floating around over their heads even when they have nothing to say. It's more daft HUD nonsense that kinda ruins the cinematic feel at times.

That said, nothing can spoil the The Witcher 3's spectacular narrative. Even criticisms of being over-padded or too long can't diminish Gamertroll's enthusiasm for it.

The genius of this game (and it is genius), is that the narrative is not just one long story arc with lesser offshoots and diversions  making up the sidequests like we've become
There are some pretty original creatures to discover
accustomed to with these games. The Witcher 3 is much more like a compendium of unusually excellent short stories bound together on a single time-line. 
After this fashion of continuity, your old Witcher saves affect the gameworld and activities of key characters in this new installment. Relationships can change and Characters may not be present because you chose to kill them previously. Never fear if you don't have a compatible save file or have never played the 2 prequels, you can choose to manually answer questions about the past yourself, recommencing proceedings as you see fit.

It's the thoughtfulness that has gone into these interwoven storylines that truly sets this game apart from the chaff. In a refreshing change, plot twists are often as unpredictable as twists should be and the huge cast of characters have plausible flaws and personal motivations to explain their actions. You'll find far less of the cardboard characterisation than we've come to expect from the average RPG.

Having unwound the 'Botchling' story arc to it's harrowing conclusion, Gamertroll holds it to be one of the saddest and memorable he's experienced in recent years. Yet the Botchling arc is but one of a number of genuinely affecting stories found in the game.

Whilst Gamertroll is talking about things CDPR have absolutely slam-dunked, 'the Wild hunt' represent suitably formidible antagonists along with a whole host of complicated factions, gangs and individuals to bump heads with along the way. Not least are a cast of diverse and entertaining monsters. They are also superb, not just visually either, but because they all fit into their own precisely defined Lore and ecosystems.

Collectable objects and crafting abilities are also an extremely comprehensive. Sometimes it feels like you're just collecting hundreds of different coloured leaves and stones but almost every one of them has some use or other.

No matter how many bloody leaves you collect, being a Witcher is the real magic
Geralt often seems sorry to dispatch his contracts
ingredient. With so many enticing options for progression available, the game plays out like more of a 'Witcher-simulator' than anything else.
 Did Gamertroll mention yet that being a Witcher is enormous fun? Well it is. Geralt is an eclectic character, a cross between a professional head thumper, bounty hunter, monster hunter, spiritual guide, playboy and forensic pathologist. Some missions will have you tracking for clues using his 'Witcher senses' and doing CSI-style investigations of monster corpses and murder scenes. Gamertroll would hate to spoil anything, but It's all rather dapper with rarely a dull moment.  

You may have heard reports that this game is large. In terms of Geography and narrative it is, in actuality, simply VAST. If Dragon Age: Inquistion was Immense, The Witcher 3 is double, maybe triple immense. The boggling number of sidequests and contracts can almost seem an oppressive task at times. When you also factor in the "?" locations on the map, it had Gamertroll wondering about 'how long is too long' for a game? Whilst the pacing of the experience can be slightly hampered by the inordinate volume of activities, the obvious answer is no, but there will be those who feel that you can have too much of a good thing. The Witcher 3 is without a doubt, aimed at gamers who allocate a lot of time to their hobby.

Gamertroll regrets to inform all and sundry that his time spent with The Witcher 3 has been plagued with coding bugs and glitches. Mercifully they manifest in most cases as stupid graphical and audio glitches like floating heads and body parts, frozen mid-air corpses, scenery and characters clipping into one other, body-popping and twerking horses, horse-less riders, horses 50ft up in the air, invisible NPCs, disappearing cows,
Man walks into a bar. Literally.
tents and trees, objects jiggling like they're possessed in cutscenes, lakes turning into crude oil, instantaneous nightfalls and daybreaks...
you name it, it's endless and goes way beyond the number of issues usually found in a game of this type. Whilst these problems can be excused in light of the game's obvious quality, It's no cause for applause either and CDPR should hang their heads in shame for shipping the game in this state because on a more serious note: Gamertroll has spoken to several players who have experienced a hard crash in the game, even experiencing it once himself. And just how widespread are the reported cases of total save corruption on PS4 and XB1? It's hard to tell, but CDPR has acknowledged they exist and have promised to tackle them in future downloadable patches. God only knows what this game would have been like if it had stuck to original the March release.

It's unfortunate that some of the sidequests can also be ruined by these bugs. Two
unretryable quests have been permanently failed on Gamertroll's first playthrough, the first because a pack of wandering wolves started to attack Geralt before a cutscene had ended and the second mission just ended in failure for no apparent reason. The first bug is commonly experienced by others upon further investigation. Gamertroll by no means thinks these bugs should put players off buying the game but for heaven's sake, save, save, save, people!

It's easy to be cavalier about it if, like Gamertroll, you've only lost half an hour from a hard crash over the whole playthrough. It also helps to have a sense of humour so the graphical glitches can often be regarded as humorous bonuses. It
is actually quite funny to return from being underground to see the game code undergo a meltdown whilst it works out whether it should be day or night outside: "4.30pm.. er.. er.. er.. er.. er.. that's day! Yes day! And is it raining? Yes, yes it is! Quick! Start the rain!"

You may have noticed this is a pretty lengthy review all told, but any game being considered for a 10/10 score needs to stand up to a particular level of scrutiny. After careful reflection Gamertroll won't be granting that prestigious gong here.

The Witcher 3 is unquestionably a magnificent game but it's not beyond valid criticisms in some areas. CDPR have got so many things right here that it's very nearly a Blood Borne-style strike, but unfortunately some shonky controls and too, too many bugs and glitches leave that proverbial last pin standing. 

To put things in context: In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bloodborne and now the The Witcher 3:Wild Hunt, gamers have a contemporary trio of top-class RPGs to celebrate. When titles are this close in quality splitting the difference will always be a personal preference: Gamertroll's score will slot The Witcher 3 just above DA's solid 9/10  and short of Bloodborne's perfect score.

Gamertroll challenges any player not to be amazed by the enormous scope and beauty The Witcher 3 supplies. Within those parameters it's hard to see any similar title eclipsing it for quite some time. If it fails to impress, you either need to rethink your expectations or come to terms with the fact that you simply don't like RPGs!



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