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The Little Things That Made The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Game of the Year
Seven months after its release, Jacob Smith is still gushing about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and why you should still be playing it. And he still has a point or five.
Our clocks have turned now to the fresh new year of 2016, and already plenty of time has been spent waxing lyrical on just how good of a game The Witcher 3 was, enough so for the cult series’s latest instalment by small Polish developer CD Projekt Red to beat the likes of Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, titles hotly anticipated for the best part of a decade, to be many reputable outlets’ Game of 2015. Ours too. But as we dust off our consoles for whatever 2016 has in store for we intrepid virtual warriors, it’s important to look at the smaller stuff that The Witcher 3 did that helped it set such a high bench mark for this year in gaming.
- That Horse Travel Though
The most common criticism I have levied against open world RPGs, which stand as my bae¹ of video game genres, is that the worlds are often too big; discouraging manual travel and exploration in favour of fast travelling to meatier objectives. Enter Roach, Geralt’s faithful steed(s) that is but two clicks of a thumbstick away at all times. In most other games, your horse comes along as a simple means to speed up moving you from point A to B, but not our Roach. Roach comes with customisation options, letting you boost his stamina and his courage to give you a more durable steed in both race and combat. On top of that, he can be upgraded to boost your inventory capacity, and be fitted with one of the many adorable monster trophies you pick up, like pieces of questionable looking Starburst.
But Roach is more than functional. He takes the stress out of horse riding as he doesn’t need you to touch that left thumbstick to show him the way. Simply get him going in a cantor or gallop and he’ll run along the trail without needing guidance, letting you absorb the breath-taking scenery of the Northern Kingdoms. Oh, and his stamina doesn’t go down while you’re doing this, letting you auto gallop all the way to Novigrad.
- Free DLC Certain Companies Would Make You Pay For
I’m not naming names, mostly because if I do it’s liable, but we’ve all grown so used to being made to shill out an extra two to four pounds for alternate outfits and hairstyles, small weapons and armour packs and one-off mission experiences. Sure, we’re often given the option to drop close to thirty pounds on a Season Pass to get the main meat of DLC alongside all the decorative nonsense, but that decorative nonsense tends to comprise the meat of the season pass sandwich. CD Projekt Red waved all that to one side, instead offering their quote-unquote bonus content, totalling in at sixteem items, for free to all players.
So what did we get? Alternative looks for our three female leads, four new armour sets for you and our precious Roach, four new contracts that other games would make you pay £3.99 for minimum, a crossbow set, new set of finisher animations, new designs for the neutral Gwent cards that make Dandelion’s ego look even more inflated, some bonus hair and beard styles that, again, we would be made to pay £3.99 for by other games, and the all-important New Game+ that turns your second play through in to a gauntlet of personal mental endurance. Free this may be, but it’s got a lot more mileage in it than something like Arkham Knight’s meagre Season Pass offerings.
Okay, I named a name. But damn you Rocksteady, you know you could have given us more!
- Is That The Soundtrack On The Second Disc?
Yes. Yes it is.
And it’s not even a pre-order bonus.
- The Pool of Witcher Lore is Open to All Ages
It’s always weird to think that Wild Hunt is the third in a trilogy of games that are themselves sequels to a series of five novels and two short story collections by Polish author Andrez Sapkowski, if only because there is never a moment where the story and world seem to want you to have consumed any of the prior material to understand it. The original Witcher game was PC exclusive and the sequel, Assassin of Kings, was ported to console a year after its console release, but did not receive the fanfare a game that critically lauded deserves. Witcher 3’s hype train is entirely self-built, and playing it necessitates no prior knowledge of Geralt’s murky world.
But for those who do have the knowledge, the world is brimming with references, nods and returns to the massive series. The mission with Yennefer, ‘The Last Wish’, is named for the short story in which she and Geralt first meet and become forever bound by a wish he makes to a djinn (also the name of the first short story collection). On top of that, the mission is all about that first encounter’s decades lasting effects. Not that you need to have read the books, they make this all clear. Gwent cards are name and designed after characters that appeared in both previous games and the books, such as Villentretenmerth, aka Borkh Three Jackdaws. Why the alternate names? Why does the Ballad Heroes DLC change him from a huge golden dragon to a simple man flanked by two lovely and exotic ladies? You don’t need to know, but if you do it’s glorious little feeling. This extends in to the Hearts of Stone expansion with the appearance of Shani, a character I have barely met in my reading, whose complex history with Geralt is beautifully simplified for the uninitiated and she shines on her own merits. Now that’s how we build a universe.
- A World That Is Huge, But Not Dense And Drowning
Trust me, there’s a difference. Play Assassin’s Creed: Unity and tell me there isn’t.
As large and as full of content as the world of The Witcher 3 is, the game is not densely packed with it. All those question marks over your map are neatly spread out and not joined by a suffocating amount of chests or markers or royal missives or lost gloves Geralt needs to collect to fulfil some arbitrary quest to unlock an achievement and some gear that may or may not be better than what you’re rocking anyway. Sure enough there’s stuff to be looted and herbs to be picked, but you can give those a miss knowing they’re an infinite resource in this game, one you don’t have to double back for in twenty hours when you finally cave in and load up the IGN guide. We do get treasure hunts, but these are mission driven objectives with notably richer rewards than average, including the finest weapons and armour in a game. It’s sad that it is actually refreshing for a developer’s idea of a full world be one where you can’t turn a corner for new missions and characters to interact with and love rather than pigeons you need to shoot for 100 gamerscore.
Refreshing it is, and I’m all the happier for it.
¹The editor takes no responsibility for the use of the word 'bae' by an adult.