I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t disappointed when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was delayed from this Fall to February 2015. Crestfallen is a better word. Heartbroken. I don’t want to be overdramatic.
After seeing it at E3 last week, though, I’m not too worried.
The first Witcher was a cult hit. Built on the Neverwinter Nights engine, it wasn’t without its quirks, but the story, which combined elements of low fantasy, hard-boiled detective plots, and even a bit of the Old West, left its mark on gamers. By the time the second rolled around, it was eagerly anticipated by the community. Instead of riding on someone else’s engine, CD Projekt RED built its own and ended up with one of the best looking games around.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings built on everything that made the first interesting, but added in countless ways, expanding the world and improving the combat.
Despite the huge jump from Witcher to Witcher 2, it was hard not to be incredulous when the scale of the game came into view. Witcher 3 is massive. Can CD Projekt RED really pull this off?
If the guided demo I watched is any indication, the team already has it in the bag. A few extra months of polish will be well worth it.
We watched a small segment of the game. Geralt has obtained information indicating that the grey-haired woman for whom he is searching has been seen with a small boy. The guy running the demo jumps to the fast travel screen to show us how big the world is. To fast travel in The Witcher 3, you go to a post outside the city, rather than just jumping from place to place. Immediate jumping might be convenient, but I like this method for the more complete version of the world it offers.
The map is huge. Huge barely does it justice. It almost looks like it could become cumbersome if the map isn’t properly populated with characters and hazards.
We watch Geralt do some detective work; talking to someone in town leads Geralt to the small boy, a Godling who lives in the woods. The boy needs help, and Geralt has the knowledge and skills to help him out. Geralt climbs a pretty impressive set of cliffs and finds what the boy needs at the top. We get a look at the forest surrounding the outcropping for the first time, and the only word I can think of to describe it is intimidating. There’s an already massive world here, and we’re only looking at a fraction.
What surprised me most about this, though, was that the map felt both natural and hand-crafted. Nothing felt automatically generated, but nothing felt unnatural, either – except the horned beast that crept by in the distance, but I’m pretty sure he was meant to.
That doesn’t even cover the great writing that filled out character interaction, the careful design of Geralt, the Godling boy, and some monsters that would make Silent Hill fans uncomfortable.
CD Projekt Red has created a vast, sprawling world that already seems more convincing than any RPG I’ve seen so far, and the tiny snippet of story we saw suggests they’ll be able to fill this world as well as they did The Witcher 2.
February 24 can’t get here fast enough.
Disclaimer: We received a Witcher 3 branded bag containing a Geralt statue and free download for the game for attending the demo.