Hands-Off Preview: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Savage Beauty

The Witcher 3 is easily one of the most anticipated games of next year. I’ve never played any of the games in the series but as a fan of dark fantasy and games that actually understand what an M rating means, I’ve always had this one in my sights. I went into this presentation expecting a lot and I was not disappointed in the least. You want “next-gen” gaming? The Witcher 3 has it, my friends.

I’m not even going to beat around the bush here, this game is GORGEOUS. This is easily one of the most visually impressive games I have ever seen. You know a game looks good when you’re left slack jawed by the graphics. “Purdy game…” is all my mind could really register as the stuff I saw on the screen made its way from my retinas and into my brain. CD Projekt RED wants to make the most detailed game world out there and just from this short demo I can see that they’re about to pull it off.

What makes this game look so great is the attention to detail. From the different types of grass that liters the ground, the clouds in the sky and the mountains off in the distance. The character’s facial animations have a lot of subtlety to them as well and you could practically feel what they were thinking even if they didn’t verbalize it. Even the creatures of the wild behaved realistically, including small gestures that made them feel like real animals. The world is also brimming with a wide array of colors, which serves to make the visual experience that much richer.

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The demo we saw in the presentation booth was an extended version of the trailer that was shown during the Xbox event. Protagonist Geralt is tasked with hunting down and killing a nasty griffon. This task would seem like a great challenge to any normal man but Geralt is a Witcher and is more than capable of defeating this monster.

Almost as soon as Geralt enters the forest he can hear the griffon off in the distance. He activates his “Witcher Sense” to find his prey more easily. This effect highlights specific things in the world, in this case, the beast’s footprints. Once the monster is spotted, Geralt pops it with a few shots from his crossbow. The griffon flies off in obvious pain but now it’s actually easier to track since it’s bleeding everywhere.

While tracking down the griffon, Geralt faces off against some random bad guys that are in his way. This is where I got to see combat for the first time and I absolutely loved it. Geralt set dudes on fire with magic attacks and fought them with his sword. He not only sliced limbs off but even cut one dude clean in half with a vertical slice. The area was a bloody mess and there was even blood on Geralt’s sword. These types of encounters are typical, and ensures that gamers stay on their toes for any possible danger that can spring up randomly.

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Geralt eventually finds the griffon, which is still reeling from being shot by arrows, and he shoots it with even more arrows. The monster gets angry and begins its attack. Here, we see Geralt being nimble and avoiding attacks with ease. He used fireball type spells when the griffon was in the air and melee when it was on the ground. For such a big monster, it was taken out pretty fast though. Like the trailer from the Xbox event, we don’t actually get to see the final blow and instead, the screen fades to black.

The next part of the video had Geralt (with the griffon’s head dangling from his horse’s side) riding to the town of Novigrad. Here, we get to see the vastness of the world and how lush it is. Everything seemed alive and we were told that all NPCs have their own lives to live, which are independent of what is going on with Geralt. Merchants sell their wares, bars serve drinks and domesticated animals scurry along the streets.

It took a while for Geralt to reach the city from the countryside and this let us take in more of the beauty of the game. The city will act as a hub world and will be the place where you receive many of the game’s sidequests. The game world is enormous and there is a fast travel mechanic to make getting around it less time consuming. Personally speaking, I’ll try to use this option as few times as possible because I want to travel from place to place and see it all myself.

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I want to add that the love that CD Projekt RED has for this game radiated from their presentation. These guys have worked for years on this franchise and you can tell that they have poured their hearts and souls into making it exceptional. I told one of the developers how impressed I was with what was shown and he told me that comments like mine — as well as the thunderous applause that the audience gave them — help put things into perspective for them. When working on this game, all they know is what is in front of them and what their colleagues think. Getting independent feedback from gamers, and having it be so positive, lets them know that they truly are creating something special.

Although I’m sad that I won’t get to play the game this year, I know that the extra development time will be used to make it that much better. This preview can only convey a small part of what it felt like to see this game in motion. I can only imagine what it will feel like to actually have a controller in my hand and be free to explore this gigantic and beautiful world. As far as I’m concerned, The Witcher 3 could be the first truly “next-gen” title; a game that demonstrates the power of the current-gen systems and a benchmark for developers of what to strive for. If this game isn’t on your radar now then it should be.

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