With the recent announcement that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's next-gen remaster will be out late this year, I found myself asking whether or not the game still holds up to today's standards. After all, it has been seven years since CD Projekt Red's magnum opus first graced us with its presence, building upon what The Witcher and The Witcher 2 achieved with one of the most incredible open worlds of its time. It seems absurd that The Witcher 3 came out all the way back in 2015, the same year as long-forgotten titles like Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and that amazing open world Mad Max game (seriously, how was that game so good, and where's the forking sequel?). Thus, I set the task upon myself to replay it and see for myself whether this game is still as much of a classic as it was more than half a decade ago.
The first thing that I noticed booting up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on my PS4 Pro was that the loading times are just as ridiculous with the most recent updates as they were back in the day. I originally played the game on PC, pumping out Ultra Graphics and establishing pretty darn good load-times, but on console? Nah, on console this game takes a very long time to dive into, I'm talking minutes. Pleasantly, though, the game's polish shows almost immediately after the game has loaded. The graphics are just as gorgeous as they were back in the day (though, of course, The Witcher 3 has been surpassed by many modern open-world games at this point), with a consistent frame rate, great performance across the board, and an aesthetic that has stood the test of time.
Now, look, I do have to let you know a little something: I am a bit of a Witcher mega-fan, having read all of the books, watched the TV show (both seasons), movies, and played all of the games. I still think that The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is an under-rated classic that desperately deserves a new-gen remake, and am a staunch defender of the first Witcher game. Whilst that bad-boy had graphics and gameplay that was absolutely god-awful, it brought some incredibly interesting ideas to the table and told one of the best stories in any video game that would be considered its contemporary. This will, perhaps, bolden my evaluation of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt because, well, the game can really do no wrong in my mind.
With each passing hour that you play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, though, the true scale of this game become increasingly apparent. That White Orchard is just the game's starting area is unbelievable, to be honest, and some of those early-game side-quests really do stand out as a representation of what makes this game so darn good. It honestly feels like everything you can do in this grand open world has been hand-crafted to create an incredible sense of immersion and presence. Each character has a story, each plant has a purpose, each Gwent card is useful in some way or another. It amazing what CD Projekt Red managed to pull off with this game, honestly. It hasn't really been done since, except for perhaps by Rockstar with Red Dead Redemption 2, and it's equally as impressive now as it was when the game launched back in 2015.
The mainline quest itself is still incredibly impressive. I am still working my way through Velen, dealing with the Bloody Baron, finding the witch, visiting Oxenfurt, and to be honest it's just as engaging as ever. This is a story where you want to keep fighting your way through just to find out what's next, what's around that following corner, who are you going to meet down the road, what's Triss up to, where's Yennefer, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's just so much fun to follow Geralt's journey, and that goes all the more if you have played the other games as extensively as I have. Sadly, you can't import PC saves into PlayStation, perhaps this should be a feature they somehow make work in the remaster, it would be greatly appreciated.
Then we come to the gameplay itself, and that's where The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does admittedly start to feel its age. Whilst I am a huge defender of the game's combat (pun intended), I do start to see holes in the way that it works. The leveling up system is flawed and weirdly designed, as are the mutagens, the crafting is great but also convoluted and the moment-to-moment action can be a little clunky and unwieldy. The best way to play is defensive, dodging constantly and trying your best to use your signs strategically to slow your opponents down, inflict damage, or stun. Personally, I still have so much fun with this combat system and I love the gameplay loop associated with taking down bigger enemies, preparing for fights by brewing oils and potions, identifying your enemies weaknesses and exploiting them. It's incredibly engaging, deep, and fun.
This sadly cannot be said about the other components of gameplay. Interacting with objects, items, and people is still a bit clunky. You have to stand in very specific places to be able to activate things and you need to press the buttons on your controller very forcefully sometimes to get stuff to work. A lot of the menus feel very outdated now, and things like the fast travel system seem unnecessarily difficult. Riding your horse also feels very clunky, especially after playing hundreds of hours of Red Dead Redemption 2, but not so bad as to be unenjoyable, and a lot of the UI including how to activate items, consume a potion instead of just some food, and more, need way more explaining than they actually get.
In the end, though, it's all about answering that core question I posed at the beginning of this week's column. To answer my own question I would say the following: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is just as impressive, fun, and entertaining as it was seven years ago, despite showing its age in a number of ways. From the wonderful story to the wonderful gameplay to the wonderful world, there's nothing to hate here. It's big, bombastic and bold. It is incredibly beautiful, incredibly stylish and incredibly moody. This is one of the most immersive and impressive games to release in the 2010's, one of the best games of all time, and a game that I can't wait to launch properly back into once the remaster drops for new-gen consoles in late 2022. Honestly, if you haven't already, you've got to play this one!
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