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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

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Gameplay:

There are a number of points to cover and I think I will start with the basics of combat this time. Like in the previous Witcher games, Geralt has two swords: one steel and one silver. The steel sword is for non-monsters, like humans and animals, while the silver is meant for killing monsters, like wraiths and necrophages. When combat begins, Geralt will pull out the correct sword for the fight, so unless there are multiple types of enemies in the area, chances are you can just trust his selection. In case you are not sure which is best to use, look at the color of an enemy's health bar; red means you should use the steel sword, and white means silver.

Once drawn, you initially have just two attacks, a fast attack and a strong attack, which you switch between with Shift [editor's note: or map to a button]. Personally I just stuck with the fast attacks to keep things simple. Eventually, abilities can be unlocked to add new attacks. Depending on the enemy, you can block attacks with your swords. You can also counterattack these enemies, and it may be possible to counter the attacks of even more, including monsters. Never really tested counters against monsters, because I preferred to dodge attacks when I could. There are actually two ways to dodge, and I used the probably less-intended option. You can press the Alt button, which is a nice step away, or use the Space bar to leap out of the way. I have an easier time hitting Space, so that is what I went for, which came at a cost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along with your health, you also have Stamina and Adrenaline to consider during a fight. Stamina is used for running and leaping around with Space, but also for the five Signs: Aard, Axii, Igni, Quen, and Yrden. Without any modifications, Aard pushes people and objects; Axii affects target's minds, giving dialogue options or stunning enemies; Igni sets targets ablaze; Quen is a shield; and Yrden is a trap that slows enemies. You can only use a sign if you have full Stamina, so leaping around delays when I can activate any of them.

Quen is naturally very useful, as it should protect you from at least one blow from most enemies. Some enemies appeared strong enough to actually destroy the shield and still hit you, but normally if an enemy can destroy the shield, it will do so and leave you unhurt. Sometimes the shield will be strong enough to take multiple hits. Igni is useful, depending on the enemy and if they are vulnerable to fire. Yrden can be a game changer, especially if you are fighting wraiths. Normally these enemies are in an incorporeal form it is hard to damage, but once within the area of Yrden, they become a solid target to strike. Axii is most useful outside of combat, as it can let you calm tense situations in dialogue sequences. In combat, the stun it applies can give you the time you need to reposition and attack behind an enemy's defenses. Aard I almost never used, but it is necessary for destroying some breakable walls.

 

All of the signs can be given new powers by investing points in abilities. For example, normally Igni is just a blast of fire, but with the right ability, Geralt can emit a continuous stream at his enemies.

Adrenaline points are acquired during a fight and will increase the damage you do. They are also used as a resource for some abilities, such as allowing them to be used instead of Stamina for casting Signs. One ability will also convert a point into health if Geralt is about to die.

Ability points are gained by leveling up, but also by visiting Places of Power. Except for the access to points, the player's level has no impact on what abilities are available to them. Instead you just have to invest enough points into a tree to advance to the next level. This can mean you will be investing points into abilities you have no intention of using, just so you can get to one you want.

 

 

To actually make an ability available to use, you will have to place it in a slot on the right side of the Character screen. There are a total of 12 ability slots, and these unlock as you level up. Leveling up also unlocks the slots for Mutagens. These are items you collect from some monsters and come in three varieties, red, green, and blue, which match the three main ability trees. Red mutagens give you bonus damage, and this is multiplied by the number of red abilities you have slotted next to it. Green increases health, similarly based on the number of green abilities, and blue increases Sign intensity.

That covers quite a bit actually, and also brings me to the first real criticism I have for the gameplay. Mutagens come not only in three colors, but can also be tied to the monster you killed to get it, such as a Griffon Mutagen. While these mutagens will behave like the base mutagens when equipping them, they do not act like them in Alchemy, so the formulas to combine lesser mutagens into more powerful versions cannot be used on them. Why there is no way to convert a special mutagen into the appropriate lesser mutagen, I do not know. At the very least, the special mutagens could at least come with varying levels, but no, they all come at the lowest mutagen level.

The only use these special mutagens have in Alchemy is in Decoctions, which are special potions that have long lasting effects, and can be very powerful. Some of these decoctions will cause you to do more damage to certain enemies, and also take less damage from them. These effects will last for half an hour, as opposed to regular potions that only last seconds or a few minutes, without significant upgrades.

All of the items you create through alchemy, including potions, decoctions, oils for your swords, and bombs, have a limit to how many you can carry at once, but upgraded versions will typically let you carry more. (Decoctions have no upgrades.) To refill any of these to their maximum value, you just have to meditate for any length of time. At the end of it, strong alcohol in your inventory will be used to craft more. Why alcohol replenishes bombs, I do not know, but hey, the system works pretty well as you do not have to manually purchase or make more when you run out.

 

In addition to the issue I mentioned above with Alchemy, there are two more to do with it and the Crafting system. Both boil down to the systems being deep in scale, but not in implementation. To craft a bomb, for example, you need certain components, and it will tell you how much you have of each. If there is one you do not have enough of, you have to search through the menu to see if you can make more or go to another menu to see if you can purchase more, assuming you are at a store that also lets you access the Alchemy menu. In my opinion, it really should be possible to just click on the missing components in the formula, and from there be able to make more, if possible, or purchase more, if available.

For both the Crafting and Alchemy systems, the systems themselves possess many levels, but the player is only able to look at one tier at a time, and I found this to be very frustrating, especially as the length of the lists involved can get so large. There are probably several pages to both lists for me now, and I have to scroll through them to find the one item I want, only to scroll to another item to see if I can make it, then scroll again to see if I can make the components I need for that, finding I do not have the components for that, so I have to go to a shop, purchase the supplies, and then, because it is a different menu, I have to do all the scrolling again. Yes that is a run-on sentence for a run-on process.

 

 

The other issue I have with both the Crafting and Alchemy systems is that there is no information about most of the components in them. Sure, bear hides are going to be found with bears, but which monsters have a chance of dropping monster tongues? Some might, but when I needed them I did not have any. Instead I had a special variant of tongues, like the special mutagens mentioned before, except that these special tongues can be dismantled into normal monster tongues. That, however, is done on a different menu, so the run-on returns.

Further complicating the process is that some resources are only in certain areas. Certain plants can only be found here and certain monsters only spawn there. Where are these locations? You will find them when you are there, or in a guide, but nowhere else because the game offers no information for where to find them. Hopefully we will see a mod or an update in the future that adds this information, because there is at least one potion I would like to make, but flat out cannot because I have no idea where to find one of the components in it. Very few shops sell it either, and you cannot know which shops have it until you actually visit them. There are reasons why, when I realized I had the money to do so, I just sat at an alchemy shop and went between it and the Alchemy menu to make every single thing I could while I had the shop resources handy.

 

Luckily, those are legitimately the only significant criticisms I have for the gameplay that take more than a couple sentences, but there are still a few to share. One is that Geralt likes to soft-lock onto enemies, which would be fine, except he will swap targets without reason, avoiding a killing blow, and it interrupts trying to run away sometimes. Another is that nowhere in the game or in the documentation I have searched does it state that F5 quick-saves. It may be the standard button for quick-saving, as quick-saving is not a standard feature across games, so it should really be stated somewhere. (It is a pet peeve of mine whenever games lack thorough and accessible documentation like this, but that is a rant for another time and not in a review.)

I am not sure if there is a quick-load button, but I know it is not F9. Given how long it can take to load a save game, I would be fine if that functionality does not exist. Also, loading a save game usually causes a motion comic to run, reminding you of the state of the story for the region you are in (so not always the most up-to-date information). There is no way to skip the motion comics, or at least none that I found, and it does get annoying to hear the same words spoken over and over again each time you reload for any reason. (By the way, Dandelion is the narrator for these, but it is later revealed to be a much older Dandelion, recounting these stories of the past, which is why the voice sounds completely different from the in-game character.)

 

Getting a bit back on track, how about I talk about travel? In addition to just walking and running around the world, you can call in your horse Roach. Actually Geralt calls every horse he rides Roach, but because the one that appears always carries the equipment you put on him, it must be the same one. This equipment would be saddlebags to increase the amount of loot you can carry, saddles to increase the horse's stamina, and blinders to increase its fear level. If you come across enemies while on the horse, it can become afraid and will actually throw you, which is not good. Stamina is necessary for sustaining a gallop, which is very important in races. The saddlebags are necessary as they are the only way to increase the weight you can carry, which is the only limiting factor on your carrying capacity.

At times you may need to cross water, and for that you can hop into a boat and set sail. Apparently Witchers can control the weather, because no matter the direction you want to go, the wind will take you there, and in reverse, too. There are a few issues with boats, concerning getting in and out of them. The problem with getting into the boat is that Geralt has a problem jumping in waist-high water. It appears that this is just not allowed, so if you parked a boat in shallow water, you are not able to get into it, because he cannot jump. This also goes for any piers you may be able to walk up to from the water. Needless to say, this is quite annoying and in one case, I effectively lost a boat because I no longer could enter it.

 

 

The other issue is still frustrating, but less a problem. When you are in the boat and enemies come to attack you, you are able to pull out your crossbow and attack with that. Until Geralt puts the crossbow away, you cannot exit the boat, and he only puts it down on a timer. So, if you were coming up to some point of interest and enemies appear, you will have to wait a bit after killing them all before you can do anything. That is unless you leave the rudder first, and just stand on the boat, shooting at the enemies. (If they come low enough, you can also hit them with your sword.)

The points of interest I have mentioned a few times now are at first shown on the map as question marks. When you go over to them they will be revealed as things like Places of Power, cave entrances, abandoned sites you can clear out and people will return to, and monster nests, among others. The monster nests are spawn points for monsters, so you can usually expect a fight near any of them, and once you have explosive bombs, you will be able to destroy them and loot them for various items you may not find elsewhere. Even though their marks on the map will gray out, indicating they have been dealt with, the nests will respawn, which is actually a good thing in my opinion, provided you know that (as you now do). This means they can be farmed, to a degree, for items like glyphs and runes to enhance your swords and armor, as well as mutagens.

(There really is a lot to cover for this game.)

I should mention the Witcher gear sets. These are crafting diagrams, and the gear they make, associated with the School of the Cat, Griffin, and Bear. The Cat makes light armor, Griffin medium, and Bear heavy, although they also each have swords. What makes these sets interesting is that you can upgrade these items, once you find the better diagrams. This makes them especially useful, because you can reliably upgrade them as you progress, and know you have some good gear, too. Plus, they look pretty cool. One thing that is a little weird is that the mastercrafted armor of all three (the top tier versions) all offer the same armor value, but different special stats. I was really expecting the armor values to appreciate the different armor types, but apparently not, unless that is a small bug to be fixed. At least, as it is now, you can pick the special stats and visuals you like without sacrificing armor.

 

 

I think I have covered everything now, or at least everything I think I want to, so I can talk about the playtime, which is a little more involved than just giving a number. The game does record playtime internally, and can be viewed by opening the inventory and pressing the C button for character stats. I looked at it occasionally as I played and just before I went to the final mission, I made a save so I can access anything I may have lost access to by ending the story. That save says I played for 6 days, 7 hours, and 41 minutes. After completing the story, the new save said 5 days and 58 minutes. Obviously there is a bug here. What I am going to do is trust that 6 day value because it makes sense. With how much time I know I put in each day that seems right to me. That 5 day value is not completely wrong. I looked at the times on the two save files and the difference is about an hour (more than the 58 minutes, but I doubt the game counted the credits rolling as playtime).

So, the playtime I am going to go with, for a single playthrough, with every side mission except those concerning the Gwent card game, some horse racing, some boxing matches, and a lot of points of interests not done in Skellige (but all but one of them done everywhere else) comes to 152 hours, and 39 minutes. That puts it near the top of the list for playtime in my game library, at least according to Steam. (My copy of Wild Hunt is a GOG copy, so it will not appear on the list if you try looking for it.) At a $60 price that comes to about $0.40 per hour for a single playthrough. Of course that time will vary with playstyle, but it can also be multiplied by multiple playthroughs, and I know I am planning on at least one more using a different Witcher 2 save.

In summary, the gameplay does have issues, but is overall very solid and fun, and I am looking forward to jumping into it again, as soon as I can. If I did not have to stop to write this review, I probably would have started that other playthrough already.




  1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Introduction
  2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Graphics
  3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Story
  4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Gameplay
  5. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Conclusion
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