The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Impressions

The nice thing about going to see CD Projekt RED's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is that my primary concern is no longer if the game will actually be good - but merely how good. I've seen the company's swing at what they describe as a 'truly epic RPG' multiple times before at past shows, and by this point, I know the score. In truth, I'm here to interview a member of the team - but another live demo of the game can't hurt.

The Witcher 3's towns and cities look pretty amazing.

It looks and runs great, and every time I see it, the game seems to look a little better and run a little smoother. It's massive - every time I see it, an entirely different area of the game is shown off. Mechanically, it seems to have satisfying combat with a Batman: Arkham Asylum-style combo and counter system layered atop what appears to be incredibly deep RPG number crunching and equipment juggling.

In that respect, The Witcher 3 feels like the ultimate Western RPG. CD Projekt are a company who are so proud of their RPG-making lineage that they mark their territory with the slogans 'Play your Role' and 'We are Rebels' on studio paraphernalia, and yet the company is unafraid to mix the traditions which define the genre that made them with influences from other arenas - and that's a good thing.

Combat in The Witcher 3 looks slick and smooth, with a sort of driving tempo to it that makes the awesome vocal that kicks in as combat ratchets up a notch really complete it; it's musical combat, in a sense - there's a real rhythmic manner to the way the player is driven to move Geralt, and when his blade finally cleaves through the bone and whips an arm loose with the awesome dismemberment system, it practically feels in time with the wailing of the singer. 

Combat may appear more action and twitch oriented, but none of the exploration or depth of the RPG appears lost with that. The premise of our demo actually picks up directly from the far more public demo given at the Microsoft E3 2014 press conference, with Geralt carrying the head of the beast he'd slain back to the nearby city of Novigrad. He turns in the quest for the beast's head, and that leads off in new directions in his greater quest to track down a white-haired mystery lady.

Big or small, all enemies are said to be challenging.

We get a glimpse of just about all of what makes The Witcher 3 so impressive here. There's a branching quest system in place, with dialogue trees and optional directives to complete, and the city of Novigrad itself just looks utterly ridiculous. This is the PC version running on high-end hardware, after all, but it still looks stunning.

It's huge, with a ton of NPCs, and what duplication of characters there obviously will be is clearly very cleverly hidden, as I struggle to pick out two identical NPCs from the throng of people Geralt passes.

The quest the in the demo drags Geralt across the land - a journey that it's claimed would take a good fifteen to twenty minutes manually by horse. As such, the developers in charge hop to the destination via fast travel, which has points activated at signposts as you naturally explore - thus, you have to explore a place for real before you can fast travel there.

Again, the game's beauty is on display when we hop out of fast travel. Out of the city, we're now in a lush mountainous region and after a few moments are helping out a mute character who is surprisingly well-animated, with particularly striking eyes as he wildly gesticulates what he needs from Geralt. 

Soon enough we're fighting again, with gigantic bird-beasts an opportunity to show off a new addition to Geralt's arsenal, a Crossbow. Aimed with third person shooter style controls, the player can still trigger a bit of slowdown to help with aiming - because reloading on such a weapon is a timely process. 

Also deployed throughout combat are a suite of spells that'll be familiar to Witcher fans. Yrden lays magical traps enemies can stumble into, Quen offers a one-hit shield, Igni sets things ablaze, Axii charms or stuns, and Aard blasts air to knock enemies back. All seem pretty effective, and the particle effects some of the spells trigger are, again, a great showcase of what new hardware is allowing CD Projekt to accomplish. 

The game appears thick in satisfying atmosphere.

While combat itself is more action-based, many of the systems that'd made it more difficult in previous entries remain. A good player will still want to meditate and prepare before battle, and if you're the type to use potions to aid you, toxicity - poisoning - is still a major concern.

Some aspects of the demo stun because they genuinely shock a bit. With the world as expansive as it is, I'd almost expected CD Projekt to skip out on any underwater hijinks, but then Geralt dives beneath the waves to explore underwater - that grabs me. What grabs me more, though, is the clever, subtle and unintrusive way in which things like level-ups and quest updates pop in the UI - the type of design that, replicated across the board, can create a truly great game.

There's a lot about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to write home about, and based on my brief 45 minutes with the game I could wax lyrical for quite some time more, but I shall stop here. This is the kind of game that really has to be experienced first-hand, and I can only hope that come February, when we all get our hands on it, it lives up to the incredible footage CD Projekt keeps treating us to pre-launch.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is due out on February 24th, and is available for pre-order now. There'll be a full RPG Site review closer to launch. We've also got a great new interview about the game.