PREVIEW: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

This week I had the awesome privilege of attending a Bandai Namco press event held at the world famous Jameson Distillery in Dublin. I had been to a similar event back in 2012, where the company showed off world exclusive footage of Dark Souls 2 and I remember being absolutely blown away by the sheer scale of that at the time. Well, this year the company have outdone themselves, by showing an EXCLUSIVE nine minute gameplay trailer of The Witcher 3, with commentary from the guys at CD Projekt.

The first thing I need to say is that I can completely imagine getting lost in this game for hours, days and probably weeks. The nine minute trailer went by in the blink of an eye and I was left hungry for more. The game world is simply staggering, but unlike other action RPG’s that feature huge robust game worlds, The Witcher 3 also boasts a strong, engaging main narrative, unique characters and real motivations to get behind.

Of course you can always leave that stuff to the wayside and venture off hunting wild creatures in the vast overworld, or perform quests for one of the many NPC’s roaming the lands. It’s the hunts that most fascinate me, taking a concept really solidified by the Monster Hunter series and turning it into something altogether more serious in tone. In the gameplay video shown, we were treated to a snippet of Geralt hunting a Griffin across the lush, expansive world in an attempt to slay it.

[img_big]center,11352,2014-07-10/6238_The_Witcher_3_Wild_Hunt_Ard_Skellig.jpg,Look at that dark and dank forest. Loads to hunt in there, for sure.[/img_big]

Using a feature called “Witcher Sense” the player was able to find tracks for the beast, leading deep into a group of trees. Sitting atop a rock, presumably munching down on the carcass of some prey, was the Griffin. The monster design was top class and when taken in alongside the visual fidelity of the game, scale of the open world and solid framerate shown, it really made me realise just how “Next-Gen” this offering truly is.

The player jumped into their menu and equipped a crossbow, purposefully changing out the bolts for a special type that splinter into three when fired. Apparently, the reason for this is that the weapon causes bleeding… thereby making it easier to track prey during one of the titular Wild Hunts. The player also equipped a mutagen, a potion that enhances Geralts abilities, but takes a long term toll on his humanity.

[img_big]center,11352,2014-07-10/6279_The_Witcher_3_Wild_Hunt_Igni_Fiend.jpg,Luckily gigantic stag like beasts have an innate weakness towards bursts of flame![/img_big]

With the weaponry set up, the player took a potshot at the beast, nailing it square on its hind quarters. It roared in agony and catapulted into the air. Geralt sprung from his hiding place and sprinted after the creature as it disappeared into the sky. Geralt sprinted from out of the treeline and into a small stream. The lighting change in this section truly blew me away. As the player lost sight of the beast, he slowed down before entering a much darker, swamplike wooded area.

It was here that we got a glimpse at an NPC interaction. Some bandits were harassing a fine young maiden… something Geralt seemed most displeased about. The commentator explained that one player could simply ignore this side quest, while others can choose to get involved and help the lady out. Geralt took out his sword and challenged the bandits. Combat looks like an interesting affair, where having more than one enemy in close proximity is cause for alarm.

[img_big]center,11352,2014-07-10/6244_The_Witcher_3_Wild_Hunt_Combat_In_Skellige.jpg,Bandits are no match for Geralts mighty sword. Unless they gang up on him…[/img_big]

When facing a foe one on one, the player can use guarding, dodging and parrying to truly get into the spirit of a proper duel. The mo-capped combat animations look absolutely fantastic and really add a believability and weight to swordplay. After disposing of those less than savoury, unwanted house guests we were treated to a short conversation between Geralt and the lady he just saved. He warned her that more bandits might be in the area and informed her that he may return after slaying the Griffin.

The developers made it clear here that you are under no obligation to return to this NPC. You won’t be penalised and it won’t hover about in your quest log constantly serving as a reminder that you should “get back to that”. It’s just something you can do if you genuinely feel like it and you never know what new scenarios might arise in the aftermath. Geralt took off once again, using his Witcher Sense to track the blood stains from the wounded Griffin. Coming out into a rocky mountainous area, we could see the Griffin seated atop a cliff nursing its wounds.

[img_big]center,11352,2014-07-10/The_Witcher_3_Wild_Hunt_View_From_The_Cliff_1402422290.png,Bandai Namco say it’s the largest Open World ARPG ever. Wow![/img_big]

Geralt gets into position and fires another series of bolts at the beast. This time however, it decides to stand its ground instead of fleeing. The Griffin launches into the air and slams into the ground a few feet from Geralt. It begins circling the Witcher, carefully biding its time before launching an attack. Geralt dodges and responds with a close up, devastating crossbow blast. This give and take approach to combat reminded me a lot of the “Souls” series, where gauging enemy animations is important as knowing the timing of your own move-set.

The video ended with a cutscene of Geralt riding back into a town, with the Griffin’s head dangling from the side of his horse. I cannot hid my excitement about this game any longer. It looks like the open world RPG I’ve waited all my life for. It’s got body, character and great design abound. CD Projekt Red have really grown over the years, as has The Witcher series but judging from the video I was shown – it’s growing in all the right ways.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt releases in February 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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