Many moons ago in 1986, a Polish sales rep called Andrzej Sapkowski penned a short story for a contest by the local sci-fi and fantasy magazine Fantastyka. The short was called The Witcher and it birthed a legend.
The Witcher (also translated as Hexer and Warlock) is one known as Geralt of Rivia. Witcher’s are taken in as children and subjected to harsh training and vicious potions which twist their bodies and minds, making them fearless and ferocious and often making them dead.
Those who survive are given further training in magiks and mysticism on the way to starting their lives as hunters of all ghosts and ghouls and goblins, all evil things which must be purged from the world.
Sapkowski’s original short spawned several collections and novels set in this fantasy universe, becoming one of the most well-known Polish authors of the 90s. This in turn led to a feature film and TV series in the early 2000s and the translation of his works into English and other languages.
And then in 2007 a small Polish videogame developer CD Project RED released their own take on the mythology in the first Witcher game – a massive action role playing game which arrived on PC in October 2007.
The Witcher was a huge game, and a massively ambitious one CD Project RED’s debut. And while it had more than its fair share of bugs and some awkward controls, it’s also one of the finest RPG’s of the last decade, particularly in the rich, deep world and the morally complex character of Geralt.
A sequel – The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings – followed in 2011 and expanded on the world even more with better gameplay and more polish. It was also the first to be ported to consoles, appearing on the Xbox 360 in April 2012.
Three years on, and it’s time to go back to this universe with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
It’s clear that CD Project RED has learned a lot from their previous games, with a focus on accessibility for Wild Hunt. That doesn’t meant the game will be watered down, but they know they have a chance at a major hit and want to make it open to as many players as possible.
Wild Hunt is coming to PC, Xbox One and PS4 and continues the story of an older and even more world-weary Geralt. He is on a personal quest this time, but gets drawn back into the fray when an otherworldly army known as the Wild Hunt threatens the land.
Geralt is nippier than ever for his new outing, finally gaining the ability to jump and vault in the environment. And this time he’ll also be taking on enemies with a crossbow, going swimming and using an expanded list of magical powers.
That’s just as well, because he has a lot of ground to cover. Wild Hunt features a massive map and an open world structure, letting you tool around wherever you want looking for missions.
And they’ll be more dynamic than ever – the developers have cited 100 hours of gameplay, split between story missions and secondary quests. You’ll come across the latter everywhere you turn, letting you decide between taking off in a new direction or pursuing the main story.
It may be a massive world but it’s also chock full of detail. Every area has a distinct geography and also dynamic weather and day and night cycles. Settlements emerge organically from the landscape and large cities dominate the skyline.
Thankfully, The Witcher has managed to maintain its personality even as the world becomes bigger. These denizens are as earthy and foul-mouthed as ever, with cursing dwarfs adding a very different vibe to most high fantasy.
It’s also reflected in the game’s unusually well-developed sense of humour, something which is necessary in a title of this size. Geralt isn’t the most patient of fellows, and dialogue trees will let you decide how to handle a situation, even if that means violence.
Choices and consequences remain of utmost importance in The Witcher. You can be sure that major storylines have branching moments (giving you a good reason to replay) but every action you take will see a reaction in the world.
That could mean anything from a character ignoring you if you’ve slighted him in the past to a whole settlement being wiped out because you failed in a significant mission. But this isn’t Mass Effect – the morality of The Witcher exists in constant shifting state of grey.
The wealth of what’s on offer in this game is pretty astounding, especially when we’ve become unused to titles which focus on a single-player experience. And we can’t wait to wade into this rich and deep world and lop off the head of a Griffin so we can mount it on the pommel of our horse for bragging rights.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is on PS4, Xbox One and PC from the 19th of May 2015.