Last week we were shown a hands-off presentation of The Witcher 3. It’s the same section of the game that was shown to journalists at E3 back in June.
After seeing The Witcher 3 I have a suspicion it’s something special. It’s much more than a prettier looking, more open version of The Witcher 2. It looks like a game by developers who finally have the experience and resources to make what they’ve always wanted: an open world RPG, full of choices with no right answers, the consequences of which can be brutal and far reaching.
It also has exploding crows.
Early in the presentation Geralt is walking through a cliff-hugging port town. It’s dotted with stern looking buildings that can stand against tall waves and strong winds. Around you groups of rough looking fishermen talk of their catch, a butcher chops meat under an awning in front of his shop, and galleys docked along the seawall rise and fall with each swell. As you take to sea in a small sailboat you pass galleys where sailors chant in time with their oar strokes. The details aren’t complex but because they’re so well handled the world feels lived in. Skyrim’s NPCs are stilted things that prevent me from being sucked into that world. When I get hands on with The Witcher I’ll be spending my time walking about the town searching out all CD Projekt’s deft touches.
Everywhere you go you stumble across something to hold your attention. Our guide mounted the hill to discover an eight-foot tall monstrosity that looked like a hairless, antlered bear. It looked up from its lunch - two recently-deceased campers - and charged us. It wasn’t part of a quest, it was simply in the world to be found.
The creature could turn bright day into pitch black night and used the darkness to get behind Geralt. With only a tiny circle of light surrounding Geralt’s feet he had only a second to dodge the fiend’s charges. It looked spectacular.
After a couple of deep slashes to its chest with Geralt’s sword, the monster used its day to night spell to run away. We were told that we could track the beast to its lair and kill it for a bounty. For what feels like the first time for the series, you are not constrained by the story but actually working as the monster-hunter Geralt is supposed to be. You explore the world, you hunt monsters, and you’re paid for it.
You won’t just stumble across monsters. Minor quests that won’t start a long chain but can be over in minutes can be found all over the islands you’re exploring. We saved some folk from bandits who were trying to break into their home. They thanked us and we were on our way.
Even these small quests have consequence. If you return to that shack later in the game you’ll find a burnt out ruin: a bandit reprisal for your violence.