For two games, Geralt – the eponymous Witcher, whose voice is like the low rumbling of thunder – has been a victim of the Wild Hunt. He was stricken by amnesia before the events of the first game, but now the pasty-faced, grey-haired White Wolf has recovered his memory and begins his own hunt for Ciri, his adopted daughter, the prize the Wild Hunt is chasing.
It’s a much more personal tale than either of the previous Witcher games, exploring Geralt’s history and relationships, both romantic and platonic, but it’s still vast in scope, and a great deal of effort has also gone into developing the dark fantasy world and its denizens. Despite his urgent quest, however, he’s still able to go off gallivanting and do what he does best: killing monsters.
Now he’s doing it in a huge, mostly open world, too. That means more monsters to kill, more nooks and crannies to explore for relics, alchemical ingredients and monster dens and more quests than you could possibly keep track of without a quest log. And it stands as a lesson in how to make an open world game that’s filled with compelling content instead of inane busywork.
Want more Witcher 3? Here are the best Witcher 3 mods.
There’s a common boast that the marketers of open world games make, concerned with the number of hours of content that these massive games contain. “Hundreds of hours,” they yell from the rooftops, and it seems to work, because more and more, folk have become obsessed with the idea that a £40 RPG needs to be a certain length to be worthwhile. Thus, open world games have been padded out with filler content to make them even longer.
The Witcher 3 bucks this trend, as CD Projekt Red have lavished the game with elaborate, twisting and turning quests everywhere you look. Instead of looking for collectibles or 20 bear skins, even the most mundane diversions usually involve hunting down legendary monsters and magical armour, rewarding players with an inventory full of treasures and, more importantly, some brilliant stories.
Even diversions like horse racing and Gwent, a collectible card game, respect a player’s time, offering valuable rewards without much faffing around. The horse races are some of the best ways to get saddles, blinders and saddlebags for Roach, Geralt’s loyal steed, while Gwent is an interesting time sink with a bunch of themed decks based around different armies, special cards and opponents everywhere.
The main quest sees Geralt searching for and eventually protecting his adopted daughter, Ciri, who also happens to be the subject of a prophecy and is the actual daughter of the Emperor of Nilfgaard, ruler of an expansionist, aggressive empire. He gets help from returning chums, like on again off again lover, Triss, on again off again lover, Yennefer, and just a good friend, Dandelion the bard, who narrates portions of the game.
If you’re not familiar with Geralt’s crew, not to worry. Knowledge of the previous games and the books is a boon, but detailed in-game biographies shore up any gaps, and there’s ample opportunity to get to know his old friends through major secondary quests.
The lines between different types of quests – there are main quests, secondary quests, monster contracts, treasure hunts and points of interest dotted all over the map – are thoroughly blurred, and they bleed into each other, transforming multiple quests of different tiers into a cohesive, compelling narrative. You never know when a simple monster contract is going to turn into something considerably more elaborate.
I was riding around on Roach, who has proved to be a handy companion when he’s not getting stuck or suddenly stopping and whinnying, looking for points of interest to explore. They can be found all over the world, and they can be anything from a monster nest that needs to be blown up to a bandit camp. Usually they are short diversions with a spot of combat, but sometimes they lead to tantalising treasures or the rescue of an NPC who will later become a shopkeeper with unique wares. In this instance, I’d just found a few monster dens, but my inventory was getting a bit full, so I headed to nearby village to sell some loot.
Most villages contain a signpost that allows you to fast travel to other signposts, which is convenient but also threatens to make the world a bit smaller. I rode there, because there’s always a chance of uncovering something interesting on a journey, and sometimes it’s simply nice to ride through the gorgeous landscape, admiring the striking skybox and rich, dark forests. Arriving at the village, I discovered that there was work for a Witcher.
A lot of locations host noticeboards where quests and monster contracts are pinned up, though many of them can also be embarked upon by simply overhearing a conversation. Usually the villagers don’t have a clue what the monster actually is, since they don’t know their manticores from their spirits of dead, miscarried babies (the difference is that the latter is infinitely more horrific and disturbing). Unfortunately, like all of the game’s quests, you’ll never know if it’s something you can tackle at your level until you accept it.
There’s no level scaling and while you’re expected to tackle the three main areas of Velen, Novigrad and Skellige in that order, that doesn’t mean that Velen only has low level quests. I walked around for 30 hours with a monster contract I got quite early on before I was able to actually handle it. The reason for this is that, after you’ve reached a certain point in the story, you’ll probably be jumping around between the three regions a lot, so each area has been furnished with quests and enemies that can be tackled later on. The downside of that is being stuck with loads of quests that you’ll have to wait for tens of hours to actually start.
Thankfully, the contract I picked up from this notice board was in my level range, and since I never turn down a good monster-slaying quest, I agreed to help. And because I’m a nice guy, I didn’t even make Geralt haggle for the reward.
Monster contracts tend to follow a particular formula, with Geralt first questioning people about the monster, tracking it and then killing it. The investigation usually reveals what species the monster is, and by reading the bestiary entry you can swot up on some lore and also find out its weaknesses. All monsters have to be killed with Geralt’s silver sword, while his steel sword is for the killing of humans, dwarfs, elves and animals, but beyond that they might be weak to a specific type of bomb, a magic spell (known as signs) or a particular oil that can be applied to the silver sword.