E3 2013: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt First Impressions Preview – It’s The Monster Mash!
Written Wednesday, June 26, 2013 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Hey! You over there! No, not you! Next to you! Did you hear that The Witcher 3 is going open-world? Course you bloody did, that’s probably all you’ve heard about the game thus far. That’s why we ventured forth into CD Projekt RED’s booth at this year’s E3 to see what exactly we could expect from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt… you know, aside from the fact it’s open-world.
Set in the aftermath of The Witcher 2, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt see’s Geralt’s world face an assault on two fronts: firstly, the Empire of the Nilfgaard has ravaged the Northern Kingdom and made life hell for its inhabitants. Meanwhile, the much more fearsome Wild Hunt – a group of spectral, armoured wraith-like beasts – are trudging through towns and villages, leaving nothing but destruction in their path.
We pick up the hands-off E3 demo with Geralt, our white-haired, gruff toned ‘Witcher,’ heading to the Norway inspired Skellig Island to meet up with a portly fella named Crach, who occupies the cliffside castle of Kaer Trolde. Geralt’s purpose is rather simple, he’s seeking information about Oalvik’s sole survivor of the Wild Hunt attack, a chap named Bjorn, and the bearded Crach has it. Looks like Geralt is heading to the town of Fayrlund.
Walking to and from the castle, that “hand-crafted” world aspect of the Witcher 3 that CD Projekt RED has been talking about non-stop is clear to see. Raiding parties leave the docks at the base of the epic castle, singing sea shanties as they head out, crows dive out of the rock face, villagers get on with their daily routines, it’s all rather awe-inspiring. You have to remember, this is a world with no loading times, a world where every AI has their own agenda, a world where the weather affects not only the ocean, but the community as well.
Fast traveling to a nearby fishing village, a village full of its own quests, farm settlements, a huge lake, an eerie forest with a huge mountain in the distance, incidentally a mountain you can climb, CD Projekt RED went in search of Bjorn. But wait, what’s that? Three bandits trying to force themselves into a house? Not on Geralt's watch. A quick blast of fire, a force push and a few swipes of the sword later and Geralt downs all three of them. Unfortunately for Geralt the chap being held captive in his own house informs him that they were Zeyman’s men, and that there will be consequences – something that CD Projekt RED is trying to really push in Wild Hunt.
On his way to Fayrlund, Geralt encounters some ruins and a campfire… and something is clearly awry here. Out of nowhere comes a huge 10-15 foot beast with the posture of a monkey, the face of a deformed bat, claws of a hawk and antlers of a deer. It’s what I imagine George Bush would look like with a hangover. Geralt ducks and weaves out of the way of the beast’s slow attacks, managing to deflect a hypnotism spell the first time around. The second time he’s not so lucky, as it limits his field of vision. In a matter of minutes though Geralt is able to cause enough damage to force him back to his lair.
It’s worth noting that CD Projekt RED went to lengths to point out that there are no bosses per se in The Witcher 3, only tougher and bigger enemies. Anyway, Geralt is able to use his monster hunting skills to track down the beast if he likes, but time is against him, so he makes his way to a camp to rest.
Here we get the chance to see the dynamic night/day cycle with an incredible time lapse sequence. Flicking from bright blue skies to stunning clear night skies fresh with twinkling stars, all the way to epic thunder and rainstorms and full moons, with the former creating choppy seas and the latter making the werewolves more powerful.
After meeting with Bjorn, CD Projekt RED was keen to take the demo in another direction – focusing on a side mission instead. In this instance, a villager, Arnult, was found dead, wrapped up in roots from a woodland spirit. While monster hunting took a backseat in The Witcher 2, in Wild Hunt, CD Projekt RED is looking at bringing it to the forefront of the title. With over 80 different types of monsters, each with their own tracks, clues and backstories, the Polish developer is aiming to take monster hunting to a new level in Wild Hunt. A good portion of its E3 demo was based on this.
Heading deep into the forest, Geralt looks for clues on what could have caused this abomination. Using his new ‘Witcher sense,’ Geralt sees smashed bones, scratches on a tree trunk to indicate a beast sharpening its claws and so on, coming to the conclusion it’s a Leshen – a male, very old beast, details of which can be found in Geralt’s “bestiary.”
Heading back to the village, Geralt is faced with a dilemma: negotiate a price with Sven who wants it killed; or speak to Harald who wants to worship it, as part of some age old tradition. And remember, each action has a consequence. On this occasion, Geralt chooses to see Sven about a price for killing it, but there’s a problem, the beast has “marked” a villager and until that marked individual is killed, the beast can never be felled. Using the Witcher sense, Geralt discovers the marked individual, indicated by some eerie birds flying overhead. The kicker? It’s Hilde, Sven’s girlfriend who’s marked, and after an exchange with Geralt, Sven decides to bite the bullet and sacrifice his girlfriend for the good of the village. You’ll find when venturing into The Witcher 3’s deeper lore that each monster has its own backstory, as mentioned earlier, but this should give you an indication of how it’s tied to the local villages and how it can dictate their customs, traditions and attitude.
In order to find the Leshen – a monster that’s one with nature, made of what seems to be tree roots, fresh with a skull for a head, with pokey antlers and huge claws – Geralt has to break the spell of sorts, tied to the Leshen with three totems – each of which is guarded by a pack of rabid wolves. Destroying the totems and their wolf guards was simple, defeating the Leshen though, a beast who summons more wolves and commands roots to come out the ground to devour you, well, that’s not quite so easy, and that’s where our demo ended.
There’s a reason why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt won our RPG of the Show, you know? And the above is it. The world is stunning, rich, varied and engaging; the depth in lore and attention to detail is nothing short of astonishing; and it’s the kind of game you just want to jump right into and not come out the other side until you’re a husk of your former self. We want to monster hunt, fight a whale, climb that mountain and take a swim in that lake. Not bad for a first look, right? Keep an eye on this one folks, things can only get better, surely.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is scheduled for a 2014 release on both next-gen platforms and PC.