Game Review: Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt for PS4

My time in Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt can be summed up as vast chunks of time spent skipping through the woods picking flowers and admiring the countryside and clouds, intermittently interrupted by occasional bouts of what-the-fuckery. Sometimes, these bouts were events one should expect in a fantasy game, such as accidentally kicking over a ghoul’s nest or tripping on a griffin, but I often came across glitches or outright crashes that gave me pause. Other times, I had troubles with the controls, or with the sometimes dumb rules of the crafting system. None of these are really deal breakers that make this a bad game, but they will be brought up in my review. So if you’re looking for a totally glowing review, this won’t be it. No, I’m here to get nitpicky and anal, even as I admit this here is a pretty game. Oh so very, very pretty.

Before I get started, I will admit this is sort of my first foray into the Witcher world. I say sort of because hubby has played the previous two games, and I sometimes watched over his shoulder. I can’t say much about those games because what little I saw didn’t pull me in and make me want to play them. But I do distinctly recall the moment that I saw one of the early game play trailers for Witcher 3 and watched a pack of wolves moving together to cut off Geralt’s escape, and I thought, “Well if that’s in the actual game, it’ll be brilliant.”

And it is, to a certain degree. (Even if that trailer completely lied and wolves never do what they did in the trailer.) Enemies of all types feel like they have actual intelligence, working together and planning attacks to flank and back stab in a way that makes every fight feel tense and challenging. So I rather like that, and I feel I should bring it up right away. It’s a shame this does not carry over to allies, but I’ll get to that later. This praise also doesn’t apply to enemies that suddenly glitch and become derpy, which happens frequently enough that it should be mentioned. The combat controls too will deserve their own separate rant. This is a long review, is what I’m saying.

The story in this third installment is that Geralt of Rivia is hired to find his adopted daughter Ciri, who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt, a group of supernatural elf baddies who dress in skeletal armor and command frosty elemental magic. Along the way, everyone who has information on Ciri will first ask Geralt to do something for them in exchange for their information, and almost all of these side quests branch out into their own little stories, some of which are really interesting. But mostly, they’re repetitive and dull, and the pattern of delaying tactics never alters throughout the game. Every scene is like:

Geralt: “Will you just answer one simple fucking question so I can be on my way?”
NPC: “Aye, but first you must kill this beastie for me. To do that, you’ve got to question the locals, find some herbs, track the trail of corpses…blah blah blah…”
Geralt: “Motherfucker.”

(Actually, that last line may have been me speaking for Geralt as he never says motherfucker, even if he does say fuck a lot. I consider it one of his better qualities.)

It’s this repetitive and completely uninspired pattern that had me burning out every few days. I would drop the game and go days or even weeks without playing it because I was sick and tired of doing the same shit over and over again. This is a damn crying shame, because the game is so very pretty. I know I normally say this about all games I review, and good graphics are becoming easy as a passing grade for everyone whether they do a 3D game, or 2D, or 2.5D. But even so, this game is so very pretty. I didn’t even take my horse during most missions in the first 75 hours because I just wanted to run from field to field, admiring the sky, the fields, the buildings. I’d stop in interiors and gush to my husband about the design and layout, and how nothing feels out of place. I’d marvel at the details in the villagers, in their animations, in the detail in their faces. Even the ugly NPCs are beautiful to me for their diversity of shapes and sizes. (But not colors.) And the water. MY GOD THE WATER.

The music is glorious and nicely varied. I never heard any one track long enough to get tired of it, and I deeply appreciate the company shipping the soundtrack on a separate CD for me to listen to without playing the game. It’s really so good that during combat, I hated having to kill the monsters and cut off the song early. I hung out in pubs just to listen to the bards playing. I stopped to listen to street performers. Vital mission? Fuck that, I’m stopping to listen to these dudes jam out. This is music so good, I want to igni my thumb and wave it back and forth.

Combat is where the flaws begin to show precisely because it’s such an inconsistent experience. In certain fights, there’s a fluid quality to combat where I’m rolling Geralt smoothly from one foe to the next, making up lovely combos of heavy and light attacks before dodging or parrying and finally slicing some dude neatly in half. (Which rarely failed to elicit an “Oooh” or an “Eeeew” from me depending on how close the camera got to a slaughtered enemy.) When everything is working right, it’s fun. It does, however become tedious quickly, and there’s nothing the game does to prevent this. Most games have some progression system where you’re getting new abilities or combos to keep things from getting stale. But Witcher 3’s design team doubles down on their dull system, like, “Not only will you do the same fights over and over, but we’ve padded the story to send you out for at least 100 hours of the same old shit.”

This doesn’t cover when the controls simply don’t work and Geralt suddenly handles like a tank with a busted tread. If I’d had a gold coin for every time I shouted, “Will you fucking dodge already?” I’d have enough gold for Geralt to retire and hire someone else to find Ciri for him. At times, all the buttons just stop working, and this is true after multiple patches, and after an alternate control scheme was added. Combat is buggy and the controls are awful far more often than they’re smooth and responsive. Going into every fight was a little tense. Will the controls work? Or will they try to fuck me over again?

And sometimes, combat has rules that make no fucking sense whatsoever. Your ability to make signs, basic fucking hand gestures, is tied into your stamina. “Oh no, I’m too winded from running to make metal horns.” WTF. And then there’s the even stupider rule that you can’t use your sword or hand signs underwater, but you can use a fucking crossbow. (Pop quiz: what is the single biggest weakness for ancient crossbows? That’s right kids, FUCKING WATER.) I’d understand if I couldn’t fire off igni and yrden, but aard and axii were okay, but choosing to deny me basic hand gestures while giving me a weapon that shouldn’t work at all underwater? Only in a video game does this kind of stuff pass muster.

When Geralt is paired with someone else, his allies have zero intelligence and efficacy. It’s a good thing that most are nigh-indestructible, because they often get surrounded by enemies and flail in one spot with attacks that apparently do -1 damage. It could be worse, and they could stick on doors or be fragile and die every few minutes. But that doesn’t mean they’re good or useful.

And that navigation system! I want to appreciate it for the fact that at least it points me toward my goals without making me have to guess where to go, but I might be more grateful if the fucking dots didn’t randomly change their path to the exact opposite direction and send me back the way I came before swapping back again. At times like this, I’d go to the map in the hopes of at least finding a waypoint marker, and even that wasn’t guaranteed. There should be one somewhere on the map, but sometimes it just goes on a coffee break. Check back later and it will be there. But not now, not when I fucking need it.

We haven’t even gotten to the story or to the many troubling aspects of the game. The story is “Our princess is in another castle,” and every time, just to enter the castle and meet the toad who tells you this requires 30-40 hours of real world time spent doing mind numbing busy work. When you finally do get to meet that toad, it will trigger a flashback so you can play as Ciri. I hated this because Ciri has no powers, no potions, and is pitted against floods of enemies that I was never sure if I was supposed to fight them all or just dash past. Sometimes the game wants me to do one thing, or sometimes it wants the other. But it’s never very clear what I’m supposed to do with her. Frankly, I’d have rather just sat through a longer cut scene than put up with these sections.

Also, this game is an escapist fantasy only for straight white males. If you’re a person of color, the closest you get to representation is a mention of a Middle Eastern-like desert country, Zerrikania, and never any actual sign of said Zerrikanians. Oh, you can find their equipment scattered around. But trying to find a dark-skinned person in the game is impossible. It’s also kind of telling that Geralt is himself the whitest special snowflake in the game, and that his whiteness is so special that even covered in scars, other white people call him pretty.

(And don’t hand me shit about “Well it’s set in X region, where there aren’t any people of color.” This is a fantasy game written by modern people whose premise is that a confluence of dimensions dropped elves, dragons, and fucking vampires into the region. It shouldn’t be that much more of a stretch to put in some human-like race that’s dark-skinned. And while it’s fair to say it’s not outright racism, it is completely ignorant of its own whiteness overload in a time when gamers have been discussing this for well over a decade. Tone deaf? Oh hell yeah.)

But this is one game where you may be glad not to see your people represented, because if they were in the game, the white men would treat them like shit. Worse, the game is making you rescue the murdering, raping, racist, sexist white men from the end of the world. Halfway through the game, I was debating just stopping and pretending the whole world died because they all fucking deserve it.

“Oh Zoe, I’m sure you’re exaggerating how bad it is,” you say. No, I’m really not. As an example, let me tell you about Whoreson Junior, a character I’m meant to track who is working for King Radovid. The king tells me this guy is in a castle up the way with a bevy of whores.

“I’m told he doesn’t treat the women well,” the king says.

UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE FUCKING CENTURY.

I get to said castle and sneak inside to find Whoreson’s room, and outside in the hall is a dead prostitute tacked to the wall with daggers through her wrists. This is enough to certify that this Whoreson Junior is a Very Bad Man, yes?

NO.

I walk inside the room, and there’s a bathtub with no less than four dead prostitutes with their throats slit, another lying dead on the table in front of the bad guy in question, another on the bed, and yet another swinging from the fucking rafters. This isn’t overkill. It’s straight up fucking ludicrous how much rape and murder had to be put on display for ONE FUCKING GUY. Hitler would walk in on this display and go, “Oh wow…I am impressed, ya?” But I think most women gamers will walk in on it and say, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

That’s just one scene, yo. Listen in on the menfolk of the game talking, and you hear boasts of rape all the time. There’s a scene early on where a trio of soldiers threaten you in a bar. You can intimidate them easily enough, but just stand there and listen, and you’ll hear one brag about raping a child. Was it a boy or a girl? Hell, they didn’t know, and they didn’t care. It was just a hole to fill. HAHAHAHAAA…aaaah, good times.

This problem with women in the game is so blatant that when I saw a slim chance of putting a woman on the throne in one of the kingdoms late in the game, I dropped everything else to make sure she was crowned. I just wanted somehow to make this world a little less dickish before I left it. (And incidentally, it turns out she’s the best ruler for the land, and the only surviving male who might have led is a fucking idiot with bigger fists than his brain.)

Most of the women in this world are just rape fodder, and even the most powerful sorceresses are at the “mercy” of the men. Ciri may seem the most empowered because you get to play her, but she’s running from men, and has to be rescued by a man. Like I said, this isn’t an escapist fantasy for anyone except straight white dudes. (“But what about–?” Gays are abominations in this world, as explained by a gay character early on. “Gotcha, Zoe.”)

But it’s not all misogyny all the time. There’s room for superstition and hatred against pagans, witches, and magi, too. Once I’ve rescued all the witches and magi and gotten them away from the witch hunters, the cultists in charge go, “Hmmmm, well we HAVE to burn something…DWARVES AND ELVES. YES, LET’S GO MURDER THE NON-HUMANS NEXT.” These are the people I’m saving from doom, y’all. I’d much rather help the bad guys kill them all.

This is a complaint I had with Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it’s just as valid here. The more I learn of this world, the less I want to be the savior of these people. I want to lose and have them all destroyed. They all fucking deserve it. It’s not just the royal shits at the top. It’s the soldiers tormenting the villagers and the peasants spitting on anyone not like them. It’s all the snide fucking comments all the fucking time. How is this escapist fantasy? “The whole fucking world is awful and stupid, now go rescue it from evil.” How about the whole evil world unfucking itself for a change of pace and I just go fishing? (Oh, but I can’t, because the fishing rod isn’t an item I can equip. It’s just there to be broken into scrap and crafted.)

Before I move on, there is one complaint I’ve seen in other reviews that I feel requires contradicting. I’ve seen people say, “Geralt is a womanizer himself.” Well actually, it is possible to play the game so that Geralt is completely faithful to only one woman. If you as the player had him running around fucking all the sorceresses and hookers, that’s not really on Geralt, is it? YOU choose to play him that way, and then you chose to complain how awful it was that you had the option to be a shithead. No, man, that complaint doesn’t fly, especially not in a game world where you had the choice to be better and you chose to be just as pathetic as the other people in the game.

Having said that, I chose to be faithful to Yennefer, and oh my God, I wish I’d chosen to dump her ass as soon as possible. Even after I’ve bent over backwards to help her, she remained a moody, overbearing, abrasive shrew who spends more time berating Geralt and everyone else to do her bidding than she ever does acting even remotely romantic. By the end of the game, I was lamenting, “I should have chose Triss.” Triss is a much less demanding character, and the missions she asks Geralt to take on, she ASKS for his help, not demands it. Even the questionable missions she takes for money are for a good reason, in that she needs the money to organize an underground railroad operation to keep complete strangers safe. Triss is fucking awesome, and Yennefer is a self-centered self-absorbed harpy. She makes me wish I had cheated on her at every turn. Like, I had a sweet chance to see lots of bewbs, and I gave it up for THIS? I was robbed, man.

Oh, and there’s a random recurring comment in several reviews about Keira’s dress and how “it practically invites you to undress her with your eyes.” Um…dudes, do you not remember that less than a minute after meeting her, she gets naked and lets you look at her boobs before joining you on your quest? Or were you just not mentioning it because it’s spoilers?

Well let me go ahead and spoils several moments in the game, then. “Beeeeeeewbs. Look, more bewbs. Old lady bewbs. Pert young lady bewbs. Satyr bewbs! Elf bewbs! Beeeeeeeeeewbs!” And not a single dick in sight to balance all this bewbage out. I feel cheated. I wanted to see dong at least once, man.

So, the crafting system…I’ll just give one example and move on. I find out early on that recovering potions requires alcohol, any strong spirit. Which is stupid, but okay, at least I don’t have to keep looking for the same herbs over and over, right? Right, so I look for alcohol recipes. And without fail, every recipe is “one empty bottle and one bottle of alcohol plus some herbs.” This is the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in a crafting system, EVER. Given how often vodka is mentioned in the game, would it have killed them to have me crafting potatoes, yeast, and sugar into an actual spirit? Why does making alcohol require alcohol? Shouldn’t it require yeast and sugar? I’m not expecting total realism with a two year wait for fermentation and distillation, but fuck me, alcohol recipes require an empty bottle and a bottle of alcohol? That’s…I literally can’t even, y’all.

This crafting system is just…it’s another headache in a game already jam-packed full of them. I can’t just buy a suit of armor. First I have to buy or find the plans. Then I have to find someone of a sufficient skill level to build it. Then I have to gather all the fucking supplies to make it, and then I can pay to have it made…oh, I don’t have enough gold because repairs of my shitty equipment is taking all my money? Well let me go steal some shit and try to avoid combat until I can sell enough stuff to buy one stupid fucking piece of equipment. After I’ve got a cuirass secured, I have to do this for my pants, for my gloves, for my boots, and both my fucking swords? Good God, what a tedious, boring mini-game!

This is why I’m so very conflicted about how to score this game. I’ve played something like 150 hours, and most of the time, I was bored to tears. I kept forcing myself back into it so I could make it to the end and see what the punch line is, and summing it up, it’s, “See? The elves are all dicks too!” Well, thanks for telling me that after 150 hours.

For the glitches, the controls, the story, and the constant tedium, I want to rate this game very low, maybe even a 1. But it was so pretty, and I spent a lot of time just staring and taking in the world. After coming back from a long break, for just a few hours, the combat felt fresh and interesting, and there were many times when the witty dialogue made me laugh out loud. I liked that I could talk my way out of lots of fights. In particular, I talked my way past most trolls and only had to fight two in the entire game because they couldn’t be reasoned with.

For all the nice touches, I want to give the game a 4. Then there’s the fact that the company charged me a base price and gave me the limited edition treatment with a soundtrack CD, a gorgeous map, stickers, a game guide, a manual, AND a letter thanking me for buying their game. Lots of triple A studios these days charge me 70 euros and won’t even give me a card outlining the controls. It’s just a disc in an otherwise empty box, and sometimes I feel like they want to stop making even that effort if they can and charge me even more for just the game download. It’s nice to see someone making an all out effort to earn the money I’m paying for their game.

But for as nice as the package was, I have to give Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt 2 stars. I was bored most of the time I was playing it, and when I wasn’t bored, my time was often spent being pissed at the controls. Yeah, there’s a good time in there too, but it’s buried under so much tedium and fuckery that I don’t ever want to play again. I don’t care if there’s other endings or story paths I could take. It’s just way too long of a slog. And this is coming from someone who put 200 hours into one playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s not the length of time turning me off. It’s the quality of the activities within that time, and I found that quality to be sorely lacking.


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