There is little debate that CD Projekt RED is one of the top names in the business when it comes to role-playing games, despite the recent criticisms that have arisen in the wake of Cyberpunk 2077’s terrible debut and less-than-stellar patches post-launch. Of course, the success of The Witcher 3 in both the marketplace and among critics has contributed significantly to the developer’s rise to that position. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be released this month on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles, following the announcement of the third installment in the series and a comprehensive remake of the previous game.
And while some might have reservations about trying to milk a last-gen game to this extent, there’s little contention against the fact that it is certainly one of the best games of the last decade. And even after all these years, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt continues to be one of the best open-world games of all time, and it continues to inspire countless games to this day. So, we can’t help but ask the question – what exactly makes The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt one hell of a classic?
While CD Projekt RED had created great games in the form of the first two Witcher games, they were at their core – seventh-generation action RPGs with a well-realized world, likable characters, and the whole nine yards. Don’t get me wrong, both were great games – but they felt strongly rooted in that convention, with the use of semi-open-worlds and other smoking mirrors to fake a grand sense of scale that couldn’t have been achieved considering the hardware constraints that the developers had to put up with.
At the time when The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was in development, open-world RPGs were still in their infancy – and except maybe Bethesda – nobody had figured out how to craft a cohesive experience that would keep players hooked for dozens upon dozens of hours on end. Bungie was trying to fiddle around with Destiny, while on the other hand, other developers flooded the market with open-world games that seemed to be cut from the same cloth. There were plenty of flaws in these designs ranging from inadequate world-building to inconsistent side-content among others, and there was a dire need for a change.
And when The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was released, it felt like a game unlike anything else. Everything from astounding visuals to spectacular art direction to excellent quest design contributed to the prospect of being lost in a fantastical world brimming with all sorts of wonders and threats. CD Projekt RED’s labor of love had finally borne fruit, and it was the sweetest among the bunch.
The story itself is a thunderous thrill ride through and through. The biggest drawing factor in the case of The Witcher 3’s story is the fact that it is mostly a self-contained tale, and those with little knowledge – such as myself – could easily get invested in the narrative and not feel lost at every turn and revelation. But those who share a long history with the series and the source material will also have a fun time regardless, as there are plenty of throwbacks, return appearances, and easter eggs scattered throughout the gargantuan map. The writing itself is also top-notch, and most characters are well-realized with actions and backstories that teeter-totter on the bridge of gray morality – which makes them feel relatable, which isn’t the usual complement for characters in role-playing games with fantasy elements.
And of course, there are the choices that you make throughout your quest to find Ciri and defeat The Wild Hunt. Most of these choices require careful consideration, and much like the characters – they aren’t a simple question of good versus bad. There is a very visible element of gray morality in many of these choices – and during those situations, you will have to use your instincts to decide upon the best course of action. But if you don’t like to be bothered by petty requests from every NPC that happens to stumble upon you during your journey, you can surely choose the option that’s most convenient for you. And while it might feel that some choices didn’t have an impact on the story during the first few hours, they tend to circle back eventually and all of them feed into one of the many endings that you can unlock.
And apart from the tale that takes you through the journey itself, the biggest leap that The Witcher 3 took was in terms of side content. Veering away from the standard cookie-cutter design that plagued most games of that generation, The Witcher 3 makes little to no distinction in terms of side-quests and the main quests. All if not most of these quests are written with careful attention to detail, and filled with interesting choices that dictate the outcome of these jobs. It’s rather common to see modern open-world games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Red Dead Redemption 2 pay a lot of attention to the quality of side missions, and a lot of the groundwork for that was laid by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt itself.
And who can forget about Gwent, which is an interesting card trading game within this humongous game? Those who have played through the game would most likely have challenged every NPC around to a round of Gwent as they collect stronger cards to build the perfect deck. In case you didn’t know, Gwent garnered so much fandom after the release of The Witcher 3 that CD Projekt RED released it as a standalone title a couple of years later, and that turned out to be a success as well.
The Witcher 3 is a game that can easily soak up hundreds of hours to see and do everything that it has to offer, and another replay would still add up to that experience. Hell, gamers are still busy finding new secrets in the game to this date – which is a testament to the sheer amount of work and effort put into every little detail in this game. But, naturally, fans would yearn for more after a while, and CD Projekt RED delivered once again using two post-launch expansions in the form of Blood and Wine and Hearts of Stone. Both are excellent in their own right and feature more content than even some full-priced games without sacrificing the quality of the experience, of course.
In so many ways, TheWitcher 3: The Wild Hunt dictated how an open-world action RPG should be made. Sure, it wasn’t the perfect game and so many of its aspects ranging from exploration to traversal and combat could have used some more polish. But in the face of what it does right, these are but minor complaints that don’t hold all that much meaning when you look at the grand picture. Most importantly, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt remains a bold example of how quality and quantity can co-exist without one impacting the other, and that’s perhaps the biggest reason why the game remains to be held in high regard, all these years later.
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