It's been a little over 36 hours since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released. The third installment in the widely acclaimed series from CD Projekt Red has been in the spotlight since the initial announcement back in 2013. Now that it's out and about, I played the game for a few hours to see what's in store for Geralt of Rivia.
Considering my PC setup, I was surprised that I was able to play it at High settings. The only thing I disabled was Nvidia's HairWorks, primarily because I have an AMD GPU and thus it wouldn't work that well anyway. Still, it didn't detract from just how beautiful The Witcher 3 looks. Everything from facial expressions to foliage and even the water looks incredibly detailed.
Early parts of the game start in the rural countryside, giving nature the chance to show its beauty. Each town looks alive as you walk through and see farmers and blacksmiths at work while children chase each other through the streets.
As far as gameplay goes, it's a significant upgrade from past titles. Newcomers and veterans should take some time to get acquainted with new controls via the tutorial mission. Tutorial messages also appear throughout the first few hours of gameplay, which is really helpful considering the amount of information provided to you.
Speaking of which, your in-game HUD provides some great information at every step of the way. The minimap shows nearby plants, enemies, and quest locations. Each phase of a quest is stated clearly below the map so you know exactly what to do. The bottom right of the screen features a quick glance at the controls so you don't have to pause the game and look up how to dodge enemy attacks. On the bottom left of the screen, there are three small tabs that show how many recovery items and crossbow bolts are available at Geralt's disposal.
Depending on the difficulty, combat might require a little more finesse than just running up to hack and slash a monster. Parrying and countering attacks are on the same button (click or hold the right mouse button) and being able to quickly choose Geralt's magic spells, or Signs, while the scroll wheel is a godsend. It allows the player to look more like a professional monster slayer instead of a terrified local hacking away at a scary beast.
Healing items such as food or potions are easily accessible with certain hotkeys so you can quickly heal up and get back in the fight without pausing the action.
A new addition to the game is traveling by horse. Geralt can call on Roach, his trusty steed, at any time and use him to travel along the vast expanse of the game's world. Geralt can still fight while riding Roach, which gives him a height advantage against some enemies, and it also gives him the chance to make a quick getaway if the fight is more than he can handle. However, Roach has a fear meter, so bringing him around scary monsters might cause the horse to run away and throw Geralt off his back.
Hunting monsters is a big part of the series, and the developers made sure to place importance on the bestiary. Reading is an essential part of hunting a monster, because it provides information on the target's vulnerabilities. This time around, a small description about the monster is created after you defeat it. Additionally, its weaknesses are plainly shown through images so the player has a definite idea of how to efficiently defeat it on the next encounter.
Two big issues, at least for me, from the The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, was inventory management and accessing multiple pages such as quests, inventory and character stats. For the former, it was an issue of weight. In the past, every single item had weight, and obviously armor and weapons were heavier than various alchemy ingredients.
Even though the series has a big focus on using alchemy to craft bombs and potions, I had to keep reducing the number of ingredients in my inventory to make room for other items. The Witcher 3 combines the inventory system of both of its predecessors where each item had its own weight, and fit into a slot in the inventory while bigger objects took up multiple slots. Thankfully, you can also increase your inventory size and weight by buying saddlebags for your merchants.
As for the latter issue (accessing multiple pages), the developers solved the problem by providing a game menu. Pressing the Enter key opens up this menu, which contains the bestiary, character abilities, inventory, map, quests, and even the alchemy and crafting pages. Now it's easier for me to just tab over to the next page instead of opening one section, going back to the main game screen, and then pressing another button to open up another section.
I have yet to find a feature that I don't like in the game. The world is detailed, expansive, and full of things to do. I haven't progressed that far into the story because I want to explore every nook and cranny. Numerous locations are marked as question marks on the world map, and there are plenty more quests located in every big town or during the occasional encounter.
Settlements can be extinguished of monster presence to bring back local townsfolk, and there's even a card game called "Gwent" that provides a little escape from the ongoing troubles surrounding Geralt.
I'm enjoying my time so far in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The amount of hype built up prior to its release is well justified in-game. It might take me a while to finish the story, but considering how much fun there is to be had outside of the main storyline, I think that's alright.
Update, 5/20/2015, 10:45am PDT: We ran two quick tests with the FRAPS benchmark to get an exact framerate count for my settings (High, VSync On, SSAO, Nvidia HairWorks Off). Each test lasted five minutes, with me playing through multiple scenarios such as walking through a town, combat, riding through the countryside, and interacting with other characters.
The first test had an average of 41 fps, with the highest count at 61 fps and the lowest at 24 fps. The second test had a slightly higher average of 46 fps, with the highest count at 61 fps and the lowest at 20 fps.
Also, the above link for my PC build is now redirected to part 1, where I list my components. I was also slightly mistaken about the inventory system. I've corrected the text accordingly.