With The Witcher 3, CD Projekt is going for a much more cinematic experience. As such, much more facial structure is added to each NPC, as well as other additions, in an effort to make them feel more lifelike.
The developers point out to us now that the story is, of course, still the most important element in the game but, in this instance, the most important new element in The Witcher 3 is the massive open world, “the setting for Geralt’s greatest adventure. A vast, rich, completely open world, thirty-five times larger than that in The Witcher 2.” With this added element, CD Projekt hopes to complete the puzzle of the perfect RPG, adding that last layer for total immersion and non-linearity.
The game loads everything at the start, leaving no load times wherever you go, and aims to make everything seamless (whether you’re riding on horseback, swimming through rapids, or pushing your way through busy city streets). The world of The Witcher 3 will take 40 minutes real time to traverse on horseback from end to end.
As you can tell, the scope here is absolutely massive, and it’s all beautifully rendered with the powerful RED Engine 3. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most graphically beautiful games I’ve ever seen.
Of course, while the main story is always there, a wealth of side-quests and communities are in the game for you to interact with. Taking a break from the main quest we were seeing, the developers take a break to show us a bit of the town we’re in and explain how communities thrive on their own whether Geralt interacts with them or not. People have jobs that they go about, and the world will run itself without you. A new economy system has been implemented too, where the price of things will differ based on the surrounding conditions or their place of origin based on where Geralt is now. For example, the price of fish will depend on how far away they are being sold from the water or a village of trappers and hunters will have many tanneries and leather workers, affecting the price of crafting components and armor.
Now we fast-travel (another new feature) to another nearby city as it’s pointed out to us that this new massive world is packed with additional details, dozens of random encounters and additional adventures for Geralt to embark on. Taking a moment away from heading to meet with Bjorn, we take some time to stop and look around the village that we’ve come into. You can see a lake with some buildings, towers in the distance, and small houses dotted here and there but, for the time being, there seems to be a commotion just ahead of where we’re riding so we investigate.
There are a few bandits attacking a farm house so Geralt decides to intervene. Now’s the perfect time to see the combat system put into play. Combat looks very similar to The Witcher 2 but with some minor adjustments and tweaks, “The new combat system in The Witcher 3 has been redesigned in order to combine traditional RPG elements with the speed and precision of a dedicated fighting game.”
Through adjustments and additions, the combat system looks better than ever but it is still just as challenging. Along with Geralt’s silver and steel blades, his ability to use signs returns along with his access to traps, poisons, and bombs. Just like the last game, the best approach to combat is to think carefully and combine all of these elements into a deadly force.
Even the combat animations have been expanded greatly to make it look better. Geralt’s number of attack animations has been increased from 20 to 96 and, for anyone who played the first game, Geralt now has three different attack stances to match the dangers he may face. All of these are just small changes but there are so many of these that it’s staggering.
After finishing off the assailing bandits, Geralt beckons the residents of the farm out. After finding out a bit about who they were, the farmer thanks him and wishes him luck on his journey. The developers hint that, while this sequence didn’t open up any new side quests, maybe killing off the bandits will have an effect on something else further down the road.
Moving on to explore some ruins, we come across a massive, horned enemy called a “fiend” that instantly attacks. This is one of the 80 optional monsters that Geralt can encounter across the world. These battles will test all of Geralt’s skills in order to slay the beasts, and they are completely optional, non-boss monsters. As the battle wages, the fiend uses its special ability to escape from the battle. If you so choose, you can use the newly added “Witcher senses” to track the beast down. With these, Geralt can use his finely honed senses to see the monster’s tracks, follow it to its lair, and strike it where it’s weakest. For example, “when stalking a vampire, Geralt might first use his Witcher Senses to garner evidence off of a victim’s corpse and from the surrounding area. Having learned about the foe he faces, he might then prepare suitable bait. Lastly, during the actual encounter, he might use his Witcher Senses again to slow combat and pierce both the vampire’s hearts.”