The Witcher 3: A Hands-Off Look at CD Projekt’s Menacing RPG
While I didn’t get to play The Witcher 3 at E3, the hands-off demo I saw was impressive in its own right.
The thing about E3 2014 is that so, so much of what developers came to show off wasn’t actually available to be played by the journalists who swarmed to see their wares. In my case, nearly everything I saw was a hands-off demo played by a developer, and that makes actually evaluating the product difficult. But, with that caveat made, I still feel confident in saying that if Witcher 3 does anything at all, it will blow your goddamned mind.
Witcher 3 is going to look incredible. I know this because I sat in a dim, small-size theater room on the first day of E3 2014, with about 20 other spectators, and watched a CD Projekt Red rep play through 45 minutes of the damn game, and despite frequent admonitions that it wasn’t exactly in a final state, every single second looked spectacular. Colors popped with a hyper-real shine, textures were rough, smooth, wet, dry, coarse, soft, and any combination of adjectives that gets across how present and how thick the game seemed. Yes, animated humans still reside on just the far side of the uncanny valley, but they look like robots with natural human muscles and skin. And yes, the shine is a little too much, but it looks like a bright light pointed on a swamp, rather than a sound stage version of a swamp, digitized. My point is that there is a tactile heft to every visual, and it’s astonishing.
I can also report that if you love watching a riveting, creepy occult horror story with visual and narrative elements that recall both 1970s cinema and 21st century television, The Witcher 3 has you covered. One of the things I most like about this rather impressive series is how, unlike every other fantasy action game, it conveys a sense of menace in nature itself. Not just the supernatural, not just monsters or enemy humans, or the horror of political turmoil, but actual, normal nature. The sense that if you walk into the woods and accidentally stub your toe, you might die from infection. It informed every moment of the demo, even those moments that took place in a proper settlement. Whether playing or, like me at E3, watching someone play, you’ll feel anxiety and menace constantly, and it’s marvelous.
All if the above is to point out that if you’re worried about how Witcher 3 will advance the series in the new generation of consoles (and, naturally, the continuing supremacy of PC), fear not. Your PC can be pushed to melting, and on console, you’ll almost believe that platform can compete. Or, at least, I think that’s what was demonstrated. I don’t actually know for sure, but I can assure you that from a small distance, I was blown away.
I could go on about the plot, such as it was revealed during the demo, but despite the context free missions shown, I came away feeling like we’d just seen a significant and important part of the game’s plot. As such, I won’t reveal the details, though I will spoil some context free tidbits:
- Choices matter, as expected, however it seems from the brief(ish) glimpse that what decisions you make will linger, hard.
- The ability to drift from humor to serious drama is impressive. Case in point, the “Godling”, a swamp dwelling, yellow-eyed, huge-pupiled, magical…. boy whose voice is stolen by harpies.
- BTW, harpies. You will kill them, again.
- Fans of classical mythology will enjoy the appearance of what has to be the creepiest version of Mother/Maiden/Crone since the Stygian Witches from the original Clash of The Titans.
- Speaking of mother, maiden and crone, did one of them have a pair of legs between her… legs? Yes, and it’s beautifully disturbing.
- Fast travel returns, but if what we were told during the demo is true, it’s been improved, with far more distance. But as expected, once you’ve visited a region, you can fast travel to it.
- The Witcher 3 devs have a sense of humor – when bringing up the pause menu, they said “and here is where you’ll spend most of your time in the game”. It’s funny because it’s true.
I regret I can’t comment on gameplay, interactivity, specific technical specs, and so forth, as I did not actually play. But I can at least report that, from an observer’s point of view, it does appear that Witcher 3 will be an able successor to the franchise on PC and
next gen current gen consoles. It is also guaranteed to be fun even if you’re just watching someone play. It’s hard to argue with that, especially as CD Projekt Red has never really done us wrong. I can’t wait to see the real deal.
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Ross Lincoln is senior editor of Comics and Cosplay at The Escapist. Find more of his GameFront work here, his Escapist work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @rossalincoln and @gamefrontcom.