The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt E3 Preview: Massive, Beautiful
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The Leshen stood stone still as Geralt hacked at it with his broadsword. The tall monster, with a massive antler rack and deer skull face atop a tree root body, simply looked down and slightly to the left at the witcher as Geralt chop-chop-chopped its life away. Though the nightmarish creature remained silent throughout its murder, I imagine it was thinking something along the lines of, “Hey, quit it.”
What was supposed to be the culminating punctuation mark on my hands-off E3 gameplay demo of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt ended with a glaring glitch and a dud, one that the CD Projekt Red developers hosting the event apologized for repeatedly. Here’s the thing, though: it didn’t matter. While such a buggy incident would have (and has) derailed many other game demos, I was able to shrug this one off almost as soon as it happened because I’d already seen enough of The Witcher 3 to make it one of, if not the, best games I’ve seen at E3.
Let’s hop in the DeLorean and go back in time roughly 20 minutes before the Leshen decided not to play ball. Here the demo opened with a small village ablaze in the night, its unfortunate residents being slaughtered by a group of Nazgul ring wraith-like demon monsters. These guys, CDP tells us, are the Wild Hunt. Odd name and not much of a proper noun, but now you know where the title comes from.
Cut to Geralt, who has been summoned to the castle of the lord of the land where the attack occurred. This is where the demo started to shine. The Witcher has always been easy on the eyes (the franchise not the protagonist), and even in pre-alpha form, The Witcher 3 looks gorgeous. Built with CDP’s shiny new REDengine 3, the level of detail that’s been put into Geralt’s world is impressive. Multiple species of trees swayed in the breeze under a bright afternoon sun as Geralt rode a white horse along a narrow cobblestone road. The textures looked lifelike and I couldn’t help but let my eyes wander around the screen, examining all of the small shrubs on the ground, the mountains rising up in the background, and the thin clouds in the sky.
The comparisons to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are unavoidable, and visually The Witcher 3 has very much that same Alaskan-national-park-postcard kinda feel. If you’ve added all of the many mods that max out Skyrim’s visuals, you’ve already got a great idea of how The Witcher 3 looks. She’s a beaut.
And she’s massive. Thirty-five times bigger than The Witcher 2 is CDP’s official claim, and filled with more than 100-hours’ worth of content. You’ll get around this world on foot, horseback, swimming, and even by boat. After chatting with the lord and agreeing to go after the Wild Hunt, Geralt went down to the docks and hopped in a small watercraft, raised the sail, and set off. While there is a fast travel system, this isn’t it. Players control watercraft, so you’ll be able to explore the seas much like you explore the land, travelling wherever your heart desires. And the sea looks just as alive as the land. Just outside the harbor, a whale surfaced, flapping its tail in hello before going back under. Nice touch.