It works out really well for me that the two games I’m in the process of reviewing (Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight) are so similar, and yet so different.Both are marketed as “epic conclusions” to their franchises, both offer large open worlds chock full of content, and both are good games in their own regard even though one does outshine the other. So let’s start chronologically with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. A couple quick notes first: I did play on a Playstation 4 with both of these games, and while I used my own screenshots for the Witcher 3, I will be using others screenshots for Arkham Knight and there’s a reason for that I’ll explain later.
Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I’d like to think I can call myself a fan of the Witcher franchise. I have all three games (though admittedly, I gave up early on in the first one), I’m invested enough in the lore to know what’s what and who’s who, and I’ve always been fascinated by all the dark political intrigue, quirky characters and the perturbed world itself.The biggest question I have to answer for both of these games (and the question that will play a massive part in my review) is do both of these games serve as fitting conclusions? And for games like the Witcher franchise where there are around 16 different ways to end it, that should be an incredibly difficult question to answer right? Wrong. Granted, the Witcher 3 has big shoes to fill. While the first entry in the series was met with fairly positive reviews, the second was, if you’ll forgive an oxymoron, a massive sleeper hit. A critical darling praised for its wide range of content, diverse storytelling and thought-provoking moral choices that still leave me wondering about some of my choices to this day, the Witcher 2 was a sequel in every right, and improved upon its predecessor with far more room to wander, even if it did still suffer from some clunky gameplay and one or two rather excessive and dull story missions. So while the Witcher 3 inevitably becomes its own greatest ally and enemy by building so much upon the last two games, no matter how you’ll end the game this franchise goes out with a bang.
I can easily say right off the bat this is the weakest part of the game. Geralt, everyone’s favorite professional monster slayer who sleeps under bushes and stoically disregards anyone who won’t offer him coin, must now search for his adopted daughter Ciri with his former lover Yennefer and save them both from the Wild Hunt, a race from a dying dimension hell bent on invading Geralt’s. While it brought a smile to my face to see Geralt interact with some favorite characters such as narcissistic Dandelion and border-line father figure Vessemir one last time, and hear their voice actors make said characters come alive so well, the story falls short for two reasons, the first being how unfair it is to newcomers. I had someone play this game without any knowledge of the universe whatsoever, and unfortunately said person got quickly bored with the game largely because they had no idea what was going on and it just felt so overwhelming. I mentioned earlier how the game is its greatest ally and enemy by massively expanding its universe, and this is exactly what I meant. Even playing Witcher 2, I remember having to pause the game about fifteen times just to get an idea of what was happening. And the Witcher 3 chooses to throw players into its massive story of sex, moral gray areas, and detailed lore without any real explanation. While there is an in-game glossary that does a fair job of describing the various beasts and characters, it doesn’t do a good job of explaining why you’re trying to rescue said adopted daughter with your former lover from creatures invading Geralt’s dimension. For fans of the franchise, it’s simple enough, but for anyone else, it might be a bit of a jumble as to what the point of such a long story is.
Annd that brings me to my second major issue, which is the story itself. 80% of it is essentially one giant fetch-quest in your search for Ciri. I found myself growing very tired of the “two steps forward, one step back” formula that made no attempt to hide itself. Part of what made the Witcher 2 compelling was how human Geralt could feel, despite being genetically mutated into something else. I loved how emotionally invested I became in Geralt’s story because of how thankless his noble tasks was, and it was incredible how difficult it felt to make a “right” decision to save villagers especially after they chose to shun and shame me. With Wild Hunt, I feel as if I’m being dragged into a far too layered story that didn’t make my last goodbye feel all that emotional. Cir’s own interludes didn’t help much either. While it was cool to play as someone faster and with far more power, these interludes are incredibly linear and very short, and feel more like filler content than anything that actually advances the story.
It’s really too bad, because the last 20% of the game is absolutely incredible. Even some of the side quests in the game played a major part in a climactic penultimate battle that was easily my favorite part of the game. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much my choices outside of the main story actually affected how many allies I had, and how drastically the battle changed because of the various friends I had made travelling the world. I can’t describe enough how incredible it was to even plan out every move of this battle and nervously cross my fingers in the hope that I had made the right decisions. The story is almost worth replaying just because of how well this one mission is executed. And I have to say the remaining portion of the story and my own ending left me very satisfied. So I do need to make one thing clear; it’s not a bad story.Some of the jokes made me laugh, the romantic connections I made still stick with me, and there were quite a few poignant moments that tug at the heartstrings. But in being so massive, the story hurts itself by expanding too much on its predecessors, though the final moments of the game are definitely worth the stretch.
Story is a 7.5/10 just because THEM BATTLE SCENES YO
This is where the Witcher 3 proudly shines. there is a massive (and I do mean MASSIVE) amount of content. The open world is one of the largest I’ve ever seen, and from the lively streets of Novigrad to the cold yet starkly beautiful Skellige archipelago, each region of the game feels unique and alive with its own culture. The biggest issue with huge open world games is that too many times they’re just so empty. But anywhere I go in this game I’ve always found something new; I’ve been playing for more than a month and I’m still surprised at how much I have left to do. There’s ruins to be explored, people to help or harm, and many more monsters to slay.
One of my favorite things about the game is that it never gets too wrapped up in its own plot. No matter how you choose to direct Geralt, he’s not intent on saving the world, his main goal is to slay monsters, live off the land, and collect a massive amount of coin in the process. So it’s always a thrill to take on a bounty for some mysterious monster terrorizing a nearby village; is it a Noonwratih, a vengeful woman brutally slaughtered before her wedding whose bloodthirsty spirit kills all in her way in search of the man who spurned her? Or is it a massive Archgriffin which slaughters men for both sport and survival? Even if you’re not interested in being a bounty hunter I found that any of the various side quests in the game were on average far more entertaining than the story especially since they can play such a major part in it, if Geralt chooses to make friends. And these side quests are truly have variety, from exploring a haunted house to deciding who will be the next ruler of the Skellige Isles, there was so much to do and nothing was ever as simple as it seemed. Even if those little adventures grow tiresome, there’s still a whole extra card game included known as Gwent where you can collect more powerful cards and face off against more powerful opponents (though it can become a little one-sided when you gather 10 of the most powerful cards in the game for one deck). But again what I really come back to is the incredible detail of the game. I have vivid memories of visiting one small island in the Skellige Isles that is almost completely glossed over in the story. Yet on this one island (Spikeroog), I had to work with a sorcerer to stop an endless flood of rain from pouring on the island thanks to a tower that mysteriously appeared out of nowhere, discover sunken treasure and the sad story behind it, and participate in an ancient native tradition where I must climb to the highest peak of the island and subsequently dive into its furthest depths to earn my place as an honorary member of the island’s community. I still haven’t finished everything there yet, and I’m already in love with the feel and villagers of this one Isle.
Again, every activity I just mentioned about this little island was not only entirely optional, but is only one of five, not counting the massive island situated in the middle of all of the smaller ones. And this is just one of four areas in the game. TI don’t even have time to mention the incredible combat or the expertly layered skill tree that really lets you decide just what kind of warrior you are. The only significant flaws are the inventory and framerate. I found that the former gave me too much space and made me feel less like a drifter and more like a man with infinite pockets. That wouldn’t even be a bad thing if it wasn’t so poorly organized. It takes forever to search for one item out of thousands in my saddlebags, and it doesn’t help when most of your inventory is organized in no particular order. The framerate has been improved thanks to a patch, but it still feels a little jarring to see the game stutter every so often, especially when you’re up against multiple enemies. But these are very minor things in a much larger game that can be more than forgiven for its shortcomings.
Gameplay easily gets a 9.5/10
While it might not be for newcomers, the Witcher 3 is easily one of the best RPGs I’ve played that is both a love letter to fans of the characters and lore and a fitting conclusion to a game with no good or bad choices. It’s not quite beyond your wildest dreams (*cough* Skyrim *cough*) but if you’re eager to look for a world sparsed with gritty content, some rare but hilarious black comedy, a beautiful setting and some wonderful depth to boot, then this is a game that, if you won’t let it overwhelm you, will reward you beyond your wildest expectations.
This game is easily a 9/10