The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt preview: monster game

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is meant to finish off the story of Geralt of Riva, and developer CD Projekt Red is hoping to end the series in a big way. To do that, the team is trading the petty politics the hero dealt with in the first two games for a more personal journey. In so doing, they are breathing fresh air into an already critically acclaimed series.

The story revolves around the Wild Hunt, a group of spectral warriors on a flying longship that have always been considered mere legend. But after a village is ransacked and slain by these creatures, Geralt must seek out a lone survivor to tell him more of the tragedy and where the slayers were headed. During the conversation, the witcher hints that his previous run-ins with the Hunt has left him with a score to settle.

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Geralt has fully regained his memory, meaning the in-game Bestiary now catalogs every creature he has run into in his travels since he was a boy. Using a new ability called Witcher Sense, he can track beasts and creatures through clues uncovered in the game world. In the demo, the Sense was shown off when Geralt needed to identify a beast that had been terrorizing a village so he could determine the payment he'd deserve. As he travelled the woods, activating the sense gave him clues--highlighted in red--as to the beast's strength, habits and traits. Once these were known, the bestiary could be used to identify the creature, as well as its special abilities and ways to defeat it.

The idea behind the bestiary is to capitalize on the monster hunting aspect of a witcher. It gives the player another area of expertise, as well as a way to earn experience through completing monster kill quests. There will be about 80 new monsters in the game, two of which were shown off the the demo. These beasts required more dodging and special attacks to take them down than just whacking them with a sword. The goal was to give each of these monsters the feel of an epic fight, without being a boss battle.

The demo showed off some of the moral grey choices that the player will need to make, similar to the previous games. In the village quest, discovering the beast forced Geralt to choose between siding with village elders to preserve this "spirit," or listening to the younger villagers who wanted the beast killed. Choosing one side led to the an unforeseen massacre. But another choice led to a different, but equally dark and unfortunate result.

"The world is about making hard choices, sometimes choosing the lesser evil," said gameplay producer Marek Ziemak. "We want players to makes hard decisions. You aren't good or bad, just morally unknown. And you must face the consequences of your decisions."

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The combat is very similar to that of the previous game, where the learning curve for swordplay was a bit steep and unrewarding. Ziemak said the combat is being redesigned with those shortcomings in mind, and said there will be attacks that can be unlocked and new, improved magical signs will be available. Unfortunately, he said he couldn't be more specific now as nothing has been finalized.

Players will now have plenty of extra room to explore, as CDPR has crafted an open world that is 35 times larger than The Witcher 2. Even the single island that was the focal point of the demo we saw was larger than the previous game. Whether larger equates to better remains to be seen, but at least players won't need to ride the whole distance as a new fast travel system will allow players to jump quickly to areas they have already visited. Ziemak said players will be encouraged to explore the huge world by offering plenty of new achievements and quests.

The Witcher 3 appears to be building on the successful formula of its predecessor while trying to add in new features to better flesh out Geralt's character in his journey. We can only hope that the demo is indicative of what the final game will be.