This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
And now your regularly scheduled reminder that the new consoles are shit: the new consoles are shit. Thank you. For further information, look at a new console and rub shit in your eyes.
Yes, I got burned again. "Let's just play Witcher 3 on PS4", I said to myself. "From what I hear, it's supposed to weigh on the hardware like a monkey swinging from a pair of distended nipples and my PC's not the spring chicken she used to be. At least on consoles, there's a certain guarantee of technical efficiency". It seems all that huffing compressed air had caused me to hallucinate that I was in some marvelous other universe where all sense hadn't stampeded out of the triple-A games industry like a roomful of young women when Bill Cosby walks in.
So what followed was an epic tale of framerate loss, long load times, weird glitches (stop floating two feet in the air, Mr. Dwarf, I know you're only trying to compensate) and one good old-fashioned infinite loading screen, during which my calloused hands groped in vain for my twin swords Control and Alt, atop my trusty horse Delete.
We return for the third time to the adventures of Rivery Gerald, a witcher, that is to say, someone who hunts monsters, not witches. It's as needlessly-confusing as ever. Why don't they just call it Monster Hunter Thr- oh, wait. Gerald is a master swordsman, but can do magic as well, in a cool casual off-handy kind of way, not like how all those nerd mages twat about with it. But his lot is a tragic one, as he is shunned by ignorant society because he had to undergo mutation to make himself really good at everything. Even though his only visible mutation is a pair of cool scary eyes, rather than anything disfiguring that might prevent him from macking on all the ladies who will want his beautiful white hair cascading over their hot titties like the foamy fast-flowing mountain stream it resembles. Also, big muscles.
There's something terribly wanky about all this. Gerald is one secret makeout with Harry Potter away from being a self-insert fan fiction character. Even more so now it's the third in a series of epic world-changing adventures, and so Gerald seems to be more personally-acquainted with major political figures than a stray dog is with fire hydrants. It was annoying to have to flip to the character glossary every other dialogue because ninety percent of the named characters are from previous games and listening to their conversation was like escorting a new girlfriend to her high school reunion, but I was only annoyed because this is the first time I've actually gotten somewhat into a Witcher game. Previous games left me kinda cold in the way those kinds of complex western RPGs often do. I always feel paralyzed by things that are too open, like your mum's legs. Am I going the right way? Should I loot all seven million lootable objects in every given room just in case I need to craft something later from a broom and a colouring book? Am I knobbing the most ideal of all the knobbable whores in this brothel?
So Witcher 3 sat me down and went, "Alright, fuckface, how about we spend the entire first chapter of the game tutorializing the bollocks off every feature we have. Would that help His Majesty settle in? Ride here, kill the monsters, craft that, punch these blokes, drink this, wipe that on your sword, wipe your cock off on a bedsheet, fight a griffon we have practically nailed to the floor for you, any fucking questions?" Just one: why do you keep trying to make me play Magic: The Gathering? Boring and weirdly omnipresent card game sidequest aside, the combat is probably more layered than it needs to be. For most enemies, mashing quick attack and dodging aside when you see their monocles pop off with indignation will get you most of the way there. If a boss was proving hard, I'd just cast the Jedi mind-trick stun thing for a free hit and then keep dodging until I could shake off my magical wanker's cramp and repeat. Meanwhile, the game watched uncomfortably from the sidelines, occasionally shouting, "Hey, there's all these fancy oils you could be using to get this done about .4% more efficiently. Maybe you could craft some from the entire Hanging Gardens of Babylon's worth of random herbs and flowers you've got stuffed down your trousers?" "Got any upgrades for the basic healing potion?", I shout back. "Not presently, no", replies the game. "Then I'll stick with mashing quick attack if it's all the same to you." "Well, if that's your attitude, your sword just broke again, har har har." Oh, bloody hell. Rivery Gerald's oaths of fidelity last longer than his fucking swords, I think they just stuck a hilt on an unusually long Pringle.
The game's real strength comes from the storytelling, Gerald's Mary Sue tendencies notwithstanding. There is a bit of the old BioWare face disconnect between words and gestures like a badly dubbed Polish soap opera, but the rest of the time, the character's face and body animation seem just natural enough to be engaging, which probably means there must have been a soul-crushing amount of effort put into the fine details to avoid the classic "Commander Shepard deer-In-the-headlights" look. And I'd like to personally shout out whoever had the thankless title of Eyebrow Wrangler, 'cause I did engage with the characters and felt sad when my choices led to their deaths. Although it's pretty fucking hard to predict where some axes will fall. One particularly nuanced character died as an eventual consequence of me turning an evil tree into a horse. Well, now it sounds obvious!
It's the fine details that really makes Witcher 3's storytelling. A sequence that stands out for me is when you have an audience with the king, but are forced to have a shave and pick out a new outfit and learn how to bow first. A lot of games would have just gone, "Ride your horse through the front door, then mash the A button at whatever cunt's wearing a crown and an exclamaition mark." The Witcher 3 example is all about showing over telling, which is probably for the best, because whenever anyone tells us anything it's usually in an exaggerated regional British accent that turns even the most dramatic scene into Monty Python Does Westeros. Nevertheless, I was getting into it, but I eventually found myself with a laundry list of sidequests involving major characters that I did genuinely want to do, really, as I was fairly certain they would lead to getting to watch two 3D models awkwardly bump uglies like two sausage rolls trying to get past each other in a narrow hallway; but I was already past the suggested level for the next main quest and I don't like being too overleveled. The combat was already feeling like having to tokenly playfight every basket of puppies so none of them felt left out. I hadn't needed to hunt a monster in like, seven levels. And it was nice to see Gerald on the job; there was something endearingly blue collar about calling on villagers like a traveling chimney sweep and tracking down the beast with a bit of C.S.I.: Narnia.
So I'll give Witcher 3 my recommendation for the adept story crafting, but as the housewife said to the randy stallion, "It's possible to put too much in."
- Witchers get stitches
- Other sketches from Monty Python Does Westeros include the "I'm a casual rapist and I'm OK" song
- Is Rivia anywhere near Bolivia