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Critical Consensus: The Witcher 3 casts a spell

Wild Hunt's captivating world and attention to detail draw rave reviews across the board

When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launches next week, it will sell 1 million copies based on preorders alone. If consumers are influenced by game reviews in the slightest, it will likely sell a lot more than that. The embargo for reviews of CD Projekt Red's latest lifted this morning, and the first assessments of the game are glowing.

The Witcher 3 earned a rare 10 out of 10 from GameSpot's Kevin VanOrd. It was the site's ninth perfect review score in its nearly 20-year history, and VanOrd's first since he reviewed 2008's Metal Gear Solid: Sons of the Patriots.

"[T]his is one of the best role-playing games ever crafted, a titan among giants and the standard-setter for all such games going forward," VanOrd proclaimed. "Where The Witcher 2 sputtered to a halt, The Witcher 3 is always in a crescendo, crafting battle scenarios that constantly one-up the last, until you reach the explosive finale and recover in the glow of the game's quiet denouement. But while the grand clashes are captivating, it is the moments between conflicts, when you drink with the local clans and bask in a trobairitz's song, that are truly inspiring."

"...one of the best role-playing games ever crafted, a titan among giants and the standard-setter for all such games going forward."

Kevin VanOrd

VanOrd praised the way the open-world game allows players to explore the world at their own pace while its well-constructed narrative--and the many ways players can impact it--encourages them to press forward.

"The intrigue builds naturally: Every quest is a story of sadness or triumph waiting to absorb you, asking you to make decisions that change the landscape in various ways," VanOrd said. "You won't always know what the consequences are; some decisions have noticeable, game-altering repercussions, while others barely draw your gaze. But the consequences are there, and you often notice them, even though the game doesn't go out of its way to call attention to them."

IGN's Vince Ingenito echoed that sentiment in his own 9.3 review for IGN, contrasting The Witcher 3's execution of consequences with the more heavy-handed approach taken by games like Infamous or Mass Effect.

"There is no morality meter, no paragon or renegade rating," Ingenito said. "In the grayscale world of The Witcher 3, there is only cause and effect; the decisions you make, both big and small, can legitimately change the world around you - far more so than most games that make similar claims."

However, Ingenito was less thrilled with other aspects of the game's narrative, calling the main storyline "the least fulfilling part of The Witcher 3" due to its reliance on familiar RPG tropes and wild goose chases.

"The Witcher 3 hardly shies away from the trappings of the genre, but its world is painted with the kind of shade that you don't often see in big-budget games."

Matt Wales

"Every time I felt like I was on the verge of an interesting revelation, I'd have to suddenly stop to escort a goat, or search for a lost, narcoleptic dwarf," Ingenito said. "Heck, even Geralt can barely hide his frustration with the constant parade of menial tasks at times."

Like Ingenito, Matt Wales of GamesIndustry.biz sister site Eurogamer praised the game's ambiguous consequences and convincing world in his own impressions piece (a full review is expected to be published later).

"The Witcher 3 hardly shies away from the trappings of the genre, but its world is painted with the kind of shade that you don't often see in big-budget games," Wales said. "Characters feel like people, with their own behaviours and motives, rather than mere ciphers for impending plot points, and there's both a bawdiness and lightness to proceedings that is disarmingly human."

Unlike Ingenito, Wales found the underlying systems of the game competent but not quite inspired.

"They're functional - and almost always enjoyable - but they frequently feel secondary to the broader adventures they serve," Wales said. "Combat, for instance - a crunchy mix of two-button sword-swinging and magic attacks - is knockabout fun and sometimes relatively strategic; while this is enough to see you through the game's surprisingly infrequent enemy encounters, it lacks the depth that some other RPGs offer. Similarly, the game's generous customisation options - including merchant trading, weapon building, potion crafting and levelling - are nice (if somewhat fussy) inclusions, but they never become particularly compelling in their own right."

If there is one universally shared critique of the game, it seemed to be a question of technical prowess. (The reviews that mentioned a platform all used a PlayStation 4 copy of the game.) Some critics brushed aside glitches and frame rates as mild annoyances, but Phil Iwaniuk's review for the Official PlayStation Magazine/GamesRadar offered perhaps the harshest criticism of all.

"At a certain point, you're just going to have to fall in line with what The Witcher 3 wants you to do. And at that point - not before it - you'll start having tremendous fun."

Phil Iwaniuk

"Some of its flaws are easily shrugged off as mildly amusing idiosyncrasies: boxes floating alone in mid-air above the ocean, children clipping into each other like unsettling Russian dolls, impressive Griffins arriving in cutscenes only to land inside your own horse, its head extruding from a horrific mess of limbs," Iwaniuk said. "Others graduate into genuinely grating territory - frequent, noticeable pop-in of small objects, trees and foliage, occasionally entire NPCs - not to mention your horse's wayward controls. Most damaging by far though is the framerate, which hardly ever feels like it's keeping its head above 30fps during combat, and occasionally slows to below 20 in sparsely populated scenes for no discernible reason. The underlying mechanics of combat are razor-sharp, so it's frustrating to have to experience them at a brisk jogging pace rather than at full pelt."

Iwaniuk was also somewhat bothered by the game's "open-world" conceit, saying player exploration is not well supported by a game world where enemies don't scale to the player's power level. If a low-level player wanders outside of where the developers want them to be, even the most trivial of enemies become essentially invincible.

Although Iwaniuk's review was the lowest score on The Witcher 3's Metacritic page shortly after the embargo lifted, the four stars (out of five) score he gave shows both how uniformly positive the reception has been, but also how much he still enjoyed it once he stopped expecting it to support player freedom on the level of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.

"At a certain point, you're just going to have to fall in line with what The Witcher 3 wants you to do," Iwaniuk said. "And at that point - not before it - you'll start having tremendous fun. Because what the game actually is, marketing bluster torn away, is an extraordinary narrative-driven role-player full of well-woven quests and sparkly dialogue, that's placed noncommittally between linear and open-world designs."

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Latest comments (5)

Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 4 years ago
Well that's nice (no sarcasm, even though this is the internet!) - this has been a poster child for customer friendly and quality driven development, but we all know how that doesn't always work out. Sounds like they delivered. I wasn't one of the pre-orders, but I'm buying it now. On PC, so framerate shouldn't be a problem.

For reference, Skyrim did 7M in the first week. It'll be interesting to see the figures for this.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany4 years ago
Personal opinion incoming: Aside from how happy I am to see all the work from CD Project Red giving such good results, what makes me happier about this is that even more people will enjoy the Lore of "The Witcher", which is my favorite fantasy realm even over "A Song of Ice and Fire" or Tolkien's in general. Not everyone is going to read the books and those who do may have some problem with it giving how... I don't wanna say "poorly" but how "unpolished" (no pun intended) the narrative is sometimes in the English version at least.
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Justin Shuard J - E translator 4 years ago
Amazing success story for CD Project Red this year, and From Software as well for that matter. To think where they came from just a couple of years ago with The Witcher 1 and Demon's Souls respectively. Congrats :P
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany4 years ago
@Justin
Well... eight and five years respectively; bit more than " a couple". But I know what you mean :)
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada4 years ago
This is great news. I enjoyed both Witcher games but didn't finish either, but have a lot of respect for CDPR - they've got a Blizzard-like approach to quality, and when things weren't as good as they wanted on W2, they gave away the update to improve it. Folks should remember that CDPR is not a huge studio either - it's very cool to see a smaller RPG maker getting compared to Skyrim and DAI :)
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