Just to make sure many of our questions are "officially" answered as we draw closer to the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt RED has hooked us up with a lengthy and detailed fact sheet that covers many of the game's key design tenets and strengths. Reading this makes me want to fire up the original two titles for yet another play-through of the series:
Game Vision: The sword of destiny has two edges. You are one of them
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - a fantasy RPG with a character-drive, non-linear story set in an open world, featuring meaningful player choices, tactical combat, and rich, living environments.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the final installment of the highly acclaimed modern RPG saga. The CD Projekt RED team has set out to make The Witcher 3 a richer, larger, and deeper experience - a breakthrough in quality that will take the franchise to its ultimate heights. A masterwork of storytelling and gameplay, The Witcher 3 is everything an RPG fan could crave.
With The Witcher 1 and 2, CD Projekt RED has produced robust, high-quality, modern RPGs, winning broad acclaim and earning a loyal following. The Witcher 3 honours these roots, combining CD Projekt RED's storytelling flair with new game mechanics and, most notably, a vast, open, living world. A mature game cast in dark shades of grey with no divisions between good and evil, it features a non-linear story with tough choices that produce real consequences. The game's vibrant world ravaged by war plunges players into difficult dilemmas and gripping adventures. This vast universe brings a new philosophy of exploration to the Witcher series: horseback riding and sailing prove crucial to any journey, and the communities the player encounters resonate with problems, conflicts, friends and foes. Added features like Witcher Senses and Monster Hunting, improved Alchemy, magic Signs, Crafting, as well as many other innovations, make The Witcher 3 the quintessential RPG experience, a must-play for fans of the genre.
Story: A world in turmoil, and the worst is yet to come
The world is in chaos. The air is thick with tensions and the smoke of burned villages. The fearsome Empire of Nilfgaard has struck again, ravaging the hapless Northern Kingdoms. The once-mighty who tried to use Geralt for their own gain are now gone. In these uncertain times, no one can say what the future holds in store, who will bring peace to the world and who will cause it only misery.
But a force darker and deadlier emerges. The petty men and women commanding tin-plated armies fail to understand that their conflict is child's play compared to the Wild Hunt, the otherworldly threat which now looms. These ghastly spectral riders have plagued the world for ages, plunging it in misery and despair. Yet this time the Wild Hunt seeks one person in particular: the one bestowed upon Geralt by Destiny itself, the one soul Geralt considers kin.
The Witcher 3 features over 100 hours of non-linear gameplay, nearly half of which is devoted to the immersive main storyline, a narrative focusing on Geralt and htose closest to him. None of this is automatically generated - both core and side quests are handmade with meticulous care, meaningfully woven into the vibrant game universe. Forming or supporting the main and secondary storylines, they draw players into engaging, intricately-crafted adventures extending across the rich, living, world.
Non-linearity is a core feature of the game, with player choices branching the adventure from the main storyline on multiple levels, from entire sub-stories, to trivial everyday matters. Saving a miller's son from a wyvern attack may affect who will ultimately don a crown, while thwarting a plot to assassinate a noble lord could spell doom for his oppressed subjects.
Quests may be taken on in any order, completed one at a time or pursued in parallel with others. Regardless of the method, players actions will bring many consequences that change the story and affect the game world. These consequences culminate in three completely different playable epilogues set in one of twelve possible unique world states. Defined by the outcome of climactic events and the fate of key NPCs, these states provide a total of 36 different possible endings.
Choice and consequence
Choice and consequence, the former difficult and often grim, the latter delayed until key moments, is a concept CD Projekt RED devised and developed into its key contribution to the genre. The core of CD Projekt RED's RPG philosophy, this concept was the backbone of The Witcher 1 and 2. Naturally, choice features prominently in the story, as well as the game mechanics, of The Witcher 3. With the 'lesser evil' as a key concept, the story puts players before situations in which there is no clear good: do you help an alderman enchain all the village elves he claims are secretly working for the Scoia'tael, or do you stop him at the risk of enabling outsiders to storm the gates and letting outlaws into the city to massacre all the humans? Such hard choices are complemented by the interactivity of dialogue, letting players choose how they speak to other characters, how they shape their relationships, thus determining how NPCs treat them in return.
Each action impacts the story and the game world. NPCs, communities, monsters and locations all change based on player choice - you may rid a fishing village of drowners and watch its economy prosper, or kill a merchant in one town and see his trading partners in another go bankrupt for lack of goods.
A choice once made resonates, its effects both immediate and delayed. Revisit a location where an important story juncture played out, and you're sure to find it transformed by your previous actions. Similarly, a choice made in one corner of the world, pertaining to specific characters, could well breed consequences in other lands, among other populations.
Open World: Stroll, ride, swim, sail, believe
The setting for Geralt's greatest adventure? A vast, rich, completely open world, thirty-five times larger than that in The Witcher 2. By setting the game in this open world, CD Projekt RED has fulfilled its vision of the RPG, adding the last element needed to create complete immersion and true non-linearity.
Roam without borders
Wide open roaming across regions is unspoiled by load times. Landscapes dotted with Points of Interest tempt players to venture off beaten paths in search of possible adventures. Players explore without interruption, encountering no barriers, choosing different means of travel to reach their destination. This whole new approach to exploration means players can vault over barriers, swim through rapids, ride a horse across the dangerous No Man's Land, run through Novigrad's narrow streets, or sail under the full moon amidst the Skellige Islands. The world provides an unprecedented feeling of open space and freedom, taking 40 minutes to traverse on horseback end to end. Players can stand atop a mountain, 1200 meters above sea level, breathless as they ponder the distant abyss and wind-swept isles, their look and feel rendered flawlessly.
A continent to discover
The world of The Witcher 3 is vast and continuous, yet diverse, with each of its lands distinguishable by a unique feel inspired by different sources and cultural references:
â€¢ No Man's Land: a sparsely populated, war-ravaged territory, based on Slavic mythology. Murky swamps and dark primeval forests cover this land, where monsters lurk behind every tree and no one can be sure whether they will see another sunrise. Its fields stripped bare by passing armies, No Man's Land is a place of anarchy, where might makes right and gold buys life.
â€¢ Skellige: a wind-swept and rugged archipelago, based on Nordic and Celtic legends and sagas. In these isles, inhabited by proud and noble people, warriors seek fame by facing legendary monsters, druids guard nature's secrets, and bards sing of heroes past in torch-lit halls. Stubbornly independent, the Skelligers are rigging their longboats and sharpening their spears, ready to lay down their lives defending against the inevitable Nilfgaard invasion.
â€¢ Novigrad and its surrounds: a port city inspired by medieval Amsterdam. In this grand city, as rich and colourful as it is corrupt, players witness the persecution of mages by an all-powerful cult, while at the same time dealing with underworld figures poised to profit from the ongoing world war.
A world that lives with or without you
Player actions, whatever their apparent weight, elicit reactions. This principle extends to the new in game economic system, with the price of goods varying based on the surrounding conditions or their price of origin versus Geralt's current whereabouts in the world: the price of fish will differ depending on the distance from water, a village of trappers and hunters will have many tanneries and leather workers, affecting the price of crafting components and armour.
Left to itself, the world continues living:
â€¢ Predators hunt their prey, villages defend themselves against monsters, lovers meet by moonlight.
â€¢ Communities react to temperature changes and other phenomena, seeking shelter when it rains or warmth when the temperature drops; they migrate to fulfil their needs or flee threats, while merchant caravans fill the roads and fishermen sail in search of the best catch.
â€¢ REDengine 3 incorporates location ambience and expanded dynamic lighting, which enables a realistic, highly-detailed day and night cycles as well as diverse weather conditions - players can observe an approaching storm before experiencing its might as they navigate a rough stretch of sea.
Combat: Poetry in motion
The new combat system in The Witcher 3 has been redesigned in order to combine traditional RPG elements with the speed and precision of a dedicated fighting game. Smooth and responsive, the system gives players full control of Geralt's blade, challenging them to match their reflects against those of a master swordsman. They will feel what it's like to be a true witcher, the ultimate monster slayer. Players familiar with the combat mechanics in The Witcher 2 will find that every aspect of the skirmish is now approached with a fresh perspective, expanded and polished to shine, while still retaining the spirit known from the previous game.
â€¢ Unlock new blocking moves, attacks and evasions.
â€¢ Discover ways to stun foes, ignite them and control their minds with enhanced witcher Signs.
â€¢ Poison their blades, set traps and blow their enemies to bits with bombs.
When combined, these attacks kill more efficiently, challenging players to experiment, think creatively and devise new tactics.
Dynamic, fluid and rooted in traditional RPG systems
Through a series of new features, players can merge their skills with Geralt's developing combat acumen:
â€¢ The number of attacks, parries and other combat moves has been greatly increased and rendered fluid with 96 new action sequences, compared to 20 in The Witcher 2.
â€¢ Three different sets of movement animations let Geralt adjust his stance to match the dangers he faces.
â€¢ Players enjoy complete control of Geralt in combat as there are no QTEs or scripted timing attacks.
â€¢ A new camera system, superior even to that utilised in the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2, shows fights in all their glory while keeping the focus on what the player needs to see.
â€¢ Geralt's character development visibly affects his behaviour in combat: obtaining a Swordsman skill might increase attack animation speed, while a Mage ability could turn the Igni Sign into a torrent of blue flame.
Use your brain, they'll use theirs
Combat is realistic, dynamic and rewarding, featuring smart enemies and living battlefields:
â€¢ Each of the 80 monsters Geralt can encounter has its own habitat, strengths and weaknesses.
â€¢ Improved crowd AI means enemies communicate with each other in combat, coordinating their efforts to surround Geralt or deploy combo attacks.
â€¢ Monsters and other foes do not scale with the player: beasts that crush players with a single swipe at the outset become sword fodder by the game's end.
â€¢ Enemy morale shapes with their actions: opponents flee or fight more cautiously when scared, attack recklessly when desperate, and beg for mercy on their knees when defeat is inevitable.
â€¢ The environment is a factor in combat, and Geralt can use it to his advantage: he might destroy a hive to unleash an angry swarm of hornets on a foe, or cast the Aard Sign to bury a group of thugs beneath a toppled stack of barrels.
RPG Mechanics: The next generation RPG
The Witcher 3 integrates a robust RPG system into the heart of gameplay. Stats, abilities and items have clear and intuitive effects, changing Geralt and shaping his encounters: a new sword might fell swarming foes en masse, while an enhanced Axii Sign could sway a merchant in negotiations. A tutorial eases players into this system, guiding them through a smooth learning curve as they master the game world.
See more than mere mortals
The new Witcher Senses system adds new depth to combat and gameplay in the Witcher 3, complementing Geralt's wolf's head medallion used to detect magic and danger in the previous games. The new Witcher Senses give players the traits of a master predator, the ability to hear like a cat, see like an eagle and kill like an enraged wyvern. Using these sharpened senses, players can act as huntsman, following the tracks left by their prey, hunting it down and striking where it is weakest. When stalking a vampire, Geralt might first use his Witcher Senses to garner evidence off a victim's corpse and from the surrounding area. Having learned about the foe he faces, he might then prepare suitable bait. Lastly, during the actual encounter, he might use his Witcher Senses again to slow combat and pierce both the vampire's hearts.
Choose your path, hone your skills, craft your fortune, brew your destiny
The new RPG mechanic binds players stats to gameplay, and does so visibly: players see their strength and dexterity alter their interactions with the game world. In addition, RPG elements such as skill trees, Alchemy and Crafting have become even more engaging and essential elements of the game:
â€¢ Players can combine skills from three specialisation path - Swordsman, Mage and Alchemist - to shape hybrid characters.
â€¢ Each ability gained has a visible and visceral impact on combat: players who unlock a precision enhancement on the Swordsman tree might then see their blows slice through opponents' jugulars with deadly regularity.
â€¢ Under the expanded Sign casting system, each of Geralt's five Signs has two different modes, broadening the creative use of magic in combat.
â€¢ Alchemy is highly intuitive, with potions used as easily as skills: players drink their brews before combat, then activate them when needed.
â€¢ Players can concoct an expanded array of potions, bombs and blade oils, including special mixtures for use against specific monster types.
â€¢ Greatly expanded Crafting allows players to create items like armour elements and weapons, significantly adding to Geralt's deadly combat arsenal.
Visuals: Destined to amaze
The Witcher 3 is the best-looking RPG to date. Built from the ground up for modern PC hardware and taking advantage of the power of next-generation consoles, the game makes no compromises on quality and delivers stunningly beautiful visuals. Matching the level set by games of other genres, where graphics have traditionally been superior - high-end shooters and action games -, The Witcher 3 sets new visual standards for the RPG genre.
Interactive cinematic immersion
The Witcher 3 features extensive cinematic interactivity. Players can end conversations suddenly and brutally, speak in a whisper or hand items to NPCs. Spectacular cut scenes interwoven with gameplay heighten excitement while progressing the story. In-game conversations are natural and realistic thanks to cinematic camera work and varied character configurations: characters speak as they sit, walk or ride side by side. Game world presentation thus enhanced, The Witcher 3 blurs the line between game, cinema and reality.
Breakthrough in visual realism
Presentation of the game world is thoroughly realistic. Drawing on the newest available graphics technologies, the new, state-of-the-art rendered:
â€¢ Produces fully dynamic light and shadow effects throughout the game world, generating superior atmosphere and ambiance,
â€¢ Generates detailed, realistic looking locations through a significant increase in polygon count.
â€¢ Provides a deep, role-playing experience through visually attractive, film-like presentation.
In brief, The Witcher 3 will be CD Projekt RED's crowning achievement: jaw-dropping, captivating and unforgettable. Concluding the trilogy with a riveting story set in a completely open world, the studio will once again break new ground... and redefine the RPG.