The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Previews, Interviews and Tidbits

There's quite a lot of ground to cover with what has come out from E3 for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, from impressed previews (courtesy of a press-only hands-off demo) to interviews, to minor tidbits, even including some comments from CD Projekt RED regarding Microsoft's peculiar DRM stance with their upcoming next-generation console, the Xbox One.

First, we'll kick off things with the previews, starting with a piece from Destructoid:
By the end of CD Projekt RED's sizable hands-off E3 demo, I was so on board with the new installment. Much of the emphasis this time around is placed on crafting an absurdly large open world -- one that takes 40 minutes to travel across on horseback -- and filling it with interesting, often dynamic things. You can seamlessly jump on a boat and sail to distant islands in real time without coming up against loading screens. It's magical. Unless, of course, you attempt to sail when the weather is bad and the sea is rough -- your ship will go down, and the water is too frigid to swim in for long. It might've seemed like a good idea at the time, but don't do that.

While the story is still integral to Wild Hunt, with consequences to most everything you do often taking form in unexpected ways later in your journey, it's the world itself I'll surely fall in love with. Save a man from bandits and their masters may come back later to wreak havoc or get revenge on Geralt. The appeal of these meaty action-RPGs has always been that of meaningful exploration, and CD Projekt seems to have gotten closer to crafting my dream game than any studio so far.

Within an hour of play, we saw Geralt start a main quest, hop on a small boat and sail his way through the sea to a nearby port of call. From there, Geralt had a random encounter with a massive monster, saved a village from a (lesher) (which was awesome) and watched an NPC make a tough moral choice.

It was all seamless and engrossing. Aside from minor technical blips and a crash, which the developers assured us was due to this being a pre-alpha build, the world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is stunning.

At one point, Geralt sat by a campfire in order to pass time. Rather than popping into a loading screen, the camera spun around a meditating witcher while the world advanced through cycles of day and night and weather. The environment went from partly cloudy to raining and severely windy. That wind rushing through the forest and grass looked amazing.

Back on land, Geralt saw a group of bandits pounding on the door of a small home, demanding to be let in. Let them do their bandit thing or continue on with your core mission? The devs decided to step in, showing the bandits Geralt is deadlier than ever in The Witcher 3. Of note: the camera is closer, giving combat a more intimate feel, and Geralt now has a combat stance, slowing his movement as he navigates through battle. It also felt less frantic and more tactical, as Geralt picked his points to parry and attack the three bandits at the most opportune times. CDP notes they've also tweaked enemy AI so groups of bad guys won't be so helpful in attacking Geralt one at a time, but from this particular battle, it still appeared as if enemies favor individual fights over coordinated group attacks.

Bandits dispatched, Geralt knocked on the door, informing the resident his troubles were over. The man thanked the witcher, but pointed out Geralt now had a new enemy, a powerful bandit leader who would inevitably seek revenge. This, CDP pointed out, was an example of choice and consequence in The Witcher 3. There will be immediate as well as long-term consequences to just about every decision a player makes even if you're just popping off the trail to do a seemingly quick good deed. It's worth pointing out that these choices appear somewhat limited. In this particular case, it was: attack the bandits or let them do their thing. There was no option to lend a hand and kick down the guy's door, potentially earning the bandit's favor and a future ally.

Back on track, Geralt found the lone survivor of the Wild Hunt attack and questioned him, discovering which direction the horde was headed. But before the mission could continue, a cry for help was heard. A villager was found dead, the grisly victim of what appeared to be a monster attack. CDP pointed out that this new side mission hunt down the monster is a good example of how they are working to integrate side quests into the main storyline. Players won't simply be able to find adventure by wandering off the beaten path, they'll find plenty of tasks on it, a nice touch that will hopefully keep players engaged in the main storyline while feeding the desire to seek out fun on their own.

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.

IGN claims the game defines "next-gen":
Each area of The Witcher 3's open world has its own visual signature, with different architecture, climates and natural beauty. The Skellige islands, where this demo takes place, have a Nordic feel to them its countryside is rugged, its mountains snow-capped. Geralt walks through a city built on a cliffside, the sun beating down on Skyrim-like wooden houses. The inhabitants, dressed in furs and horned helmets, go about their day, out in the sunshine, chatting, swearing and complaining in Irish accents. On rainy days, they'll stay inside. NPCs have their own lives in The Witcher 3 they gather together to travel and go hunting, working to individual schedules. If you wanted, you could follow them around.

This one island, Ard Skellig, is evidently bigger than the entirety of The Witcher 2's world. As Geralt stands on the edge of the cliff you can see far, far into the distance. He boards a pulley-powered wooden platform that takes him down the side of the mountain to the coastline below, and I saw boats leaving the harbour for the sea, oars driving through the waves, and stone buildings hewn out of the mountainside. At the harbour, fishermen are working. After walking along the harbour, Geralt boards a boat of his own and sets out for another island when he gets out to open sea, a whale's tail emerges from the deep and slaps against the surface of the water. On a stormy day, our demonstrator says, the small craft would be dashed against the rocks, making boat travel ill-advised. All of this is totally seamless. There's no loading at all.

Out in the wilds, you'll come across things that you can choose to investigate, or not. It's not like Bethesda's world, where new locations are often mini-dungeons that you can enter; everything lives on the map itself. You can see settlements, lone buildings, ruins, forests and plenty else off the paths, feeding the impulse to explore. The Witcher 3 doesn't do quest markers, at least not right now. CD Projekt Red wants players to be driven by their own inquisitiveness. With such a huge map, it needs to be well-populated with things to do; our demonstrator explains that there will be a combination of random events and plentiful written side-stories to take part in.

GameInformer points to five promising features:
Coming To Your Senses: The Witcher 3 introduces a new ability for Geralt, called Witcher Sense. Activating the ability turns the world black and white and highlights important elements in color, similar to Batman's Detective Vision in the Arkham series. While tracking down the leshen, Geralt uses Witcher Sense to follow blood spatters and claw marks to its lair. Later, Geralt learns that the leshen has marked one of the nearby villagers, and can resurrect as long as that human remains alive. Geralt once again uses Witcher Sense to identify the unlucky victim: an innocent young woman named Hilde.

Living With The Consequences: The Witcher series is known for the freedom it affords players to shape the narrative with their actions and choices. The Witcher 3 is no exception. The optional side quest we saw carried both story and environmental consequences. Defeating the leshen lifted its curse on the woods, transforming them into a sunnier, more hospitable environment. However, they also resulted in tragedy for the village; not only was Hilde sacrificed to ensure the leshen would not return, but a young and ambitious villager used the opportunity to kill off the town's elders and take control. Returning at a later time reveals a grim fate for the community in the form of a flashback the village was eventually raided due to the regime change and its inhabitants were slaughtered. The outcome could have been completely different had the player made different choices or chosen to skip the side quest altogether.

Additionally, the open world features a time and weather progression system, and the different time and weather effects shape and alter the world in interesting ways. For example, as it gets darker the wolves get more aggressive and stronger, creating a more numerous foe that is harder to kill. Additionally, certain towns and NPCs react to the rain and heat, depending on their attributes. Geralt also has a boat that he can use to travel between the islands, and it is possible for the choppy seas to damage the boat to the point where it sinks and Geralt dies.

The combat has also been upgraded, too. It's not as rigid as The Witcher 2'˜s combat, with Geralt being able to quickly dodge and parry attacks while returning them, as well. The animation was fluid, save for some (hopefully) alpha wonkiness, and the enemies seemed to attack in a more thoughtful and strategic way. The battles were cinematic, as Geralt kept his head pointed in the direction of the enemy he was currently fighting while setting up for another attack. lets us know that you'll be able to import your savegame from The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings:
If you have a saved game file from The Witcher 2 on your PC, "it'll definitely impact your playthrough in The Witcher 3," according to CD Projekt RED Executive Producer, John Mamais.


"We're not sure how it's going to work on the consoles yet, but we might try to create some kind of game state even if you haven't played. Obviously we didn't make the game for the Playstation 3, so we might try to deliver something for the PS4 that could create some kind of profile for those players."

While Eurogamer has some comments on Xbox One's DRM from a CD Projekt RED dev:
"We couldn't simply not release The Witcher 3 on Xbox One," he told me. "We want to make sure that every single player will have access to our game and thus decided to deliver for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

"There are people who don't mind the DRM protection and will pick Xbox One as their platform of choice. We can't punish them. Again, we always stress the fact that we're against DRM, but in the market system it's the clients who make the final decision. As developers, we need to create best content we can and make it available for as many players as possible."

Finally, GameTrailers has a video preview and a video interview.