The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt released five years ago today, on the 19th May 2015. And seeing as it remains one of our favourite PlayStation 4 games of the generation, we thought that it would be worth revisiting CD Projekt Red's role-playing adventure. For the past few months, we've been dipping in and out of Geralt's journey, reliving as many of his monster-slaying shenanigans as possible.
Below, we've broken down our revised thoughts on The Witcher 3 -- five whole years after we first penned our 10/10 review.
The Witcher 3 is held together by its script, which, back in 2015, pretty much set the bar for RPGs of its kind going forward -- and the crazy thing is that it's still the gold standard. We've played a lot of similar games in the last five years, but quite frankly, none have come close to reaching the heights of The Witcher 3's phenomenal writing.
It's easy to forget that The Witcher 3 is packed with dark comedy and dumb jokes. Humour can be a slippery slope in any medium, but here it's used to excellent effect. The world of The Witcher 3 is often so gritty and damning that an aversion to comedy could render the experience overly oppressive. It's fortunate, then, the title's got such a great sense of humour. From farting farmhands to Geralt's sarcastic quips, it's the comedy that makes the game's characters feel grounded and human.
But the writing's greatest accomplishment is how succinct it all is, despite the sheer scope of the open world adventure. RPGs that last hundreds of hours have a tendency to ramble, repeating key points and getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In contrast, The Witcher 3's dialogue moves along at a consistently brisk pace, yet it's able to tell you everything that you need to know. It's masterfully crafted from beginning to end.
It goes without saying that in order to deliver stellar writing, you need stellar characters -- and The Witcher 3 has them in abundance. Geralt's the obvious place to start -- an established protagonist who isn't just the emotionless coin-hungry killing machine that he's made out to be. Creating a badass main character is easy -- the hard part is making them feel human.
As mentioned, humour plays an important role here. Geralt wouldn't be much fun if he was unable to share a dirty joke with Dandelion or take part in an impromptu snowball fight with Ciri. The game's also quick to remind you of Geralt's deep-seated fears and the often undesirable implications of his actions. By no means is he perfect, and that's what makes him relatable, despite the fact that he's a superhuman monster slayer.
Of course, it helps that the White Wolf is surrounded by an outstanding cast of secondary characters. Yennefer and Triss are both immensely powerful sorceresses that each have their own motivations and doubts. Dijkstra is a schemer who plots a king's assassination, yet his cause is driven by rational thought. No one in The Witcher 3 is black and white. Even the Wild Hunt -- the bad guys -- ultimately have their reasons.
But if any characters truly sell the world of The Witcher 3, it's the common folk. We'd go as far to say that these are the best peasants to ever grace a video game. Downtrodden, simple people who have no choice but to put up with war, famine, and grave hags stealing their children. There's a bleak realism to each and every one of them, but as with many things in The Witcher 3, it's laced with a dark sense of humour that we can all relate to.
The Witcher 3 is very much a game that's driven by quests rather than exploration. Some parts of the map serve no purpose until you have a reason to be there, and so it does feel like the game's approach to open world design has aged over the last few years. Don't get us wrong, it's a lively enough setting, but it's not very dynamic. Wild animals and monsters respawn in the same locations over and over again, and there are no random events to keep you on your toes as you wander from place to place.
Compared to games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the open world of The Witcher 3 feels quite static. It's more set dressing for Geralt's adventure than it is a world that you can freely explore for hours on end. There's nothing strictly wrong with that, but the question marks that litter the landscape start to feel like they only exist because... Well, because this is an open world game.
Its design might seem stunted by 2020 standards, but there's no denying that The Witcher 3's world still looks gorgeous. It's the weather effects that have stood the test of time; the impressive way in which trees sway and creak during a storm, and the gloriously vibrant sunsets are still highlights.
When it released in 2015, The Witcher 3 set the bar for side quests, and once again, this is an aspect of the game that's yet to be equalled. The sheer amount of personality that CD Project Red was able to pump into almost every optional quest is staggering even today. Crafting engaging quests in a more linear RPG is difficult enough, but to fill a whole open world with memorable excursions is something else entirely.
But somehow, the Polish developer pulled it off, and the side quests of The Witcher 3 continue to be held aloft whenever someone praises the game. That said, the actual mechanics of these missions are easier to criticise now. Geralt must be sick and tired of using his witcher senses to follow footprints and trails of blood. It's a good job that the surrounding stories and varied monster designs help keep things interesting.
Among the countless high quality quests in The Witcher 3, there are still a handful that go above and beyond, lasting long in the memory. Who could forget the masquerade ball with Triss, or capturing the Djinn with Yennefer? What about the incident with the horribly creepy hym in Skellige, or that time Geralt's horse started talking to him? We could go on and on and on about quests in The Witcher 3, and that's testament to just how many memorable moments it's able to conjure across its lengthy runtime. Most games are lucky if they manage one or two.
Ah, combat in The Witcher 3 -- easily the most divisive part of the game. For our money, it's nowhere near as bad as some people love to point out -- but it's certainly not perfect either. There's a deliberate rhythm to the way that Geralt fights as he shifts between swinging his sword and casting signs, but his elaborate animations can make the White Wolf feel unwieldy. In other words, it's a bit jank.
There's definitely satisfaction to be found in exploiting a monster's weaknesses, applying potions, and deftly dodging your way to victory. But some beasts are a pain to go up against, and at times, cramped locations or uneven terrain make the system's flaws all too apparent. Again, it's a bit jank.
But there are some genuine highlights. A number of boss battles are brilliantly tense, and it's usually these climactic clashes that showcase combat at its very best. When Geralt's going toe to toe against an equally skilled opponent and you have the freedom to make use of his many tools, The Witcher 3's combat can really shine. It's just a shame that not all fights hit those same heights.
On its own, The Witcher 3 was and still is a masterful RPG, but it's the title's two expansions that push it beyond all expectations.
The game's first DLC, Hearts of Stone, launched in October 2015. It didn't add a whole new map, but it did offer up two of the best characters in a game already stuffed with best characters. Between enigmatic antagonist Gaunter O'Dimm and the deeply troubled Olgierd von Everec, Hearts of Stone provides The Witcher 3's most intriguing tale -- and that's saying a hell of a lot.
Hearts of Stone gave us an amplified shot of deliciously dark and devilish storytelling, but The Witcher 3's second expansion, Blood and Wine, basically gave us a whole new game. Releasing more than a full year after Wild Hunt, Blood and Wine whisks Geralt away to the sun-soaked land of Toussaint for one final hurrah. It's arguably the most polished and refined adventure in the whole of The Witcher 3, all while bringing at least another 25 hours of questing to the table alongside a completely new map.
Like the game's writing and quests, these two expansions can still be lauded as best in class. As far as DLC goes, they're near perfect.
Five years later, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is still the best RPG that money can buy on PS4. While bits and pieces of the experience are showing their age, replaying the game now makes you appreciate just how high CD Projekt Red had raised the bar back in 2015. In its writing, its characters, its world building, and its questing, The Witcher 3 still stands head and shoulders above its peers. Simply put, the game that does eventually knock Geralt off his throne is going to be very special indeed.