PSU senior editor Adam Byrne tagged along to a Bandai Namco press event in Dublin’s Jameson’s Distillery to check out what the publisher had to offer in the gaming stakes this coming fiscal year – here’s what he thought of next year’s blockbuster, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Housed in the cobblestoned confines of one of Ireland’s more established and revered whiskey distilleries, Bandai Namco’s press event looked to mirror its makeshift homestead by proudly flaunting the exciting futures of some of the more pronounced series’ in gaming antiquity. Namco’s flagship mascot, the eternally vivacious Pac-Man, was reserved for special praise in celebration of its incredible 34-year run at the forefront of gaming consciousness, while the Tales series was lauded in equal measure for its astonishing ascension within Western culture over the last 16-or-so years. But still, the game that pinched the last gasp of air out of the dimly-lit theatre was undoubtedly The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – developer CD Projekt RED’s delectably visceral role-playing venture.
The pelt of persistent rain – typical of a dreary Monday evening in Dublin – did little to dampen the spirits elicited once a close-up image of Geralt of Rivia’s battle-weary mug populated the screen. Following a new blood-soaked trailer steeped in mythic lore and narrated by the gravel-toned suitability of Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, we were treated to the real sustenance of proceedings: a live, exclusive variant of the nine-minute developer gameplay walkthrough shown at this year’s E3, commandeered by none other than CD Projekt RED’s own Senior Gameplay Designer, Damien Monnier, and controlled by QA Analyst, Łukasz Wnęk. For this particular demonstration, Geralt’s eyes – and broadsword – were firmly fixated on a hunt for a Griffin – the ancient winged terror who wreaks havoc across the full breadth of the Northern Kingdoms.
Beginning in the middle of a crisply-detailed forest covered in lush, dense overgrowth, our indomitable protagonist happens across a spread of suspect remains, topped by a single greyed feather. Instigating his Witcher senses – an inspection-type mode where perception is heightened – Geralt unravels a distinct trail to pursue and sets out, pushing aside the overarching branches and leaves dotted throughout his path. After a momentary spate of exploration, the Griffin’s position is sussed out – with the monster blissfully unaware that it’s being aligned in Geralt’s sight. A concise shot from Gabriel, a well-worn crossbow, follows and the now-bloodied Griffin lets out a godless shriek before thrashing its enormous wings in defiance, causing wind and dust to dissipate with distinct graphical splendour. The music gathers purpose; the pace quickens; the hunt is now on.
Such is the game’s branching narrative structure that no sooner after the Griffin hightails it out of our view, Geralt’s chase is cut momentarily short by the happening upon of a disturbance near a murky swamp where a number of menial bandits are harassing a woman who’s shacked up in a small cottage. It’s entirely a choice-driven affair: you can continue on your Griffin hunt or take up arms and rectify the commotion. The latter is chosen – lawful riotousness we say – and Geralt steps into the realm of battle with almost aloof swagger. The combat’s certainly one aspect that looks to soar highest within The Witcher 3 as Geralt’s seamless transition into battle is compounded by some startlingly brutal kills, with limbs and blood readily splashing into the murky puddles below. Once all the enemies are felled and the woman is reassured, there’s always the option to come back to the cottage in hope of receiving new quests further down the line. CD Projekt RED’s combative mixture of magic and weaponry cannot be understated as the fluidity of the blood-curdling procession really is a joy to behold; it’s not short of options either with a proverbial trove of combinations and flashy mixtures to tide gamers over for as long as the game will last.