The Witcher 3: Five things you need to know

All this week, we’ve been celebrating The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with a series of exclusive stories on Geralt of Rivia’s first PlayStation adventure, our E3 2013 Best RPG, and the first PS4 game to make me think, ‘Holy s–t, THIS is next-gen.’

But the scope of The Witcher 3–its world, gameplay, and visual splendor–is too much to cover in only a week. So we’ve gathered the most important points from our interview with game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz

1) Combat is vastly improved over The Witcher 2.

"Thanks to the massive feedback we’ve got, The Witcher 3 is now a different game," Konrad says, referencing The Witcher 2’s infamous difficulty. ". . . the combat now feels much more fluid and precise. It’s an intimate experience and we’ve added several layers of tactics on top of it so gamers will be satisfied."

Other changes to combat enhance its playability, the camera, and the artificial intelligence of enemies. "Potions, for example, will now be activated during combat," Tomaszkiewicz explains. "We’ve also got group AI–enemies can try to flank you and their morale can increase or decrease depending on Geralt winning or losing the fight. In general, the skirmishes are less chaotic and players will have a lot more control over what’s happening."

2) Everything is hand-crafted.

CD Projekt RED’s development approach forgoes any procedurally generated content (think Skyrim’s Radiant Quest system) for a world in which is everything is built from scratch for a reason. "We’re very far from procedurally generated content being better than content designed and executed by flesh and blood developers," Konrad says. "Having that said, we’re not enemies of an element of randomness in our game–not everything should be done by hand, but in terms of telling a story or engaging gamers–the more is part of a plan, the better."

Of course, more hand-crafted environments, quests, and characters means more work for a team with more than one blockbuster game in development. "Our approach is definitely more demanding in terms of development. We had to double our quest design teams and our writers are always over their heads in work, but it pays off," he assures me. "Our world is coherent and seamless. And it really pulls you in."

3) It’s going to look amazing.

In my E3 preview of The Witcher 3, I noted that details like dynamic weather and spell effects absolutely wowed me. According to Tomaszkiewicz, you have the power of PS4 to thank for that. "The next generation of consoles has come exactly when we needed it. The Witcher 3 will unleash all of the potential of the REDengine 3 and will truly define the beginnings of the RPG genre in the next generation," he says. "The horsepower alone justifies the wait–we can do pretty amazing things in terms of graphics and we won’t hesitate to feed your eyes with copious amounts of candy."

4) You can start relationships and own property (probably).

The Witcher 3 will be a story-driven affair first and foremost, but there’s opportunity for players to branch out and forge a few role-playing paths of their own. "I can confirm tavern games and mini-games in general [like axe-throwing in Skellige]," says Konrad. "As for home building . . . the world is in turmoil as Nilfgaard invaded the Northern Kingdoms and you’ll see more houses burning than being built. That said, we probably will introduce a place or two to keep property in but that’s to be determined in the future."

Previous Witcher titles were also known for the romantic rendezvous that Geralt could arrange with female characters. It looks like these sensual encounters will return, but they’re taking a back seat to a new focus: monster hunting. "Relationships will be present in the game but I don’t want to go into details now," Konrad says. "What’s most important, however, is Monster Hunting. Calling it a ‘mini-game’ would be a major injustice so we’re treating it more like a new game mechanic. Geralt is a witcher, he basically hunts monsters for gold."

He continues: "Imagine this–you’re passing through a village and you hear in a tavern that the locals have a problem with people disappearing in the forest. People are desperate so they decide to hire you. First you’ll have to find clues to determine what kind of monster menaces the villagers, then find the monster’s vulnerability and then the monster itself. The best part of it all is that all these stories are well-rooted in the local folklore–the villagers will tell tales about the monster from their youth, etc. This creates a feeling of a coherent world and it’s one of the things we’re extra proud of."

5) You can go anywhere (but you can’t attack townspeople).

As I watched CD Projekt RED demonstrate The Witcher 3 at a private E3 screening, I couldn’t help but stare longingly at a 300-foot cliffside as Geralt careened by on horseback. ‘Jump off me!’ the cliff seemed to say. And you can, if you damn well please. "You can go everywhere within our huge game world without invisible walls," Konrad explains. "If jumping cliffs is your thing, you can break your neck as many times as you wish! The world you see is as seamless as we can make it."

It’s evidence that CD Projekt RED is truly shedding the limited exploration of past titles for true open-world freedom, but a few things are still off-limits. "Currently you won’t be able to attack townsfolk, but this may change depending on the direction the team finally decides to take," he continued. "It’s a question of the universe itself–Geralt has been trained to protect people from monsters and killing them would mean he’s becoming a monster himself. Killing townsfolk breaks immersion and derails the narrative–since we deeply value storytelling, we will always go with the option that supports it rather than giving you a choice that the world doesn’t benefit from."

"If we choose not to give you the option to kill NPCs is not because we can’t do it, it’s because the overall gameplay experience will benefit from it in our opinion."

For our full interview with Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, check PSU.com tomorrow. For more The Witcher 3 Week coverage, hit up our previous articles:

‘Pirates are just misunderstood customers,’ says The Witcher 3 dev

CD Projekt RED to produce summaries of Witcher 1 and 2, no PlayStation ports planned for either

The Witcher 3 on PS Vita will have ‘flexible and universal’ controls

Kyle Prahl is a PSU Managing Editor and Communication Studies major at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.