It goes without saying that this is an opinion piece.
Hell, I’m not even planning on giving any sort of a serious review here. All I’ll be doing in this post is going on and on about how amazing this utter masterpiece of a game is. As I’m sure you’ve already figured, there are going to be a lot — and I mean a lot — of over the top adjectives being tossed around in praise of this game throughout this article.
The funny part is that, usually, as Obilisk’s editor, I prefer not having content like this on the site. At least not too much of it. We try to keep our content insightful and critical, and going on about how amazing and incredible and extraordinary something is (when, in reality, it has flaws) isn’t exactly quality content.
But with this game, I have to. I have to indulge, just this once, in talking about and praising my favorite game. I hope that, because I’m so passionate about this game, this article will at the very least be entertaining, and ideally that it’ll inspire many of you to try the game for the first time. And for those of you that have played before, I hope you’re moved to the point that you’ll pick the game up and start a new playthrough.
If you’ve decided to stay the course, I think you’ll enjoy what’s to come. Let’s talk about what I believe is the greatest video game ever made.
I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but there will inevitably be some spoilers.
Throughout this post I’ll share a handful of videos showcasing scenes and scenery from the game. They’ll add a lot to the content of the post, so be sure to watch these at least briefly.
For starters, please consider playing the music below while you read through the article. You’ll be glad you did — trust me.
“Your home is sometimes a place you travel long and far to find…”
Introduction: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the final chapter in the tale of a notorious and legendary witcher known far and wide as Geralt of Rivia.
It’s a journey that will take you through the ghastly reaches of swampy Velen, the winding alleyways and torch-lit dwellings of Novigrad, the breathtaking and overwhelming vistas of Skellige, and much, much more. It’s an adventure that will have you clutching your belly in a fit of laughter one moment, and then fighting to hold back tears the next. It’s a moral quest that will test you relentlessly, forcing you to make decisions of immense consequence. And though you may try to do the right thing, things will rarely go the way you’d like them to.
It is, put simply, the story of the White Wolf. It is his journey to find and help his precious daughter — a desperate search that sends him far and wide, getting into all sorts of trouble along the way.
“…No witcher’s ever died in his own bed…”
Part I: A World Like No Other
Geralt opened his eyes. He had been collecting his thoughts as he waited for a potion to finish brewing. He blew the steam off the vial that held the shot of swallow he had just prepared and placed a lid on it. Gathering up his ingredients, he stood and stretched, feeling stiff after a wet and sleepless night.
The sun’s first rays had begun to shine over the trees atop the hill where he had set up camp. The golden light made him squint as he patted his faithful horse, Roach, and stored his supplies in his saddlebags. The sky was full of color: Fiery hues of red and orange danced amidst the clouds. As Geralt sheathed his swords, a gale swept over the hill, rustling the leaves and sending a pair of disgruntled swallows flying overhead.
It was a cold and crisp morning in a remote part of Velen. The soaked earth sank beneath Roach’s hooves as he trotted along. Geralt was grateful to be on horseback, though he, too, was soaked. And just when he’d started to dry off, it started to rain.
“Dammit,” he grunted.
What you just read wasn’t an excerpt from one of the Witcher books. It was something I wrote myself just now. You know what’s incredible, though? All the words came to me naturally. I hardly had to try to be creative.
The reason for this is because I’ve experienced countless moments like these while playing The Witcher 3. If anything, moments like these in the game are far more detailed than my simple little piece. It is, in my opinion, the single most amazing thing about this game.
For starters, the simple graphical fidelity of the game is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The level of photo-realism is truly awe-inspiring. I know I’m not the only one who’s had many moments where I was quite literally mesmerized by the scenery in this game. In every 100+ hour playthrough I’ve done, I’ve probably spent a good 10 hours just standing still and taking in the view.
And it’s not just that the game looks real. It looks real and it looks bloody beautiful. The rich level of detail in the textures, the lush and dense foliage, the complex and detailed structures, the vibrant and colorful sky, the lively and believable water — it’s all entirely mind-boggling. How did one studio create something so gorgeous? Not once did I think this game was anything short of stunning. And very rarely did I feel I even needed gameplay to keep me interested. I’d enjoy the game if the only damned thing I did was walk around and take in the incredible world.
But of course, The Witcher 3 doesn’t look incredible just for the sake of being pretty. CD Projekt Red’s surreal world-building is absolutely essential to every other aspect of the game. Geralt’s epic journey wouldn’t feel anywhere close to as special as it does if it didn’t take place in a rich and believable world. It’s the way that everything throughout the game’s vast map is cohesive, the way it all just fits that makes for such a surreal experience.
Speaking of cohesiveness: nothing is more impressive than the way CD Projekt Red’s world keeps you unfailingly immersed. Whether it’s the shoddy furniture and rotting food on the table in a shack in Velen, or a guard passing by groveling about how much he hates the local garrison commander in White Orchard, it all comes together to form a fully-realized, fully-believable world. Very rarely (if ever) do you have moments that remind you that you’re just playing a game. And you constantly feel that this world would be here whether you were travelling through it or not. You are not the center of everything, as is the case in so many other games.
Instead, you’re the lone ranger, roaming through an unforgiving world that, quite frankly, doesn’t want you around. The details in the world go beyond simply making things believable. They constantly remind you of your place in it. You are an outcast, a freak, a mutant. Subtle gestures and blatant insults constantly make you feel unwelcome. And that makes it all the more heartwarming when sympathetic and nonjudgmental folks give you a chance.
On top of all that I’ve mentioned, this world is unfathomably vast. The sheer size of each of its regions is overwhelming, especially when you realize that not one bit of space on the map is empty and unnecessary space. The world is brimming with life, and every nook and cranny has some secret worth discovering. This combined with the fact that The Witcher 3 spans several gargantuan and distinct locations (e.g., swamps, mountains, plains, foothills; frozen fields, summery vineyards, breezy farmlands) is more than extraordinary. How one game studio created something so huge and so whole is beyond me.
To sum up everything that makes the world of this game so breathtaking, I’ll leave you with this video.
“What can you know about saving the world, silly? You’re but a witcher.”
Part II: A Cast You’ll Never Forget About
The characters. Where to even start? Never have I cared as much about fictional characters as I have about the cast of this game. Andrzej Sapkowski, the author of the Witcher books, has created some of the most masterfully crafted and unique characters you’ll ever see, and the geniuses at CD Projekt Red have brought these characters to life in The Witcher 3 in a truly majestic way.
The first and most important among these characters is, of course, Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf.
Geralt is by far the most complex character I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing as in a game. On the surface, he’s painfully typical: a grumpy, emotionless tough guy, simply looking to avoid trouble, get his coin, and get going. The type of super-strong bad-ass that we see all too often in RPGs (and movies, books, etc.).
But Geralt is so much more than meets the eye. He’s grumpy, yet he’ll go out of his way to help even a stranger. He appears emotionless, yet he cares more deeply for his friends than anyone I know. And he’s definitely a tough guy that you wouldn’t want to mess with, but there’s a complicated and, frankly, quite sad tale behind why he’s that way.
This character has extraordinary depth, and CD Projekt Red reveal this exquisitely through the subtlest of remarks, expressions and gestures. You get to know Geralt in The Witcher 3 not through words but through his actions. And once you know him, you can’t help but want to support him in the difficult and unfair struggle that is his life. He is beyond any doubt one of a kind. Without Geralt, the Witcher books and the Witcher games would be nothing.
The second most important group of characters in The Witcher 3 (and in the Witcher generally) is easily Geralt’s female companions. Especially Ciri, his adopted daughter; Yennefer, Ciri’s adoptive mother and Geralt’s first serious lover; and Triss, Ciri’s one-time caretaker and the woman Geralt fell in love with when he had lost his memory (and thus couldn’t remember Yennefer).
I’m not going to go into detail about what makes each of these characters wonderful, as that would take far too long. But I can comfortably say that these are some of the strongest and most alluring female characters I’ve ever seen. It’s legitimately scary how much Yennefer and Triss toy with (and at times, unfortunately, use) Geralt. The famous White Wolf, the great witcher none dare cross, is constantly bossed around by Yen and Triss (especially the raven-haired one). Throughout The Witcher 3, you’ll find yourself wading through mud and filth on a number of occasions for the sake of these two sorceresses. (You do this for more sorceresses than just these two, in fact. Geralt’s a sucker sometimes…)
Then there’s Ciri, Geralt’s adopted daughter and the true center of the game’s story. Throughout your journey, you’ll likely grow to love Ciri as much as you love Geralt. The way you can see all of Ciri’s relatives manifested in her (especially Geralt), yet see that she is absolutely still her own person, is brilliant.
She’s a brave and foolhardy girl, a character nearly as confusing and complex as Geralt himself. At times she seems to have boundless confidence, and at others she’s surprisingly vulnerable. Sometimes she has childish outbursts, and other times she’ll call out the adults for being unreasonable. There is nothing obvious or boring about Ciri, and her importance in The Witcher 3 is paramount.
“This is my story, not yours. You must let me finish telling it.”
Lastly, there are the many supporting characters. There’s Dandelion, the obnoxious and silver-tongued bard, and his sweetheart, Priscilla. There’s Zoltan, the vulgar and absolutely hilarious dwarf. There’s the Bloody Baron and his family, who together make for one of the greatest quest-lines in any RPG ever. There’s the lodge of sorceresses and the terrifying women that are its members: Keira Metz, Philippa Eilhart, and more. There’s the gang-bosses of Novigrad and their many associates. There’s the jarls of Skellige and their families and servants.
And, of course, there’s the witchers of Kaer Morhen, the closest thing Geralt has to a real family. Vesemir, Eskel, and Lambert are some great characters, similar to Geralt’s female companions in terms of depth and importance. Time spent with these fellow witchers at Kaer Morhen makes for some of the best moments The Witcher 3 has to offer. (Especially a certain rowdy and drunken night.)
This doesn’t come anywhere close to mentioning all the noteworthy characters in this epic game. There’s rarely a time when you’re talking to someone in the game that you don’t care about. (Admittedly, sometimes the feelings you’ll have are pure hatred, but that’s still a type of caring.) Each conversation has something unique to offer; it never feels like the same boring routine we’re put through in so many other games. Even the smallest of conversations for the shortest of quests will stand out in some way. Who could forget the talk with Mislav the hunter early in the game’s prologue? A character with almost no relevance to anything at all in the game, leaving you hoping you’ll one day cross paths again and get to sit down together for an ale.
I could go on and on and on about The Witcher 3‘s characters. I’ve barely talked about the majority of them, honestly. I want to tell you about why I love Vesemir and Lambert. I want to explain to you what it is that makes Sigismund Dijkstra, the underworld criminal and former spy, such an intriguing character. And I’d love to discuss the Bloody Baron’s story — one of the most profound parts of the entire game. But alas, neither of us has the time for all that. So let’s keep moving forward.
“…The witch hunts will never be about witches…”
Part III: A Soundtrack That Will Hypnotize You
If you took my advice and played the soundtrack before reading this article, I won’t need to tell you that the music in this game is special. I’ve gone and tried to listen to music from other games to try to gauge just how good the soundtrack is in The Witcher 3, and it’s only reinforced my belief that the music here is far better than it has any right to be.
Once again, I’m left asking: How can one studio have created something so magnificent? You’d think that, after impressing us so much with other parts of the game, they’d have dropped the ball just a bit with the soundtrack. But no, of course they haven’t. The music in this game goes far beyond merely doing the rest of it justice. It is an absolutely integral part to its success.
Aside from the music simply being good enough that it’s worth listening to on its own, it also fits the game almost too well. There’s an ever-present ominous and mysterious tone to this soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t sound sinister. It just always reminds you that this world isn’t necessarily a happy one. It reminds you that the wilds you’re traversing aren’t safe. But for every dark and uneasy bit of music, there’s also the bright and beautiful sound of a flute or harp, reminding you that there’s hope and good to be found, too. It’s a blend that so perfectly describes the reality of Geralt’s world.
To see exactly what I mean, just listen to the first bit of the video below. It starts slow, grim, and foreboding… Then the flute comes in, just like I mentioned above. And once the string ensemble joins the fray… Just, wow.
On top of everything I’ve mentioned, the soundtrack is also diverse. Some locations feature atmospheric and melancholic music, like many parts of the Skellige islands (check out the piece below). Others fittingly have upbeat and thrilling tracks, like the streets and taverns of Novigrad.
Yet, even with so much diverse music, the soundtrack always feels cohesive. Fast travelling from one location to another, having the music change at times drastically, never feels awkward. The transition is seamless because, while the music itself is different, the tone and feeling behind it stays consistent throughout the entire game. This is in part thanks to the use of similar instruments for most tracks, but mainly due to the genius of The Witcher 3’s composers. They tried to give the game’s soundtrack a certain unique feel, and they absolutely succeeded. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
Also, who could forget Priscilla’s Song? Magical moments like these can be found all throughout the game, to be sure. But this one is easily one of the most memorable. On a typical evening in Novigrad’s Kingfisher inn, when you least expect it, you’re hit by one of the most profound scenes in any video game ever. Watch it below. (That includes those of you who’ve seen it before: Watch it anyways.)
“Well, there’s a war, so there’s orphans. Didn’t know that, mister?”
Part IV: Gameplay That Feels Just Right
This is one of the parts of the game that has been most criticized. Some feel that the gameplay can become repetitive, especially seeing as a proper playthrough of the game can take well over 100 hours. While I can see where these people are coming from, I feel that, to criticize the gameplay, you have to have missed the main point of the game in the first place.
In The Witcher 3, you’re a ranger, a lone-wanderer, travelling from village to village with only your horse and your swords as company. You’re role-playing as Geralt, an intelligent and clinical witcher. As such, in my opinion, the gameplay is absolutely perfect. Because everything you do in the game — explore the wilds on horseback, fight bandits and monsters, investigate crime-scenes using your witcher senses, and so on — absolutely fits. You always feel that you’re in the shoes of Geralt, whether you’re in a messy fight against a pack of wolves or or slowly tracking the footsteps of an apparent thief.
Perhaps the game doesn’t have the most fluid combat we’ve ever seen, but the way that succeeding in difficult fights demands proper preparation (i.e., applying the right oils, preparing the right magical signs, and drinking the right potions) is the way it should be. Geralt is a witcher: agile and strong, to be sure, but not possessing beyond superhuman qualities like an Elder Scrolls character might. When he’s fighting a pack of wolves, the truth is that the best he can do is keep sidestepping their lunges while sneaking in a swing of his sword at opportune moments, hoping his wolfsbane oil will do the necessary damage. It’s not “boring” and “poor” gameplay design; it’s believable and gritty combat that demands you use all the tools at your disposal rather than pull off unrealistic and over the top maneuvers like you would in other games.
The point, ultimately, is that this is a true role-playing game. If you can’t appreciate that, it’s as I mentioned earlier: you have missed the main point of the game. Many have complained, for instance, that the many parts of the game where you use your witcher senses to investigate things are repetitive and dull. But how can that be, when what you’re really doing is investigating an intriguing (and at times dangerous) crime-scene? If you’re simply looking for some kind of engaging gameplay mechanic, then sure, it’s boring. But if you’re actually interested in solving a mystery, and you’re appreciating Geralt’s uncanny talent as a tracker, then these parts of The Witcher 3 will never, ever bore you.
In conclusion, the gameplay in this game might not be the most engaging mechanically, but it’s absolutely fitting. Every fight feels intense and real in a way I haven’t experienced in many games. And everything you do when not fighting, whether it’s gathering herbal ingredients to brew necessary potions or searching a rugged cave for potential loot, is rewarding primarily because it truly feels like you’re walking the path of a witcher. I can honestly say that even if I could choose for the gameplay to be different, I simply wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s perfect as is.
“…Nigh is the time of sword and axe…”
Part V: A Tale to Remember
The story in this game is one of the best I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying a lot because game narrative’s typically aren’t all that impressive when compared to books or even movies/shows. And as far as video game stories go, The Witcher 3‘s is the best for me.
To say that this is a story that will pull you in, take hold of you, and pull at your heartstrings is an understatement. It’s not even just the game’s overall narrative involving your journey to help Ciri that I’m talking about. Every single story-line is extraordinarily impactful. As I mentioned earlier with Mislav’s tale, even the smallest quests leave you thinking and, often, feeling happy, or sad, or revolted, and so on.
You can imagine how it is, then, with the longer and more relevant quest-lines. Each chapter of the game has several intertwined story-lines happening at the same time, and each of them will make it difficult for you to put the game down. I’ve played through The Witcher 3 multiple times, and the Bloody Baron’s story still gets me every time. You don’t have to be shocked by the game’s plot twists to appreciate the stories. (Though there are a lot of plot twists, and they’re good.) Everything that goes into each complex and elaborate story is a constant joy to behold. From the writing, to the animation, to the pacing, to the voice-acting, to the camerawork during cut-scenes, it’s all impressive.
All of this, and I haven’t even started to discuss the game’s main story. The journey to find and help Ciri, fighting the Wild Hunt all the while, was one that left me nervous or in tears many times. Not because the music was especially sad or because the scenes were excessively intense and frightening. Nothing was ever forced.
The reason I felt such strong emotions while playing through The Witcher 3‘s main story is because I cared so much about Geralt, Ciri, and all the other central characters. I cared about the downtrodden and helpless people of Velen, and the oppressed non-humans of Novigrad that were being brutalized by the Church of the Eternal Fire. I genuinely felt awful and hated myself anytime I made a bad decision that brought harm upon any of my friends or any innocent people. And while I tried my best to always make the right call, I failed often and frequently regretted my own shortcomings. Sounds a lot like real life, huh?
The stories of this game masterfully bring you along as you experience the triumphs and struggles of a lone ranger, his companions, and ultimately, all the races and nations of the world of The Witcher. There’s so much more I could say to emphasize why this is true, but we’ve already talked enough about the masterpiece that is The Witcher 3‘s narrative here on Obilisk. Plus, I’m really trying to keep this article spoiler free. So for now, it’s time to move on.
“…There’s a grain of truth in every fairy tale.”
Conclusion: The Ultimate Journey
All the elements of The Witcher 3 come together in a way that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a video game. The magnificence and beauty of it all when combined is simply overwhelming. It is truly the ultimate journey.
It’s an adventure so vast and grand, yet the tiny moments throughout are what define it most. The way your daughter, Ciri, smiles at you when you crack a joke. The way you’ll hear birds singing and chirping on a breezy and sunny morning in one of Skellige’s lush forests. The hilarious and vulgar conversations you’ll overhear in the game’s many cozy taverns. The epic last-gasp victories you’ll pull off in intense high-stakes games of Gwent. The way Geralt grumbles when it starts to rain. I could go on and on…
The Witcher 3 is the culmination of all the Witcher books and games that came before it. It is the absolute realization of a world like no other, and the final journey of a character the likes of which we’ll never see again. It’s difficult to imagine how one game studio could possibly have created something more perfect. Bigger and better games will always continue to be released — that’s just the reality of the gaming world — but no game will ever replace The Witcher 3. This is an RPG that has defined an era — an entire genre, even — and will forever be remembered as one of the great masterpieces of the game industry. And, for me, it will always be the single greatest game ever created… Period.
I’m extremely grateful to Andrzej Sapkowski and the unbelievably talented team at CD Projekt Red for bringing these characters and this world to life. The story and journey of the White Wolf has affected my life significantly. Geralt will always be my favorite character, and The Witcher 3 will always be my favorite game. I know I speak for millions of us when I say: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.