The Witcher: Wild Hunt - Preview

The Witcher: Wild Hunt - Preview

Release Date: 25/07/2013

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt preview for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at GAME

Beast Quest

The Witcher: Wild Hunt is nothing if not ambitious. Many developers would balk at creating any kind of open world, let alone one said to be a staggering 35 times the size of its predecessor. You have to applaud the bravery of Polish studio CD Projekt Red, and what it's shown of its bold next-gen vision so far belies its comparatively limited resources. One look at Wild Hunt and you'd be amazed that it's been built by a team that barely reaches three figures in number.

At first, it seems that the developer is taking on Bethesda at its own game. The developer says its world is 20% larger than Skyrim, proudly claiming that travelling from end to end on horseback will take 40 minutes, and offers the familiar boast of "if you can see it, you can go there". And yet the sandbox isn't the focus; CD Projekt Red is committed to a strong, singular narrative that will take the better part of 50 hours to finish, a tale that sees morally ambiguous protagonist Geralt of Rivia fighting "for those he holds dear".

Scrap Mettle

Talking of fighting, the combat mechanics have been tweaked and refined. Geralt is described as "a whirlwind of rage and steel", but in previous games his blunt, aggressive style didn't quite match the legend. This time, his skills as a swordsman will be closer to the Geralt of the original novels, a leaner and more elegant combatant, capable of balletic dodges and precision strikes.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt preview for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at GAME

Good job, too, as the enemies he faces are larger and more dangerous than ever. You'll rarely be able to simply hack your way through cannon fodder, with the Wild Hunt, a band of otherworldly marauders, proving fearsome opponents. One early highlight sees Geralt tackling a terrifying, gnarled fiend with antlers and a cabal of wolves under its command, in a dark forest buffeted by rainstorms. The game's scale might be larger, but these encounters retain their intensity and intimacy.

In some respects, it's more Monster Hunter than Elder Scrolls, with a dash of Batman: Arkham Asylum thrown in. The latter is called to mind when Geralt engages his 'Witcher senses', using environmental clues to stalk his prey. It can also be used during combat, allowing you to target an enemy's weak points, though it's rarely as simple as attacking the glowing hotspot.

Dismember Me

Fights bristle with tactical possibilities: hack off a limb, for example, and an enemy won't be able to use certain moves. Or you may prefer to manouevre enemies into strategically advantageous positions, luring them out into the open, or backing them into corners. A refined alchemy system, meanwhile, will encourage players to use spells and potions in the heat of the action instead of only indulging their inner mixologist when they're in a safe place.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt preview for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at GAME

As ever, the choices you make will affect the game world, from immediately tangible changes to unpredictable and wide-ranging consequences. The impact of your decisions is said to hit harder and spread farther: kill a beast on one side of the map, say, and you may find characters on the other behave very differently in your presence. As if that wasn't enough, there's a dynamic in-game economy, with trade prices of items affected by location. Whether you want to make your money from trading or fancy earning respect and adoration by slaying beasts for frightened villagers, the choice is yours.

It's a daring project, then, but while it remains to be seen whether this ambitious indie can pull it off, The Witcher: Wild Hunt is already a convincing show of next-gen muscle. Its environments will be instantly familiar to those well-versed in high fantasy - and thanks to Peter Jackson and HBO, that's most of us - but rarely have they been depicted so vividly.

Now You're Tolkien

Even now, maybe a year from release, it offers a parade of awesome sights. Geralt passes through a burning village licked by orange flame, thick smoke belching into the inky night. He races on horseback through verdant woodland, emerging to be greeted by angry skies colliding with distant, twisted crags. He even gets to sail across gorgeously rendered seas - pausing only to gawp at a passing mermaid. He might be following his heart, but evidently he can't ignore his baser urges.

Only time will tell whether CD Projekt can pair such stunning visuals with satisfying systems, but early evidence suggests it's more than capable of bringing its ambitious plans to fruition. In other words, we might just be looking at the first must-have sandbox game for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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