‘The Witcher 3′ PAX East Demo Impressions

Last week was an incredibly busy week for the gaming industry with both GDC and PAX East occurring within the span of seven days. This led to a great deal of news, and a slew of videos, interviews, and demos. Analog Addiction was fortunate enough to attend PAX East this year and got the opportunity to spend some quality time playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Upon starting the demo, I quickly realized that it did not matter if you had not played a Witcher title in quite some time, the game does a fantastic job of making you recall characters and plot points you may have assumed you could not remember. The way it does this is through a simple cutscene at the start, reintroducing two key characters from past entries as well as the young lady who becomes the focus of Wild Hunt. There is an optional tutorial which reintroduces mechanics to players, allowing those already quite familiar with the combat system to simply carry on with the game. Following the completion of this tutorial, the prologue begins which tasks Geralt with hunting down his love, Yennefer. Geralt has a vague idea of where she may be headed, but needs the assistance of travelers and locals to catch up. The characters you approach will have varying responses to Geralt, as some people are not fond of Witchers and others do not wish to give up information freely. This is the first time you are given the opportunity to engage a minigame, playing a strategic game of cards against an NPC in exchange for information.

Of course, the option of telling the character you do not have time to play games also exists. Once you have gotten the information you seek, Geralt is sent off in the direction of a military camp to speak to a commanding officer. The trek is somewhat lengthy, and can lead to crossing paths with a variety of different enemies. I stumbled upon wolves and Drowners, the latter having received a significant overhaul in appearance. Every direction you turned, there was a vast landscape with rich colours and a great attention to detail. The small map on your HUD will show you the occasional enemy whenever they get within range of you, but you may see their red dot simply run off for one reason or another as they act independently of Geralt. The fact that these creatures seem to do their own thing as you play through the game is refreshing, meaning that you do not necessarily have to stop and fight enemies every time you get within 50 feet of them. That being said, the combat system is as smooth as ever, yet still unforgiving on the harder difficulty settings.

When you finally make your way into the military base, you are treated to an entertaining conversation between the commanding officer and Geralt, leading to a deal whereby Geralt kills the local gryphon and in return gets information about Yennefer. This conversation is where our experience with the demo ended, but it also allowed us to sit down with senior game designer Damien Monnier to talk about the game.

Monnier informed Analog Addiction that the individuals who wish to solely tackle the story quests will find roughly 50-60 hours of gameplay in The Witcher 3. Given the vast number of optional side quests and minigames within the title, this amount of time increases significantly for those who do choose to complete additional content. When asked about how the difficulty levels will compare to previous Witcher titles, Monnier said that the top-tier difficulty will be similar to that of The Witcher 2, although they are currently thinking of a new label for the “Easy” difficulty. Monnier said that this lower difficulty was included for those who want to experience the story with less emphasis on the combat, but using the label “Easy” suggests a lack of skill on the player’s part and they want to avoid that negative connotation. Quite frankly, in order to access all of the 36 different endings available in Wild Hunt, you may want to use the lower difficulty at least once or twice.

When I asked Monnier if there were any elements they had to reluctantly cut from the title, he informed me that there was a prototype for an ice skating combat portion of the game. He explained that due to where the scenario fell in the game, roughly 50 hours in, the team felt that introducing a new mechanic to the player and demanding them to be immediately good at it was unfair. As this was the only instance of the mechanic in the game, it was cut entirely, although Monnier did mention that had it been included, there would have been blood all over the ice. In response to being asked if he had any favourite moments from development, Monnier informed me that there was one morning which stands out to him when he was planning on doing some debugging. He had some bugs to look at, and pulled the latest data version of the game. When he booted it up, he noticed an NPC he had never seen before so he figured he would go over and see what this character was like. He assumed it wouldn’t take too long, but “two and a half hours later, I was still doing the side quests.”

With release date getting ever closer for The Witcher 3, I was able to get some information on their plan to release DLC for the title. It had been made public earlier that there would be free DLC released after launch, and a handful of pieces were detailed. Monnier told me that they plan on supporting the game for a long while, with all of it continuing to be free, released every second week, and will vary from weapons to skins, missions to armour, and more. Monnier said that they still have not figured out exactly what will be offered, but he assured me it would be provided for a lengthy period of time and all free of charge.

After playing the demo and talking with Damien Monnier about Wild Hunt, I can honestly say that my excitement for this title has shot up even more. It looks amazing, it plays smoothly, Geralt is still as rough around the edges as ever, and we are introduced to more characters like Ciri. The sheer volume of content is going to blow both of the previous Witcher titles out of the water, and it became evident after meeting Monnier that the team is entirely dedicated to bringing gamers the best possible experience both before and after release.