CDProjekt Red set the gritty, dark tone for The Witcher 3 early in the demo I saw at E3.
A young woman is savagely beaten and prepared to be hung by a group of three guards. Geralt of Rivia and a companion, a large troll head slung messily on the Witcher's horse, ride in on the grisly spectacle. The Witcher is seeking bounty money for the troll head. He quickly accepts coin from the guards and continues on his way.
Moments later, Geralt stops, mind made up, and turns back. He couldn't tolerate the injustice. The Witcher quickly, and brutally, dispatches the two of the guards before turning to the third. "What are you doing?" asks the last remaining guard, fear and surprise obvious in his voice. Geralt of Rivia answers coldly. "Killing monsters."
Moments later, Geralt stops, mind made up, and turns back. He couldn't tolerate the injustice. The Witcher quickly, and brutally, dispatches the two of the guards before turning to the third.
"What are you doing?" asks the last remaining guard, fear and surprise obvious in his voice.
Geralt of Rivia answers coldly.
The Witcher 3 is the final chapter in the story of Geralt of Rivia, the genetically mutated, master monster slayer. Where The Witcher 2 saw Geralt as a pawn of kings and politics, The Witcher 3 seeks to tell a more personal story and conclude the legend of the White Wolf.
In an hour-long demonstration at E3 2013, I got a first look at the expansive, dangerous world of The Witcher 3.
The Open World
Previous games in The Witcher franchise featured an open ended quest strategy, allowing the player to complete quests that were secondary to the main storyline, but the player has always been limited to the locale related to their current goal in the primary quest line. The Witcher 3 breaks from this tradition, allowing the player to explore a completely borderless open world.
New modes of transportation, including horses and ships, allow the player to traverse both land and sea at will. The gameplay producer running the demonstration also announced a new fast travel system, allowing a player to teleport to a location that they have already discovered via conventional means.
CDProjekt Red refused to show the entire game map in the interest of keeping the true scale and geography of the game secret, but it’s safe to say that the world is vast and features a number of unique regions.
Questing in The Witcher 3
The demonstration showed a story and quest structure that should be familiar to players of other open world role playing titles such as Skyrim. The player can choose to continue the main quest and progress the primary story forward or veer off and partake in non-essential side quests. Examples of side quests shown include slaying bandits and, in true Witcher fashion, hunting monsters.
After a short overland journey on horseback, Geralt meets with the Jarl of a hold before embarking on a short sail in a small boat. The sailing looks straightforward, with a one button "Embark" command, the player gains control of the ship. here are no invisible borders in the seas. If you see a far off landmass, you are able to sail to it.
Using the new fast travel system, the player teleports to a nearby location and quickly comes across a crew of bandits harassing a small house. Geralt briefly oversees the situation before drawing his sword and preparing for combat.
Evident in the battle are Geralt’s new moves, including pirouettes and dodges as well as stronger and more varied uses of the magical signs that carry over from previous Witcher games. Using a series of spins and rolls, as well as liberal use of the Igni sign, which acts like a flamethrower from Geralt's hand, the player disposes of the bandits quickly and has a short conversation with the man who was hiding in the formerly beleaguered house.
From there, a short walk leads Geralt to discover one of the new species of beasts in The Witcher 3, The Fiend. The demonstrator battles with the creature for a few minutes while explaining that there are more than 80 species of monster in the game, each with their own special abilities and maneuvers.
After a period of time, the Fiend escapes, and the player has the choice of tracking the beast to its lair or leaving it alone. For the sake of demonstration, Geralt leaves the area to pursue another quest.
A Living World
The new dynamic weather system in The Witcher 3 is evident when a massive thunderstorm rolls in, causing rain, reduced visibility and high winds. The foliage and fauna sway violently with the gusts as Geralt splashes through puddles on the freshly muddied path.
Weather and time of day will affect gameplay. Enemies may be more common in the dark of night, or difficulty may be increased by a vicious thunderstorm. Illustrating this fact, Geralt encounters more wolves in the nearby forest at night. In realistic fashion, they attack as a pack, striking and retreating in unison.
The realism of economy in The Witcher 3 is also improved. If the player needs ingredients or reagents, they will be cheaper for purchase in areas where that specific product is common. For example, fish will be less expensive near water, whereas bear pelts will be less expensive near forests. It is a minor change, but one that CDProjekt Red hopes will help with building a convincing world.
Geralt now has an ability called "Witcher Sense" that allows him to more easily track and discover information about monsters. While in this mode, tracks and evidence of monster activity is highlighted in color while the rest of the world fades to greyscale.
In the conclusion of the demo, Geralt is tasked with hunting down a forest monster that has been terrorizing a town. Through research done with "Witcher Sense" the player discovers that he is hunting a Leshen, another of the new beast species in The Witcher 3.
Referencing the in game bestiary journal, which the demonstrator referred to as an "in-game Wikipedia," the player can discover how to track and lure the creature.
Eventually, Geralt tracks and kills the Leshen, but his actions have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences that the player later learns about through a "Flashback," which is a short animation telling a bit of story for which the player was not present.
Where many series' third iteration would be a refinement on established gameplay, The Witcher 3 takes risks. Switching from a restricted, fairly linear story to a completely open world is a major departure, but CDProjekt Red seems dedicated to ensuring they get it right. The studio has a history of continued iteration on their games after release, and in an interview with Polygon after the demonstration, CDProjekt Red founder Marcin Iwinski said that they will continue with this model going in to the Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3 is staged to be the largest game CD Projekt Red has ever made, and a crowning development for The Witcher series. It will also be their first game simultaneously developed for PC and consoles. The demonstration shown at E3 is a pre-alpha build, but is already shaping up to be a truly next-generation RPG, if CDProjekt Red can execute on their ambitions.