The Witcher 3 is going to be one of the most compelling reasons to pick up a next-gen console (or upgrade that PC) this year. This is a game that is promising so much, and after having a brief chat with Michal Platkow-Gilewski, CD Projekt RED’s head of marketing, and watching a live demo of the game, I’m even more confident that this will be the next-gen RPG that will really kick the PS4 and Xbox One off for a lot of people.
Rooted heavily in Slavic mythology, The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski are only inspiration for The Witcher games. In other words, CD Projekt RED did not go out with the intention on creating a Lord of the Rings film-style precise emulation of the narrative of any specific book. I haven’t read the books personally so I’m not sure how close CD Projekt RED’s more broad vision for The Witcher’s leading man Geralt is to Sapowski’s, but Platkow-Gilewski is confident that over the course of the 12 years that the developers have been working on the franchise, they’ve spent enough time with the literature to really understand it and the fans of the books are also fans of the games.
“This is who we are” Platkow-Gilewski said. “We don’t want to make things silly to sell more copies; this is a mature, story-driven game. We are always evolving what we’re doing, but we started this 12 years ago that by now we really understand the books and world.”
That mature, story-driven nature of The Witcher has been controversial in the past, with high level sex scenes and moments of extreme, brutal violence preventing the previous games from hitting quite the same sales highs of the likes of Skyrim. Would the higher cost of development in The Witcher 3, and the increased need to sell to a mass market, mean that the developer would be toning back some of the edgier elements?
Not so, Platkow-Gilweski said. “The sex and violence will still be a part of the story. Our goal is, if anything, to integrate it further. We’ll be better introducing it into the game, it will play a more important role and it will be more natural.”
Though the games are only “inspired by” the books, the rich basis in mythology written into the novels remains the core behind the Witcher game narratives. The hint for this game is in the title: The “Wild Hunt” actually refers to an European myth involving a mass of spirits coming together for a violent and destructive hunt (you can read more about the Wild Hunt at Wikipedia). And that should be all the hint you need to know about the central theme to this game; Wild Hunt is clearly themed around tensions between human development and the natural world.
In the live gameplay demo I saw this rich mythology and theme in action where Geralt fought against a creature based on the Slavic Leshy. In one particular instance that was shown in the demo, Geralt entered a small village looking for some information for the main quest. On obtaining that information he could have left the village to continue on with the main story, but a side quest pops up – murder’s been done in the village and the people think they’re haunted by a malicious spirit (this being the Leshy).
Geralt, should he decide to help (and he does in our demo) is provided with two alternative ways to deal with the problem, presented by different, opposing villagers. Both options have a certain degree of moral ambiguity to them, but after choosing one, playing through an investigation sequence (where Geralt follows a series of clues to three totems that need to be destroyed), the monster emerges and the big fight happens.
Then Geralt returns to the village to find that the villager he sided with took the opportunity of the disruption created by the monster to slaughter his rival and his allies. So much for picking sides.
This side quest felt so seamless within the game’s world that I needed to remind myself that it was entirely optional. For the developers at CD Projekt RED to invest such significant resources into something entirely optional demonstrates sheer confidence from the team; confidence that people won’t ignore the side quests, and confidence that the franchise’s fan base are more interested in engaging in the world than simply running through it.
My only concern is the consistency in the game’s vision itself. Platkow-Gilewski mentioned another monster – a mermaid-style creature that was also capable of flight. It’s one thing to take elements from different mythologies and pull them together, but when you do that you also risk a losing the cohesive vision of the original mythology. I don’t really doubt that CD Projekt RED has been careful to avoid that from happening, and of course in the previous two games the development team did a great job balancing out the mythology and their own development ideas, but it will remain a slight concern I have until I see more of the game.
What’s next for CD Projekt RED?
We’re promised about 50 hours for the main narrative and then another 50 hours worth of side questing. Given that a major part of the experience will also be simple exploration, I suspect the final game will be even longer in terms of sheer time should you decide you just have to see everything it has to offer.
And, frankly, I think a lot of you will indeed decided that you want to see everything The Witcher 3 has to offer.
It’s almost unfortunate that after 12 years this is going to be the last Witcher game for quite some time. Geralt’s a good character and CD Projekt RED need not have finished with him, but in terms of creative ideas it does seem that the team is ready to move on. After, at the end of the interview and session, I joked that it must be difficult to let the character go after spending so many years working on him.
Following The Witcher 3, CD Projekt RED’s next game is a cyberpunk-themed one. I’m sure it’s going to be brilliant.