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Now that we have a couple of seasons behind us of Netflix’s The Witcher video show, I suspect there are a lot of people willing to give The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt video game a try for the first time, thanks to a next-generation console and PC update coming on December 14.
I’m one of those people who can dive in. The Netflix show with Henry Cavill proved to be a new point of entry for a franchise that has captured the attention of a lot of people, partly through a series of books written since the 1980s and partly through CD Projekt Red’s video game series which ran from 2007 through 2015.
This surge in interest from the Netflix show is a pretty compelling reason for CD Projekt Red to offer its free update for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, even though the title first debuted only seven years ago. The game will now get upgraded graphics on the PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.
Like its more recent Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3 came out buggy at first. But it was a massive open world role-playing game that the company upgraded and fixed over time, and eventually fans bought into it in huge numbers. The Witcher 3 won more than 1,000 awards, and it remained a perennial title, becoming one of the most influential games in history.
Now a new generation of fans can find out what the fuss was all about, and see the game with better graphics and new updates that can add to the story. In fact, some of the additions will acknowledge the Netflix show, as you can view the armor worn by Geralt of Rivia in the TV show.
For players who already own the game on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One, the update is free. Original fans have come a long way since the first game based on The Witcher debuted on the PC in 2007. That title was the very first game for Polish studio CD Projekt Red. The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings debuted in 2011.
Fortunately, you don’t have to know much about the earlier games to play The Witcher 3, where special beings called Witchers — professional monster hunters — make it a habit of ridding the world of monsters. The Wild Hunt title was designed to make its open world understandable to newcomers.
It takes place in a fantasy world where humans are conquering the old world on a grand continent that used to belong to the elves and dwarves. On the Continent, the Northern Kingdom is in a bitter war with the Nilfgaardian Empire, which for years has been expanding its territories through constant conquest.
The Nilfgaardian Emperor Emhyr var Emreis is ruthless. He and Geralt of Rivia have little in common, except their shared desire to find Ciri — Emhyr’s daughter by blood, Geralt’s adopted daughter by the even greater bond created through the Law of Surprise.
Witchers are professional monster hunters, given superhuman abilities through a grueling and often deadly process known as the Trial of the Grasses. Their bodies age much slower than humans, allowing them to live centuries, and they are immune to most diseases and poisons. Ciri is the first female witcher.
While the calling is noble, Witchers face distrust and disdain from the people they server. Witchers are a dying breed, and one of the last alive is Geralt of Rivia, also known as the White Wolfe. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt begins with armies marching through the Continent, destroying everything in their path.
Monsters reap the rewards of this destruction, living off the corpses left in the army’s wake — or even the remaining survivors of the conflict. Everyday life, which had already been difficult, became exponentially harder under foreign occupation. And Geralt searches for his love, the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg.
I played through the beginning of the game where Geralt dreams of Yennefer and then awakes to find he must help with the training of Ciri. She disappears and Geralt’s quest becomes a big part of The Witcher 3, where players must traverse six big open world environments on the Continent.
Players who played The Witcher 2 can preload their saved game so that key decisions from the past will carry over into The Witcher 3. I started without a preloaded save. I did some training with the wizened old Witcher Vesimir at Kaer Morhen, where you can follow a tutorial in a place called White Orchard (in the land of Velen) and learn how to fight and cast spells. The combat part wasn’t so hard, but I definitely had trouble remembering how to invoke the spells, or signs, to add some magical superpowers to the combat.
As I went into a tavern, I learned that the locals don’t like being oppressed by the Nilfgaardian conquerers. Vesimir and Geralt pick up some clues about Yennefer that lead to the first quests in the game. But some overly masculine soldiers begin to harass Geralt, and eventually Geralt makes choices that lead him into melee combat with the soldiers, who are all shortly dead.
I played through the tutorial and went on a mission to kill a griffin as a favor to a Nilfgaardian captain who happens to know where Yennefer is hiding.
To find the griffin, Geralt uses his special powers, or Senses, for scanning the environment. A Witcher can hear and smell monster activity with acute sensitivity and can see trails left by others which non-Witchers
would entirely miss.
Geralt reads clues such as footprints and traces them to find the Nilfgaardian soldiers drove the griffin berserk by butchering its mate in its nest. Geralt fetches a lure for the griffin and Vesimir lays out the lure in an ambush area. The winged griffin was pretty difficult to fight, as it was fast in the air. But I had a crossbow with darts that could bring it down, and I finished it off with aggressive blows with my sword.
Geralt carries two swords, one silver for monsters and a steel blade for humans. He can also uses Signs or throw bombs. Before a battle, the Witcher can drink a potion to add special powers over others.
In the combat, I learned I could play it at a faster 60FPS speed in performance mode, where things don’t look quite as pretty. In high-quality mode, the game runs at 30 frames per second and things like flames, shadows, and water look better. Fighting the griffin was a bit tough as I couldn’t tell if I was connecting when I took swings at the flying beast. But within a few minutes the target was down. The sorceress reveals an invitation from the Emperor of Nilfgaard himself, Emhyr var Emreis.
At that point, Yennefer showed up. Geralt’s reunion with her was interrupted by the phantom-like riders of Wild Hunt, who sought to turn her and Geralt into paste on wall inside the tavern.
Once I was done with that mission, I was free to travel to different worlds in the game. It turns out that White Orchard, while a sizable land, was just a tiny part of the entire world of Wild Hunt. Fast travel makes it tolerable to get around to different places. You can travel by foot or on your trust horse Roach.
I played in a build where I could travel pretty much anywhere — a position you can’t get to until much later in the game. I went to the Skellige Isles, an archipelago off the coast, where I looked from a cliff at some amazing view of the sea. Yes, the next-gen graphics on the PS5 looked pretty good.
One of the most interesting missions I tried was “In the Eternal Fire’s Shadow,” which involved a religious cult. The cult has moved a bunch of afflicted people form a town into an abandoned mine. But a group of brigands moved into the mine and slaughtered the people. A deacon from the cult enlists Geralt to help rid the mine of its evils. Geralt agrees and descends into the mine.
As he soon discovers, Geralt must battle another monster. Then Geralt encounters another Witcher there, and combat ensues. The story was quite compelling and even touching. That’s not something you find that often in video game stories. It was clear to me that the quality of the storytelling in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was top notch. And the mission also had a nod to Geralt’s body armor from the TV show.
The new next-gen games have cross progression, rewards, and add-ons inspired by Netflix’s show. They also come with raytracing, which enables more realism through precise rendering of shadows and lighting. I’ve already mentioned the performance and quality modes. It supports AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) Powerful upscaling technology which boosts framerate, and uses a spatial upscaling algorithm to maintain visual quality. It also supports Nvidia’s DLSS on the PC. The game has DLC as well as selection of selection of community-made mods.
CD Project Red said the tweaks include bug fixes, gameplay improvements, quality-of-life additions and more. The game also comes with language updates for Korean and Chinese. The environment has also been improved. Kaer Morhen has new architecture meshes and updated ground vegetation. Among the bug fixes: players can survive falls from greater heights.
As one last exercise, I cruised through the game’s maps and marveled at just how many quests there were. It was pretty massive. If I get about 100 hours in free time, I’ll be sure to try it out.