The Witcher 3 E3 2014 Demo – Glorious Doesn’t Even Begin…
A lot has happened since we last saw Geralt of Rivia a year ago. The game, originally slated for a 2014 release has been delayed in order to make the game better, which in my estimation last year, was already intensely good.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year’s closed door demo seemed to be all about showing us how your choices greatly influence and affect the world around you. Geralt saved a village from a devastating monster at the behest of the villagers. However, the monster that was killed served to, in the end, protect the villagers in a way. Less than four months later in game, the village is destroyed and its inhabitants slaughtered by bandits who might not have come previously thanks to the monster threat.
This year the spectacle was the world itself, as well as showcasing the combat system more fully. The world of The Witcher 3 is teeming with life: villagers, villains, and monsters all roam independently and have their own day/night activities unique to their character. Inside the stone city of Novigrad we could see grocers handling wares, stable boys hard at work; the city was massive and the role the NPCs played helped convey enormity of the city in a more believable way.
I think this is in complete contrast with other games that boast large, living cities. A perfect example of this would be the Assassin’s Creed series. In Ubisoft’s highly popular series, the cities are indeed massive and boast many inhabitants onscreen. However, they don’t seem to do anything really other than move in groups, carry a crate, sit on a bench, and so on. With just the snippet of the city we saw in the demo room, every NPC on screen seemed to have a purpose for being where he or she was, not once giving the impression that they were just simply placed there for fluff.
The visuals were jaw-dropping, as has come to be expected from the screenshots and demos we’ve seen on stage during the Microsoft press conferences the past few years. While the demo this year was indeed running on the Xbox One hardware at 900p, the demo in the theater looked noticeably better, which leads me to believe it was running off a PC. No confirmation on this, but the frame rate was completely smooth, and while there was minimal screen tearing it can easily be attributed to the fact it was an alpha build and not the final product.
We were dropped in the moments after Geralt killed the Griffin and was on his way to receive his payment for the job. In the world of The Witcher 3, payment doesn’t always mean gold. Geralt is looking for someone, and the person who wanted the griffin dead has info on where to look for her next.
We are sent to No Man’s Land in search of a child-like monster named Johnny. Instead of riding our horse there, the developer playing the game used The Witcher 3’s fast travel system. According to our presenter, had we used a horse, sprinting at full speed the entire way would’ve still taken our hero 15-20 minutes to traverse the terrain. To further illustrate how massive the world of The Witcher 3 truly is, Geralt stood upon a large hill overlooking the area we just traveled to and espied a tree in the distance. While not in the background, it was almost at the edge of the draw distance from where we stood. Our presenter told us that Novigrad was about 14 to 15 times farther in the distance. I know it’s not easy to judge distance when you aren’t seeing it in person, but trust me, we had gone a long way, and we were only about halfway across the continent. If that.
We discovered Johnny, the godling that Dijkstra mentioned when we provided him the Griffin head. It seems Johnny has seen the ashen-haired girl we are searching for. Problem is, Johnny has lost his voice. Choice clearly plays a significant role in The Witcher 3. We could choose to continue on our own and try to find her ourselves, or do what makes more sense and help Johnny get his voice back. Then he can tell us the information we need to know.
We are led to a Harpie roost, and it is here we see how there are multiple ways and angles to approach our target. We could find a pleasant path leading up to the top, or we could simply “pull a Shank” and parkour it. Our demo-er totally parkours and simply climbs the side of the mountain to the top.
Oh, and the developer specifically pointed out that Geralt can jump now too. So there’s that.
After reaching the top combat ensues. The harpies are not too keen on us trying to take back the voice they rightfully stole. Unfortunately for them, Geralt is able to dual-wield a crossbow with one of his swords, making the flight advantage a Harpie would normally have completely obsolete. With a mixture of ranged, Witcher Magic and melee, the harpies are quickly dealt with.
Combat in The Witcher 3 is completely fluid. You react to your opponents moves by evading, dodging and counterattacking. Need a bit of crowd control? Simply use a one of your Witcher skills to give you an edge. Fire or knockbacks seem to work wonders as well, making the arsenal you have all the more deadly.
After you get the voice back for Johnny, you find out that it might’ve been better to have him voiceless. The godling bemoans that the ashen-haired girl interrupted one of his favorite activities (defecating to the sunrise, I might add) and ran to an orphanage down the way. You follow him to that orphanage where you are tasked, yet again, with ridding the local area of a monster in exchange for information from the three ladies who seem to run the place.
The children in the orphanage seem to be well taken care of by the old lady, whom Johnny calls “Gram,” so we decide to help the Three Ladies out. It is here that the developers decide to showcase the meditation mechanic. Through meditation you rest and speed up time. This will affect quest availability as well as some monster spawns.
After meditating, we encountered werewolf, thanks to the nighttime that had set in. The time of day will also alter certain beasts and their powers, giving you a different challenge for the different time of day. Using a sigil called “Quen” (the other four are Igni, Yrden, Axii and Aard), Geralt deflected some of the blows of the werewolf and quickly dispatched of it and the adds it called into battle. Eventually we stumbled upon the monster we’d been tasked with killing.
Again, choice became a factor in this interaction. The monster pleaded with us, telling us to not heed the command of The Ladies; that it was trying to protect the children at the orphanage from them. It begged us to not kill it, though we had heard about it’s atrocities from the Elderman and the nearby village the Tree Spirit has terrorized. The game gives us the choice as well, meaning we can go a completely different path than we entered the room with. Do we heed the call of the Tree Spirit and risk the lives of the children at the orphanage if the Tree Spirit is lying? Or do we listen to the Elderman and the nearby villagers who speak nothing but evil about the spirit? In the end, we performed the task we came here to deal with and killed the Tree Spirit.
I can’t stress how great the game has looked up to this point as well. I truly believe that this game, more than any other, will showcase the vast gap between the PC and the current-gen consoles. I remember vividly sitting in Microsoft’s Media Briefing as CDPR stood on stage to showcase the game, thinking to myself that the game looked better last year. If this was how the game has progressed in a year, I honestly wasn’t impressed. Turn the clock forward a few days to the CDPR closed demo and we see the first in-engine vista as Geralt makes his way to Novigrad. My breath was taken away. This looked nothing like what I had seen a few days earlier.
This isn’t to say the game will look bad on the console, far from it in fact. I truly believe that when The Witcher 3 releases in February it will be the best looking game on both consoles. That being said, remember that PC technology will have advanced, and GPU’s will be more powerful at that time as well. The gap between consoles and PC will be vastly noticeable, and it could mark a trend we will see throughout this generation as a result of console hardware remaining stagnant and PC hardware ever-evolving.
All in all, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt remains at the top of my most-anticipated game coming out of E3 this year, and if the rest of the game is as beautifully executed as the 45-minute slice the developers showed us, fans are in for an experience that won’t be rivaled for many games to come. Look for more content regarding the game in the coming months.
Oh, and come to think of it, the orphanage seemed to have a shortage of children upon our return…