Bewitched by The Witcher

Bewitched by The Witcher
A screenshot of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, an action adventure game for the PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Every now and then, there comes a special game that takes the world by storm and robs gamers of their normal lives.

Wives and girlfriends think they have lost their husbands and boyfriends to the computer shrine, while ignorant bosses wonder why usually bright-eyed employees now look like sleep-deprived zombies.

Of the last four winners of Digital Life Awards' Best Game Of The Year, three - Diablo III, Skyrim and Dragon Age Inquisition - were role-playing games that stole hundreds of hours from willing gamers. Yet, we willingly gave in to the lure, knowing that these would be adventures to remember for the rest of our lives.

This year, that robber of time and energy is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It launched just last week and every gamer I know of is either playing it already or is exercising restraint until he can set aside a stretch of time to play it without wrecking his career.

I have no choice - because I am reviewing the game.

In The Witcher 3, you play Geralt of Riva, one of a small band of specialist monster hunters living in an era where the once-revered witchers are now distrusted by the very humans they have sworn to protect. The rich background story feels like an epic adventure you should not rush through in a week, but slowly enjoy over the rest of the year.

It begins with Geralt receiving a letter from his former lover - Yennifer, whom he has been seeking for many years - asking for help.

So, you rush headlong to her last known location and are soon embroiled in a larger plot in which the northern and southern kingdoms of men are at war. Meanwhile, wild beasts and evil denizens of the night roam the land. As a witcher, you find yourself slaying griffins, ghouls, bears, wraiths and more.

It is inevitable that this will be compared with Skyrim - another epic with a huge open world to explore. In my view, The Witcher 3 is definitely better. Skyrim lets you create your character from a choice of classes. The Witcher 3 has more character because you can play only as Geralt, although he can be customised to be an eager student of magic, or stronger in melee combat.

However, clearly alchemy, spells and a strong sword arm are all necessary if you are to succeed in your quest.

To survive the battles, you cannot simply rush in and hack your way through hordes of enemies. You must apply the right battle strategy against different opponents. The powerful griffin, for instance, is best incapacitated temporarily with the Aard spell, which stuns the creature with a powerful wave of force, so you can repeatedly rush in with a few sword slashes and back out to avoid the counter-attack.

You can coat your weapons with oils to increase damage against specific creatures. Coating your sword with necropage oil and casting the Igni fire spell are great tactics to use on undead creatures, such as ghouls. However, against wraiths and other incorporeal evils, apply the Yrden spell to trap and slow down the spectres, so you can get them with your sword.

It is not all just about fighting. As a witcher, you have enhanced senses that let you smell and see what would normally be hidden from mortal men. Many quests are solved through investigation. The plot often unfolds satisfyingly through high-quality cutscenes, as if you are a private eye figuring out unsolved mysteries.

I am delaying my full review by a week, because there is just so much more to do before I can say I can offer a fair discussion of this epic adventure.

However, I already know this game will definitely be nominated for the Best Overall Game for DL's annual awards next year.

In fact, I think it might have already won.

ginlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 27, 2015.
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