We spent an hour watching The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at E3. That should tell you two things. First, it's a game that commands our attention. Second, it's not a game you can explain or demo in 15 minutes.
CD Projekt is a very interesting company and a perfect example of Poland's rise to become a prominent country in the world of game development. Originally a distributor of video games (mainly PC titles with RPGs being particularly popular) CD Projekt started CD Projekt Red - their own development studio. Using a modified Aurora Engine (used by Bioware) they created the original The Witcher and since the studio has gone from strength to strength. Breaking free from the Bioware formula the third game in the series is going to be completely open world and much more ambitious than anything previously seen from CD Projekt Red.
The Witcher is a series of game based on fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski's fiction of a mutant and monster hunter named Geralt de Rivia - the White Wolf. A perfect antihero neither completely good nor completely bad, Geralt traverses a world where man can be every bit the monster as the foul creatures that roam in forests and caves. This isn't your Tolkien-esque fairytale, but something darker and more sinister with a strong hold in Central European and Norse myths.
As always when given a first glimpse of a new game the visuals are a talking point and something you can quickly gauge. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt simply looks stunning. And it's not just the level of detail, the animations, but perhaps more so the effects and how they are being used to build the drama and tell the story. The particles and lighting that goes into attacks, how weather and wind affect the environments. It's all very impressive and helps immerse the player into the world.
One area where CD Projekt Red are particularly keen to push the envelope is the narrative, something that is often a bit neglected in open world titles.
"The depth storytelling and the depth of character is important to people, and you kind of lose that when you have a huge world that's populated by so much content. So what we're trying to do is sort of try to push the genre forward a little bit, by really focusing on story and character - and I think that's how we're going to make our difference," said head of production John Mamais in our interview at E3.
We were immensely impressed by how seemingly seamless the main story and side quests merged with your typical open world distractions like exploration. Geralt's tracking technique - his Witcher sense - is another mechanic that should help immerse the player in the role of a Witcher. Collecting clues Geralt will be able to figure out what kind of creature he is dealing with and act accordingly.
When it comes to the main storyline little is known beyond the fact that Geralt is tracking the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt is a group of spectres that spread death and misfortune wherever they roam and admidst a world in chaos Geralt has to seek them out and take them on.
It will be some time until the next single player Elder Scrolls title is released and this game looks like it could fill that void nicely. And in places it looks to improve on the formula thought perfected by Bethesda. We're especially intrigued by the narrative techniques and how CD Projekt will manage to keep story at the forefront even when players go about their business in an open world ripe for exploring.
Interview - Head of Production John Mamais (E3)
Interview - Story Writer Jakub Szamalek (Gamescom)
For more on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt read our articles Witcherland: History of the White Wolf and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Open world narrative evolved.