As I started playing this game I realized a few things about the gaming industry at large, namely that there has not been a widely released western style role-playing game of top tier quality in some time. Now, arguments can be made for games like Elder Scrolls and Kingdoms of Amalur, but I am specifically referring to titles that have an established character, which, with the exception of perhaps giving them a name that they are never actually referred to as, has the story centered on them. Even the previous installments of The Witcher franchise had elements that were, to be frank, lacking. Luckily, this last installment rectifies any issues I have had with the franchise, and this is, definitively, the best western style RPG I have ever played.
If you have never played a Witcher game before, it's okay, as the world does a fantastic job of dropping you into a complete and well-crafted world. If you wish to learn more about the world, there are a number of in-game books that will answer nearly any questions you may have. This leads me to another point about the world of The Witcher. Your choices all have consequences and you more often than not get to see them play out, sometimes immediately, and other times in small referential ways. However, this is not a game of simple good vs. evil morality, and oftentimes there is no right choice when one is present to you, but make you stand up for your morals. Do you take the payment for your hard work killing a monster, or let the farmer keep it for his daughter's dowry? What if the monster you were hired to slay was not in fact a monster, or even the cause of the situation? What will you do when a corrupt priest tries to bribe you off over something that does not concern you or harm anyone? These are some of the "easier" questions you will ask yourself when presented with them, and that is one of the many things that CD Projekt Red got so right with The Witcher III.
In terms of raw story, you have around 30-50 hours worth of content at your disposal, with an extra 100+ hours available to you if you want the complete experience, which while nice for leveling purposes, is not required. Again, the pick your adventure style offerings the game makes for you are incredible, and I am not ashamed that I will be playing this game for quite some time yet. I hope to someday see everything there is to see in this game, even if it is not on my first playthrough. There are so many well made side missions that if you want to truly clear an area, you'll need to be prepared to travel far and wide, as well as return later in the game. For example, one of the first contracts I picked up was for level 35, and I was only level 4 at the time. The main story itself, however, will ensure that you are of proper level just by continuing your main questline. There are eight different endings, in addition to thirty-two different combinations of world state you can achieve through major plots. This means the story doesn't have to end any time soon if you so desire, and while I won't spoil anything here, all the endings to the main plot and side plots are well worth seeing, though I'd advise trying to achieve your own before looking up the others. Along the way you will meet a diverse cast of rebels, kings, brutes, sorceresses and of course, the Wild Hunt. While they are the main antagonist behind the plot, they are far from the only threat you will face in this world full of monsters and demons, and perhaps most fearsome, other people.
Combat is also phenomenal, and while you are the world's best monster hunter, you are by no means unstoppable or overpowered. Enemies just a few levels above you can and will kill you in one hit, though if you want you can spend the time dancing around the battlefield, whittling your opponent down, or use clever combinations to score instantly fatal executions. As you level up you can unlock upgrades for your abilities, and while you have full access to all of your abilities from the start, you must equip the upgrades in limited slots, and you can enhance types of upgrades using mutagens. Alchemy is not only available to you as a Witcher, along with your combat skills and basic magic called signs, it is actually vital, whereas in the previous installments it felt as a tacked on extra that was never really useful. Knowing your quarry before you go in to a fight is as important as the narrative makes it out to be, and while it may not be impossible to blindly win against most any foe you face, you will fare far better if you come prepared.
The game itself is beautiful, and if you have a powerful enough PC to run it on max settings I would highly advise that version, though if your PC is lacking, console is not a bad choice at all for the experience. While there was a very slight graphical edge going for the PS4 version over the Xbox One, you can't really tell unless you do a side by side comparison, so if you have both it is a simply matter of preference. Even on console, the world is stunningly beautiful, with a landscape that you can believe in and is not just another typical fantasy setup, with a mountain o' doom, and a forest o' death (though both sort of exist in the Witcher universe, it's not blatant nor cliché) and each village feels unique, and again, believable. While there is some recycling of voice work and character model elements with some of the non-interactive NPCs, the world truly feels as alive and real as our own, and that is a huge accomplishment. Also worthy of note is the soundtrack, and it is an understatement to say that it is phenomenal, as it does a great job of adding depth and emotion to cutscenes and combat alike.
Of course, this could not be a review of The Witcher III without mentioning Gwent. For a simple side/mini game, Gwent is actually a well made trading card game, and the quest line that features around it is incredibly fun, and again, totally optional. From absolutely destroying peasants to being crushed just as badly by my first opponent with hero cards, and the dreaded scorch. Various strategies can be made and executed, with no one right way or deck to play, if you enjoy TCGs this is one of the better ones out there, and it boggles my mind that there isn't a standalone app or browser based game from CD Projekt Red yet.
To sum it all up, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is a game that delivers or outright exceeds in every area without sacrifice, and has incredible value, as CD Projekt Red has more than supported this game since launch, and will continue to grow with the two planned expansions. I can only hope that, while this is the end of the series, they may someday change their mind, as I would love to see the yet further adventures of one Geralt of Rivia. This was a game that was well crafted, and I have never played a western styled, open world RPG that has felt this whole or complete in every way. They may not know it, but CD Projekt Red has made the game that others in its genre will be judged against for years to come, and this was, at least for me, a genre defining experience.
Final score: 10/10