Previews

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - first look at CD Projekt's answer to Skyrim

Does anyone fancy telling Geralt about the hunting ban?

The Wild Hunt is a strange pan-European myth focusing on a spectral hunting party skimming above the ground, in pell-mell pursuit of whatever quarry they can chase down. To see the Wild Hunt is to bring disaster - at best, your death, but most likely a war or plague.

For Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher of the series, that disaster has already come. (If you want to avoid spoiling the earlier games, we recommend skipping the next two paragraphs.) During the PC-only The Witcher, the amnesiac Geralt was repeatedly taunted by a spectral figure calling himself 'The King of the Wild Hunt', who Geralt could fight and even kill. At the end of The Witcher 2, the series' debut on Xbox 360, Geralt managed to recover his memories, recalling that he'd traded himself for his love, Yennefer, who'd been taken by the Wild Hunt of his world - a group of otherworldly Elves, with a taste for genocide.

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However, riding with the Wild Hunt seems to trigger amnesia, hence Geralt's confusion. Having also ridden with the hunt, Yennefer might well not know who she is - or remember Geralt - and the end of The Witcher 2 implies that she's in the enemy's city of Nilfgaard itself. We're betting that Geralt will catch up with his adopted daughter, Cirilla, a powerful sorceress, princess and trainee Witcher, who once resurrected both Geralt and Yennefer, who has spent time in the Elven otherworld, and who the Elves of the Wild Hunt might be searching for.

The disaster linked to the Wild Hunt isn't just in the past, though. As The Witcher 3 starts, war has come to the Witcher's world, a war that's been brewing from the very first moments of the first game. The assassinations of the previous instalment, by a party of other Witchers, have left the world's north in chaos. Now the Nilfgaardians, a Rome-style empire from the south of the world-spanning continent, have invaded, intending to dominate the entire area. The armies of the north are falling before them and they seem unstoppable.

This is where the plot of The Witcher 3 starts; with Geralt free of his amnesia, hunting for his lost kin, whilst a massive army conquers the lands he knows, leaving a trail of monsters in its wake. The characters that Geralt knew from the previous game have moved on; his on-off romance with Triss Merigold is over, his minority friends are all in hiding, and Vernon Roche, once the spymaster to a king, is now an outlaw.

Creator of the series, CD Projekt RED, has emphasised that it has moved away from the overly political plot of The Witcher 2 - which often felt like the Star Wars prequel's yawnworthy focus on intergalactic trade tariffs - and is instead paying more attention to Geralt's personal story. "We wanted to boost the feeling that you are the Witcher," says lead writer Marcin Blacha. "Geralt is a middle-aged man who's in trouble, not a young kid looking for adventure." "I don't think he's going to be nearly as adventurous sexually," agrees senior writer Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, "but don't quote me on that."

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Worlds apart
CD Projekt is changing much for this final game, pushing its technology to the limit. "Technology has progressed to the point where we can finally tell the story the way we want, with the visuals we want, in the world we imagined," says studio head Adam Badowski. The team have built an entirely new engine, so they can make a truly open world for players to explore, that they claim is thirty times the size of the (admittedly small) Witcher 2.

What we've seen of it so far is impressive, straight out of the Lord of the Rings movies: huge draw distances, showing hills rolling down to the sea and high mountain passes covered in snow. Out there are distinct cultures, scattered across the land in villages and cities. In this world, like Skyrim and unlike Oblivion, enemies do not scale with the character - wander into a high-level area without enough tools or the right equipment and Geralt won't live to regret it.

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