Let’s begin with technical performance. Prior to release, early benchmarks suggested I might have a troublesome time with The Witcher 3, even with a GTX780 – not quite as cutting edge today compared to the new 900 range, but I expected it to hold its own. And I’m pleased to say that those early benchmarks weren’t entirely accurate. That’s not to say that performance isn’t in need of improvement – it surely is! But in its current state, though not as good as perhaps it could/should be, performance is consistently solid.
I initially attempted to run the game with everything set to maximum – even that fancy ‘Hairworks’ thing – and was able to get around 20-30 FPS, although it would frequently drop below this during fast paced battles or when traversing the exterior environments. So, not ideal. I then began to drop settings, tweaking various sliders and turning off unwanted effects (such as motion blur) until I had a rock solid 60FPS. I was able to achieve this on a mixture of Medium/High, although it did make the game look noticeably worse. So I tweaked some more, eventually settling upon an acceptable balance of pretty/performance which gave me a solid and consistent 45-50 FPS.
And The Witcher 3 is certainly a very pretty game. There are moments when, if the lighting is right due to the time of day or weather, the game can look absolutely stunning. Still shots don’t do this game justice – it’s a game you really have to see in motion to appreciate how gorgeous it can be. However, just as there are times when TW3 can astonish with its visuals, there are times when it looks, well…a little dated, and in some ways, not even as good as TW2 (the water in particular is rather flat and unimpressive). Of course, it’s important to remember that TW2 did not share such a vast scale. On the whole, TW3 is a fantastic looking game.
But the graphics are only a part of building what is an incredibly detailed and immersive world to explore. Keep in mind, I’ve only played through the initial Prologue area, but this smaller, more limited environment was meticulously crafted. These early core/side missions which serve to introduce the player to the world/creatures/story and more importantly – gameplay mechanics – are brilliantly paced and structured.
I don’t know how things will pan out once I enter the ‘main’ open world area, but I appreciated how the game sensibly didn’t overwhelm the player with dozens of needless or worthless side content – it kept the core story in focus throughout. This was one of my main concerns with TW3 going open world – would it result in a lot of unnecessary padding and fetch style quests? So far, I’m pleased to say that’s not been the case at all.
But what about the actual gameplay? Combat feels like a slightly refined/tweaked version of TW2 system, but with more emphasis on mobility. It took some adjustment, but I do like it, although I’m not sure about some design choices regarding how the game utilises potions or bombs – not so much in combat, but in preparation. But it’s too early to form any firm judgement until I’ve progressed further and unlocked more skills. What I will say is that the default ‘normal’ difficulty isn’t worth your time. You really want to play on Hard for the best/most balanced experience. And if you really want to punish/challenge yourself, there’s an extreme difficulty which should just be titled ‘Don’t Get Hit’.
In terms of stability, I haven’t had a single crash in my time with the game, and I’ve not seen a single bug – aside from maybe an enemy or two getting ‘stuck’ on a tree or rock – but that’s more of an AI issue. Is there anything I’m not too fond of right now? Well, movement animations are a bit wonky, especially when climbing/jumping. I get the need to make Geralt more mobile in this open environment, but it’s all a bit awkward and silly looking watching him leap on the spot, or weirdly ‘surf’ down a hillside. I also really dislike the underwater swimming controls, which are just annoying and often result in me swimming in the wrong direction. Maybe I just need more time to get used to them.
Okay, I should probably wrap this up. There’s more I could say, more I could criticise or praise, but I’ll save that for the review. And as I said, I’ve only gone through the initial areas – there’s a lot more to come. But if you’re wondering – no, TW3 didn’t exactly blow me away, not in the way I hoped it would. That said, I did sit playing it solidly for about 10 eye bleeding hours after it released, and I had to drag myself away from it to knock out this post, so it’s obviously doing something right.