What Does an Open World Mean for The Witcher 3?

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will feature an expansive open world. But is that necessarily a good thing?

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"35 times the size of The Witcher 2."

My jaw dropped when CD Projekt Red told me just how much bigger The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is when compared to its direct predecessor. The upcoming role-playing game will take place across seven islands, each of which is far bigger than the entire world of the Witcher 2. That's a lot of space. But does a lot of space make for a better game?

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Not necessarily. But developer CD Projekt Red makes a convincing argument that The Witcher 3's open world will be stuffed with a lot of great stuff to do, quests to pursue, and nooks to explore. More importantly, the developer insists that none of these elements will detract from the game's story, which, based on the demo I saw, will hinge on the choices you make and the factions you align with. The open world makes for a broader web of decisions, with the fates of individuals, families, and even entire cities hanging in the balance. And just like before, the traditional notions of good and bad don't apply. A seemingly upright story path could result in death or destruction, and the ultimate consequences of your actions may not be clear until long after you have performed them.

And so the open world allows for broader content, but CD Projekt Red doesn't want the usual "chase the waypoint' quest structure to be the primary draw to head into the mountains and forests. Rather, they want to dot the landscape with sights so irresistible that you can't help but run (or gallop, if you are on horseback) toward them. The crumbling ruins and beauteous relics you discover harbor secrets, monsters, and side quests, which will in turn prod you to explore new regions and seek out even deeper mysteries.

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The demo showed numerous examples of the open world's possibilities in action, and some of them will take advantage of protagonist Geralt's role as a monster hunter. For instance, a monster might appear during your investigations, gunning for the Witcher himself and forcing you to stop and deal with him. The encounter I saw in action featured one of the most fearsome creatures I've seen in a game: a cumbersome cross of reindeer and minotaur, with a head of horns so gnarled I cringed when he charged toward Geralt. The monster's special attack reinforced the reindeer theme: every so often, the monstrosity would cause the region to be engulfed in darkness, and you would have to identify it by its glowing snout.

You deal with these monsters using combat mechanics that look very similar to those in The Witcher 2, and I specifically asked about the swordplay, wanting to know how the team plans to address the overbearing initial hours and the lacking sense of combat progression that characterized The Witcher 2. The team is well aware of these drawbacks, and promises more control over your moves (dodges, sidesteps, parries), and deeper role-playing elements with enhanced signs and unlockable attacks.

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Another optional excursion lures you into a village's dispute in which elders and youngers disagree on how best to handle the forest spirit rampaging across the land. This is where I saw video game decision-making at its most emotionally disturbing. Rather than give away the exact circumstances and spoil the possibilities (I presume this quest line will appear in the final game), I will simply say that choosing to sacrifice innocence for the sake of the greater good led to unforeseen circumstances that crushed my soul when I saw them play out onscreen. Also crushing was the monster that attacked during this mission, a creature called a leshen that was every bit as weird, ferocious, and surreal as the reindeer-minotaur I had seen a few moments before.

Such moments arise from your exploration of the lands that house The Witcher 3's main story and are a strong argument for making the trilogy’s finale an open-world tour de force. The game looks every bit as beautiful--actually, more so--than its predecessor, yet no longer do the mountains and glades that surround you hem you in. Instead, they inspire you to explore them--on horseback, in boats, and on foot. The changing weather might force you to take shelter, or to abandon your vessel lest you sink into the sea. I can't wait to return to the Northern Kingdoms, and to confront the roving bands of monsters known as the Wild Hunt that threaten to ravage them.

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