Seven years on, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition remains as impressive and intimidating as ever – maybe even more so as my free time dwindles. This lightly remastered release for the current-gen consoles provides a few much-needed visual enhancements, performance boosts, and gameplay tweaks – but it merely refines a great RPG that would still hold up today without them.
That said, I’m not going to turn down an excuse to return to the Northern Kingdoms for a few dozen more hours and re-review it for this site.
A progenitor that remains unsurpassed in many ways
If you somehow missed it at launch, still ignored it when the well-received expansions arrived, skipped past it during dozens of deep sales since then, or only got into gaming recently, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open-world RPG, with a strong focus on its cast, player choice, and third-person swordplay. It follows Geralt – the titular “Witcher” – on a quest to find his on-off lover Yennifer and surrogate daughter Ciri amidst the chaos of the war-torn Northern Realms.
Given the sheer amount of content on offer in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition – which includes new story arcs and gameplay mechanics introduced in the expansions and updates –you could argue that’s a gross simplification. My counterargument would be that the basic gameplay loop was never its greatest strength and merely serve as an enjoyable foundation. As with the prior games, it built upon and refined established RPG templates while elevating the storytelling to a level few RPGs have matched since.
You’ll traverse massive open-world areas on foot or horseback; tackle hundreds of quests that frequently offer dialogue- or choice-driven outcomes; take on contracts to slay rare monsters; follow tracks and investigate clues using Geralt’s enhanced Witcher senses; engage in nimble combat against humans and monsters using his iconic meteorite iron or silver swords; earn and assign skills points to one of five skill trees; and hoover up level-restricted and quality-tiered equipment, crafting components, and alchemical ingredients.
The combat is real-time, reactive, and rewards skill, but level-gated encounters mean striving for bigger damage numbers is ultimately the name of the game and more action-oriented gamers hoping for new weapon attacks or combo moves will find it fails to evolve significantly in that regard. Despite dozens of patches to optimise or streamline elements, the inventory, crafting, rune, and alchemy systems still become bloated and unnavigable the more you unlock. Although improved, the menu interface is still somehow sluggish despite the hardware in these new consoles. What I’m getting at is if you’ve played any third-person RPG in the last decade, it’ll instantly feel familiar, with many of the same strengths and weaknesses.
That said, there are some novelties and remaster-specific tweaks worth highlighting before discussing its highs and lows. First up, the in-game version of GWENT – a three-round collectible card game based on stacking three combat rows – remains a simple but enjoyable time-waster with great music to boot. Unlike the impenetrable, unforgiving, PvP-focused mess the standalone spin-off has become, it’s all about assembling a ridiculously powerful deck as you explore the world, complete quests, and defeat other players. As for the remaster changes, there’s a close camera position to match the modern “cinematic” look many games have taken but – more importantly – there’s now a quick-cast system for “Signs” (think simple Witcher magic) that makes a magic build viable. You can simply pull a trigger and tap the associated face button, rather than continuously breaking the flow of combat by navigating selection wheels.
A world you want to explore, full of people you want to meet
Now, what sets The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt apart from the competition at the time – especially BioWare’s middling Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda – is the quality of the writing, complexity of its cast, and legitimately unpredictable outcomes for many of your choices. Despite offering several ending sequences and a few mutually-exclusive quest paths (in the base game and both expansions), it’s not the most multi-threaded narrative in video games. Many encounters are self-contained mini-stories and only a few major decisions impact who’ll be at your side during key battles. What is impressive is how few quests offer simple black-or-white choices, how weirdly relatable the cast is, and how writing quality manages to entertain while grounding the experience.
No matter how weird or wild the scenario, the writing combined with expressive voice work makes it easy to appreciate the motivations or beliefs of the cast – even if you’re dealing with nobility, mages, or sentient creatures in a magic-filled fantasy world. Admittedly, this often means the dialogue and voice work feel too modern and incongruous with the setting. It relies on real-world sensibilities, is constantly cynical, and often self-referential – but that’s all part of the charm. Just like the books it’s based on, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt enjoys twisting and perverting clichéd fairy tales and fantasy tropes to ensure there’s always a moral quandary and you can never be sure of the outcome.
Although technology has evolved significantly since 2015 and the new visual enhancements can only do so much for the dated character models and animations, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition still offers up some of the most lifelike and immersive environments to explore. All the regions you visit – be that the compact White Orchid farmland that serves as a prologue, the sprawling Skellige archipelago, or verdant Toussaint valley – are dense with activities, yet still large enough that traveling between each town, ruin, or monster lair feels like a journey through a living and breathing world. It never feels like your traditional BioWare- or Bethesda-style world where hostile nations live within a few kilometres of each other and major battles are just a few constantly respawning NPCs with rudimentary scripting.
Despite all the visually-spectacular open-world environments we’ve seen since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was first released, most are still shallow and artificial canvases if you just stop moving for a moment and pay attention. Even with dated visuals, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt uses simple AI routines for wildlife and NPCs, a day-night cycle with striking and vibrant lighting, atmospheric weather effects, and multi-layered ambient audio to keep you immersed in its fantasy world. It’s backed up by one of the most enrapturing soundtracks you’ll find in a video game – on par with and at times better than anything from Bethesda Game Studios. Even dozens of hours into my playthrough, I’d ignore the fast-travel system to manually ride between destinations, soaking up the ambience and enjoying the score.
Too much of a good thing?
I started this piece but calling The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition impressive and intimidating, so there are caveats. Although not essential to enjoying the game, I’d argue The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a richer and more impactful experience if you’ve read the books and played the prior games. It draws on all of them to flesh out several characters and explain Geralt’s many strong relationships, yet offers only a single early quest involving an oneiromancer – think dream diviner – to cover the basics. If you don’t have the time, watching the first season of The Witcher NetFlix series is probably a decent enough introduction to the universe, but I’d stop there as the subsequent seasons and spin-offs deviate more and more from the novels the game uses as a foundation.
Another issue, especially for completionists who just can’t walk past a quest or map icon, is the ease with which The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will lead you on multi-hour tangents. The problem is actually twofold as not only are most diversions worthwhile time-sinks that distract you from the overarching plot, they’re sometimes level-gated with hilarious, immersion-breaking roadblocks. The if-you-can-see-it-you-can-reach-it design is incredible for encouraging exploration but there were too many times I would complete a contract to slay but low-level massive wyvern, only to be hacked down by two high-level bandits in tattered clothing while heading back to claim my reward. Of course, you’ll want to keep pushing forward as while The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has its fair share of open-world padding – think loot stashes and legendary gear hunts – the bulk of quests offer decent narrative context and entertaining outcomes. You can also tweak your settings to remove all but the most important map markers if you want to focus your attention.
Ageing like fine (Toussaint) wine
Wrapping up, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition is – at least by modern standards – a fairly traditional open-world RPG elevated by the epic narrative, compelling characters, plenty of player choice, unpredictable outcomes, and an immersive world begging to be explored. If you’re a fan of third-person RPGs from western developers like BioWare, or any number of third-person action games that have incorporated light RPG elements, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition will not only scratch a similar itch, it’ll redefine your expectation for quality storytelling and characterisation.
That said, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition is a big game and requires some background reading or gaming to get the most out of the story. Even when considered in isolation, it demands a considerable amount of time to see and engage with everything on offer and, as a massive fan that sunk 150+ hours into the base game and expansions, I’m not sure I’ll have the fortitude to replay it in its entirety.
On the upside, frequent steep discounts make it a low-risk proposition but, if you’re short on time, more compact RPGs like the Shadowrun Trilogy, the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, or The Outer Worlds might be the better pick for you.
A review code for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
The Witcher 3: Complete Edition (Xbox Series/PC) ReviewThe Witcher 3: Complete Edition (Xbox Series/PC) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
Audio10/10 The Best
- It’s still the same great RPG – just with a few more refinements
- Excellent storytelling and compelling cast
- Plenty of player-choice and legitimately unpredictable outcomes
- A beautiful and immersive world begging to be explored
- Solid voice work, multi-layered ambience, and enrapturing soundtrack
- Knowledge of the books and/or prior games feels essential for a richer experience
- It’s a massive time-sink with compelling diversions that can lead you astray for hours
- Some level-gated encounters make little sense and break immersion