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Hands on with The Witcher 3, an RPG for your 'Game of Thrones' withdrawals

Hayden Dingman | June 12, 2014
"Some content may be inappropriate for children." The Witcher 3 trailer opens with the standard ESRB disclaimer. And then The Witcher 3 trailer immediately cuts to a shot of a tree with five or six bodies hanging from the branches.

"Some content may be inappropriate for children." The Witcher 3 trailer opens with the standard ESRB disclaimer. And then The Witcher 3 trailer immediately cuts to a shot of a tree with five or six bodies hanging from the branches.

We could just as well be talking about HBO's Game of Thrones, but this time, with a bigger budget for monsters. The Witcher 3 is brutal — or, if you'd prefer the euphemism, "adult." In some ways that's what makes the series special. There's an unflinching grimness to proceedings — a penchant for putting players through a gauntlet of horrific choices. That grim/adult aspect is also one of the most problematic: For instance, the series has long been criticized for its preoccupation with brothels and objectified women.

It's all back. The good, the bad, the problematic — all of it is present in The Witcher 3, but on a scale unprecedented for the game.

Put on your walking shoes

If you haven't been paying attention to The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red has turned its RPG series into an open-world adventure from its previous linear trappings. You'll once again take on the role of Geralt, the most famed of the witchers — a group of genetically mutated monster hunters on the fringesof society. Geralt walks, swims, gallops, and sails around the land battling evil — or, at least, his opinion of what's "evil."

CD Projekt showed a brief portion of The Witcher 3 at Microsoft's press conference at E3 on Monday. It showed Geralt squaring off against an enormous griffin and ultimately beheading it.

The behind-the-scenes E3 demo picked up right where that fight left off, with Geralt returning to the city atop his horse, griffin head tied to his saddle. He'd killed the griffin in order to get information out of one of the city's seedier denizens about an "ashen-haired girl."

Once again, CD Projekt is using The Witcher to push your PC to its limits. We spent the early portion of the demo in the city of Novigrad, and it looks like we're finally reaching that point where games can do cities right. Novigrad is packed with people — yelling at each other, drinking, talking politics. There are even kids playing "burn the witch." It's overwhelming, especially in an RPG, where your initial instinct is to talk to every single citizen.

The team is also talking up its AI. We've heard about Radiant AI and Dynamic AI and "The Bestest AI" for years now, so take everything with a grain of salt, but CD Projekt highlighted that, for instance, the fishermen leave in the morning and return at night. I didn't see any of that, but Novigrad felt lively and interesting from our brief horseback tour.

 

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