To begin with, the greatest addition to the game is the open world which allows writer Andrzej Sapkowskis world come to life in this video game adaptation. Now Geralt is no longer led through tunnels or isolated map sections, he can travel on foot, horseback or with boat across a gigantic map that rivals the one in "Skyrim". The attention to detail in the shifting environments, locations, small villages or just isolated huts in the middle of the wilderness is amazing. There is a "lived in" feeling about it all, and coupled with the eastern European touch you get locations that are set apart from other generic fantasy locales. Among many such locations that I love in this game is the castle belonging to a self proclaimed baron - it sits atop a hill and is half in ruin but still populated
The politics of the Witcher universe have been amped up for the third installment, persecution of wizards, civilians butchered by soldiers and roads lined with hanged victims add a gritty and dark atmosphere to the game. The countryside is war torn, and along the frontline which have recently seen heavy fighting you can expect to see soldier camps, piles of dead, ghouls eating corpses, executions and civilian despair.
We also see a welcome return of the "monster hunting quests", Geralt can take on numerous contracts ranging from solving a haunted house problem to tracking down and killing huge monsters out in the wilderness. Some of these quests have several layers and steps before they can be completed and frequently tell a immersive story about a place and its inhabitants.
The side quests are also wonderfully constructed, written and voice acted. Having played nearly 52 hours I have only completed 33% of the game according to the Good Old Games meter. I've consciously kept myself barely involved in the main quest in order to explore the vast and rich world that the game offers. Like in earlier games, quests can range from serious and shocking to hilarious comedy material - which is a welcome mix. What both types of quests combine and constantly offer is giving Geralt moral choices, should he kill the target or just let someone off with a warning. Down the road you often find out the consequence of your actions, and it is far too late to reload your savegame. This is a strength of the Witcher games, and keeps your making of choices relevant and you on the edge.
What else is new or has been improved? Well the interface and inventory has been changed for the better in my opinion. Especially your inventory, which used to be a nightmare to organize now comes with categories that allows you to browse common items, ingredients, quest items etc. Weapon and armor deterioration has been added, so you must now maintain your equipment using toolkits. Potions have been made unlimited to some extent once you unlock them by finding and mixing the correct formula. Most of you Witcher potions come with three doses, and are instantly resupplied whenever you meditate - though this also requires some basic alchemy items in your inventory for the resupply to happen. Other, stronger, potions are limited to one per meditation cycle.
Leveling your character has also been made a lot harder in that you have more options than ever and not enough character upgrade points to try out every single power, sword skill and alchemy knowledge during a single playthrough. Though I would recommend investing some a fair amount of points in the swordplay skills.
What is interesting is the increased amount of items that you can craft and potions you can brew. You also run across a LOT of schematics for armor and weapons durint your travels - and taking these to a competent enough blacksmith can grant you the possibility of crafting more powerful items.
Fairly new to the Witcher universe is that items and indeed quests and areas are level restricted or come with a recommendation. You will notice that some quests are green, others dark red in your quest log. They show when your character is strong enough to take on those quests. You are able to beat quests and monsters that are a couple levels above your own with some good preparation and skill, but if the difference is too big you will get killed. Of course, nothing stops you from running to those areas or attempt those quests, but don't expect to have much luck.
Combat mechanics have been simplified or streamlined if you will. They are something in between the mechanics of Witcher 1 and 2, you still have to use Steel against humans and animals, and Silver against monsters and combine your swinging of the sword with Witcher magic/powers. At times it feels a bit much like button mashing, but if you know what you're doing you can parry, dodge, and take on multiple opponents with some pretty neat moves. However, one new addition that I love is the ability to fight from horseback. You can send Geralt in full throt towards enemies mounted or on foot and engage with them - chopping them in half or perform a well timed decapitation swing! Monsters will however frighten your horse, and in the end it will throw you to the ground.
Sadly the dice poker minigame from previous titles have been replaced, with the not so bad minigame "Gwent" which is basically a Magic the Gathering type of game set in the Witcher universe that allows you to play one of four factions (Monsters, Northern Kingdoms, Nilfgard and Rebels). The game itself is quite fun, and collecting cards for the 4 decks becomes something of a sidequest of its own - leading up to a high-roller tournament. There is still the boxing mini game, and horse races have been added as well.
Other minor additions is the ability to change Geralts hairstyle and his beard can be shaved off and grown back over time. You will also see the attention to detail in the different outfits and armor that Geralt can wear, none of it is "factory new" and the fabric often comes patched up or torn in places. Witcher Mutagens have also been altered somewhat, in that they are now used to actively boost skills of the corresponding color (red mutagens boost close combat, blue boost magic powers for instance).
Finally the game sometimes lets you play "flashback" scenes of Ciri, the adoptive daughter of Geralt and the Sorceress Yennefer of Vengeberg. As Geralt is trying to track down Ciri before the party of ethereal warriors known as the Wild Hunt find and capture her you meet various people that will let you know where Ciri went and thus continue the main quest. In those instances you are treated with a short and geographically confined portion of the world where you play as Ciri. These flashbacks are quite enjoyable and add additional story elements and fill in the blanks that Geralt tries to piece together.
All in all, after nearly 52 hours of gameplay I still have a TON of things to explore and to do. CD Project Red are also generous enough to release free Downloadable Content each week, adding both items and new quests - and two new and considerably longer quest lines are in the making and will be available as addon material next year. One should not rush the game, but instead enjoy every moment of it. It's easy to take on dozen of quests at once and then just go on autopilot between locations using fast travel to quickly resolve things - but that would be to miss out on great environments, the awesome day/night cycle, weather changes and all kinds of treasures big and small that are scattered across the world.
Simply put, I have not enjoyed a game like I enjoy the Witcher 3 in a long while, and it is hands down the best open world fantasy experience out there at the moment. I can't recommend the game enough!
Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is a solid 10/10 for me. I've not encountered any bugs or suffered from any crashes either, which goes to tell that those extra months polishing the game and pushing the release date was well worth the wait.