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    dkirschner's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC)

    [December 21, 2016 12:06:36 AM]
    Iíve played both DLCs this month, Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. Both were excellent and better than 90% of standalone games. Thereís not much more to say really! I obsessed over the core Witcher 3 offering, and these were like dessert.

    Hearts of Stone: This one had the better story in the main quest, but less in the ďstuff to doĒ category. The first chunk of hours was just more of the same, going around discovering ď?Ē locations and doing little secondary quests as I re-learned how to play. I played a couple games of Gwent and found new none-too-helpful recipes. Itís cool how the main cities have changed since the end of the main game regarding the Church of the Eternal Fire and Nilfgaard. Scholars and science are suppressed!

    Without giving too much away, the main quest is a blast. Kiss a frog prince. Get possessed. Plan a heist. Enter a painting. I didnít know I wanted to do all those things with Geralt, but I did. While playing, I wished there were more useful gear upgrades and more Gwent, but luckily, thatís where the next DLC comes inÖ

    Blood and Wine: This full on expansion features the giant new area of Toussaint (seriously, clocked near 40 hours on this Ė itís firkin huge). Toussaint is renaissance France inspired and the country is BEAUTIFUL. Google screenshots. Itís a fully realized and inviting fantasy world with knights errant, tourneys, dukes and duchesses, codes of honor, and lots of peasants. And monsters. Which is why Geralt is there. The murder mystery story is good and gets especially interesting toward the end.

    Exploring the Land of a Thousand Fables was probably my favorite part. I love how our fairy tales and lore about monsters are taken, twisted to be novel yet recognizable, and presented back in the world of The Witcher. For example, Rapunzel (Longlocks in the game) gets tired of waiting an eternity for a prince to come rescue her from the tower and hangs herself with her hair. The Big Bad Wolf, after endless deaths at the hands of Little Red Riding Hood and the Huntsman, gets smashing drunk with Thumbelina and murders them both. And you can ride a unicorn.

    Thereís way more to do in Blood and Wine than Hearts of Stone. Thankfully, there are new treasure hunts for Grandmaster witcher diagrams, so you can upgrade all your gear one more time. Thereís a whole new Gwent faction, Skellige, and a ton more cards to collect. I actually won a Gwent tournament! I remember losing them in the base game, and I actually kept losing to the first opponent in Blood and Wine and reloading because I wanted the trophy I got for winning. Thereís this whole side plot about hardcore Gwent players being pissed off that thereís a new faction. The tournament is sponsored by the guy who developed the new faction, and you have to enter the tournament playing Skellige. The tournament is basically a battle of the factions to determine which is superior. Cool how they worked the Gwent addition into the game as a side plot. Anyway, after I finally beat the first opponent 5 or 6 reloads later, I beat all the rest on the first try!

    There are tons of new witcher contracts and side quests, new mutations to unlock, and hanses to exterminate (like big bandit organizations where you go on romps through their bases and kill tons of enemies, fun!). The new witcher mutations unlock ability augmentations and mutation slots. These cost a lot of ability points and I didnít really play with them, but I did unlock one that makes the Aard sign freeze enemies and have a chance to instantly dismember them. That was fun. I saw one very expensive augmentation down the tree that saves Geralt from death once every 5 minutes or so. Can you say OP?

    Since Toussaint is basically France, wine plays a huge part in the narrative. Geralt acquires a vineyard and house where he can display trophies, armor, weapons, and paintings. There was one fun secondary quest to help a wildlife photographer capture images of monsters. You later attend his art show and he gifts you a flattering photo of Geralt fighting a giant centipede. But the house is so dark that I couldnít really see well the interior! Even aside from that, the house wasnít that exciting and I rarely went there.

    In the end, I did every single quest in both expansions. Didnít get all achievements, but I still feel quite accomplished. Best RPG ever. Must play.
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    [June 2, 2016 08:24:57 PM]
    Finished up Witcher 3 tonight. "Wow" is all I'm tempted to say.

    This is one of my favorite games of all time. I'll just continue where I left off in the last entry...

    The Skellige isles were cool, but not quite Velen pt. 2. Probably on par with Novigrad. The Skellige story is one of warring clans. Skelligeís king has just died and all the clan leaders vote on a successor, drawn from a pool of anyone who steps forth. Itís mostly the jarlsí sons, and one of their daughters (gogo gender representation issues!). Some of them embark on quests to prove their valor/bravery/honor and Geralt gets the opportunity to help some of them. Cerys, the one woman, is trying to cure one of the jarls who went mad after the death of his brother. Together, Geralt and Cerys discover that a hym has attached itself to the man. Hyms are spirit monsters that haunt people who do some evil, and hyms basically feed on the madness they cause the person. (Was the jarl's brother's death really an accident??) Then you help another hopeful king slay a notorious ice giant who has taken over one of the Skelligan islands, making it inhospitable. So, I enjoyed helping out the claimants to the throne, and there is a lot of exciting politics going on in Skellige! Itís all resolved climactically after a banquet goes horribly awry. There are traitors and plots and all that good stuff. The Witcher loves to throw these twists at you when you think a storyline is wrapping up. Love it.

    Since Skellige is a bunch of islands, the game introduces boats and harbors (fast travel for boats). Sailing around the islands was fun, and there are probably 75 sunken treasures, smugglerís caches, and stuff like that to find in the middle of the ocean. After Iíd done every quest (yes, EVERY quest in the game that I could find!) I determined to sail around Skellige and identify all the "?" icons and get all the treasure. Well, after like 30 minutes Iíd barely made progress and realized that 9/10 of those icons was just a smugglerís cache, which is like some crafting supplies, money, some crappy items, nothing to write home about. So I figured I didnít need to do that and got on with the game.

    Did I mention I completed EVERY quest I could find? Iím feeling like quite the completionist here and itís exciting. I canít believe a game kept my interest long enough for me to want to do everything and explore everywhere. There were some excellent, surprising, funny, heartfelt quests. One in particular I won't ever forget. CD Projekt Red must have been discussing DRM in the office and wrote a whole quest criticizing it. You go to an island, where the villagers ask you to find out what's up with this mysterious tower that appeared out of nowhere and is causing bad weather. You go to the tower and its Defense Repelling Machine* (*I forget the actual name, but its acronym is DRM!) explains that you are not the tower's owner and so you must be destroyed. Tower defenses activate, you kill some golems and find a mage there who had "bought the tower at auction for a great price." So he wasn't the original owner and the tower tried to kill him, haha. Then you have to find the Gavin's Omni Grimoire* (*not the actual name, but its acronym is GOG [Good Old Games, platform selling DRM-free games]) and give it to the tower's second-hand owner to shut down the DRM. Hilarious, and the idea works so well in fantasy context.

    In addition to all the quests, I found all the crafting recipes for witcher gear and (gasp!) actually crafted things. I hardly ever craft things in games if I donít have to. I played nearly this whole game without using potions, crafting anything, or using decoctions. Which leads me to ask, why is that stuff in the game? Why do open-world RPGs include all these systems? Do most people use them? Do most people ignore them? Do most people dabble? I have no idea, but Iím curious. I imagine it's one of those things that some people really like that's there if players want it, but can be ignored if players don't want it. Simple-to-learn, hard-to-master? As much or as little depth as you like? I usually ignore/dabble a little, but rarely bother with unnecessary crafting. That usually takes time, costs you effort and money to find ingredients, have to visit craftspeople, learn more menus, and usually you find weapons and armor thatís good enough anyway. One instance when I will buy in to crafting and potion-making and such is when the game is difficult and those things really give me an edge. If the edge isnít large enough, I calculate that itís not worth my investment. Very pragmatic.

    It sucks though because all the crafting systems and the ability to loot crates, boxes, and bags nearly everywhere, means that a neophyte Witcher player likely will spend much time collecting garbage around the world. There are hundreds of items to pick up. I had two friends on two different occasions have the same conversation with me, which is why I've been thinking about the necessity of these systems:

    Friends: What are you playing these days?
    Me: Witcher 3. It's awesome.
    Friends: Oh, I couldn't get into that.
    Me: Why not?
    Friends: It's too complicated! There are a lot of menus and too many things to pick up.
    Me: Oh, you don't have to loot everything or pick up herbs.
    Friends: Really? Why is all that stuff there then?
    Me: Good question...

    I picked up all the things early on too, then after a while realized I wasn't ever using any of it and stopped for the most part. But I did start crafting some things later on. The stuff I crafted in the Witcher was witcher armor and swords when I had completed quests for the two master craftsmen in the game who can create the best gear. I figured I found the recipes and did the quests, so I should check out what I can get. Good thing too, itís sweet gear. I also started using cat potions that let you see in the dark. Iíd been just using this lamp that lets you see ghosts (and illuminates the room a bit), which worked fine, but you canít run or jump while holding it. Made wandering dark caves more realistic and scary. Right near the end of the game, before the final quest, I upgraded all my witcher gear that I was wearing to "mastercrafted" ones that were level 34, and didn't realize that I was only level 33. I realized it when I exited the crafting menus and Geralt was in his underwear. Took me a second to realize that I'd rendered all my gear unusable for the time being. So I actually did some of the final quest line in underwear, which was amusing.

    Another "useless" diversion in the Witcher 3 is gwent, a full-fledged collectible card game. I won't go into detail, but I spent a lot of time playing and must have collected almost all of the cards. You can play most of the innkeeps and shop owners, as well as a lot of special games against more difficult opponents, and a tournament (which I lost in the second round :-/). Looking forward to playing more gwent in the DLCs with new cards!

    Anyway, I've written enough I think! Other writers should take note of character development in the Witcher and copy it. Gerald and Triss play off one another so well, as do Geralt and Yennifer and Geralt and Ciri. The latter are so cute, and it would be a cynical player who wasn't overjoyed to have a snowball fight with Ciri to cheer her up. Triss and Yennifer have a great interaction with Geralt at the end as well that cleared up some issues I had with how the romances were playing out. Great writing.

    This game is amazing. Go play it. I will be eagerly awaiting a price drop in DLC, both of which are supposed to be excellent.
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    [May 24, 2016 12:52:27 PM]
    I wrote my last entry when I left Velen for Novigrad, so I'll write this one a couple hours after leaving Novigrad for Skellige.

    I am very glad to be out of Novigrad. Several things contributed to it starting to feel tedious:

    (1) Novigrad is a big city. Coming from the wide open space of Velen, Novigrad feels tiny and constrained, and I'm constantly running back and forth through alleyways and trying to find people in corners of buildings and whatnot. Lots of running through the city trying to find what I'm trying to find and running into locked doors, unscaleable walls, etc.

    One thing I realized is really nice though is that the minimap tells you whether an objective is above or below you. All games with minimaps and vertical areas should tell you this information!

    (2) Quest levels have gotten weird. Since I have done every quest I can, I am over-leveled for the main stuff. They are gray and reward only 1 or 2 experience points sometimes, which is sort of annoying. Although I do enjoy the little narratives, it reduces the pleasure when I get nothing else from them. This is confounded by the monotony of running around Novigrad. But at the same time, I ended up leaving Novigrad with a few quests that were 10 levels above me. This is better now that I'm in Skellige though. Quests and enemies got a bump in level, so I'm not so much stronger and they are back to being challenging.

    (3) Partly as an outcome of out-leveling quests, some of them just seem to drag on and on. For example, I thought I was wrapping up in Novigrad, when something happens to Priscilla (won't spoil it). I end up doing this long secondary quest when I was ready for Novigrad to wrap up. I mean, it was still cool, don't get me wrong, but I was over-leveled and tired of Novigrad, so it was like "Come onnnnn, let's gooooo."

    One thing that was great about Novigrad, like Velen before it, was the overarching story of the place. In Velen it was the Bloody Baron and the politics of Nilfgaard and Redania. In Novigrad, it is the Eternal Fire's persecution of non-humans. Right when you enter Novigrad, you see two people being burned at the stake, and it's established that the Eternal Fire is a fundamentalist religion that condemns magic-users, elves, dwarves, witchers, witches, mages, dopplers, monsters, etc., etc., anyone who isn't a normal human.
    During your time in Novigrad, the Eternal Fire gains greater control of the city. They shut down the university at Oxenfurt, they set up checkpoints requiring people wanting to leave the city to have a pass certifying that they aren't magic-users, they are assassinating people, and more.

    Triss is trying to get mages out of Novigrad and save them before the Eternal Fire gets them. One great secondary quest was to help her save an alchemist. You have to go to his family's estate and stealthily get him on a ship out of Novigrad before he's murdered. The conclusion to the Triss/Eternal Fire/Novigrad narrative was so excellent and emotional that I almost shed a tear!

    Novigrad also had like a cast reunion from the previous games. Almost every major character I could remember makes an appearance (Dandelion, Roche, Zoltan, Triss, etc.) and I think there's a lot of fan service built in to the end of the Novigrad story. For example, you're trying to find Dandelion because he can help you find Ciri, but to find Dandelion, you've got to convince a doppler who saw him last to come out of hiding, so you put on a play with an acting troupe. This was so much FUN. You sort of help Priscilla write it, then you get cast in it and memorize some lines, and perform a 5-act play that is funny and serves its purpose in luring the doppler. And Dandelion gets a LOVE STORY. Whoa. There was a lot packed into that city!

    So from Novigrad to Skellige. Now that I'm into Skellige, my enthusiasm is renewed. Skellige is massive like Velen was; no more cities! Skellige is made up of a lot of islands with a lot of clans vying for power. By purchasing maps off merchants, you unlock the fast travel signs for them, which is cool because that means you don't have to physically sail a boat to them all. Easy!

    When I arrived in Skellige, I found a funeral for the King happening in the main city. Skellige's clans are all there and they're going to vote on a new King. It's interesting because although Skellige is meant to be very Norse-esque, they have many democratic aspects to their culture. Men and women are said to be equal, however this is ideal and not real. For example, when a king dies, his wife is expected to immolate herself alongside him. And there is a female character contending for the crown, and it's made clear that others don't think she can do it, though her main goal is to prove herself as good as the men. Doesn't really seem so equal to me! Maybe Skellige will deal more with gender issues, whereas Novigrad dealt a lot with race issues.

    Anyway, I'm just a little bit into Skellige. I've got a ton to explore and can't wait to get into the Skellige story, which seems to be about succession to the throne, conflict with Nilfgaard, and threats to local culture. Cool. Also, at some point I will write about Gwent, the full-fledged card game in the Witcher.
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    [May 15, 2016 07:33:08 PM]
    The Witcher 3 has quickly become one of my favorite RPGs. Like the two before it, it is gritty, dark, and the story flourishes in moral gray areas. There's rarely a "good/right" or "bad/wrong" decision. Geralt (the titular Witcher) has the capacity to care about people, the capacity to desire money, and the capacity to not give a shit about other people's problems. He can move between any of these attitudes and more, just like (gasp) a real person! Other characters are similarly complex. The Bloody Baron is a great example, and his story is amazing to play, as he enlists the Witcher to find out where his daughter and wife fled. What in any other RPG would be a short quest-line, this plot line has mandatory and optional parts, multiple outcomes, and is interwoven into several other plot lines as it unfolds over the entire Velen act. Did I say the storytelling was amazing yet?

    This is a defining feature of the game as a whole and its relation to you, the player. It does not hold your hand. It is wonderfully, thoughtfully complex. It provides some help via a bestiary, quest trackers, and some other useful modern open-world RPG staples, but it will throw an impossible quest your way without thinking twice. I am level 14, for example, and I just picked up a Witcher contract (like a monster hunt) that was marked level 25. The thing is, I might be able to do it now if I am very patient in combat, use potions, oils, and signs effectively, etc. The tools are there, but the game will do this: Here's a challenge; tackle the near-impossible now if you think you can handle it, or just come back later when you're more prepared. In the meantime, there is plenty of other stuff to do. Another way to say this is that the Witcher 3 treats me like an intelligent adult, and I am into that.

    Today I completed what I believe is the first act, if I can break it into acts. Geralt is searching for his daughter, Ciri. His friend and sometimes lover Triss and he decide to search in 3 places: Velen (no manís land), Novigrad, and the Skellige Isles. Iíve spent a whole RPGís worth of time in Velen alone, and am about to head into Novigrad. Iím at the gates! Velen might be way bigger than the other two places. It is massive. If itís not bigger, then Iím looking at a 100-hour game. Whoa. It is interesting the way the game moves you across the map. Youíre free to go just about anywhere from the get-go, and I actually immediately went to Novigrad (recommended level 10; I was like 2). Halt! Canít cross the bridge on account of the Redanian army is blocking through traffic. Need a pass! Well, I got a pass pretty easily (and later found 3-4 other methods of acquiring one, cool), ventured across, and got slaughtered by higher level monsters when I tried to do much of anything. So I went into Velen instead.

    If you look at the map, you will see some golden notice boards with quest exclamation marks, as well as a crap load of question marks scattered around. The notice boards are in settlements, and thereís usually one job on each one, often a Witcher contract. These are FUN and often CHALLENGING. And thereís usually a cool story to go along side it. Townsfolk, scared, superstitious peasants that most of them are, are occasionally terrorized by monsters. Maybe something is haunting their fields, or a family member went into the woods and never returned, or a foul poisonous mist is creeping along the land, etc. Your job is to go figure out whatís the cause of the problem. Once Geralt determines what kind of monster it is, he has to kill it or otherwise resolve the contract. These are basically mini-bosses, and some are pretty involved. I remember trying to kill my first noonwraith (a female spirit spurned in love or who passed in some other emotional turmoil) and spending probably 30 minutes doing it. You have to trap her with the Yrden sign to make her material and attack her. Sheíll move out of the Yrden circle, so youíve got to maintain it and lure her into it again. Sheíll periodically disappear and create illusions, each of which you must kill. Repeat until sheís dead. It was easier the second time I faced a noonwraith. This is how pretty much every new monster is. Youíve got to think, develop a strategy, try it, fail or succeed, revise if necessary, etc. Wyverns are another class of monster I remember using a lot of brain juice to learn how to kill. I recently discovered a monster nest with TWO level 21 wyverns. I tried it a few times, but I donít do much damage to them.

    The question marks are areas of interest that you can explore at your leisure. There are a lot of different types of areas of interest (the type is revealed when you travel to it), including guarded treasures, bandit camps, abandoned villages, monster nests, monster dens, etc., etc. Thereís almost always some good experience or loot to be found, and sometimes even a little quest. I usually get really bored over time exploring maps because it feels all the same, but it doesnít feel that way in the Witcher 3. I love uncovering all the question marks and seeing what lurks at each one, partly because even though the types of areas repeat, there are so many different monsters and treasures that could be there, and then so many different approaches to take to do whatever needs doing at each place. I recently learned, for example, that I can fight on horseback. (Geralt can call his trusty horse, Roach, to his side at any time and ride). If you gallop full speed and time your sword attack well, you can insta-kill enemies. Itís great fun to gallop around bandit camps hacking off heads as they freak out and try to defend against oncoming death.

    Combat is pretty fun. As with the other Witcher games, you use two swords, a silver one for monsters and a steel one for everything else. You can craft oils (I craft them but never use them) that increase damage against certain enemy types and potions (also which I craft but never use) that enhance your abilities and bombs (which I craft but only use to destroy monster nests). You have 5 signs at your disposal that have nifty little skill trees now. I can turn an enemy with my Axii sign now, my Igni melts armor, and Quen has become indispensable as a healing spell. I hear that the others once leveled up are also quite powerful. Too bad Iíll never have enough ability points to use them all at max, but I can buy a potion that resets my skill tree! In addition to those three signs, I have a bunch of points in the fast attack skill so I do more damage and more and stronger critical strikes. A lot of Witcher combat is dancing around enemies, parrying, and striking opportunistically. Iíve learned to make good use of the roll and dodge moves, and I can parry and counterattack pretty well. Each enemy is different to fight. Itís really refreshing.

    And. Thatís all for now. Wanted to write something before I got too much farther and finishing Velen seemed like a good time to reflect! On to Novigrad to talk to Triss!
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    [February 6, 2016 11:40:47 AM]
    I so wish I had waited to complete Skyrim before starting The Witcher 3. This game feels fresh and exciting, but I also wish that after playing Witcher 3 for a while, Skyrim will also feel a bit more exciting. Anyway, can't turn back the clock and un-know the Witcher.

    The immediate thing I love about it is that it treats you like an adult, like an intelligent human being who is controlling a complex character (Geralt) in this incredibly gritty world. This game doesn't care about holding your hand. An elegant tutorial, encyclopedia entries if you need to know anything else, and you get dropped into the world with an immense number of options at your fingertips.

    I played like 4 hours yesterday and have a great sense of the world, its people, its politics, its history, all its wonderful complexity. I don't even think I gained a level. But I found so many neat things, died a couple times to monsters many times stronger than me, completed some interesting side quests (track down an arsonist who was motivated by racism, help a man and his dog find his brother in a battlefield riddled with corpses and flesheating monsters). So far, side quests are never as straightforward as they seem. There's some twist, some lesson, something that illuminates interpersonal relationships among the game's characters. Like the guy's brother you go help to find, you find him huddled in a shack with an enemy soldier. Although you are previously exposed to the great tension between these two groups of people, seeing these two laughing together to stave off the depression of knowing they will die alone in a shack from war wounds is heartening. You realize that maybe the occupying soldiers aren't all bad, that perhaps the occupied people have their own prejudices too.

    The Witcher series has always excelled at exploring gray areas of morality and my time with the Witcher 3 is promising this exploration on a grand and deep scale. It is so refreshing to play a game where there aren't "bad guys" versus "good guys" and a little good-to-evil meter for your character. This world just IS how it is, and Geralt and everyone else are just doing what they have to to survive in it in the context of all the larger events shaping their lives.

    I am going to take my sweet time and savor this game, and hope to have some good stories to tell about it.
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    dkirschner's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 5 February, 2016

    GameLog closed on: Wednesday 21 December, 2016

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Lovin' it. It's so ADULT and treats you like an intelligent human being. -------------- Amazing game. DLCs are required playing too.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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