Review: ‘Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’ a fantastic fantasy journey

“The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” is one of the best RPGs on the market.

Video games are, at their core, a time suck. That’s closer to fact than opinion. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” is one of the best and biggest time sucks on the market. That’s an opinion, of course, but that should come as good news for RPG fans.

“Witcher 3,” available now, picks up the story that started in the first two franchise iterations — available only to PC and Xbox 360 gamers — and follows Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a witcher, a monster-slaying mutant mercenary whose sense of morality is dictated by the player’s actions and choices, living in a medieval fantasy world filled with beasts real and mythical.

The gameplay is akin to RPGs such as “Mass Effect” and “Skyrim” than Japanese RPGs like “Final Fantasy.” Battles are in real time and begin organically in the massive open world. The hack-and-slash combat of “Witcher 3” is deep, allowing players to mix and match how much of their style incorporates swordplay, magic and other items.

Battles are plentiful when wandering outside of town. Trot along with horse Roach long enough and there inevitably will be a pack of wolves, a group of ghouls or something bigger and tougher looking for a fight.

Such random battles might get tedious if not for the steady stream of main story quests, side quests and contracts to keep the focus moving forward. It won’t take long to build a queue of a dozen tasks waiting to be completed — some of which require further leveling to tackle.

With more than 20 hours of play logged, I had yet to make a real dent in the main quest — a search for a pair of women important to Geralt who are being pursued by the villainous Wild Hunt. Some side quests can take hours to complete in full, but I didn’t mind putting the story on hold to experience them. The main narrative isn’t all that gripping, but self-contained stories often gripped my attention.

Credit goes to the fully-developed world and lore for making nonessential tasks desirable to finish, even for non-completionists. As someone who had not played the first or second “Witcher” entries, I can confirm it’s not a prerequisite to enjoying the experience. However, as a treat for those who did play “The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” the player can begin a new game by filling in his or her choices in that title, which will affect the world of “Witcher 3.”

“Witcher 3” is not perfect. Controls outside of battle can be finicky at times, and Geralt takes extreme fall damage from even minor heights. There’s occasional issues with graphical pop-in, but once loaded the game looks and sounds terrific. Again, these are minor quibbles, but annoyances like these stick out in such an otherwise-polished product.

Also of note is an optional card game played within the world called Gwent. Think Magic the Gathering, and you’re close. Plenty of RPGs include side games such as Gwent, but few are as fun and distracting from the main game as this one.

It’s possible a game like this can keep players occupied for 100 hours or more before even completing the main story. That can be overwhelming for some, but most should find “Witcher 3” to be one of the most satisfying experiences of the year.

“The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” from developer CD Projekt RED and publisher WB Games, is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC

Scott Fontana