The Witcher 3 is enormous. White Orchard is clearly meant to be the "small" area in Witcher 3 and after four hours I'd barely explored half of it.
It's not a single open world though, contrary to what I thought going into my demo. Instead, it's more akin to the previous Witcher titles or (even more relevant) Dragon Age: Inquisition. There are three or four major areas to explore, each of which is its own open world. However, these are discrete maps you travel between.
You can't, for instance, sail from Skellige to Novigrad. Instead, you go to the world map and "travel" to Novigrad. I asked why, and was told it's because CD Projekt wanted to keep the geography of the realm consistent while still representing all these areas. Basically, they know it would take hours of game-time to sail to Skellige, so instead you just fast travel there.
I spent most of my time in White Orchard, only getting quick glimpses of Skellige and Novigrad. All three areas seem gigantic, though I think Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably a larger game overall.
On controlling Geralt
Combat has always been the weak spot in The Witcher, but I think CD Projekt's finally figured it out. The controls actually seem pretty similar to The Witcher 2, but animations are more fluid and Geralt is just generally more responsive. It now plays wholly like an action game and less like the weird action/strategy hybrid of Witcher 2 and (even more so) The Witcher.
What I'm calling "Act One" ends with the gryphon battle CD Projekt's been touting, and while combat's not on a level with God of War, it's at least fluid and functional enough that the encounter feels momentous.
Some other things have been simplified. Geralt's "Witcher Sense," which highlights important objects in the world, is now an infinite resource accessed by holding down the Left Trigger. It's a lot like Batman's "Detective Mode" in the Arkham games now, and you'll put it to similar uses--tracking enemies, looking for clues, and the like. One quest had me sussing out why a noonwraith was haunting a village. I mean, I still killed it after I figured out why, but at least I knew the reason.
And lastly, exploration. Now that Geralt's got this big, open world to uncover, he's a lot more nimble. He climbs things. He jumps on things. He sprints. He rides horses. He jumps off horses. He swims.
Geralt 3.0 has been working on his CrossFit, apparently.
On shades of grey
None of the above really matters though. The core of The Witcher is story. Unfortunately I haven't gotten to see any of the long-term effects CD Projekt's talked about--help a town and see it flourish, hurt a town and see it eventually crumble into ruins--but I did make a fair number of choices during my time with The Witcher 3. Not all of which I'm happy about.
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