WOTH: Platinum #25 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Oh my, what an absolutely stunning game.

Before, I would have adamantly answered to anyone asking (please ask, nobody ever does) that my favourite RPG of all time was Dark Souls. Now, after completing the base game of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, that position is threatened. It is an incredibly crafted experience on an ambitious scale, which gets oh-so-many of the main RPG elements right, where other games always seem to falter on one or two points.

Let me begin with the set-up, if you’re unfamiliar with the franchise. You are Geralt, a salty old Witcher. In this old world of swords, sorcery, and scandal, the Witcher trade is a rare one. You hunt down and slay monsters of all types while accepting coin for your services; however the townsfolk consider Witchers as either a curiosity, or not too far removed from the very monsters they kill.

Geralt is on the trail of Ciri, a long lost friend who is more like a daughter to him. Along the way, he meets old friends associated with old flames, new and old foes to coerce, all while uncovering the prophecy of the Wild Hunt, which brings with them a new and bleak age of white frost.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is just how amazing the game looks. After the dream-like tutorial, you drop into the story at a campsite, get attacked by a few ghouls, then ride off to the nearest town while a magnificent sunrise pierces through the swaying trees. That’s the first thing of beauty that smacks you in the face – the amazing lighting. At times, when you are in the forest just having a chat with a hunter or concerned citizen, the shadows of individual tree leaves dance across your face – something I’ve not seen done so well in other games. The draw distance is far reaching, so anything you see you can get to. And the locations are incredibly varied – the quests will take you across sunlit fields, jagged city streets, ominous caverns, and windswept mountain peaks, all swashed with vibrant colour. Through all of these locations, dynamic weather plays a big part as well. If you stop to converse with someone in pouring rain, you wont look as you always do, rather your clothes will have that drenched look, adding another layer to the immersion.

And the quests – never before have I been so invested in all of the side quests! Usually, RPG side quests ask you to either fetch 20 flowers, or assassinate some big baddie in a cave while a slow but required companion follows you and gives away your position. Not here – the stories crafted in each and every mission feel unique, and the people feel like they actually existed before you arrived, and not just to wait for you alone to fetch them a teapot. Granted, there are a couple of quest tropes thrown in, but they are done a little tongue-in-cheek, aware of the cliche they are mimicking (looking at you, Princess the goat!).

The combat is actually quite refreshing, given the amount of content. Each of the different enemies you encounter will have some sort of weakness you can exploit with the Witcher signs, oils, and bombs at your disposal, along with your two standard swords – silver for monsters, steel for humans. Being able to dodge, counter, and fire crossbow bolts adds a great amount of variety, so you can craft a play style that suits you.

I also cannot forget to mention the brilliant game within a game; Gwent. This is a tabletop card game many people in Geralt’s world play, including himself. Although initially simple, there is quite a bit of strategy involved which only opens up further as you either buy cards from merchants, discover them as loot, or win them as prizes for challenging certain people. It’s so popular that it will soon be expanded and released as it’s own separate game outside of The Witcher, so look out for it!

Now, gushing aside, let’s talk platinum difficulty. It’s a massive game, and took me about 120+ hours to achieve the platinum trophy, across two playthroughs. I advise that you try to cover most of the trophies in your first playthrough on any difficulty,  being very conscious of collecting all the Gwent cards you come across. Having a guide for collecting them is paramount, as there are quite a few missable ones. Have a general guide handy for the remaining trophies, as there are other missable trophies. Many of them are just killing foes using x method, or completing Witcher contracts, so it shouldn’t be so bad. Then, after you’re mostly done, it’s best to have another playthrough on the toughest difficulty. The early stage of the game on this difficulty is quite frustrating, but there are guides to help you choose the most efficient character traits.

To wrap up, I had an incredible time, and the 120+ hours to obtain the platinum didn’t feel stretched out at all. I will certainly be investing in the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine in the near future.

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Humble Book Review – The Talisman

Recently, I decided to go back through all of Stephen King’s works and read them all. Although he probably doesn’t edge in on my top 3 books of all time, he is one of my favourite authors. Given his massive publicity through word of mouth, and particularly scores of film and TV adaptations, it’s very difficult to come across one of his books where you know nothing of the story.

That was The Talisman for me. Although I knew it was one of two collaborations with Peter Straub, I knew absolutely nothing of what it was about, and as far as I’m aware, there is no film or TV adaptation yet. Now that I’ve been able to experience something purely spoiler-free, I wish this could be the case for everything I experience in the future. If you want the same feeling, maybe don’t read any further, and believe me when I say it’s a good read. For those who want a bit more, here’s my thoughts…

The Talisman is the journey of a boy, Jack Sawyer, who crosses the country in order to save his mother’s life. On the surface of it all, nothing too fantastical. Until he discovers he can flip into this other cleaner, parallel world he comes to know as The Territories. In this place, there are still rulers, usurpers, wagons, and villains. There are people here who bear a strong resemblance to those in his own world; known as Twinners. Jack’s own mother has one, who happens to be the Queen of the Territories, who is also dying. In a race to save two (or more) worlds, Jack comes across terrifying obstacles, not all of which possess unfamiliar faces.

Interestingly enough, I see this as King’s beta version of The Dark Tower series. It bears a strong resemblance to it with regard to parallel worlds, and long journeys to save the destruction of them. There are quite a few nods to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which this novel borrows several themes from, whereas The Dark Tower seems to find its own footing. Just like LOTR, there are quite a few action packed scenarios, with classic King tension, but also there are points which seem a little flat and unnecessary. When King and Straub do well, though, they do very well. Some greatly memorable moments include Jack’s stay at the Sunlight home, and the assault on the Black Hotel.

They build up the characters so well in these places, and when they all converge, hell breaks loose.
Sometimes you wonder why some characters didn’t do ‘x’, which seemed like common sense, only for that option to be adequately excluded due to some snappy explanation. This is fine, however sometimes the character desires and actions seem either too erratic, or illogical.

Also, given that this novel was written by two authors, there doesn’t seem to be any changes in voice or plot at all; it is just as cohesive, if not more so, than any other novel.

Altogether it is a fun ride, at times very tense, with a satisfying conclusion. The sequel, Black House, seems like it has a great base novel to start from.

Reading in 2015: Surprises and Great Anticipations

As the year 2015 draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the wild ride that came of it. Personally, I quit my unsatisfying desk job, and decided to move to Beijing for 5 months, ineffectively flailing my limbs as I taught English in a Chinese boarding school. That brought on a whole new tidal wave of challenges, with my learning a foreign language from scratch being the most prominent.

However, something that has remained consistent throughout these new experiences has been my hunger for truly memorable books. No matter where I am, no matter how isolated I feel or how difficult life seems, I can isolate myself even further, locking myself into a book, and use the pages as walls to barricade me from reality. Not that reality is something to be avoided entirely, but it needs to be witnessed from another perspective at times, a perspective that can be found in amazing universes created by gifted authors.

So, with my busy slice of reality, I didn’t take my 2015 reading challenge lightly when I chose to read 20 books. After completing my 20th novel yesterday, I wanted to reflect on the year of literature I’ve experienced; fiction and non-fiction, classics and contemporary, well-received and shunned. So, here is my list for 2015:

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You Should Totally Play: Child Of Light

Art.

If given one word to describe this game, that is what I would use. Loading up this game is like stepping into a watercolour painting, in a room filled with poets.

The question you’d most likely be asking at this point is; “would that really be my kind of thing?” It’s not really a major selling feature for most people. But, even though this game at it’s core is an artpiece, it is wrapped in extremely good gameplay.

You play a young Austrian girl called Aurora, who awakens in a strange world touched by darkness, in 1895. You’ll explore the vivid landscapes, interact with the colourful characters, and slowly transform from a naive young girl into a bold warrior. This is aided by soon finding a sword.
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You Should Totally Read: The Farseer Trilogy

“One can only walk so far from one’s true self before the bond either snaps, or pulls one back.” – Royal Assassin

I finally decided to dip my feet in the cool waters of the Fantasy genre a little while ago. While you could argue that Stephen King’s stories sometimes break into fantasy (most notably the Dark Tower series, which in my opinion could mask itself as any genre), they aren’t “true” fantasy tales.

A couple of my friends recommended the author Robin Hobb as my first experience, and I thought: ‘why not’. It was completely new to me; there were no adaptations out there, nobody had spoiled any endings, and the books all came in trilogies. You couldn’t get any more standard than that.

But let me emphasise here; The Farseer Trilogy is not your standard fantasy series. It is a well-written and cohesive piece of work that will stick with you long after you’ve set the last book down.

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