It’s the kind of game you dream about

The Washington Post Sunday - - VIDEO GAMES - BY CHRISTO­PHER BYRD Byrd is a free­lance writer.

veered from aneurysm-in­duc­ing in the be­gin­ning to the equiv­a­lent of a walk up a hillock by its sec­ond half. Then there was the bro­ken map that would dis­play vary­ing lo­ca­tion points depend­ing on where you were stand­ing, and a num­berof in­vis­i­ble walls not hinted at by the level de­sign. Yet, in spite th­ese nui­sances, I was floored by the game’s story line. “The Witcher 2” al­lot­ted a de­gree of player choice, but the cul­mi­na­tion ofmy cho­sen ad­ven­tures and con­ver­sa­tional re­sponses yielded one of the best end­ings I’ve ever seen in a video game.

With apolo­gies to my fel­low spoiler-phobes, at the end of “The Witcher 2,” it is pos­si­ble to avoid ex­chang­ing blows with your would-be nemesis — an­other Witcher who is also a regi­cide — and part ways af­ter a lengthy chat dur­ing which it be­comes clear that the man who seemed to be your en­emy ac­tu­ally bears you no mor­tal grudge. This abil­ity to ab­stain from vi­o­lence and work through a mis­un­der­stand­ing is a nod to the adults in the au­di­ence, as is the game’s sys­temic moral am­bi­gu­ity, which should click with “Game of Thrones” fa­nat­ics. (Charles Dance, who played Ty­win Lannis- ter in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is one of the many tal­ented voice ac­tors in the game.)

Thank­fully, “The Witcher 3” reme­dies the is­sues that I had with the pre­vi­ous ti­tle. The ini­tial dif­fi­culty curve is nowhere near the con­troller-smash­ing level of be­fore. And though you can still find your­self wan­der­ing an ope­nended plain only to be alerted by an on-screen warn­ing that you are ap­proach­ing the end of the world, at least Ger­alt is given to mak­ing some ap­po­site re­mark like “Hmm, I won­der if there is a short­cut.” Though­less ideal than designing a game around nat­u­ral­is­tic bor­ders, it’s bet­ter than butting your head against an un­gainly seam.

Vis­ually, “The Witcher 3” is one of the most de­tailed games to date; it shines on PCs ca­pa­ble of run­ning the game on its high or ul­tra graph­ics set­tings. In terms of game de­sign, how­ever, it feels like some­thing that could have been re­al­ized dur­ing the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tional cy­cle. You’ll still hear the back­ground chat­ter loop at tiny in­ter­vals. And the char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tions don’t ap­pear more ex­pan­sive than what you might find in an “As­sas­sin’s Creed” game.

Struc­turally, there is lit­tle to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the mul­ti­ple-choice con­ver­sa­tional sys­tem in “Witcher 3” from Bio-Ware’s “Mass Ef­fect” and “Dragon Age” games. And con­sole play­ers have had the op­por­tu­nity to con­tend with over­whelm­ing 3-D, open-world RPGs at least since Bethesda Soft­works re­leased “The El­der Scrolls 3: Mor­rowind” back in 2002. (For the record, that is the first game that I can re­call reg­u­larly dreaming about.)

But, with all due re­spect to “Dragon Age: In­qui­si­tion,” which es­chewed the black-and-white moral­ity of the “Mass Ef­fect” games, “The Witcher 3” doesn’t merely present a morally am­bigu­ous uni­verse, it hews to the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences. This is a game where I killed my lover be­cause I thought she might give an ig­no­ble rul­ing power the key to build­ing a dev­as­tat­ing weapon of war. It is also a game where I helped a war lord who beat his wife ma­ture. The re­sult? He leaves his seat of power to tend to his (none-too-saintly) wife at her great­est hour of need, thus plung­ing the re­gion into opportunistic chaos.

What sets “The Witcher 3” apart from most of the com­pe­ti­tion is its keen sense of hu­man­ity, which is cal­cu­lated to be ev­ery bit as grip­ping as an HBO drama. At their best, the char­ac­ters with whom you chat don’t seem like they live in a vac­uum only to im­part use­ful in­for­ma­tion. Of­ten, they’re ma­nip­u­la­tive be­ings who ap­pear com­pro­mised by their own ex­pe­ri­ences. I think of them as har­bin­gers of in­som­nia.

CD PRO­JEKT RED PHO­TOS

In­spired by a se­ries of fan­tasy sto­ries, “The Witcher” video games retell the life of Ger­alt of Rivia, a mon­ster slayer with a tal­ent for get­ting en­tan­gled in po­lit­i­cal in­trigue. The third in the RPG se­ries fixes many prob­lems from the pre­vi­ous game.

In the past week, my last thoughts be­fore go­ing to sleep and my first thoughts upon wak­ing have been about frac­tious pol­i­tics, sec­ond guesses and wisps of rec­ol­lected repar­tee. No, sadly, I haven’t been idling awaymy time on Em­bassy Row. In­stead, I’ve been walled up in my of­fice, in front ofmy PC, ex­plor­ing the vast con­ti­nent of “The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt,” the sen­sa­tional new role-play­ing game from the Pol­ish de­vel­oper CD Pro­jekt Red.

I’ve but­ton­punched my way through a good many video game gen­res over the years and found that none have the po­ten­tial for dream in­va­sion like a ro­bust RPG that takes scores, if not hun­dreds, of hours to com­plete. That said, never have I felt so walloped by a game I’ve had to re­view. Please for­give me. Although I sank more than 50 hours into “The Witcher 3,” I’mstill nowhere near the cred­its. A quick tally of my in-game quest log shows that, as I type this sen­tence, I’ve com­pleted 63 mis­sions on thegame’s hard dif­fi­culty, cheek­ily called “Blood and Bro­ken Bones!”

In­spired by the fan­tasy sto­ries of An­drzej Sap­kowski, “The Witcher” se­ries retells the life ofGer­alt of Rivia, a mon­ster slayer with a tal­ent for get­ting en­tan­gled in po­lit­i­cal in­trigue. I never got around to play­ing the first game, but I fin­ished “The Witcher 2: As­sas­sins ofKings” last yearon­the Xbox 360. I can’t think of an­other game of a sim­i­lar length that I com­pleted but about which I felt so con­flicted.

The de­vel­op­ers them­selves ad­mit­ted that the game’s dif­fi­culty level was less than per­fect. It CD Pro­jekt Red PC, PlaySta­tion 4 and Xbox One THE WITCHER 3: THE WILD HUNT

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