The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is gorgeous to look at (Bandai Namco)

Prior to watching 45 minutes of gameplay from CD Projekt Red's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the assembled audience I sat among were informed that afterwards a short, anonymous survey would be required of us, asking what we thought.

Forty-six minutes later, under the box marked "positives", I wrote one thing: "F*****g gorgeous".

Variations of that less than eloquent phrase have been the most common reaction to everything shown so far of the third Witcher title, and it is undeniably accurate. Before next gen arrived nearly a year ago, it was always my thought – and I'm sure the thought of many others – that Wild Hunt would be when next gen truly arrived.

Picking up not long after the end of the E3 demo shown in June, the Gamescom demo begins with protagonist Geralt of Rivia atop his horse, the severed head of a griffon tied to it, tongue draping from its beak. Ahead lays the city of Novigrad, a huge settlement that we're told holds thousands of NPCs with a huge variety of their own activities and routines.

Passing through, the city's authenticity doesn't disappoint. It was tough to spot a repeated character model and everyone was up to something, either walking with purpose or engaging in light conversation – text appearing over them as you trot past.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt features darkly comic dialogue (Bandai Namco)

Eventually we find the man who tasked Geralt with killing the griffon, who in return tells us of an "ashen-haired woman" whom Geralt has been tracking down. The man sends us to No Man's Land, a war-ravaged swamp area inhabited by creatures both foul and funny.

Foul and funny

Foul and funny just about covers The Witcher's tone. Horrific beasts of great design inhabit the varied and beautiful landscapes, and that same mix of pleasure and revulsion seeps into the darkly comic dialogue.

Later, another tit-for-tat favour takes us to the top of a cliff, where Geralt fights off harpies with a new addition to his arsenal, a crossbow – created, according to our host, due to the bigger game world. The idea being that a greater expanse feels as such if you can dispatch enemies from distance.

Other additions, including swimming underwater and (at long last) jumping have also been introduced with this in mind. All of it adding to the sense of exploration which will be key to getting the most out of CD Projekt Red's fantasy epic.

Combat flowed nicely from what we saw, but obviously it's hard to give a proper impression without experiencing it for ourselves. The battles witnessed had a nice variety to them, with different strategies required to dispose of a multitude of foes - some were weaker to magic, others in need of more old fashioned, hacky-slashy methods.

The use of magic powers will be familiar to fans of the series, but requiring a menu to be brought up to switch between them seems a little archaic. The names of each power were also unclear to the untrained eye, though we assume it won't take long to pick up which is which.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Combat options have been upgraded (Bandai Namco)

Another new feature of the combat is dismemberment. Finishing blows now slice off limbs and cleave enemies in two with an almost effortless swipe. It's an aesthetic design choice, but one that feels apt for the grim (or should that be Grimm) world of The Witcher.

The environment can also be used to your advantage in battle. The example shown saw a poisonous gas clouds hanging over a swamp set alight in a flash to dispose of multiple foes. We were promised that numerous other examples exist, such as beehives which can presumably be dropped onto enemies.

Gorgeous vistas

Wild Hunt's world has clearly informed a number of key design choices in the game, with world-building a keystone of the game's development. A quick-travel option can be utilised at sign posts, which having left Novigrad saved us a twenty minute journey on horseback according to the developer.

Using that estimate and seeing the path of our travels on the full world map, I estimated that it would take some 35-45 minutes to travel the length of the map on horseback. No doubt one day I will, just for the hell of it.

Why? Because as with everything I saw, it all comes back to those gorgeous vistas, begging to be explored. CD Projekt Red are clearly confident as well, boasting that there will be "no invisible walls" and that there will be "absolutely no linearity between key points".

Despite being out in February however, few have actually tried the game for themselves. While this shouldn't be taken as any indication of complacency, it does leave many questions about the game.

Sure, we've seen gameplay footage but until we get to grips with Wild Hunt, until we muddy our own boots and claret our own swords, the beautiful scenery will be little more than postcard of where we wish we were.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out on 24 February 2015.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Beautiful scenery throughout the game looks breathtaking (Bandai Namco)