The Witcher 3 is out today, and if you've even the slightest interest in fantasy it is worth dropping everything to play it. (Even if fantasy isn't remotely your thing, give it a chance to get its hooks into you. It might convince you.) Before you do, though, I have a few recommendations. Doing these things has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of The Witcher 3 so far, and has alleviated a few of the problems I usually have with open-world games - primarily, my tendency to play the minimap rather than the actual game, fixating on tiny icons rather than soaking in what's around me.
1. Choose THIS difficulty level
Trust me - it's best to get used to The Witcher 3's combat sooner than later, and on the Normal difficulty setting it's still just about possible to mash and fumble your way through. You don't want that. This isn't Assassin's Creed. The Witcher 3's combat is strategic and tense and exciting, but only if you really get to grips with it. On Hard difficulty, you've no choice but to learn how to use your magic Signs properly, as well as dodge and parry timing. It's best to learn all of that quickly, rather than muddling your way towards the mid-game without ever really enjoying the full range and challenge of the combat. This isn't me posturing - it's really not much harder then Normal, but it's a lot more enjoyable.
Plus, there's a strange difficulty curve problem that makes the game much too easy in the second half on Normal.
2. Turn off a bunch of the HUD options
There are a lot of HUD options in The Witcher 3, most of which are on by default. I found them immensely distracting, but some of them are necessary; I experimented with turning ALL the HUD elements off, but that was wildly impractical, especially as I have no sense of direction even WITH the help of the map. I recommend turning off the following: Action Log, Path to Objectives on Minimap, Active Quests, Info Messages, Control Hints.
This will turn your screen from this:
This reduces clutter, reduces reliance on the minimap and objectives displays, and helped to immerse me in the world that CD Projekt has built.
3. Get into the habit of saving
The Witcher 3 will save whenever you complete a quest objective, but a lot of the things you'll do are not part of quest lines. It's just stuff that happens, like getting stabbed in the back by a bandit whilst looting a camp you thought you'd cleared out. So when you're out in the wilderness and decide to take a detour on your way somewhere, remember to save. This is a bit annoying on console, what with all the menus, but it's worth it.
4. Turn the music off
There's nothing wrong with The Witcher 3's music, so this will seem like a strange suggestion. But without the music, you're better able to appreciate The Witcher 3's incredible environmental sound design. You'll pay more attention to the winds, the rustling of leaves, the clop of your horse's hooves, the snarls and howls of creatures in the distance. Without the music, it's just you and the world. Most of the time in the Witcher 3, it's just you, your steed and the wilderness. This helps preserve that feeling.