After a short unannounced break of several months I am back again to tell you how to be a better person and what video games to play. Recently I spent about 80 (true) to 300 (false) hours with the Witcher 3. It’s a gigantic open world rpg carved out of the bones and draped in the blood of overworked Polish game developers or so the legend goes. ‘Was their sacrifice worth it?’ you ask. To which I say ‘Yes.’ But let me complain anyway.
As the last person on the Internet to write about the Witcher 3 I had a specific reason for why it took me so long to finally, after several failed attempts, play this game in its entirety: Geralt of fucking Rivia. Geralt is the most boring main character anyone ever decided to put in the center of the greatest (in scale) single player CRPG of all time. I’ll admit that after 80 hours I kinda liked his dry humor, but the whole ‘He’s a stoic witcher stripped of emotions who’s still very emotional all the time’ didn’t work for me. The game also gave me little room to make Geralt MY Geralt. I understand that the limitations in character development allowed for a tighter narrative, but why not choose someone interesting as the main character?
Speaking of narrative – holy shit, did they deliver. The writing throughout most of the game was good, which considering that this game is big enough to contain several other big games is an impressive achievement. Occasionally the writing was superb, and especially the ‘Red Baron’ quest was amongst the best written and executed video game moments I had ever the pleasure to experience. While the rest of the game didn’t achieve those heights again I was still pleased by all the effort that went into the telling of all the small and larger stories I encountered. Even the main quest was okay. I imagine this game made some writers at Bethesda eat their crayons with which they just finished practicing their As.
As most open world games, Witcher 3 inherently suffers from pacing problems. The world’s about to end, but you decide to go and finish the search for that armor set, and on the way you stumble in the next monster hunting contract and – oh look there’s another cave. That’s also the problem I had with the first add-on “Heart of Stone” which I played before the end of the main quest. As good as it was, it just didn’t make sense for Geralt to make that big of an excursion so close to the end game. On the other hand exploring in the Witcher 3 is fun and rewarding. There are a lot of secrets and stories to be found by just wandering around through the enormous and beautiful world. Everything is full of details and I love that I can watch Geralt’s beard grow. Also decisions matter a little, but it seems the most effort went into letting you decide where to put little Geralt and then watch virtual breasts that seem to be made from solid stone. I would have preferred cards.
I wish the same amount of love and effort would have gone into the polishing of the controls. Especially keyboard and mouse felt off and I often found myself dying because there was a foot high obstacle I couldn’t overcome, or a sudden drop down a cliff because Geralt didn’t react the way I expected him to move. It just felt imprecise and clunky, but it was never enough to make me want to put down the game. It’s a little bit sad because it doesn’t do justice to this otherwise highly polished gaming experience.
There is also an in-game card game, which is all the rage with the hip kids. I don’t know. It’s one thing to enter a virtual world and slay hundreds of men and monsters in hope of getting a glimpse at blood spattered boobs, but entering a virtual world to enter the local pub and play Magic the Gathering with a fat dwarf? That’s just weird!
All in all I had a great time with the Witcher 3 and it saddens me that fantastic single player games like this will get even more rare than they already are, because games-as-a-service and loot crates. It’s not a small feat to create a game that keeps you entertained for countless hours without becoming some stupid mmorpg-like grinding experience. Like with Prey I would love to start a second run as soon as I finish the second add-on “Blood and Wine”. Instead of fast and faithful Geralt I want to play heavy armored sticks his sword everywhere Geralt (if I had unlimited time at my disposal). Well done CD Projekt! I hope this game didn’t burn out all your developers and designers. I’m looking forward to the next game, which will come with a more interesting lead, because it’s what I want.
Info: You can buy Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on Steam or even better on GOG, which is owned by CD Projekt, so they’ll end up with more money to make another one of these. Go for the GOTY version, the expansions are worth it and not your usual insult of a DLC.