The Unknown Gamer

Grizzled Old Monster Hunter

Due to their non-linear nature, many open world game suffer in the story department. While it can be said that The Elder Scrolls has very strong underlying lore, the actual narritive of the MSQ often ends up taking a back seat in favor of openness. The Witcher 3 manages to avoid this, and ends up being one of the most well-written video games I've ever played.

I am, undoubtedly, late to the Witcher party. In its native country of Poland, the franchise started off as a book series long before the games existed, and many desribe the series' author, Andrzej Sapkowski, as the Polish J.R.R. Tolkien. For fans outside of Europe, however, most had never heard of The Witcher until the 2007 PC game was made. Unfortunately, I never got around to playing the first two games in the series. Even without being overly familiar with the story, however, I found that the opening hours of the third game did an excellent job of brining me up to speed regarding Geralt and the other major characters. I certainly would have appreciated the story even more had I played through the older games, but I didn't find it necessary to understand what was going on for the most part. Not needing to read a wiki in order to understand what made the main character and major NPCs tick is a sign of excellent writing in and of itself.

Unlike many fantasy titles, which tend to present a more idealized version of a vaguely middle-ages society, the world of The Witcher is best described as being darker and grittier. There are plenty of RPGs with dark themes, evil nobles, mad kings, and deceptive religious organizations. Few go to the lengths of presenting a world where the fingers of human greed and corruption reach even to common rank-and-file NPCs in the way that this game does. Likewise, choices that you are forced to make can have far reaching repurcussions that impact events that happen hours down the line. Unlike Bioware's often simplistic moral choices, it is often not clear in The Witcher 3 which choice will end up having the desired moral outcome. For hours during the first part of the game, I thought I was making the "correct" choices, but my actions inadvertantly lead to one of the more prominent quest givers to hang themselves. There were no indications or hints this would be the outcome, and only in retrospect did I realize that I had sealed this NPC's fate by trying to be unecessarily heroic.

Similarly, I found that the game had plenty of depth in its sidequests. Every RPG has quests where you need to kill a dangerous monster or disrupt the activities of some bandits. However, in this game, many of these tasks unveiled their own little interesting backstories. Defeating a dangerous specter, for example, often requires discovering the reason it is haunting the area in the first place. In one instance, a quest to hunt down a beast ended up uncovering a love triangle involving a werewolf. While many of these still ultimately require you to kill enemies, they help reinforce the often morally ambiguous world of The Witcher.

Another aspect I found that this game excelled at was its settlements. Even in most modern fantasy games, the "biggest trade hub in the region" consists of a castle and no more than two dozen buidlings. However, the Witcher 3 does things a bit more realistically. I'm not going to claim it is perfect, but the developers put a lot more effort into making its towns and cities seem more plausible. The map that encompasses Velen, Novigrad, and Oxenfurt has roads dotted with small peasant villages and a few larger settlements. Novigrad, stated to be a large port city in the narritive, has discernable outskirts and districts. It is far more believable than any of the cities in Skyrim. It is bigger, livelier, and has far more convincing architectural design than what we typically see in games like this.

This game is impressive, no doubt. It looks good, has a great story, and a offers up a big open world to explore. It still has its limitations, however, especially when it comes to total player freedom. Because it is still bound by its narritive, some earlier side quests that you may have skipped over become unavailable once you reach specific points in the main story. Aside from the few small portions where you play as Ciri, you are also stuck with Geralt as your character. Just like everyone else, he is incredily well written, but you're basically forced into playing a grizzled middle-aged white guy antihero. It also makes your gameplay options very rigid. You can spec him so he's slightly better at certain things, and you can choose to favor a certain type of armor, but you're pretty much locked into Geralt's fighting style. Combat generally involves dodging attacks until there is an opening, and then whacking the enemy with your sword. Geralt can use low grade magic in the form of his Witcher signs, but typically you're either going to use the one that gives you the damage shield, or the one that whatever particular enemy you're fighting happens to be weak against. Geralt also has a crossbow, but I found its only real practical use is to shoot a flying enemy out of the sky so that your can then use your sword on it to do real damage. There is nothing wrong with the combat in general, but there is no option to play as a full-time magic user, archer, or stealth specialist.

The characters in The Witcher 3 are well written, but they're less than diverse.

There is also a slight issue with the cast diversity. The characters are all very well written, but almost everyone is a white human who speaks in either an American or European accent. You will run accross some token dwarves and elves as well, but they generally behave as you'd expect them to in any high fantasy setting. This makes some amount of sense given that the world is based heavily on European culture, but it is still somewhat boring. Many fantasy games these days do at least make some attempt to represent non-Caucasians in some reasonable manner. The Redguard race in The Elder Scrolls represents, at minimum, a token effort to represent people of color. I'm not trying to be an SJW, but The Witcher 3 doesn't seem to make any effort to do this at all. You're stuck with a lily white cast exclusively.

Overall, I found The Witcher 3 to be a very well crafted open world game with a very compelling story. While I cannot say i like it better than The Elder Scrolls in terms of the overall game experience, this is a matter of heavy personal opinion. I prefer the greater degree of freedom those games allow, even if it means the story suffers a bit as a result. Still, I'd place this in my top five open world games easily, and I think that it is a game easily worth nabbing on Steam.

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