It’s about to get controversial.
There, I said it. An opinion that would have me scoffing, prior to blasting through the former in a lockdown frenzy. It took me back to the glorious teenage days of gaming for 20 hours straight. You know that charged, obsessive way you’d complete a disgustingly sizeable fraction of the ‘New Game’ you were enamoured with. Naturally, before the horrors of burgeoning adulthood consumed you and your fragile soul.
I wish I could say that I’m too busy being professional and extremely dynamic to recall with clarity that specific hardcore 20-hour-did-I-eat-who-am-I fugue state, but I’m not. It’s just not as frequent these days; with the menagerie of unfortunate life-based necessities, I’m required to do. Ridiculous.
The Witcher 3 brought me right back to that dry-mouthed love affair with a game.
I’m a bit late to the party considering The Witcher 3 was released over 6 years ago-to mass critical acclaim. Not to mention with its saucy game the year designation that was given as quickly as you could pop the disk in. Its popularity is wowing, seen as it’s a franchise that’s existed since the late ’80s in book form. But I was jaded. Hurt from the strange behaviour of Bethesda and their (in my opinion) decimation of the Fallout series: I felt a so-called ‘triple A’ game could never win my heart again. The last bastion of good Big Studio games had fallen to the microtransactions and the dreaded live services model.
The Elder Scrolls, while hardly the most difficult or bespoke of RPG series in its later incarnations, was a benchmark that myself and many other gamers held in high esteem. Skyrim was ‘the greatest’ (even though Oblivion and Morrowind are more fun) for its vast open world, and sandbox approach to character creation and skills. The world was your oyster.
Or was it?
Skyrim has the appearance of a huge and detailed game, but The Witcher 3 made me see how generic and empty much of Skyrim’s cookie-cutter open-world design actually is. A blasphemous statement, right?
I had more fun in the Witcher 3 as a specific character who has a designated personality than I did in Skyrim. Where creating ‘endless’ builds realistically had almost no variation in how they actually affect the game. Be it Khajit or Breton, you’re treated with the exact same dialogue from the dreary faces of NPC’s in a seemingly racially critical, Nord dominated society.
Skyrim lets you do everything, which is a mistake. Having parameters and consequences provides a much richer experience (or a much ‘Witcher’ experience right!?) overall.
The lack of restrictions in skill allocation means you end up being good at everything. Whilst this is extremely fun, the centralisation of the game on a well-written character who can’t spec into absolutely everything in the Witcher’s case presents unique challenges more akin to older RPG’S. There is where skill choice was everything and you actually had a class.
Having an actual character protagonist is a gamble in an RPG style game if the character is boring, or you can’t stand them. With Geralt of Rivia, it’s hard not to love him. Compare well-written dialogue that sells you the fantasy and experience of truly existing in this game world and choices that actually affect the game dramatically. Alongside a faceless Dragonborn that is treated exactly the same regardless of any player choices whatsoever.
Geralt and The Dragonborn are the heroes of their respective stories, yet only one can ever impact the game in a way that deviates from the supposed canon of what your character ‘will do’. Geralt can ruin lives.
Look I’m not evil. I just want my RPG’s to be capable of going in totally different directions where I’ve had a say in the chat. I play moral characters with the best intentions, usually. But why play an RPG if you aren’t agonising over the choice, good or bad, you have to make in front of you?
Featured image credit: Gaming Bible