This weekend, for the first time in a while, I found myself with nothing to do: no work, no family visits, and my girlfriend stayed with friends in Scotland. To occupy myself I decided to dive back in to The Witcher 3; I’ve had it for a couple of months, but up to now I’d been playing it in short bursts. This was partly due to having other games I wanted to play, and partly because I haven’t had enough time to devote to it; but a big reason I haven’t spent hours on the game yet is the sheer scale of it. It’s a truly enormous game, and when you bring up the map it’s peppered with hidden secrets, places of interest, merchants, blacksmiths, harbours, banks – it can be overwhelming. The scope of the game is mind-blowing, as is the seemingly-endless number of side quests that accompany the main story. The extreme variety is almost fatiguing in the game’s early stages, and I found myself questioning my desire to keep going, knowing that the end was so far out of reach.
Thankfully, I ignored that particular dissenting voice and ploughed on, and I’m so happy that I did. It will still take me many more weeks to finish, but, as is the way with most RPGs, the further I get through the game, the more it opens up, and the richer the experience becomes. (It’s amazing how spending time away from something can refresh your enthusiasm for it; I’d reached a part in the game that I struggled to move past, to the point where I’d become frustrated and walked away. However, coming back to it after some time to reflect altered my perspective somewhat, and from then on I’ve enjoyed the game infinitely more. I’m going to explore this phenomenon in another post in the near future.)
I think what’s most impressive about The Witcher 3 is the way it blends numerous elements into a complete, cohesive experience. The crafting and inventory systems are deep, and while the interface is a little unwieldy, the range of potions, oils, weapons and gear that you can manufacture is astounding. The combat is fluid and satisfying, requiring a little patience to master, and as someone who plays few action-RPGs, I’m happy that it is accessible enough that it isn’t punishingly difficult. Then there’s the story: the main quest has me intrigued, despite not knowing a thing about Geralt, his companions or his adversaries. Picking up a story at its third instalment can be bewildering, but the plot strands are kept simple: Geralt is trying to find someone, and needs to follow a few leads to aid his search. It could be easy for the lore of the series to get in the way, but the dialogue focuses on characters, and doesn’t get lost trying to explain too much that we don’t need to know.
There’s a boatload of reasons to love this game, but my favourite parts of the game so far have been the random encounters and side quests that pop up as you venture across the map. If mishandled, these can be a chore, and people frequently complain about large open-world games with tedious side-quests that feel like an afterthought. In the Witcher 3, however, you meet varied, interesting characters in almost every side-mission, and each mini-quest has surprising depth; it gives you a reason to push forward, instead of just finishing a mission for the sake of completion. CD Projekt Red (the game’s Polish developers) didn’t have to put this much care and effort into parts of the game that some people will miss entirely; the fact that they did is a testament to their commitment to the quality of the game.
I think The Witcher 3 knows what kind of game it wants to be, and its tone throughout is pitch-perfect: the gravity of the events of the main plot is obvious, but it knows when to lighten the mood a little, too. It’s the ideal amount of weird: many of the side-quests border on the ridiculous, but it doesn’t feel out of context. Geralt’s responses to some of the sillier characters are spot-on: an eye-roll or an exasperated sigh let you know he’s just as tired of their shit as you are. The game doesn’t try to take itself too seriously, which is important in an experience that is likely to last at least a couple dozen hours.
I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of The Witcher 3, but what I’ve played already has been astounding. I’ll post a more formal review when I eventually complete the main story, but in the meantime I wanted to spend a few moments to acknowledge how special this game is. CD Projekt Red should be immeasurably proud of the title they’ve released, and should be praised for the care and attention that has obviously gone into every aspect of the game. I can’t wait to jump back in.