NEED TO KNOW
What is it? Huge, tangential action RPG in a dark fantasy setting
Influenced by: Skyrim, the novels of Andrzej Sapkowski
Reviewed on: Windows 8.1 (64-bit), Intel Core i7-4720HQ, 16GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M / 3GB GDDR
Publisher. EU / UK / AU: Bandai Namco, US: WB Games
A powerful daughter figure needs saving from an entourage of black-draped specter horsemen. Dangerous supernatural powers are at risk of falling into their malevolent hands, and I’m meant to stop that catastrophe. There’s an overwhelming sense of urgency, but there I am, basically tying off sacks for peasants.
It happened like this: early in The Witcher 3 I was tasked with finding a witch. The witch lived in a nearby waterside cottage and was reported to have details on the whereabouts of aforementioned daughter figure. I was determined to speak to her immediately. My cause was urgent, after all. I’m Geralt of Rivia, scorned Witcher, master swordsman, and I have no time for nonsense.
On my way to the witch I stumbled upon a typically destitute Velen village. I didn’t care about the village at all, and I wasn’t drawn to its armories or tradesmen. But something—maybe the sun setting so amber on the horizon, or the children dashing frantically through the muddy streets—made me stop. I was curious.
It probably goes without saying, but if you’re in a hurry, never get off your horse enroute in an open world RPG. This is especially true for The Witcher 3. Several hours later, once I’d cleared out some monsters for a desperate peasant in her
far-off stable, and made preliminary moves to slay a beast haunting the town, I forced myself to leave. Turns out the witch was only 50 metres North all along.
I didn’t really want to leave, though. It’s not that I liked the town, and it’s not that I savoured the fantasy of being a hero to its people. It’s certainly not because I wanted to tick off this town’s quests (there are so many quests, there’s no point being thorough). I was just curious about the villagers’ circumstances. I’d gotten to know the town, but I didn’t understand it. How did they get so poor and wretched? Am I complicit, thanks to my (reluctant) connection with the Nilfgaardians? Is it the climate? Or is it just the way they’ve always lived?
Straight up, this is the most remarkable thing about The Witcher 3. Its writing isn’t perfect—it still bears some of the familiar trappings of being a video game—but it almost always rewards curiosity, big time. The rewards for wondering are invariably bleak, but The Witcher 3 achieves something very few video games do: when I’m engaged in a peripheral mini-narrative I’m not necessarily thinking about its game aspects. I’m not thinking about the XP rewarded, or the money I’ll get, or the allegiances I’ll forge, or the buffs I’ll unlock. I’m not grinding. I just really want to know, and understand, what’s going on.
Geralt’s cause may seem urgent, but the worst way to play The Witcher 3 is quickly. In this game, distractions overwhelm you. For mine, the game’s distractions are where its most engaging stories are found.