Eyes On: The Witcher 3

They're wild those guys, totally wild!

I’ve been watching somebody chopping monsters into pieces. In a miniature temporary cinema in the chaos of Gamescom, The Witcher 3 is on display, strutting around the place like a peacock. In a forty-five-minute live presentation, it proves itself to be the most handsome game at the show but I’m left wondering what exactly it has to show beneath all the finery. That doesn’t mean I want to see its nude collectible sex card but I do want to see what really makes it tick.

Hitman: Absolution is responsible for one of my strangest memories of the last few years of gaming. Despite all of the things that felt like a step (or sprint) back from the emergent farce and thrills of the series’ greatest settings, Absolution did one thing better than any other game I’d ever seen before. Crowds. After seeing the herds of potential victims in the Chinatown area, it’s hard to look at the small groups that constitute urban life in other games the same way.

Whether The Witcher 3 achieves its loftier goals or not, it will almost certainly serve to spoil the cluster of buildings that often constitute the capital city of a digital fantasy kingdom. Novigrad, the largest city in the game, is enormous. Geralt arrives on horseback and rides by the docks, where boats ply their trade and the cry of the fishmongers can be heard (thanks, Fink).

The scale of the environment is staggering and the NPCs that inhabit it apparently have their own schedules and behaviours. People spend the day going about their business, whatever it might be, and when night falls, they head home or to taverns. It’s a living city, at least to some extent, although the visible interactions with the populace either involve nudging them aside, like an Assassin, or receiving quests from them. It’s the questing that forms the bulk of the playthrough (watched rather than experienced) and there’s little evidence of a dynamic open world.

The action is 'heating' up. Heating. Heat. Hot. HOT. Fire. Heating up. Fire.

That’s not to say the world isn’t impressive. Outside the city, Geralt performs parkour as he scrambles across cliffsides and searches for alternate routes to his objectives. He’s able to use his witchy (witchery?) senses to track and hunt, overlaying glowing red foot and claw marks onto the terrain. When he finds his prey, combat is violent, fast and fluid, with special abilities interrupting enemy attacks and tipping the advantage in his favour.

The standout scuffle is against a nest of harpies, which swoop and scratch, threatening to send Geralt tumbling from the precipice he’s fighting on. A wrist-mounted crossbow allow him to pick at them from mid-range, or to hit them full-on in the face as they dive. It’s the most promising sequence, the splendour of the city aside, showing that quick responses, parrying and dodging are more important than toe-to-toe bludgeoning. The environment comes into play as well, as the deadly dance is performed in loosening circles, with the player struggling to stay on firm ground as attacks and feints cut off his movements and push him toward the precarious cliff-edge.

Fighting human opponents in another area, the environment comes into play again. This time it’s in the form of an exploding barrel, which Geralt lights with his Igni fire cone. Sizzle, boom, rain of flesh. It’s certainly gory but, in the tradition of exploding barrel kills since time began, it’s very convenient and faintly absurd.

Obviously it's Alice who's been putting these snide remarks into Adam's previews, isn't it?

It’s hard to tell whether The Witcher 3 is embracing that absurdity. The presentation’s forty-five minutes involve what feels like forty-seven minutes of dialogue, much of it delivered in a lovely soup of regional British accents. It’s all a bit daft, as tales of swords, destinies and corsets tend to be, but even when a godling called Jonny (Dobby the house elf cosplaying as Gollum) provides some light relief among he grim and the grit, the script seems to be almost entirely earnest.

Sample lines – “Do you have bollocks?” and “You need a knight-errant or a witch hunter, not a witcher.” I mentioned that line to Graham, unaware of the distinction between a witch, one who witches and a witch hunter. He suggested witchers might have unionised their slaying, creating a division between them and the strike-busting witch hunters. Seems likely.

My occasional aversion to fantasy lore aside, there’s a pleasing fairytale quality to Geralt’s hunts. He’s not punching orcs, he’s seeking half-forgotten creatures and dangerous rumours. Rumours with teeth and a bulbous eyes. And he’s doing it in one of the most beautifully detailed environments I’ve ever seen. It’s stunning to look at, both in terms of its preposterous scale and the intricacy of every texture, tree and living thing. It’s a place that I want to spend time in but, despite the open world claims, on the evidence of this short visit it’s a place in which time is spent listening to instructions, following quest markers and hitting things until the die.

He sends these reports from Gamescom, so excited for people to read them.

There are alternate routes to find, I’ve seen that with my own eyes, but the destination has always been a verbose quest-giver or an angry monster. There’s no single moment, outside the city walls, that makes the extravagant world seem like more than a backdrop for a series of encounters. The order they occur in will vary as players explore as they see fit rather than being pushed in a specific direction but despite the beauty of the place, it may not contain as much surprise, improvisation and mystery as the most convincing fictional spaces.

For one moment, as Geralt traipsed through a swamp, ominous stomping flooded out of CD Projekt’s meaty bass system. Local wildlife, large, we were told. It sounded bloody enormous and didn’t appear to be related to any current quest. And apparently it wasn’t because instead of encountering the source of the sound, or even turning around to look at it, we were plunged into another dialogue-heavy cutscene, at which point the mystery interloper apparently ceased to exist.

Maybe that’s the moment that made me so grumpy. It’s understandable that a live demonstration shows certain highlights and hits the right beats, but when so much of the conversation around the game is about freedom, it’s disappointing to have the one moment when something unexpected threatens to emerge onto the prescribed path be cut short for the sake of another cutscene.

It's not his fault the WiFi hates his laptop so he sends them as straight text.

I’m judging the presentation rather than the game because that’s all I can judge at the moment. It left me with the suspicion that the wonders of the world might be window-dressing for a series of fights and fetch quests rather than a thing to be enjoyed in its own right. If that’s the case, it will at least be the best window-dressing that a window ever wore, but it would have been reassuring to see something other than running, jumping and killing.

And then I remember the city. If nothing else, The Witcher 3 will have Novigrad and every other game that tries to fob us off with Tinyside-on-Twee when we’re supposed to be seeing the greatest kingdom in the world, or a bungalow in place of New York, may well be at least a little ashamed.

Gripes and doubts aside, there’s no doubt that I’ll want to experience the streets and the docks for myself next February. And I might even enjoy a spot of hunting as well, exploring the dark places of the world. At the moment, the visuals and technical accomplishment of the environments set the game apart from just about anything else, and that might be enough, if there is enough variety in the bestiary and locations.

But then... Alice. How terrible.

There are also, of course, the decisions that cause the plot and its subplots to branch, changing the world in ways great and small. The tightly packaged presentation ends with a choice – to stab a tree in the heart or not to stab a tree in the heart. In this playthrough, Geralt went sword-happy and the blood flowed, causing the children at a local orphanage to vanish from the world. There’s a reason, a connection between those things, because we are in the realm of folklore and fairytale, where ancient beings protect and harm depending on the actions of men like Geralt who slice through the threads of destiny.

It might be brilliant and if it is, I’ll happily eat these words with a side of humble pie. Perhaps if it were being described as a bigger, bolder Witcher 2, I wouldn’t be voicing these doubts, but this is described as a different kind of game, or at least a different kind of world. On the evidence I’ve seen though, The Witcher is talking the heavily-accented Welsh talk but it’s not yet convincingly walking the walk. I’d love to be proved wrong.


  1. Danny says:

    I’m left feeling entirely cold by this game. It might be that I’m becoming a grumpy old man, but I only see pretty graphics – immensely pretty, I admit – with nothing substantial beneath. I’d exchange all those thousands of voice acted lines of dialog in for proper combat mechanics for instance.

    It’s a good thing we’re no longer in the dark ages of 2008 when it comes to RPG’s and I can easily spend all my limited spare time on games like Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, Lords of Xulima, Underrail, Might & Magic X, etc for years to come, but I really hope CD Projekt will keep the scope for Cyberpunk 2077 somewhat smaller, and allocate more resources to it’s mechanics.

    • clumsyandshy says:

      By the games you are listing as your 2014 saviors I’d say this type of game is just not for you. Claiming it lacks “proper combat mechanics” is not fair. You just don’t appreciate this type of combat.

      I am so very much looking forward to this myself.

    • jerf says:

      The previous Witcher games contained quite a lot of substantial stuff beneath the pretty graphics. Namely, the story and the characters, which were pretty awesome. It seems that The Witcher 3 will deliver on that as well, so I’m not sure why you’re saying that “it seems that there is nothing substantial beneath”.

      • Danny says:

        I’ve finished The Witcher and played the The Witcher 2 for roughly 10 hours. Listing the characters as substantial is a bit of a stretch, as there are plenty of RPG’s with great characters which offer in depth combat mechanics at the same time. The signs and pre fight potions don’t offer a lot of variety, for me at least.

        And with regards to me not appreciating the combat: that’s entirely true. But I’m not appreciating it because of it’s shallowness, which was my original point to begin with. I’m fully aware that for a lot of people the combat mechanics are entirely fine though, so enjoy your time with the game and I’ll be grooming my neckbeard ;)

        • jerf says:

          Okay, which RPGs have more interesting stories than the Witcher games, in your opinion? Planescape: Torment counts, I agree. First two Fallouts, yes. What else? There are quite some, probably, but not many, especially if you count just the modern ones.

          • Danny says:

            I either play RPG’s for their quality in writing (PS:T, some parts of BG2, New Vegas, F1 & 2), or for their complex combat mechanics (Temple of Elemental Evil, Knights of the Chalice, Icewind Dale 2). I find The Witcher games lacking in both, although they are definitely not bad in both segments.

            But it’s just like my opinion man, I know a lot of people will disagree.

          • Fenix says:

            SW: KotOR.

          • TheTingler says:

            While I’m massively looking forward to Witcher 3 and loved the last two I think the world and the way the plot shapes to your choices is more interesting than the actual story in either. Especially in TW2 the main story kind of fizzles out halfway through in favour of something else that builds to a conclusion that’s left utterly open for TW3. And TW1 I don’t remember the story at all.

      • basilisk says:

        I only played the first one, but I’m honestly puzzled when people say things like that. All I remember from the first Witcher is a lot of dirty people cursing a lot, and a very vague story about two clashing factions neither of which I particularly cared about (I don’t even think I was supposed to), with some completely random elements of the grail legend and Lovecraftian mer-folk thrown in for some reason. And a time-travel twist at the end, I think. Also, the whole thing went on for far too long.

        As someone unfamiliar with the books, I can honestly say I didn’t find anything special about the characters or story. Just fairly standard fantasy fare that really failed to utilise the quite unique Slavic undertones cropping up every now and then.

        • Perkelnik says:

          You dont remember much then. And the “time-travel twist” wasnt that, but an illusion created by the main bad guy.
          I didnt care much for the story on my first playthrough and made a big mistake, as I realized when I replayed the game a couple of months back.
          It might not be the best story ever, but for an RPG game it is pretty good, because there is so much more going on then the usual “you are the chosen one to destroy the ultimate evil”.

          • basilisk says:

            Yes, I don’t remember much of it. Which was kind of my point, really.
            And yes, there might very well be more to it than “kill the monster, save the world”, but that’s setting the bar really low.

          • Sleepy Will says:

            You’ve got a main character who was abused at an early age and taken to the very limits of humanity, who is tasked to save humanity without really understanding why and is reviled by those he saves. He maintains his own code of ethics, he is by his measure a good man, but still is put into positions where his good intentions have terrible consequences for innocents, and he takes the burden of those responsibilities hard. He is a womaniser but is barely capable of having a relationship, partly due to his lifestyle, partly due to the notion that women only want him as a novelty, not for him. He and his soul mate are both sterile, and the tragedy is that Geralt desires to be a father yet never can be. His soul mate is beautiful to the eyes of all except Geralt who can see her physical deformities through her attempt to hide them and though he loves her deeply, he is turned by the true beauty of others. He is driven by the core belief that he is unloved and can never be loved, it flavours every action he takes. He desired the love of the human race, but contact with them only serves to push them further from him. Geralt identifies with the elves, the way humanity treat them mirrors how they treat him, yet his honour demands he sides with humanity over them.

            Sure though, the witcher is really shallow, if your roleplay ability is also really shallow!

          • basilisk says:

            Sleepy Will, I was talking only about the first game, and there’s barely anything of what you’ve written in there. It may very well be in the source material the whole thing is derived from, but that’s quite irrelevant if the argument is “The Witcher is an exceptionally well-written videogame”.

            If you want a similar example, it’s fairly common for people who haven’t read the books to consider the Harry Potter films unwatchable, because the motivations of characters and twists and turns of the plot are often completely impenetrable for them. The adaptation/retelling/expansion/whatever can’t stand on its own feet and must be supported from the outside.

          • Sleepy Will says:

            No, you misunderstand, that was how I roleplayed him. That was choices I made in how I play him and made sense to me given what I was presented with. I havent played Witcher 2 as I can’t get any kind of framerate and I haven’t read any books. Your interpretation may differ, but when playing a roleplaying game, the idea is to roleplay, which does involve using your imagination and suspending your disbelief. If you can’t do that, then of course the game will be shallow for you, in much the same way that someone playing GTA and never breaking the road laws is going to find driving dull in that game.

          • lumenadducere says:

            Sleepy Will, doesn’t that defeat the idea of the character being intrinsically interesting then? Geralt was interesting to you because you made him interesting with your roleplay. He’s not all that interesting in and of himself, he’s interesting if you make him that way with your head. And you’re right that part of an RPG is to roleplay, but when you’re given a pre-defined character there’s some expectation for that character to actually convey personality. As a facetious example, I could roleplay a personality onto a rock, but that doesn’t mean the rock is interesting to anyone else except me, and I’m only interested because I decided to make it interesting for myself. And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but at that point you can’t say in an objective sense that the character has depth.

            Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the first two games, but I have to agree that there are a lot of elements that I think make much more sense for readers of the book than for people who approach the games on their own. I’ve always felt that the games rely too much on outside context in order to engage the player with their world and characters. Granted, this makes complete sense considering that it’s a game based off of an existing and established IP. But it’s that issue that makes it a great story for fans of the novels and just a decently good story for fans of the games.

          • basilisk says:

            Sleepy Will, then I misunderstood you there, and I apologise for that. But I never called the game shallow, I only said the story wasn’t a particularly stellar example of the writing craft. And I don’t quite see how roleplaying ties into that, because that’s a product of your creation/interpretation and not in any way part of the actual script of the actual game.

          • Perkelnik says:

            basilisk, I understood your point, I just wanted to argue there is a solid story and that you should give another chance maybe. I also didnt like the story very good, but when I paid attention to it (which might a bit exhausting at times), it really is an enjoyable experience

          • Asurmen says:

            I’ve got to chip in and say Sleepy Will wasn’t really roleplaying that stuff. It was blatantly part of the storyline, and I’m not sure how you could have missed it :/

            Also it was a time-travel twist at the end. Namely the bad guy himself, not the illusion.

          • Big Murray says:

            Are we now saying that The Witcher’s lack of personality and depth with its characters is a fantastic innovation in the realm of emergent narrative …?

          • Sleepy Will says:

            No, we’re saying that if you don’t roleplay in a roleplaying game, you’re probably not going to get the game experience as intended, and you should probably make clear that your criticism applies when playing the game as an action game e.g.

            I got this new RPG, called Blandy Bland world: The Blandness. I played though as an action game and my god was it boring. How is it realistic that I can become the greatest thief of all of Blandtopia, the most wanted criminal cat burglar that ever was and also king of Blandsville, head of the guild of blandy mages AND won the title of Blandmaster in the arena! The story makes no sense when you get to that point because you are head of both warring factions! Its properly boring and you are so OP because you can get every spell and be a sword master and an archery god if you grind for long enough.

          • Sleepy Will says:

            @Asurmen – To be fair, there are plenty of alternatives to my view, for example, another player may play a Geralt who sides with the elves, who harbours a deep resentment for humanity but despite this, still relies on them for services, food and safety after dark. He finds human women repulsive and uses sex as a power game etc etc

          • Sleepy Will says:

            @lumenadducere – You are correct, this is all subjective, which is why I only argue against objective statements – “the witcher is shallow” – well clearly that’s not a universal statement, I explained how I found Geralt interesting and his story deep enough for me. So yes, if you don’t find Geralt interesting, the “rock” then of course your not going to find the story in the game starring him interesting. As for me, no it’s not the greatest literature ever created, but it’s good enough for me to get a great rp experience

          • basilisk says:

            But Sleepy Will, it was you who brought the word “shallow” into this discussion in the first place :)

            Your RP experience may have been utterly amazing for all I know, but that’s basically fan fiction. I am talking about what the game’s writers produced, not what you have built in your head. And I only said that what the game’s writers produced was not particularly good. Not bad, mind you. Just… okay.

            It is theoretically perfectly possible to write excellent fan fiction derived from a perfectly horrid TV show. And I’m quite sure it has actually already happened somewhere. That doesn’t make the show less dreadful, though.

          • rexx.sabotage says:

            Sleepy Will you are dead wrong. I’ve been playing Vice City as a law-abiding citizen and I quite enjoy it. I cruise around on my Faggio listening to some of my favorite music, watching sunrises on the beach, observing the polygonal people go about their lives, exploring the secret places and amassing an impotent arsenal. I find the whole experience rather meditative but, far from boring.

            I totally agree with you about the Witcher tho ;)

          • Sleepy Will says:

            To be fair, I played GTA 4, not exactly as a law abiding citizen, but only acted like a maniac when my Nico would have done, which was usually in chase scenes and when evading the law, otherwise why draw attention to yourself, nothing like walking down a street watching the world go by, as you said, meditative!

            @Basilisk – sorry, I paraphrased. I’m a writer by profession (screen, not games) and what you were saying has been in my experience interpreted with the word shallow. If that’s not your word of choice, forgive me!! I guess I get a little irked when criticism is thrown out by people who have no idea how difficult making compelling characters and a deep story is. It’s hard enough in linear entertainment, let alone in a game which tries to balance linearity with freedom for the player.

            Think of it this way, when I make a character, I start with her core motivation, that think that psychologists call a core belief – say “I’m not good enough”. This motivates everything the character does, it sets the tone for his life. Then you cast her in your story, lets say we’re writing a rom com, so we think to her journey:

            What is her ordinary world – she’s a perfectionist, nothing she does is good enough, she is self critical to an extraordinary degree. How this manifests itself is dictated by the tone of the movie, something like Fargo, she is going to be much stranger a character than in four weddings

            What doesn’t she know or understand about the world – now we get to an interesting choice. If we wrote her as not knowing that it’s OK for everything to not be perfect, we start fencing her in as a very on dimensional character – shallow. Her entire role in the film is to be the perfectionist who learns to accept flaws. But we don’t want to do this, it’s lazy and boring. So how about, she doesn’t know that the monster under he bed is real – getting a del toro vibe now, but more importantly, something more compelling about our story

            What calls her to adventure: What kicks the story off, perhaps she see’s something move under the bed – clearly we’re not writing a rom com now, perhaps it’s a horror – I never was good at rom or com, so that’s fine!

            What is happening in her mind – does she embrace the call to adventure, cling to her old beliefs “probably just rats”, hide away – well her core belief is “I’m not good enough” so she possibly would try to spring the perfect ambush on this “cat”, she grabs a convenient fishing net – right, so now we know that she has kids who leave their crap all over the house – given her perfectionist nature, we know she desires a perfect house, she thinks it’s feasible to keep her house like it’s in a magazine at all times – how did she get to the point where the kids are leaving crap everywhere – clearly she’s at her limit to cope, absolutely stressed to the max. We have the opening scene of our movie now, she takes the kids rockpooling, tries her hardest to have a wonderful day but has an argument with the kids “Dad used to do it better”, “Well he’s gone now” etc. Kids come in, leave crap everywhere, mum spends the rest of the day clearing up, kids play at rockpooling like dad did, mum puts herself to bed, kids realise something’s wrong “mums gone to bed again in the middle of the day”, go and try to cheer her up, nothings working, leave the net in the bedroom. So when we get to the catch the cat scene, the net is ready to go, and isn’t suffering from toddler syndrome (and then mum grabs a net that is just there, and then… and then…)

            How does she refuse the call – no character instantly accepts a change in their world, so mum chases the cat out from under the bed, but it just punches a hole straight through the net “that’s one strong cat”. What’s going on in her mind, logic dictates that no cat could escape her ambush, so why is she deluding herself, and how do you show on screen that she is deluding herself.

            What is her mentor – who or what gives her the key to greater understanding. Is it a literal mentor, perhaps the youngest child has a battered, old fashioned book of monsters (a bit cheesy, but I like it rather too much) that falls open at a cat sized monster under the bed, the illustration mirroring the camera frame of when the mum first heard the sound.

            Where does her strength come from to fight the monster – an ordinary person would gather the kids together and get the hell out, send in the council – why doesn’t she do this? Clearly protecting her kids is motivation enough and meets her core belief (I must be the perfect parent), so something stops her getting away – is she in a holiday cabin on an isolated island, fits perfectly with the beach scene earlier, perhaps this is the first holiday without dad to a favourite spot (Again, cheesy, but what of it, I like cheesy, OK!).

            The test – the battle with the monster – is there a gimmick, what did she learn from the book, is the monster vulnerable to cast iron, well great, the cabin has a cast fire with poker set (the kids lit the fire to try to cheer up mum, like dad always used to do, so we got to see the poker earlier on) so she takes the poker and searches under all the beds. When she finds it she has a skirmish. What are her allies, what helps her? What hinders her, helps the monster – well the monster lives under beds so clearly it has the advantage in tight spaces, the compact environment under the bed is her enemy. The kids disobey her to help out, they could be her allies, but in this instance, she is wanting to protect them, so they become her enemies. She has caught the creature in the open, getting back to her bed, it’s lair but the kids get involved and she perceives them to be in danger, so keeps them safe but the monster gets under the bed and has the advantage, she can’t root it out.

            Regardless, the morning has arrived and the supply boat is here, they can escape, however, mum is a perfectionist. She sends the kids on the boat and decides to stay, finish the job, kill the monster.

            She goes back and waits for night (we need to foreshadow that the creature doesn’t exist on this plane during the day, probably though the childs book but we can be way more clever than that for sure), spending the time to set up a trap, another fishing net trap, but with steel cable, purloined from the boat (so monster is weak to all metal, not just cast iron and the opening scenes showed the family arriving at the island, on the boat, explaining that he will be back every morning, also we see the coils of wire, they don’t need explaining, perhaps the boatman builds one of the kids a seat out of them, or whatever, attention is drawn but subverted from them in some way)

            Trap works, almost, monster is significantly hurts, mum has to finish it off hand to hand and discovers that she is capable even without her late husband.


            Now, usually I would spend 6 weeks, this has taken more like 20 minutes to dream up, so it could do with a hell of a lot of polishing, I know, but it’s enough to make the point – how do you adapt the things we know make compelling stories play out visually on a screen to a medium that allows interactivity? Firstly, we can remove interactivity. You can’t control the camera, it shows you precise views, but then that limits immersion. You could only allow progression if exactly what you wrote must happen is done, but how would you get the player to set up the net trap? Random clicking on items until the correct combo is found by chance (or looked up on a wiki) Do we put in clues of what is supposed to happen, and how pervasive are those clues, how in your face. None of this control is making for a good RPG though, we want the players to be able to interpret and play a role, not shoehorn them into an interactive story. SO we have to give them freedom. How much though, many RPG’s make the main character a blank slate, you can be anyone, have a blank text page to write your bio, be any class you want, any gender, any age. Our story had kids though and the protagonist was a single mum, so we can’t have that, we have to go the witcher route, give the players a predetermined character.

            I mean, are you seeing how it’s all a balancing act between story and allowing the player to play and specifically to roleplay. The blank slate games which have a completely open world necessarily have the weakest stories, because characters will not follow the story, experience it as you foretold and be motivated by anything too specific – I’m playing a 1000 year old male dwarf mage, why do I care about these human kids again and how am I a single mother. That leaves motivations very simple and base, you will die unless… you will get money if you… you will get a shiny reward if you kill….

            Free character choice but closed world has traditionally been the strongest choice, you can be who you want, but gimmick as to why you’re here (memory loss) and off you go, down this long corridor. Get to the end and you win. The corridor ensures your story is told.

            But the witcher tries to balance world openness with a specific character. In my view it does a great job, sure the story in absolute terms is average, but that’s the trade off for making the game more fun to play and a better game to roleplay in.

            TLTR: I thinks it’s harder than you assume to write a story for an interactive medium, I can appreciate the clever, hard work they put in and I guess I don’t like seeing that effort and cleverness written off just because subjectively, it wasn’t to everyones taste.

          • Asurmen says:

            Sleepy Will, what I meant is that while you’ve gone down that story line route, it’s not made up fan fiction as basilisk falsely states. What you stated can be seen in the game if you choose that path, just as the elf loving human hating route is also in the game and made blatant.

        • Sir_Falke says:

          The story was certainly original, and sad, at the end…

          [spoilers below – BEWARE]
          Did you get that the “bad guy”, the master of the Order was indeed the small kid, Alwin, you’ve been “caretaking” all along? As you kill him you can see the medallion you gave him for protection. Also, he used the lines you have been teaching him as he was a kid, only subverted to his new point of view…

          That alone made it for me as one of the greatest RPG I played.

    • golem09 says:

      For me the combination of setting, lore, world and Geralt as a main char do the job. The thing is, all this is massively enhanced if you read the books (which I did), and I get how people would not care about it at all without having the full backstory. Combat was good enough, even though I know that there is better combat out there.
      But why I’m actually excited about this game is that it will offer the witcher gameplay I always dreamed about, actually hunting things, and the big world is the only way to do this.
      Also the basically main character of the book series is back for W3 so I’m excited about that too.

    • Turin Turambar says:

      “I’d exchange all those thousands of voice acted lines of dialog in for proper combat mechanics for instance.”


      Can you explain what are “proper combat mechanics” and how W3 doesn’t have it? Lemme guess, it starts with not being an direct action system.

      • Danny says:

        Let’s keep it civil, shall we?

        Proper combat mechanics – in my book – can be found in games like The Temple of Elemental Evil, Fallout 2, BG2, KotoR, Wizardry, Divinity Original Sin, Knights of the Chalice and Dark Souls.

        A combination of TB, RTwP and action RPG’s who all offer complex mechanics which offer a lot of variety on how to deal with combat.

        RPG’s I found lacking in this area – besides The Witcher – are Arcanum, Dragon Age 2, Gothic and Risen, although the last 2 (and Arcanum as well) compensate this by having great world building.

        • unit 3000-21 says:

          I get the rest, but KotOR and BG2? I mean BG2 is basically “Battle of the Mages” and KotOR isn’t really more advanced than Witcher’s clicking.

        • Laurentius says:

          But seriously don’t you see that when you present such list many people will see it and think that only coherence of proper combat mechanics these game have is that you like and enjoyed them so it wouldn’t be any kind of big deal of sqezzing in this list also Witcher game or whatever other cRPG one might enjoy.

        • Big Murray says:

          You’re describing a different genre of games. There’s no point in coming in here saying this game doesn’t have good combat mechanics because it isn’t a game of a genre where you like the combat mechanics.

          For the record, The Witcher does have bad combat mechanics. But not for the reasons you’re stating.

        • ohminus says:

          Aside from the fact that many of these are party games and not, like the Witcher, single character games, they pretty much all have one thing in common: Their combat mechanisms are purely arbitrary and have precious little to do with combat and everything with metagaming. And seriously, BG2? Claiming that good old AD&D had good combat mechanics is not really promoting credibility.

    • Strangerator says:

      The Witcher games are a LOT more fun if you choose to roleplay. In the first two games, I went about them with the mindset of how a witcher is meant to actually fight. It’s about 70 percent preparation, and I can see how this wouldn’t agree with some or even most people. When undertaking any hunt in a witcher game, you want to stack the odds in your favor before the conflict ever occurs. You can purchase books from shopkeepers that give you hints as to what certain creatures’ weaknesses are. You can create/buy oils to make your blade more effective for the specific encounter. You can figure out which potions to prepare and consume in advance of a fight. You can figure out which signs would work best. Running blindly into encounters is a fairly effective way to get frustrated.

      Playing the Witcher 2 on the highest difficulty was a load of fun, and it really challenges you to sometimes get creative with how to win certain encounters. I really don’t understand the complaints with the Witcher 2 combat, although granted rolling became so powerful as to become almost necessary. When you’re fighting giant monsters all the time, being able to dodge just makes sense. So Witcher 3 removed the rolling animation, but dodging will still be important, I can guarantee.

      Also, do people hate Dark Souls combat? All those attacks have startup animations and rolling appears to be one of the primary means of defense in that game…

    • grenadeh says:

      So your definition of emerging from the dark ages is playing games that are all absed on games predating said dark ages by 2 decades, none of which have changed in the slightest in 20 years? Wasteland 2, PoE which is just Diablo, Might and Magix X, lol. I love it, this is why I come to this site.

  2. Geebs says:

    The Witcher is tongue-in-cheek low fantasy. The ‘robust’ manner in which people talk to each other is often meant to be darkly humorous, at least in the books.

    By ‘vibrant open world’, are we taking “five dudes fight five other dudes in an epic civil war” like in skyrim, or is there some other open world game unconstrained by the limitations of technology that I should be playing? Please don’t say Far Cry 3 or I will throw up.

    • alright says:

      Well the Piranha Bytes games have the most unique, handcrafted, interesting open worlds for exploration. I hope W3 can be a little like them on that front.

      • Orija says:

        Their worlds are also really small. I think the biggest town in Risen had, like, what 30 npcs?

        • alright says:

          Well, not small, certainly not huge, but dense and full with content. When they went for a huge world in Gothic 3, they ultimately failed on delivering that. That makes me a little anxious for Witcher 3, as it will have the biggest world of any open world rpg ever and CDP doesn’t have experience with this kind of games. I do have hope though and the scenery looks amazing. One thing I don’t like are the apparently very frequent and long cutscenes for an open world game, I hope they are intergrated well.

        • YogSo says:

          @Orija: Harbour Town had exactly 58 “named” NPCs, and about twenty or so unnamed Warriors of the Order and townsmen/women. There’s no arguing it is a very small town, even smaller than its equivalent in Gothic 2, probably. But what I find interesting about PB games is the “density” of content they manage to cram into these spaces. Another case in point, from Risen too (I’m currently playing it, so these are fresh first-hand experiences): the Monastery near the volcano is, at first sight, tiny. It only has 25 named NPCs and a dozen unnamed ones. And yet I spent several hours there, doing quests, exploring, finding secret crypts with puzzles, and mostly not letting a single stone upturned. That’s two-three days of gaming time, just in that small area.

    • Orija says:

      This, I want to know as well? Was Smith referring to an ideal or has the open world genre already reached its zenith in a previously released game?

      Mount&Blade comes to mind but that was just armies and traders.

  3. jerf says:

    Adam implies that something was lacking in the presentation he had seen, but I don’t quite understand precisely what are his complaints.

    Witcher games are famous for their story and characters, and the developers promised that in The Witcher 3 we’ll see the same quality of these aspects, but in the open world. From the footage released so far I don’t see any contradiction to that.

    I wouldn’t call the quests we’ve seen so far in the released footage just “fetch quests”, as Adam calls them. They contain quite a bit more than that.

    • Perkelnik says:

      I understand his concerns. It is being promoted as a open world game, yet it seems tied up a bit, meaning there is not much else to do outside the main story line / optional quests.
      I couldnt care less though. All I want from W3 is “another Witcher game”, because in my book, W1 and 2 were both perfect in their own way. I have faith in CD Projekt, Im sure they will deliver.

      • dr4gz0r says:

        I can understand Adam’s concerns, but perhaps this particular presentation wasn’t the most fitting section of the game to worry about the open world?

        I mean it was a 45 minutes demo where they chose to go with their forte (story and questing), it’d make sense for the more open world stuff (traveling, exploration, extra activities) not to be the main focus here.

        Say they went with a very minor side quest and decided to focus on simple exploration, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some RPG pundit on the web started fretting about story and characterization because “The Witcher is now trying to be Skyrim”.

        Perhaps Adam is right to be worried, but with the game still being more than 6 months away and with the Gamescom presentation only representing a fraction of the game (and Witcher 3 is shaping up to be a pretty big one), this might just be a matter of what CD Projekt decided to show to the public or simply what was ready to be shown.

      • tuxfool says:

        They stated very clearly that they’re making a witcher game set in an open world, not a GTA or assassins collect the icons type open world…

    • FriendlyFire says:

      More to the point… what game does open world in a way that isn’t a bunch of fetch quests? It seems like the reference point for open world fantasy is Skyrim, and that’s one shallow, boring game. Sure, spelunking a dungeon is fun the first time, but it’s less so the 20th time, and it’s not mechanically different from a fetch quest, you just forego the questgiver (which in Skyrim is a very good thing considering how awkward the discussion system is and how mediocre the writing is). The game also doesn’t react to you in the slightest (for instance, mages completely ignoring that you’re now the leader of their order), and there’s no persistence or dynamism beyond unlocking dragons in the first quest.

      I’d much prefer fewer quests that have actual story and depth behind them over another nord tomb.

  4. unit 3000-21 says:

    Wonder how long it takes the “terrible writing” people to show up…

    • TheManintheHat says:

      They are still busy with their daily morning teeth sharpening routine.

      • Niko says:

        Terrible writing!
        Just kidding, I liked Witcher games quite a lot. I’ve even read all of the books not long ago and gotta say the games grasp the tone pretty well.

    • Cinek says:

      Look at the first comment. It already happened.

    • rpsKman says:

      They’re doing overtime in the Far Cry articles. Or at least they should be.

    • Big Murray says:

      Keep baiting them. I’m sure they’ll turn up sooner or later, at which point you’ll have the argument you seem to be looking for.

  5. SMGreer says:

    If The Witcher 3 is simply a prettier Witcher 2 with a bigger playground and improved combat then I shall be amply satisfied. The continuation of the narrative was the most important part of a third instalment and creating a larger world for it to take place in is more than enough for me. That I get to go round properly hunting monsters and being all Witchery is another fantastic addition.

    Still it would be nice if they were making even more of their open world ambitions but I still think they’re pushing things a lot further than most of their peers, namely Dragon Age 3.

  6. Auldman says:

    This article is increasing my wariness of this game and the hype-train from it’s rabid fans. I hated, hated, the combat in Witcher 2. However I was willing to be open-minded about this game if the combat was improved and especially if I was not to straight-jacketed into moving from quest to quest. I guess when discussing “open world” the inevitable Skyrim comparison has to be made and whatever flaws that game had/has it had something that appealed to me in that I could ignore the main quest for ages and just run around and sight-see and mess with npc’s and creatures. I’d like to see that in this game but the idea of a lot of “fetch-quests” is really unappealing. If this new Witcher world is that amazing in it’s big eye-candyness then let us run around in it at our leisure and not keep poking us back to the plot!

    • jerf says:

      The point is you _shouldn’t_ want to miss the main quest and just go roaming. The main quest should be intertwined with the side quests, and that’s precisely what CDPR aim for (at least, judging from what they say in interviews). Yes, if the main quest is as boring as it is in Skyrim (where it was really boring even by Skyrim’s low standards), you’d want to skip it. But if it’s interesting, then why would you want it? This was done quite well in Fallout: New Vegas, for example. The main story line was intertwined well enough with side quests, so that you actually wanted to do them simultaneously. The Witcher 3 aims even higher, with side-quests sometimes appearing in the middle of a main story quest.

    • Niko says:

      I’d imagine there will be a lot of “kill a monster and fetch some of its parts” quests because that’s what Witchers do to make ends meet.

    • alright says:

      It’s not like Skyrim didn’t have a ton of fetch quests.

    • ohminus says:

      Given that the main quest from what we know involves both Geralt’s one, true love, his sort-of-adopted-daughter and the reason why the heck he’s bleeping alive to begin with, I don’t understand why you would want to ditch the main quest.
      Certainly not for roleplaying as Geralt of Rivia, which would be missing the point of the game a bit…
      But then, given that you consider it a feature that you can run around in Skyrim while ignoring the fact that everyone gets toasted by the dragons, trusting in Bethesda to not let the world end because good old Alduin will wait for you, I understand you’re not big on in-world credibility.

  7. Shooop says:

    Is there any game that really exists in tangible form where the environment isn’t something that stands still until a player acts somehow?

    I can think of exactly zero.

    • LennyLeonardo says:


    • Laurentius says:

      They are but not in the genre, which is a disappointment, because that should be the aim for open-world games in my opinion, not hiding fetch quests by better facial animation or shinier grass. Dwarf Fortress, SidMaier’s Pirates, CrusaderKings2, Football Manager, Uplink, Mount&Blade (not really sure about this one ) – these games have “game environment” that works and change without player actions.

  8. Ibed says:

    Since no one has said it yet: thanks for the the alt-texts, Alice. Thalice.

  9. Chaz says:

    Yes yes yes, this is all very well, but what about the nude collectible sex cards?

  10. fink27 says:

    Your welcome!

  11. namad says:

    witchers aren’t unionized witch hunters. witchers are monster hunters who are also basically just flat out witches. a witcher wouldn’t hunt witches because he is one. They’re monster hunters, not human hunters. they’re not supposed to hunt men, like a knight errant, or witch-hunter does. they use witchcraft to grant themselves superpowers so they can combat the superpowers of supernatural threats….

    • FriendlyFire says:

      Yeah, I get it that Adam wanted to be funny but it just fell flat due to a complete misunderstanding of the lore. The Witcher games have always been very “talky” RPGs with a lot of lore building and an often unusual universe, so if you don’t want to get immersed in it, the games just aren’t for you, really.

  12. Jakkar says:

    I have no idea what his complaints actually were. An extremely vague piece of writing. Internal conflict? Shy?

  13. stiffkittin says:

    I really enjoyed the first Witcher, in spite of it’s flaws and less than stellar combat. I approve of the tone of the series, without needing to have read the books to get context. The thing which really turns me off hearing about the games generally is the over-eager fans who turn up in every comment section, unable to take any criticism without dog-piling on those with a negative opinion. It’s weirdly off-putting.

    I briefly browsed the Cyberpunk 2077 boards, because as an old tabletop player I’m super-jazzed about that game. Wow. You can’t say anything there. It’s like the opposite-universe version of the vitriolic Bioware forums. Filled with commenters fawning over CD Projekt’s prowess, spitting venom at hack bloggers who don’t “get” their games and jumping down the throats of anyone who disagrees.

  14. johnnyan says:

    Jesus people, I can understand why the combat ruined the game for some of you but give me a break on the story… The first one at least has a great story compared with the rest of recent rpgs.

  15. Polifemo says:

    Like others have said, Witcher game´s main forte is world building and interesting characters, with very very heavy references to the book series. Maybe its because the games are trying to emulate the books that they are so cutscene and dialouge heavy.
    I do not consider this a negative point as I personally play the Witcher games to inmerse myself in the colorful world and characters stories (who are often not serious but serious in a Terry Pratchet sort of way which is cool).
    And, like others have said, If the main story is the main focus of the game and interesting enough, why would you wanna go sidequesting like it was Skyrim? I do think CDPR is aiming for that angle and trying to draw comparisons to Skyrim would almost be like comparing Dark Souls to Skyrim. And weve all agreed that attempting that comparison is bollocks and needless fanbase vs fanbase wank.
    PS/derail: On that note, Im suprised how much Dragon Age fans are trying to compare their series with The Witcher series. Its the same dumb as the above example.

  16. grenadeh says:

    The fact that you chose Hitman Absolution as your shining example of proper urban crowds over ANY of 7 Assassin’s Creed games begs me to ask why I should continue reading this after I’m done commenting. Seriously? That was actually a real thought process you had or like most hipsters did you just refuse to even deal with the fact the AC does in fact do so many things exactly right?