A secret for you: I have not finished The Witcher 3, even though I think very highly of it. I do not believe that I will ever finish it, and the reason for that is the weather.
I’ve never uninstalled the game from my hard drive, but though I fire it up once every couple of months, I don’t progress.
All I do is joyfully roam around the fells and streams of a place I have come to call home. There are other places like this in this game, some perhaps even prettier or more dramatic still than this one, but this is where I chose to hang my hat. I amble around it unhurriedly, this patch of land of mine, just opening my senses to it all.
I smile as a rabbit or deer erupts from the trees as I pass by; watch the skies turn from blue to white to nightmare-black; feel compelled to seek shelter as the trees’ gentle twitching escalates to feverish spasms; sense that my real-life body temperature has dropped by several degrees as scattered sunlight gives way to torrential rain; revel in the sheer wildness of Skellige as the heavens reach their apex and visit lightning and thunder upon this unspoilt landscape. And the sky, the size of that sky.
My savegame locates me in a highland area just outside a small village named Fryesdal. I cannot recall quite how or why I fetched up there, but I know that it was not long after the deeply unsettling and moving events of the Bloody Baron quest chain. Emotionally exhausted by that pitch-black tale of brutality, sacrifice and grief, I fled from the world of man in search of the catharsis of the countryside.
This place near Fyresdal ticked all the boxes. Coastal yet mountainous, floral yet forested, carpeted with vegetation yet forked by streams, as idyllic in the sunshine as it was startlingly exposed in a thunderstorm.
I can see – feel – all the weather from here, as it rolls off the distant mountains, as the big sky clouds and clears, as the shadows lengthen and shorten with the sun.
For all that I know there are monsters over there and quest-givers with funny accents over there and that if I press this button my character will throw fire from his hands, I have never felt more outdoors in a videogame. Real outdoors, not videogame or Hollywood outdoors.
Though there are vibrant flowers and lush trees, it is as much scrubby as it is pastoral beauty, and cruel weather dramatically transforms it from tranquillity to something almost apocalyptic. The great outdoors, the size of it, the weather of it, the twitching life of it all.
And so I never leave, for fear that I will never find this place again.