Geralt and a mage from The Witcher 3

"You Should Try" is a series of articles where I'll showcase you a game I really enjoy while explaining what exactly makes it fun. This can be any game, new or old, indie or AAA, the only requirement is that it has to be something I've found myself greatly enjoying and in need of sharing with the world.

Today I think you should try The Witcher 3 - the gold standard when it comes to open world RPGs. The game-world is absolutely massive and the majority of the locations are well worth visiting; the graphics are some of the best you will encounter in any game today; the characters are well written and quite complex; and most importantly, none of the side-quests are designed to waste your time by making you collect a dozen bear asses. That doesn't mean you are going to save any time, however, as The Witcher 3 has already robbed me of well over a hundred hours, and because I hate seeing other people have free time I would like for you to discover how fun it is as well.

 

Video version of this article (11 minutes)

As I've mentioned previously, The Witcher 3 is an open world game, but at its very core its still an action RPG! This might not sound like its an important distinction, but when it comes to modern open world games the developers often choose to go with quantity over quality. The perfect example of this is phenomena is the Assassin's Creed series, a whole bunch of games with some great ideas and gameplay mechanics, all needlessly bogged down with annoying "follow the guy" quests and mindless padding. Wouldn't you say that the series would be better off if Ubisoft simply cut down on all of the fluff and focused on improving what they already have?

If the answer is yes, you'll be glad to hear that The Witcher 3 is an example of what happens when you go down that sort of route. Instead of having billions of side-quests, each nearly identical to the previous one, the various zones in The Witcher 3 only have a couple of quests each, but they offer a much more enjoyable experience. Mind you, The Witcher 3 is still a game and as such you'll most likely be tracking down or killing something in nearly every quest, but the key difference is that the designers have added compelling reasons for you to do so.

The Witcher 3's funny Helloween screenshot

I'm sure there's a reason why Geralt is currently being cooked alive...

Let's take for example the most common of video game side-quests: clearing out a bunch of monsters from a certain area. Usually this sort of thing would be solved through sword and sorcery. Just running in there and slicing up anything that looks at you the wrong way, and to be perfectly honest, this is often more than enough. The Witcher 3 takes things slightly further by populating these missions with monsters you most likely won't meet in the open for a very long time, thus ensuring there is at least a little bit of suspense and challenge in each hunt you undertake.

However impressive that may be, its not actually the reason I consider The Witcher 3's side-quests so far above all the rest. That honor belongs to the writing and voice acting as they are so well done they singlehandedly elevate what would usually be an ordinary quest into something truly special. Being sent out into a forest to hunt down a bunch of wolves is boring, I've done it a million times, but if the same quest happens because an oddly cheerful merchant asks you for "a small favor", then things become interesting! You're no longer just hunting down a couple of wolves, even though that's going to end up being the quest anyway, you're trying to discover what exactly you got yourself into, and more importantly, what sort of trick this merchant is trying to pull on you.

Its entirely possible I'm one of those crazy people that require a specific reason to do anything fun in a video game, but I still have to say that the addition of a compelling story makes every single quest more enjoyable. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the simple fact that I have managed to finish The Witcher 3, unlike the previous dozen of open world games I've sort of fizzled out half way through.

The Witcher 3 suspicious quest dialogue

Nope, don't see anything suspicious there!

And speaking of stories, its probably high time I mention The Witcher 3's strongest element - the narrative. Since the combat system is a bit shaky (more on that later) it is the storytelling that has to do all of the heavy lifting, and thankfully, The Witcher 3 has been hitting the gym! I won't discuss the main plot since I have such a high chance of ruining it for you by saying the wrong word, but luckily the side-stories are equally as entertaining, so here's a recap of a single, completely random quest I ran into yesterday.

Much like some of the most famous novels in history, it all started off with a giant wolf and fat man crying next to a bleeding tree. Given this rather... unusual sight, I decided to engage the fellow in conversation, during which he informed me that this tree was once a love-struck maiden who waited night and day for her knight in shining armor to slay an evil witch and return with trophy symbolizing his undying devotion. Alas, since real life isn't a fairy tale the knight probably got turned into a newt somewhere along the way, and the weeping maiden's endless vigil slowly transformed her into a tree, forever to remain waiting for her beloved to come back.

The Witcher 3's bleeding tree and a giant wolf

So a giant wolf, a fat guy, and a bleeding tree walk into a bar...

Given that I am not a heartless monster I decided to help the maiden by lifting her eternal curse, which naturally meant heading over to the evil witch's lair and ending her reign of terror once and for all. Much to my surprise, however, the witch wasn't really of the evil kind, and through a rather lengthy and most pleasant conversation I discovered that the knight... well... found a different beloved in the meantime. I still had a curse to lift, so given that my options were to do nothing or ask the witch for help, I decided to see what she had to say. Unfortunately for me, she was willing to help... provided I do an unspeakable act first. What she required was not blood or sacrifice, but rather for Geralt to prostrate himself in front of her and beg for help like some sort of peasant, but what can you really do when there's a maiden in trouble?

I won't tell you how all of this ends, that is something for you to discover, but needless to say there are a couple of different outcomes that can happen depending on your choices and how you decided to handle some of the conversations. To repeat once more, this was just a random side-quest I ran into while exploring the forest, this isn't a major part of the story or anything like that. It is exactly this kind of content that The Witcher 3 won me over with, because as an RPG fan I don't care if a world is filled with 17 billion NPCs all doing their daily ruitine with perfectly crafted precision, I just want some intriguing stories and hard choices with no clear answers!

The Witcher 3's "big bad" witch

This would be the big bad witch the stories talk about

Naturally, I am fully aware this is just my opinion, and I'm sure there are plenty of players out there who couldn't give less of a damn about the story as long as smacking people around with a sword feels good. While I would love to say The Witcher 3 aces this as well, the reality is sadly a bit different. The combat isn't bad, don't get me wrong, but its the very definition of generic, even though you have a plethora of spells, bombs, potions and elixirs you can use to enhance it.

In many ways The Witcher 3 emulates the Dark Souls style of combat, i.e. constantly dodging around, hitting when the opportunity presents itself and then dodging away again, but its nowhere near as polished so it just feels... off. Instead of being able to constantly focus on the monster and its attacks, you'll often completely spaz out and flail in the opposite direction, or the camera will just decide its not feeling like working today and give you a good look at the nearby wall. These aren't massive issues that will completely kill your enjoyment of The Witcher 3, far from that, but they will constantly be there in the background, always ready to remind you that the combat could've been so, so much better.

The Witcher 3 combat vs wolves

Fighting a dozen wolves in the middle of the night? No problem!

If you can get past this rather unfortunate flaw you will find that The Witcher 3 has plenty of interesting locations to explore. While there is a whole bunch of filler out in the open world, mostly monster nests and brigand ambushes, pretty much every notable location is exactly that, notable! Some of them are reserved for side-quests, others are just there to provide a challenging fight and a whole bunch of loot, but they are always a joy to find as its obvious that some designer has spent a lot of time handcrafting them.

It also helps that the entirety of The Witcher 3 is absolutely gorgeous. Despite being set in a rather depressing world filled with constant warfare and marauding hordes of monsters, The Witcher 3 manages to uphold a relaxing atmosphere purely due to the use of colors in its environment. This might sound a bit silly since a field full of lilies isn't exactly the best setting for a monster murder-mystery, but the contrast is exactly what makes the encounters so significant. The fact that terrible things can happen in broad daylight while you're roaming an otherwise normal countryside is precisely what makes them far more terrifying than if they happened in an area that's constantly dark and filled with the screams of the damned.

There are also areas where The Witcher 3 puts on its horror hat and tries its very best to scare you to your bones, worry not you horror fans, but the point is that it manages to strike a nice balance. The end result of all of this is a world so lovely and so inviting its hard to just stop in the middle of nowhere - you just have to see what exactly that giant tower in the distance is all about!

The Witcher 3 has some gorgeous graphics

Closing Thoughts

Just in case if you haven't noticed already, I am a massive fan of The Witcher 3 as its pretty much designed around exploration, storytelling, and constant conversations with a cast of truly outstanding characters, all things I greatly appreciate seeing in my RPGs. When you combine all of this with an absolutely gigantic open world and some of the best graphics you can find in any game out there, you get an open world RPG that I will use as a gold standard to judge any such future games.

If you're a fan of deep, mature RPGs where you actually get to make difficult choices with far reaching consequences, then I do believe you should try The Witcher 3 and its two expansions. They contain some of my favorite characters of all time, along with some of my favorite stores, so hopefully you'll find the same sort of enjoyment with it as well.

Looking for more interesting games to play? How about trying Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which besides having quite possibly the worst name ever conceived by mortal man, is an exceptionally good kart racer, and in my humble opinion the very best one. It features a charming and unique cast of characters, a bunch of well-designed levels and power-ups, memorable music, complex gameplay mechanics, and most importantly, AI opponents that actually manage to offer up a real challenge without resorting to cheating or rubber-banding!

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