Last week, I started a new article series that aimed to rummage around in my burgeoning Pile of Shame, pick out some of the biggest offences and finally get around to playing, and we kicked things off with a bang with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. If you’re wondering, yes, this series is totally self serving, but a bunch of you read it, so who’s laughing now, eh?
Anyway, in the article I talked about how I bought The Witcher 3 – Game of the Year Edition for a reasonable price in a Black Friday sale a good while back, convincing myself with the empty promise that I’d get to it eventually before marathoning an entire God Hand Let’s Play. Enough was enough, it was time to see what all the fuss was about, and I’m glad I did.
Somebody prepare the Slowpoke meme, as we’re about to drop some three year old “breaking news”: The Witcher 3 is pretty good. Who would have thought?
Though I’m still only in the early stages of the game, blundering my way through Velen while giving the level 30 spider caves a wide berth, it’s hard not to be enamoured with the world of The Witcher. The key reason for that is how grounded the world feels, and also how little of a fuck Geralt seems to give about anyone or anything.
Though the world of The Continent retains plenty of elements you’d expect in a fantasy game, including elves, dwarves, magic, mythical creatures and more. The world itself feels more historical than fantastical. Though magic and monsters play an important role, The Witcher 3 also focuses on the disease, famine, poverty and bigotry that were rife within medieval times.
All too often, RPGs like to throw you in the shoes of an all conquering chosen one, destined to deliver the world from evil and fulfil ancient prophecy, with villagers getting massive erections whenever you walk into town. Because Witchers are regarded with widespread derision, being met with a general disdain felt almost refreshing.
Alright, maybe describing being spat on as refreshing is the wrong choice of words, but it was certainly a change of pace. It also helps explain why Geralt is so cynical in conversations, without giving us a half hour long exposition dump surrounding the history of the Witchers and so on. The lore is there if you want to read it, but the racism explanation is certainly enough.
The story also fits into that more grounded feel. Though there is an overarching threat in the form of the Wild Hunt, the plot is more concerned with the search for Ciri, Geralt’s adopted daughter, and the multilayered investigation being conducted to find her before the Hunt does. Instead of the swashbuckling hero, you’re a jaded detective in search of answers, trying to find the missing girl before time runs out. It’s a noir plot played out in a fantasy setting, and I love that.
Still, that didn’t stop me from getting a little too wrapped up in the side quests, as is tradition in any RPG. Ciri and the Wild Hunt can wait, there’s contracts to take out. Even those villagers in need can get to fuck, because I’m going for a horseback ride with Keira Metz. Nothing happened though, stop asking. We’re just friends.
The combat is also enjoyable, although I required a friend to help me realise the importance of using signs instead of wailing on things with my sword until they fell over. After getting stomped a couple of times by a particularly annoying gargoyle, the revelation that Quen is your friend and should be used at all times allowed me to sail through the rest of the quest. There was me, spamming Igni like an idiot, wondering why I’m getting smacked about.
It’s the depth in the combat that makes things more enjoyable, as you’re always discovering new ways to become more efficient in a fight, whether that be through reading the countless textbooks and lore items in the game or by experimenting for yourself, with using Yrden to make wraiths vulnerable being an excellent example.
Admittedly, I was put off by how ropey the game felt in terms of presentation, specifically regarding the lip-syncing and animations in conversations. For a game lauded for its story, characters and writing, and rightly, the work done in this regard felt lacklustre in comparison. There was also a number of glitches that broke the immersion somewhat. Hard to take a villager’s pleas for help seriously when there’s a horse floating in the background.
That’s nitpicking, and it’s almost hypocritical to bring those issues up considering in last week’s article, I listed Skyrim as a notable exception to my “fantasy isn’t really for me” rule. Bethesda games, specifically RPGs, have never exactly been known for the clean presentation. To single out The Witcher 3 for those issues would be silly.
Besides, despite preparing for the next game on my Pile of Shame (more on that in a moment), I’m determined to play more of The Witcher 3. Leaving it this long before playing it was a mistake on my behalf, but at least I’m righting that wrong now. Just don’t expect me to enter that spider cave anytime soon.
And that’s the first game in Ash’s Pile of Shame series in the books. Make sure to come back next week as he reveals the next game. Here’s a little clue to whet your appetite: he’s going to the Baker’s.