Last night I had these plans of coming home, and hopping into Final Fantasy XIV and working on crafting once again while chatting away with my Free Company folk. However when I got home absolutely none of that actually happened. I had left the GOG Galaxy client up on my screen during the day, and when I sat down at my machine it was the first thing I saw. I had fixed myself a sandwich and chips and I thought to myself… I will just play Witcher for a bit while I eat dinner, and before my wife gets home. It seems like moments later she had gotten home and was hollering up at me. When I say it seems like moments, it quite literally feels like I had just sat down at the screen. In reality about an hour passed between starting Witcher and taking a quick pause to see my wife off to church before returning to playing again. Then next thing I know it… my wife is back home and heading to bed and I have managed to lose another several hours.
To say the game is immersive is a bit of an understatement. The last game that I can remember losing entire nights to was probably Skyim, and that is a fairly apt comparison at least on a few levels. The funny thing is I have just now moved to the “second” area of the game. I say area because while the game has open world aspects it is not exactly completely open world. The first “zone” is called White Orchard and it is made up of this huge sprawling seamless area with lots of villages and locations to explore. This gives it a traditional open world Elder Scrolls feel, the problem being that the entire location has a bounding border drawn around it. While I have not pushed my luck when the game starts telling me to turn around… I am imagining that there is some sort of “slaughterfish” like mechanic that you encounter.
The real triumph of the game is the environment, and just how real it feels to be roaming through. What makes the game world so compelling is the fact that everywhere you look there is action going on. Nothing is static, and the weather patterns effect every last blade of grass it feels. The only problem with this is at times you feel like you are suffering from a bit of sensory overload. Like I said yesterday once I started playing I pretty much hopped off the path immediately and this is very easy to do, and at the same time rewarding. When they were pitching this game I remember them saying that it would take either 20 hours or 200 hours depending on your gameplay style and after finishing White Orchard I can see why this is. The main storyline in the zone was relatively straight forward and only actually required me to complete a few quests to get through it. However I spent the next four hours working on various treasure hunts and exploring the world.
The map system works very similar to Skyrim except that you have missions of interest that you have yet to explore marked as question marks. Now these are not ALL the locations in the world, and there are a number of other “hidden” things that you can find wandering the countryside, however if you explore each question mark it seems like you will get most of the content you would care about. That is ultimately what I spent my night doing was wandering around completing these question marks. The game has a waypoint travel system that allows you to pop from road sign to road sign, and I used the hell out of this functionality allowing me to get close to the destination that I was looking for and either taking my horse the rest of the way or just wandering of foot. Pretty much anytime I saw monsters on my minimap hud I dismounted and took them on. After some gear and some levels things like the Drowners and packs of Wolves became trivial, but the big monsters were still insane especially anything that spawned near a “guarded treasure”.
The Story Is Good
The thing that I find most interesting is that the game manages to make the narrative just as interesting as the free form exploration. There is some crazy shit going on in the world of the Witcher, and as this game is my first experience of that world I am trying to soak it all in. The game does an awesome job of giving you just enough of a primer in the setting for things to make sense, but also is unapologetic at times for talking about things that you have NO clue what is going on. There was a point in the game where I had to answer a series of questions, each of which I think represent choices that were made in earlier games. Knowing nothing about the setting I made my choices and it was interesting to see just how they played out in that discussion. I have a feeling that those choices will ultimately color what the final results of the game end up being.
There was talk at one point of them rebooting the earlier Witcher games using the Witcher 3 engine… and I really hope this happens. The engine itself is extremely robust and I can see the modder community is going to have a ball with this game. This might dethrone Skyrim in that department, pending the game itself is that extensible. The best review that I can give the game is the fact that I had to pry myself away from it last night to go to sleep. I alt tabbed and noticed it was 10:30 and realized that if I did not stop then… I would likely end up playing until after one in the morning. The funny thing about this game is that it literally came out of left field for me. I had no intent to purchase it, and am only now playing it because I got a free copy with my video card. Now I am looking forward to playing through everything the game has to offer and will more than likely purchase the season pass so that I can play the DLC as it releases. I keep harkening back to this, but I think if the game keeps up at this pace and level of quality that it might very well be that go to game like Skyrim for losing myself in the world. The only fear I have is that since this is so narrative focused, I am not sure if it will have the same sort of universal replay-ability that the Elder Scrolls games have had for me.