Jun 21, 2016

Posted by in Criticism, Opinion, RPG | 33 Comments

The Witcher 3 is overrated

The Witcher 3 is overrated

Disclaimer: if you are a really devoted fan of The Witcher 3, just don’t read this article. You won’t like it.

I admit I use this blog to vent a bit, or to put it more mildly, to express some of my less popular opinions on geek culture. It’s not intended to be contrarian per se, because there are times when I agree with the majority. Rather, from time to time I want to write what I feel isn’t being written or said enough. There will be articles where I just gush all over a movie or a game that doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but there will also be times that are the opposite of that: when I want to knock something down from its undeserved pedestal. This is one of those times.
Last year there was a lot of talk about a certain video game involving a white-haired protagonist with a gruff voice. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has received mountains of praise and awards. Many say it’s the greatest video game RPG of all time. One of my best friends is a massive fan of the Witcher franchise and he shares this opinion.
For a long time, I was very resistant to the game, but I finally did succumb and decided to give it a fair shot. I played the first Witcher game back in 2008, although I never finished it. I found it a very frustrating experience, beautiful to look at but horrible to play. I tried a demo of the second Witcher game and decided it was a continuation of those same trends.
Now in 2016, a year after the original release, I have finally played The Witcher 3 (partially).
Do I think it’s a good game? Well, objectively, it has enough good qualities to give it a passing grade. Calling The Witcher 3 just plain bad across the board is unfair. It has too much to offer and it was clearly made with too much love and effort to simply bash it like that. Nevertheless, I really don’t think it is at all the masterpiece so many people have made it out to be. I would say it’s a rather mediocre game that gets some extra points for effort and good customer relations on the part of developer CD Projekt Red.

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Here are some quotes I pulled from Metacritic:

“Witcher 3 is a masterpiece”
“the best fantasy RPG I have played to date”
“one of the best games I have ever played in my entire gaming experience”

Those first two quotes are from official reviewers, by the way.
Call me stupid, low-brow or, heaven forbid, “casual”, but I really don’t see it. The Witcher 3 just barely makes it to “adequate” in my book, and it definitely won’t enter my top 10 list. It’s not exciting enough for me to finish playing, not because it’s a completely horrible playing experience, but because it’s not good enough to justify the enormous amounts of time that it demands.
First of all, you should know that a late medieval, heavily European dark fantasy setting with grim fairy tale-like aspects sounds exactly like my kind of thing. It’s actually a description that applies to a good deal of my own work as a writer. This is partly why I’m so conflicted about The Witcher 3. I probably would have just shrugged and moved on if there had been nothing about it to appeal to me. As it is, the environments, the clothing, the creatures, even the colour palette, are all so finely tuned to my personal tastes it’s almost weird. And I’m the kind of player who is primarily into gaming for the chance to be immersed in another world. It’s certainly not the aesthetics of The Witcher 3 that put me off. If anything, they were what drew me in and kept me playing for as long as I did.

peopleThe character of Geralt is growing on me, but I feel extremely confined playing as him. Geralt is an established character I don’t particularly like. It feels weird playing a roleplaying game and not having any say over your character’s personality. The dialogue system is great and allows players to showcase different sides of Geralt’s personality, but he is still Geralt, the taciturn, sarcastic, womanizing witcher. He is a well written version of that type, I suppose, but it’s just not a type I want to embody.

The setting is great, but the whole thing is brought down by how it is handled. The creators of this game have tried to combine mysterious tales of the grim and supernatural (orphaned children in the forest playing with a ghostly friend who lives in a cave and has lost his voice to evil magic) with realistic politics (a war with no clear good or bad side) and even a good dash of the kind of bleak social realism that reminds me of Belgian movies (drunken deadbeat father tries one last time to gain the respect of his family). I suppose to many people this cocktail is precisely what makes it work. Me, I adore the dark fairy tale stuff, I don’t care very much for the politics and I actively despise the “social realism”. I play video games precisely because I don’t want to see that kind of “Belgian movie” material in them. This opinion of mine extends to the entire fantasy genre itself. If you’re going to paint a somber, naturalistic picture, make a movie set in the slums of Dublin or something. This is not what the fantasy genre is for, as far as I’m concerned. Much like award-winning movies, this kind of grit tends to manipulate the audience by tricking it into perceiving an aura of quality and respectability that isn’t really there. It’s just bleakness and social issues, which in themselves have no actual artistic value.

witcher 3_bloodybarronTo illustrate this point: The Witcher 3’s most praised questline was the one involving the Bloody Baron (the aforementioned deadbeat father). Almost every single review and comment I have read about this questline says that it is the narrative peak of the game and the most emotionally powerful quest ever put in a game. For that reason alone, I felt I should at least persevere through this questline, and so I did. After finishing it, I decided to put down the game. I concluded that if this was the best part, I don’t see the point of continuing for another 70 or 80 hours. It wasn’t bad or anything, but it just left me stone cold. By general video game standards, it was a decent, well-structured quest but I didn’t think it was very emotionally engaging and I certainly don’t think it set some kind of new benchmark for in-game storytelling. It’s often over-the-top gloomy while simultanously treating a huge tragedy in a bizarrely careless fashion (I won’t spoil which one) which reeks of amateurish storytelling to me. This tone of extreme gloom mixed with laconic cynicism runs throughout the game and – pessimistic as I am about modern society – I fear this is probably a big part of why the game is so beloved. It fits the mature, dark and gritty trends of the past couple of years.

On the whole, the storytelling in The Witcher 3 (so far) ranges from adequate to good with frequent dips into the boring and the silly. It certainly feels needlessly stretched, which became obvious to me pretty quickly even though I never even got that far into the game. Point and case: in order to find someone dear to me I need to talk to a character who will tell me where she went if I first find his wife for him. He then sends me to another guy who has seen his wife. That NPC will tell me where the the previous NPC’s wife went, if I first find… his goat! The quest-in-a-quest structure, with each additional layer becoming more banal than the last, borders on self-parody.

In addition, there is a big problem with the pacing and the structure of the storyline. The writers seem to forget that what might work in a Christopher Nolan movie doesn’t necessarily work in a game. The narrative jumps around in time and place in ways that just don’t fit the medium. For example: the game opens with a pre-rendered cinematic that shows a flashback of Yennefer (whom you do not know if this is your first experience with the franchise) on the run from a battle. The scene is intercut with Geralt looking for her the next day (very reminiscent of Aragorn tracking the hobbits in The Two Towers). The game then opens with an in-game cinematic of Geralt sleeping, followed by … another flashback? No, apparently, it’s a tutorial in the form of a dream, involving Geralt in the Witcher stronghold with his true love Yennefer, Geralt’s friend Vesimir and a child, Ciri, in there. You later find out that this doesn’t make sense because Yennefer was never in the Witcher stronghold and Ciri is actually an adult now. The dream turns bad, Geralt wakes up, and then we find out that he’s actually looking for Yennefer, not Ciri (ah yes, that opening cinematic!) but now he’s also worried about Ciri because of the dream. But first he has to find Yennefer. Getting a headache yet?
Okay, so the actual game begins with a long sidequest involving a griffon that has nothing to do with Yennefer or Ciri. Then you meet Yennefer… And you have to go look for Ciri. It’s a very clunky structure for a story by any standards, but especially for a game. Players with no knowledge of the backstory will be particularly confused.

As you are playing, Geralt’s adventures are often intercut with flashbacks where you get to play as Ciri. A terrible idea if ever there was one, for a variety of reasons. First of all, Ciri shows herself to be infinitely more powerful than Geralt ever was. Playing her feels like cheating. This makes the whole idea of rescuing her feel completely unnecessary. Secondly, the sequences involving Ciri really amount to nothing more than glorified cutscenes, where the playable parts are actually quite annoying because they are pointlessly easy and – what’s worse – the cause of more lengthy loading screens. Finally, these sequences take away the feeling of roleplaying and dampen the urgency of the narrative. You’re yanked out of your experience of “being Geralt” and given insight he shouldn’t have. It would have been better if Geralt had simply heard about Ciri’s whereabouts and that’s it (even though the game is already far too verbose).

That brings me to the next issue: the dialogue. I suppose it is well-written, but it feels too much like the writers are patting themselves on the back for how smart and snappy their writing is. I personally prefer the silly faux-Arthurian language of older RPG’s, which is much more charming to my ears. This feels a bit too much like HBO for my tastes. For the record: I adore Tolkien and I don’t give half a crap about Game of Thrones. That should say something about my preferences in style.

Anyway, despite these qualms, the story was still enjoyable enough, albeit far from amazing. I would probably have continued playing if the game had been, you know… fun.
And this is my biggest gripe with The Witcher 3. It’s simply not fun to play. Granted, the awards and the praise this game has received probably tell a different story, but as far as I’m concerned, they should have just made it into a movie or a TV series and it would have been much better (still not quite my cup of tea, but at least something that could have worked). As a game, to me it was actually a dry, joyless experience that demands to be taken seriously while simultaneously holding your hand like you’re a toddler.

abilitiesYes, this game, which had so many fans exclaim “finally, a true RPG!”, stifles and restricts the player in ways no other RPG in my memory has ever done… which kind of defeats the point of it being an RPG if you ask me. Not only are you restricted to playing as Geralt, but Geralt’s abilities are also very narrow and predetermined. He’s a swordfighter who uses alchemy and a staggering repertoire of no less than FIVE magic spells! Sure, you also get a crossbow at one point, but that’s more of a fun little accessory than anything else since it’s so weak. Everyone in the world who plays The Witcher 3 is playing the same character and probably with a very similar build, not only because the amount of abilities and weapon choices is so limited, but also because some abilities are clearly overpowered compared to others. For example: Quen is a magic ability that makes Geralt completely invulnerable for a while. Obviously, upgrading this ability is going to pay off much more than investing all your points in Aard, which is simply a telekinetic blast.

On top of that, leveling up is a gruelingly slow process, even early on. If it’s anything like other games, the pace will only get more glacial as you play longer.
The game also really holds your hand in the bread and butter of the gameplay. It’s like one big tutorial. You’re always following on-screen instructions. Most quests require you to go look for something or someone. This is when you get to activate your Witcher Senses, which amounts to pushing a button that lights up important clues in red. Simply follow the clues and click on them. Geralt will then mumble something to himself like “Blood’s still warm… Can’t have gone too far…” or “Hmm, small print… Must have been a child” or something like that. It’s a fun little gimmick at first but it quickly becomes mind-numbingly boring.

Gameplay is constantly interrupted by cutscenes. Sure, they look great, but they take me out of the game the whole time. See someone waving at you in the distance? Approach them and there will be a cutscene, I promise you. There’s a good chance Geralt will also be saying a bunch of dialogue you never chose to have him say, but don’t forget, this is a “true RPG”!

The-Witcher-3-World-Map-3
The “open world” is to be taken with a planet-sized grain of salt, by the way. Everything in the game is locked to a specific level, so it actually plays out more like an MMO where you move from one zone to the next. Sure, the zones are relatively big and there is “much to do” in each zone, but in practice this really amounts to little more than a few bandit camps and monster nests spread out over an otherwise featureless, boring map. Look, I love forests. I really do. And at first I liked walking around in The Witcher 3’s pretty woodlands, but they became extremely dull and repetitive very quickly. There’s just no real sense of discovery in this game, especially when compared to Skyrim but frankly, even Guild Wars 2 does it better. Don’t expect to get sidetracked by spontaneous adventures in multi-layered dungeons or discovering unique fortresses, statues, strongholds, hideouts, shrines, lakes, waterfalls or anything actually interesting like that. Don’t think for a moment that you will be rewarded for venturing into the wild by finding an awesome ancient treasure. Don’t think you will meet lonely travellers who can teach you a skill or sell you a unique trinket. The Witcher 3 offers only a pale shadow of the sense of freedom you get in Bethesda games.

Now, the worst part of The Witcher 3 is the combat and the movement. Others have remarked this, but Geralt is kind of hard to handle and his horse is even worse. Unfortunately, moving around and fighting are the two most important and common things you’ll be doing in the game (well, after watching cutscenes, that is). Fighting is simply a very poor version of the kind of combat you see in action games like the Batman Arkham series, Dark Souls or Kingdoms of Amalur. It’s actually reminiscent of older European RPG’s like Gothic. Geralt dances around like a ballerina, swishing his sword in ways that stop looking cool after the second fight, so you’re really just making a fool of yourself prancing around like the Witcher fairy princess. With every attack, the guy just has to make a twirl. He must get really dizzy and disoriented during these fights, which is one thing the controls emulate perfectly.

There are lots of other little annoyances and bits of criticism I could add, like the absolutely horrible “item degradation” mechanic, by which I mean the fact that your weapons and armour break down after a while and become useless until you repair them. This mechanic was in Oblivion (a game I still love and play) and I hated it there. In The Witcher 3, it bothers me even more because everything involving repairing and crafting is such a chore here. But the truth is I probably would have shrugged at this and other complaints and just enjoyed the game anyway if, at its core, it had been a fun game. The big problem is, there are times when it barely feels like a game at all. To me it’s like the developers are so sure of their artistic vision and storytelling skills that they expect the player to just go along and let them take over the controller. I really, really miss some real player agency. “What do you mean, player agency? No other RPG gives you so many choices with such real consequences!”

witcher_3_on_the_road
See, I don’t really care about those “choose-your-own-adventure” type consequences that everyone’s always talking about. Sure, we get to make choices in the quests which lead to different outcomes, but I honestly don’t care all that much about that. Besides, what does it matter if you cannot predict the outcome anyway and quests end in some form of tragedy no matter what you do? That kind of “choice” is not what I mean by player agency in an RPG. What I want is the ability to have some input into what the experience is to begin with. I don’t want to just make reactive decisions based on situations that are forced upon me. I want to be able to use my imagination. I know very few games outside of The Elder Scrolls series really give you that option, but at least Bioware’s games allow you to craft your character’s personality and abilities according to your own preference. CD Projekt seems to be proud of taking away your ability to make the game your own. The Witcher 3 feels like going to a restaurant where there’s no menu because the chef is so amazing he’ll make what he wants and you’re going to like it! Except I don’t like The Witcher 3’s food all that much. The whole thing feels shoved down my throat. And that, more than anything, is what makes it ultimately a rather dull and oppressive experience, in my opinion.

  1. You should say the baron quest is “poorly” constructed instead of well constructed according to the later complaints. XD

    Anyway, TW3 became too edgy and grimdork to catch the GOT audience so I cannot find myself like it. Many moving story parts according to reviewers had no better plot than another Hong Kong TVB daytime soap opera… really disappointed since I played the previous 2 games (although the 2nd game had signs turning into this serious grimdork business as well)

    • Thanks for commenting!

      When I wrote that it was well constructed, I was thinking purely in terms of the mechanics of storytelling. It’s undeniably sophisticated by video game standards in that regard, with its use of foreshadowing, flashbacks and other modern storytelling techniques. However, there is definitely a good argument to be made that what works for TV shows and novels doesn’t work for a game. I for one didn’t enjoy the flashbacks where I was forced to play as Ciri, because they reduced the sense of agency and immersion further. And here I am again, starting with a positive point and then turning it into a criticism 🙂 I think you’re right, I should just go all the way 🙂

      I completely agree with you about the grimdork business. I think that is the underlying reason why I always felt a certain resentment towards the Witcher series. Anyway, thanks for your comment and I have to say it’s nice not to be shouted down by angry fanboys for once 🙂

    • I made some improvements to this article based on your feedback 🙂

  2. Thank you!

    I’ve actually just googled “I don’t like witcher 3” as I thought I was doing something wrong by not enjoying it!

  3. Hi there! I spent 300 hours, I found all alchemy in this game, played all DLC’s. And you now, you are absolutely right about everything.

    This game is overhyped, I was in hype too. But after finishing the game I found that I can’t remember something very cool about it. Witcher 3 really should be some interactive movie. Fight mechanics are very poor. Sword style is OMFG horrible and ugly. I played alchemistmage build on keyboard so it gave some sort of tatcics. But how people can play W3 on controller? On controller you can play only as a swordsman with very dissapointing mechanics.

    Story telling is strange too – faster find Ciri, but don’t forget to play Gwent! 😀 Some sidequest will disappear after main story quests, so developers just push you to do them. So very is no way to make fast playthrough ‘cuz – “OMFG your level is too low, get there and make some sidequest”.

    The first witcher was much better, try it. I think you’ll like it. And DLC for Witcher 3 is much better than the orginal story. Try to play hearts of stone, at least, there is a good evil guy.

    So, you are right my friend. Never mind angry fanboys, if they will appear here someday.

  4. I agree so much with you!
    I am even wondering why people call The Witcher an RPG. For me it plays the same as Assassins Creek, Lara Coft and FarCry. These games are all the same: Looting, slashing and very limited skill trees. They are all very beautiful games, but no RPG!
    I still haven’t found the motivation yet to finish either game.

    • Hey Daniel,
      Out of the ones you mention, I’ve only played a bit of Lara Croft and I get what you mean. Perhaps The Witcher 3 should have been marketed as an adventure game or something.

    • And you don’t have too.DLC can be started separatly from main story in main menu. It’s not very long. I will never start main story again I think. Because I’ve seen everything, and all is waiting me there is constantly skipping the dialogues)))) And by the way Witcher 1 is an RPG, just give a try.

  5. I also stumbled upon this post by googling something like “the witcher 3 is not fun”.

    After playing for 60-70 hours (to my surprise) I now really will drop the game. I tried to play it multiple times and every time I think I’m enjoying it, but in hindsight I see that it was just mindless running around, persuing questlines and just hacking and slashing.

    Last year I played Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 and loved (!) the combat, the exploration and especially the mastery. The games are hard, but if you push through, in the end you feel that you are getting better as a player, you learn stuff, you grow every time you play. With The Witcher 3 there was totally no sense of improvement. Even after all these hours playing I have no understanding of how all the slots, the spells and stuff work.

    The thing that pulled me back into the game every time was the world and especially the monster designs. They look awesome and I love how they wrote some backstory/lore for every monster. But at the same time I coulnd’t care less for the overall story. I do enjoy some of the side-quests, like how a farmer was cursed and got all his fellow villagers turned into a pigs. That was a funny quest.

    And after reading your post I suddenly recognize what I didn’t like about the main-story … the mixture of the politics (I really don’t care about that bit at all!), the realism shit (like the abusive husband and such)… I just wanted a fantasy story, with monsters and being a total bad ass.

    So thanks for sharing your point of view. The last 1,5 year I tried to play The Witcher 3 a couple of times, mostly because I felt like I was missing something… if everyone thinks it’s awesome – how can I not like it? What am I doing wrong? But now I just see that if I don’t enjoy the story (at all!) and the combat is no fun either (it has no Dark Souls level of complexity or anything, it’s just dashing around) … why should I keep playing it?

    So I will drop it from now on and focus on other games.

    • Hey Skar, thanks for your reply and I’m sorry I didn’t see it and approve it earlier.

      I should check out these Dark Souls games, I hear great things about them 🙂

      • Dark Souls is totally new experience. You’re alone in the world that wants to kill you. No map, a few traders, uknown purposes and cool gameplay. Dark Souls 2 is bad balanced. DS3 is cool too.

      • Thanks CK (and no worries).

        My first experience with the Souls-series was Bloodborne, but I think I like the DarkSouls 3-experience better. And just like Alan said, it’s a total different experience.
        One thing you have to keep in mind is that you will die, a lot. But every death is a learning experience. You learn not to rush, you learn how a particular enemy attacks, you learn that you should be careful with xyz and more. So every time you learn and you will grow (as a player). And sometimes the game plays tricks with you and often those moments will make me laugh… not because the game is unfair, but because it just fooled me and I was stupid (or eager or greedy) enough to step into the trap.

        And if you are looking for a good story, appereantly the Souls-series (including Bloodborne) have some deep lore…. but it’s all buried very deeply in some obscure items and cutscenes. That didn’t bother me, since I don’t really care that much about story ^^

        I just recently picked up Nioh, which has a lot in common with the Souls-series. I think the gameplay of Nioh is awesome and maybe even more approachable than the Souls-series. The gameplay feels a bit quicker.

        So yes, check out Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 or Nioh.

      • Too bad I can’t edit my comment, because I totally forgot to highlight some of the great things of the Souls-series:

        – exploration: you discover the map piece-by-piece. Everything is interconnected. So often you will discover shortcuts to previous paths and that feeling is awesome.

        – mastery: when you start, you don’t know anything but after a while you notice you learned how to defeat certain enemies and that will continue until the very end. That feeling of mastery is truly unique and what makes me coming back to these kind of games

        – customisation: you can fully customize your character, how you look in almost every detail (jawbones, chin length and such… it’s really absurd)… in contrast to the Witcher series ^^

        – combat: the combat is really impactful. You have to learn how to fight, how to defeat enemies and how to use the weapons you are given. That depth really give it an unique feeling. Not as floaty as the combat in Witcher. Yes, you also have to dodge/dash … but that all comes with a cost

        And I could just go one about all the great things these games do…. but you should just give it a try.

      • Can I start with Dark Souls 3 or do you need to start with 1 for the story?

        • I honestly don’t know. I know DarkSouls3 has some references to Dark Souls 1, but I have no idea how deep they are. It’s not like some other franchises where you have no idea what’s going on if you haven’t played the previous entries.

          My problem is that Dark Souls 1 is only available on Xbox360 / PS3 or PC (with a crappy build where you need to do some tweaks before you can play it). Dark Souls 3 is available on XboxOne, PS4 or PC. And Bloodborne only PS4.

          So I’d suggest you just start where you want. In my opinion it’s the gameplay you will enjoy or not, not the story ^^

      • CK, you can start from DS3. If you like DS3 you can start DS1 because they have something common. In few words: DS world has parallel dimension cycles, so first and third games has common characters, though they have different names. And DS1 needs resolution mod for pc because of poor port.

        • I guess I’ll pick it up from Dark Souls III then. I do want to be able to follow the story but from what you’re saying it seems that won’t be an issue.

          • No issue at all. By the way DS3 has dlc released. Dark Souls is about gameplay. It has large background but it’s hidden in items description. It’s up to player to find story or not. And very very important thing is build of character. Spend your skillpoints wisely 🙂

  6. I was just wondering if you picked up DS3 and if so, do you enjoy it?

  7. cjdaknight says:

    You just made me realize the reason why I hate all of the new games that have been coming out for the last couple of years. they are really boring without the freedom of getting to make your own story. do you have any recommendations for a good RPG because I feel I have played all those that interest me.
    Played: Dark Souls 1 & 3, Dragon Age Origins, Skyrim, Fallout 3(mostly MMORPG after that)

    • Hey, thanks for your feedback! If you liked Fallout 3, you may also like Fallout 4? Other than that,… I personally really enjoyed Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which came out in 2012. You may also enjoy “Divinity: Original Sin”, especially if you like old-fashioned RPG’s that are closer to tabletop games.

  8. Ahh. People with similar experiences. We seem to be a small group. I have tried three (maybe 4?) times to get into this game. I’m level 23 now and it’s just never really fun. It’s hard for me to put a finger on exactly what it is, but the game is just not that interesting; it doesn’t demand that I explore it.

    The reason I’ve tried so many times to get into it is simple; it’s amazing on so many levels! The side quests are top notch. Rarely, if ever, I felt like I was being handed a fetch quest; everything built up the world and it’s inhabitants. Other developers need to look to these guys on how it is done. The world feels so alive; when I first played, I don’t believe I had ever seen a city look more alive and more natural than in Witcher 3. Also, I thoroughly enjoy Geralt; his voice and demeanor are just great.

    However, though the world may be alive, rarely, if ever, was I driven to explore. It just didn’t draw me in or captivate me as a game like Fallout or Zero Dawn. And as much as I like Geralt, I couldn’t care less about what he’s doing. Near zero draw for me when it comes to the main story; the material would suggest it could be gripping, but I am not gripped.

    Just to touch on it, combat is serviceable, but not really engaging and I’m not a huge fan of the character development system. There is some fun to be had in the side quests but not enough to keep me around for very long.

    Somehow this game just seems less than the sum of it’s parts. Perhaps one day I will take another crack at it, but, for now, it is nice knowing there are at least a few folks out there like me.

    Anyway, thanks for creating a safe place for us to express our extreme minority opinions:)

  9. Couldn’t agree with you more – and like the others, I thought it was just me. I don’t understand the rave reviews. Dull hack and slash with no feeling of ‘being there’. The quests seem well written – but I don’t give a damn about what happens to anyone.

  10. Alduizard says:

    I saw you directed me towards this website from your wordpress blog.

    You are absolutely right, Bethesda shouldn’t take cues from this game, and for multiple reasons. Their games wouldn’t support this style of storytelling coz we make our own character. Secondly, nothing in terms of gameplay is there in witcher 3 that I think Bethesda should take cues from. As for roleplaying, they will get better ideas from old school and obsidian rpgs with skill checks and detailed dialogues.

    Their games have always been about environmental and organic storytelling and they don’t need to downgrade their storytelling using scripted cutscenes. Bethesda worlds themselves contain tiny details which allows the player, enough freedom to formulate their own stories.

    Bethesda is getting a bit driven by the changing consumer scene and making hybrid games like fallout 4 which restricts the classic bethesda roleplaying by introducing a voiced protagonist and cutscenes and also fails to capture that cinematic storytelling type experience.

    Stick to your thing Bethesda and improve upon it, nobody does it better than you.

    • Hi Alduizard,

      Sorry that your comment was approved so late on our blog. We’re still having some spam issues on this new site. Anyway, thanks for your insights! I agree with you completely about Bethesda’s unique approach. So far I haven’t come across anything like it. Like you, I too really hope they will focus on their strengths and not try to emulate Bioware or CD Projekt Red in the future.

  11. LukeCreed says:

    First of all, I admit I stumbled onto this blog casually but now I say I really like it!
    Now, to the matter at hand… I actually enjoyed The Witcher 3 and its expansions. They were worth my time. But, as you said, we cannot ignore its flaws. First of all, and I may be in the extreme minority, I think that the game storyline suffered from the fact that this is an open-world game. The first two games managed to keep myself engaged most of the time because almost everything was directly related to the main plot (defeating Salamandra in TW1, finding the kingslayer in TW2), but in The Witcher 3, the game that is supposed to be the final resolution to the story of Geralt, the sidequests steal the attention from the main plot. This is a formula that works in games like The Elder Scrolls, where the main focus is NOT the general plot (saving Tamriel from Alduin) but exploration and immersion in the world. In The Witcher 3, however, there is hardly very much exploration, and this in turn limits immersion (again, we’re talking about an open-world, which in itself should be centered about exploration): I completely agree when you say that there is nothing particularly exciting about wandering in the forests of Velen or sailing between the isles of Skellige. The question marks all around the map feel more like a chore than be an actual prompt to exploration. I’d have liked it MUCH more if they’d used more resources on the plot of the game than on the open-world aspects of it.

    This leads to my main disappointment in this game: the final part of the game. Now, that’s something that even the fans of the saga itself noticed: the strong suit of the trilogy, the narrative, unexplicably falls apart after its climax, the Battle of Kaer Morhen. The game strangely turns into a “collect people and things for the battle” mixed with nice and warm moments you get with Ciri, but all this bunch of new characters doesn’t of course have the time to be properly introduced to the player, since we’re near the ending of the game. The pacing picks up and it feels rushed, with too many twists in the plot. Just to “explain”, without any major spoilers: you find a (deus-ex-machina) object in order to ambush the Wild Hunt, but (1st plot twist) it turns out it’s not an ambush since the enemy actually lays a trap for Geralt, then you take control of Ciri and fight an enemy general, then Ciri teleports away and you are Geralt again and then all of a sudden there is a battle between Wild Hunt, Nilfgaardians and Skelligers. At the end, you finally find and kill the main enemy of the THREE games, the King of the Wild Hunt… BUT (2nd plot twist) it actually turns out that he’s not the real enemy: a supposed ally has tricked everyone, so you rush to get him, but again (3rd plot twist) it turns out he was only helping your “adopted daughter”, who has somehow (4th plot twist) managed to control her hidden powers (when literally minutes ago everyone was worried because she couldn’t control them) and she’s the only one who can stop the White Frost, which is the REAL “enemy” of the game (5th plot twist) despite being simply… a natural climatic change. So she rushes towards a portal and she “defeats” this completely natural ice age (at least this is the opinion of who has read the books) off-screen. Yeah, that’s right, we don’t even see how exactly she defeats this White Frost introduced in the last 3 minutes of the game. When I first experienced this, I told to myself “Is this the same game that managed to keep myself engaged until some hours ago? What happened?” and then I lost every motivation to start a new playthrough.

    • Hi LukeCreed, sorry that your comment was approved so late on our blog. We’re still having some spam issues on this new site.

      Anyway, thanks for your insights. I never got to the end of Witcher 3 but I was having issues with the storytelling from the beginning, as you could tell from my review. The convoluted ending doesn’t surprise me all that much. Thanks for your insights!

  12. Dear Clark Kent without glasses,
    I see that from your articles and posts that you are a man that enjoys video games and I’m always happy to find someone who likes them as much as I do. It’s still so much fun to discuss games with other, whether they are good games or bad ones.I know from reading your articles that you like movies and games, especially the underrated ones.While I was scrolling the web about my all time favorite video game, The Witcher 3 or TW3, I noticed your article as one that stood out. The reason it stood out is that among the dozens of articles that praised it for being a revolutionary game, you did not share that opinion. In fact, you firmly believe that TW3 is overrated and is nothing more than just a “mediocre game,” this had me in outrage, but as I continued to read, I couldn’t keep myself from seeing all your reasonable points.
    The Witcher 3 is game with a vast world and an even grander roster of characters. The Witcher 3 is a video game that is based off the book series “The Witcher”. The books follow the story of the main character, Geralt a mutated human who slays monsters. The novel tells the tales of his encounters with magical beings and people of the dark fantasy world that he inhabits.The game tells its own story with the characters in the books but majorly reference the books.
    The most prominent issue that you had with TW3 was that you feel confined playing as the main protagonist, Geralt. You mention that you dislike the fact that you are stuck as him viewing the world through his eyes instead of creating your persona within the game to make that experience your own and not some adventure that makes you feel like a tag along. I understand your point, after all an rpg isn’t an rpg if you can’t create your own story. The fact that in TW3 you could only play as an already made character in the vast world was disappointing when you compare it to other games such as Skyrim.
    Even though I understand your point of view with the restrictive nature of being Geralt, you must also acknowledge that TW3is not that type of game. TW3 is a game that draws all of its content from the books, so it’s no wonder that the story revolves around Geralt. It’s not a game where the player can start a page and write their own story. In fact, the fact that Geralt is the main character with an already tailored personality and look is what makes the game great. You would see TW3 not just as a game but as an actual story. Geralt’s story is the main focal point of the game.
    In your article you state, “I adore the dark fairy tale stuff, I don’t care very much for the politics and I actively despise the social realism.” You don’t like the fact that TW3 mimics life such as the politics and the nature of the characters. For example, there are the wars where neither country is evil or the drunkard father who pushed his family and only wants to reconcile with them. Instead, you like the fantasy setting that is entirely different from real life, such as a setting with magical kingdoms and an evil enemy. You prefer a different environment than the one TW3 has.
    Even though I understand your view on TW3’s fantasy setting, I must disagree with your points because that is what makes TW3 great. The realistic nature of politics and how they work make you realize how dire the world is.There is also the stories in the games that perfectly depicts what social issues are in the modern world. For example, there are murders, people taking advantage of and bloody wars. These issues greatly help add more layer to TW3 which in turn, add a better connection to the game and its characters. I think that if you set aside your preference for fantasy type games and immerse yourself in what TW3 is, then you’ll enjoy the game.
    Another part of TW3 that did not appeal to you was the storytelling. You stated that “the storytelling in The Witcher 3 (so far) ranges from adequate to good with frequent dips into the boring and the silly”. The extra content that makes the game longer turns you away from the game.The difference in tone from the main and side quest change the mood of the game which also makes you dislike the way the story is told. For example, one moment you could be fighting for the fate of the world, and in the next, you would be finding a goat.
    Although the extra content made TW3 seem to drag on at times, that was also what made the game even better. The side quests in the game made you browse the world, encountering more exciting locations. It helped the player to better get to know the backstory of a quest to better help you connect with the characters. It also helped to get better immersed in the story that you were participating within. If you would go into a story without seeing it as just as an objective then you would see that the extra layers/objectives within a quest in TW3 help enrich the story and your experience with them.
    You mentioned in your article that TW3 was not a fun experience for you and was boring to you for many reasons. You write this because you think that it’s not that fun and, as you state, “was actually a dry, joyless experience that demands to be taken seriously while simultaneously holding your hand like you’re a toddler.” I do see your point when you say that, at times it feels like a chore that you have to complete to do fun activities. You also mention that the experience is most likely the same for everyone who plays the game because you are restricted to play as Geralt who has a very limited amount of skills. You’re right to think that, TW3 is a game that makes you play as one character that has a very select set of skills that everyone surely has. It’s a game where everyone has the similar experiences with the same set of skills.
    Even though you do make many excellent points as to why TW3 is boring, I think you are overlooking it because of your biased view/preferences in games. When it comes to the fact that everyone playing TW3 has the same experience you are wrong. It’s true that most of TW3 is the same for everyone playing it in the aspect that the skills are all the same in everyone walkthrough and everyone plays the same character. The one thing you are not accounting for is the encounters that a player goes through within the game. For example, a player who just plays the main quest will have a very different experience from those who play the main quest and the side quests. The skills are the same in TW3 but not the way that players organize them, some could put all their points into magic while other put them into combat. Everyone’s choices and paths in the game leads to a different experience, even if only by a bit.
    An open world is what makes an RPG great, but when it comes to TW3, you seem to dislike it. Whenever a game has an open world, then there are a significant number of activities that a player can engage in, but in TW3 you have a different perspective, the fact that some parts of the world were as you said “locked to a specific level” was an unappealing aspect of the open world to you. Another part of the open world that you dislike is how utterly boring and lack of content. You see the open world as a variety of restricted and dull areas.
    I must agree with your view on TW3’s open world and its structure and content. I hate going to an exciting area of the map only to get denied it because a monster is too high level. The main tripe that TW3 is guilty of is part of the map that seems as if it was copied and pasted with no activities. Then there is the lack of activities such as dungeons or anything of the sort, in which you could get lost in trying to fight enemies, solve puzzles and escape traps. The utter lack of TW3’s open world makes the game very weak in content, making it dull.
    Even though you are right when you write about TW3 lack of content in the open world, I think you are not looking at the map in its entirety. You mention the forest and woodland, but you are not looking at the cities or villages. The cities are each unique because of the visuals and the characters inhabiting them. For example, look at Novigrad, a 1500 English-like town which has simple architecture and if filled with ruffians and drunkards, but if you take a look at Beauclair which has a fantasy like setting and pompous nobles. Within TW3 area’s are many things to do, you can accept a monster contract, explore the city streets or even play a round of cards with strangers. The number of activities within the open world is limitless in which the player can enjoy.
    Another issue that you have with TW3 is the combat and the movement. To be more specific it’s the way that Geralt fights as well as the degradation mechanic within the game. What you dislike is how Geralt twirls and spins like a ballerina while fighting. Then there is the item degradation, which makes a weapon lose its effect until fixed. TW3’s movement and item degradation mechanics are very impractical and annoying.
    Although TW3’s combat and movement mechanics are annoying and impractical, they are visually pleasing and add a new sense of reality to it. Geralt will fight like a ballerina, but that is a skill that you have to acquire otherwise he’ll fight without the twirling. The twirling whenever I fight as Geralt I feel like a mighty wind that knocks down anything in its path. The degradation item effect in TW3, although annoying, is realistic. The degradation effect makes the weapon dull and lets the player know that it needs repair, this makes the player more aware of their weapons and armor which adds better gameplay by adding the feature to the game. The combat and movement in TW3 add more to the game.
    In conclusion, I understand all of your points as to why The Witcher 3 is not that great of a game, but I must disagree with them based on the fact that your words come off as biased. The reasons you dislike TW3 are sound and reasonable, you give many excellent points to support your statements, but your views are too biased. You are holding TW3 up to a certain standard of RPG’s, such as Skyrim or Oblivion when in reality it’s not that type of game. I accept that TW3 has its faults and is not the best, but if you played it with an unbiased view and without holding it out to a standard, then I am sure you would enjoy it for the game it is.
    Sincerely yours,
    Alexis Osorio

    • Clark Kent Without Glasses
      Clark Kent Without Glasses says:

      Dear Alexis,

      I have to thank you for being so generous with your time and effort to comment so thoroughly on my review. I’m also grateful because even though you disagree with me, you have approached what I wrote with fairness and tact. I’ll admit I was a bit harsh on the game, but in my defense, I wrote it at a time when the climate in the gaming community was so extremely in favour of The Witcher series and by extension, so needlessly hostile towards other games, that I wanted to provide an alternative point of view, which is really the point of this whole blog. Also, I really did want to enjoy the game. After all, I invested quite a bit of time in it. It truly did leave me frustrated with many of its choices. All of my criticisms are sincere.

      I also readily admit that I’m heavily biased in favour of the Bethesda style of open world RPG’s. In my opinion, no other developer has succeeded in creating a satisfying formula for this type of game (although I am intrigued by what “Kingdom Come: Deliverance” might offer). This is not because I have some kind of slavish devotion to Bethesda, but simply because I strongly believe that player creativity, freedom and agency are at the heart of a true roleplaying game. I prefer using my own imagination and telling my own story (even if it’s a deeply flawed one) over being handed everything on a silver platter (even if the writing and characterisation are top-notch). Besides Bethesda, very few developers seem to make games for an audience like me anymore.

      I come primarily from a tabletop roleplaying background. As a result, you might expect for me to have a preference for games like Baldur’s Gate. But I’ve always considered that series to be overrated as well. For me, games are not the ideal medium for consuming great stories. Books are far more suited to that. Games are there to have fun, to be creative and to learn to get better at them. In short, they are about exercising freedom within the confines determined by the developer.

      As for the social realism storylines, I just struggle with the idea of combining this particular type of storytelling with the fantasy genre. I think that fantasy exists to pass on old wisdom in the form of archetypes and universal themes. I mention Belgian movies in my review. That’s because I’m a Belgian myself. I associate social realism with activism and real-world political agendas, and that detracts from the universal human appeal of fantasy in my opinion. I strongly dislike how everything in our modern society is being politicized, making it almost impossible to simply enjoy good entertainment without the sense of some ideology trying to sneak its way into your brain. Maybe I’m paranoid, but this makes me perhaps overly wary of such themes.

      Like all that I have written, these are personal opinions, of course. I’m sure there is a lot to recommend and to admire in The Witcher series if your preferences are different from mine, or if you focus on other aspects.

      The main point of my review was to point out that The Witcher 3 is not objectively superior to most other contemporary RPGs, as many of its ardent fans have been claiming quite loudly on the internet.

      I do believe in objective quality, and in many regards, The Witcher 3 has it, but in other areas, it does not. The same goes for the games that I prefer. In the end, whether you enjoy it or not depends on what you, as a player, value most. Do you care more about freedom or about dramatic presentation? Does creating your own character appeal to you most or are you happier with a fleshed-out protagonist? I have my own answers to these questions but I understand other answers are equally valid.

      You know something, I have very little time for gaming at the moment, but at some point, when all the hype has become but a dim memory, I might give The Witcher 3 another shot, forget about the annoying fans (not you, but others) and try to accept it for what it is. Perhaps I’ll have a better time with it then.

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment!

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