I’ve talked about the more negative aspects of The Witcher 3, and now it’s time to move on to what makes it great.
The Witcher 3 features hundreds of side quests – secondary quests, contracts, treasure hunts. What sets them apart from so many other RPGs is that they’re almost all interesting. There are no grindy, MMO-style kill or collection quests to be found here. Dragon Age: Inquisition (which I loved, but also has its share of problems) offered a ton of side quests too, but I often found myself asking – why am I doing this (other than for XP)? And I often couldn’t really find an answer. If it wasn’t collecting objects, it was a dozen quests that came from dead bodies. Meaningless filler.
With The Witcher, I know why I’m doing the quests. Each one has a story, has a believable NPC that asks for your help. The information unravels as you progress, rather than dumping a bunch of exposition on you and sending you on your way. I see relationships develop between characters I probably won’t ever see again, experiences the foibles of the locals, get glimpses into the lives and deceptions of the people in Velen. It makes the world come alive, and even more importantly, makes me enjoy doing side quests rather than just going through the motions.
Even monster contracts, which could have been a simple matter of killing and returning to the quest giver, have a fair amount of depth. You much research the beast, track it, and use its weaknesses against it in order to defeat it. Many often feature an interesting, and usually sad, story.
Conversations and Decisions
The world of The Witcher is a morally grey one. There are a lot of decisions to be made, big and small, and often there’s no explicitly right or wrong answer. You may think you’re doing the good thing but it backfires, hurting people in the process. You usually end up choosing the lesser of two evils. I like that the game skips the twee icons or colour coding used by Bioware. The game doesn’t feel the need to explicitly say: “this is the sassy response, here’s the angry one, this is the romantic conversation option,” or tell you what it thinks is the pragmatic vs. sympathetic option. The dialogue options in The Witcher seem much more natural, and usually don’t put the burden of worrying what your companions will think on you.
Unlike many RPGs, The Witcher isn’t about saving the world. Geralt is a character who ultimately wields no political power, commands no armies. Witchers are supposed to be neutral. They kill monsters, take jobs for money. There’s no underlying pressure to do the “right thing” (aside from what the player’s own moral code may dictate). Being immersed in a world full of politics and intrigue without being the one in charge is actually quite a freeing gameplay experience.
The Witcher’s handling of sex gets better and better. As I mentioned in my first post, I like that The Witcher series features sex, and I like how it’s portrayed as a fun thing to do, rather than the path to everlasting love and devotion.
Here’s an experience I had with the game that I really enjoyed (minor spoilers for one side quest follow). In Novigrad we meet Rosa van Attre, one of the daughters of a Nilfgaardian diplomat. Through not totally honest means, I (Geralt) become her fencing instructor. She’s eager to learn, I’m good with swords, maybe something will come of this. Throughout the interactions with her, she’s a bit flirty. I teach her some things, and don’t go easy on her when she wants to have a real dual. She keeps talking about her corset pinching, and I’m thinking: wow, she totally wants me. As the quest winds down, I’m thinking I’m about to score and one final dialogue option appears. I say something which runs totally contrary to her political ideals, and she drops me like a bad habit. And it’s awesome. Maybe I should have said something else. Maybe sex was never on the table at all, and I was misreading the situation. If this was The Witcher 1, I would have given her what she wanted and she would have had sex with me. For sure. It seems CDPR has been learning some restraint over the years.
You meet hundreds of characters throughout the game, and their facial designs are impeccable. They’re all so different. Some have lined and world weary faces. Some are conventionally attractive, many are far from it. With so many characters it would be easy for all but the major ones to blend together, but it’s obvious that CDPR put a lot of time and effort into making even minor characters look unique and realistic to the situation they’re in. Many games reuse the same few faces, the same flawless complexions, the same handful of hair styles, but not The Witcher 3. Characters are much more memorable when they don’t all look the same.
Have you been playing Witcher 3? What do you think?