So this past weekend I started playing Witcher 3 for the first time. I read The Last Wish (the first chronological book in the Witcher series, although it is a collection of short stories and not a full novel) for a book club my friends and I participate in. The characters and world building were enough to intrigue me and finally got enough of my attention to actually start the Witcher 3. I’d bought the complete edition for PS4 during a sale who knows how long ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf as a “to play” game for a long time.
Despite it getting rave reviews and it winning a ton of Game of the Year awards back in 2015, I was never super jazzed about the game. I’d played the Witcher 2 on the XBox 360 and finished the first chapter, but I didn’t end up completing the game. I don’t remember a lot about the story (other than Triss was there and Geralt was in a town doing witcher things) and I ended up dropping it in favor of other games. It always struck me as generic fantasy – well done and in an interesting world – but generic fantasy nonetheless.
I watched everyone rave about how good it was and how the sidequests and stories were very well developed and meaningful. But I was hesitant to jump in since I knew I’d already given up on Witcher 2 and I have a low tolerance for generic high fantasy worlds. But nonetheless I ended up with a copy of it since it’s reputation was so strong and it just laid in wait until I was inspired enough to play it.
Which is apparently now. So for today’s article I’m going to talk a little bit about my first few hours of Witcher 3…just three and a half years later than everybody else did.
The sunrise and sunset in this game is very pretty.
I have a habit of being begrudgingly against games that get a ton of attention and praise when I’m only semi-interested in them. It happened in 2013 with The Last of Us, it happened in 2015 with the Witcher 3, and also in 2017 with Breath of the Wild. All three of these games I ignored while the hype machine was going full bore – and let me tell you, all three of these games ruled the internet during their respective years.
Everywhere you turned during these three games’ releases, people were raving about them. All three of these are in the running for people’s “Best Game Ever” possibilities. I finished The Last of Us a year or two after its initial release and let me tell you, I don’t really understand why people love it so much. Yes, the story was well done but I guess the emotional impact just missed me. It felt like a well-done take on the zombie apocalypse with good characters but the game itself was nothing spectacular. I much prefer Naughty Dog’s pulp action with the Uncharted series over their more dramatic and brutal Last of Us world.
I also did not enjoy Breath of the Wild when I played it a year and a half after everyone else. I like the typical Zelda dungeon progression and having items you get in each dungeon. It’s a unique system that not a lot of games do – and the ones that have done it have strayed away from it in later entries (I’m looking at you Darksiders). Removing that aspect in favor of a giant open world where you can explore any way you choose is an admirable decision and it clearly resonated with a lot of people. But it didn’t resonate with me. I was lost and bored after a few hours and put it down in favor of others. Maybe I’ll go back to it and it’ll click the second time around, but I’m not hopeful.
So obviously I had a little bit of trepidation going into The Witcher 3 because I have a track record of having hyped games be underwhelming when I actually play them. And perhaps that’s why it sat on my shelf for so long because I was thinking it would just be another disappointment.
Thankfully, so far that’s not the case.
Geralt looks as skeptical as I felt about the game.
I’m actually enjoying the Witcher 3 a lot. I’ve barely crested the main story since I’ve only just finished the introductory area before starting to write this article. I got a hint of the main plot before I dragged myself away from the controller to write this. The sidequests so far haven’t been particularly mind-blowing or engaging (I found a lady’s pan, huzzah) but considering I’m only in the introduction I’ll let the hype and enthusiasm over meaningful sidequests slide for a while longer.
What I really like about the Witcher 3 so far is that there seems to be a lot of “prep time Batman” when getting Geralt ready for combat. One witcher contract I took had me investigating a ghost haunting a well – and you actually do some investigating and figure out what happened and why there’s a ghost there. It adds a proper layer over the “go here, kill monster, get reward” gameplay loop of most fantasy open world games.
On top of that, the bestiary actually is worth a damn in this game. In most other games the bestiary is an annoying blip on your menu screen that you have to scroll through really quickly to clear so it’s not notifying you of something new all the time. In the bestiary that Geralt keeps, there are actual helpful notes and weaknesses to the monsters. And since you get prep time, you can take a look at what you have in your inventory and prepare what spells, items, and strategies you’ll use before you take on the monster.
It’s hard to tell by picture, but that horse was humping that fence like mad during this entire cut scene.
This particular wraith that I was going to fight was incorporeal unless I used the Sign of Yrden (one of five of Geralt’s magic spells) which would give it a physical form while it was in the spell circle. So I had to keep the wraith in the circle as I swung my sword at it which added an additional wrinkle to the battle. And if I hadn’t checked out the bestiary before taking on the wraith, I could have likely spent a lot of time and energy swinging at a ghost that I couldn’t hit until I looked the solution up on the internet.
Now a lot of the opinions I’ve seen on The Witcher 3 is that the combat is terrible. And yes, it’s not as fluid as an Arkham game and it doesn’t have the same snap as Souls combat. But I felt a palpable satisfaction when I killed the wraith and completed the contract that was very similar to the feeling I get when killing a particularly tough Souls boss. The “prep time” aspect is something that I don’t really get in many other games. Most of the time, doing research or preparing a specific potion before a boss isn’t needed in most genres.
But the whole point of being a witcher in this universe is that witchers know about monsters and are the only ones skilled enough to kill them. And just through my first couple contracts I’m already feeling like a witcher. I didn’t feel anything like this about the combat in Witcher 2 – all I remember about the combat in that game was it was clunky and I didn’t understand spells or alchemy. I’m already much more invested in the systems of Witcher 3 and I think I’ve barely scratched the surface on the possibilities since there’s a skill tree with many, many more ways to customize your strengths.
I had a lot of games on my plate that I was juggling (as I mentioned in my post last Wednesday) but I think The Witcher 3 has its hooks in me. All the other games may end up falling to the way side if this game keeps up the satisfying witcher contracts, which in turn may get me invested in the overall story. I have a hard deadline of January 25th (as that’s when Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out and soaks up all of my time) but there’s a good chance I’ll finish a sizeable chunk of this game before then.
For the first time, a game may actually make me regret that I ignored the hype for so long. We’ll see, but so far The Witcher 3 is looking good.