The Witcher 3 : Wild Hunt
Engrossing. Immersive. Unbelievable. Amazing. A mastercraft of videogame design. All of these superlatives, and many more, have been said about the Witcher 3 in the past several months. And you know what? They are true. All of them…..and many more.
For the uninclined, The Witcher is a trilogy of video games based on a series of stories and books by Andrzej Sapkowski. They tell the story of the Witcher; Geralt of Rivia. A Witcher is a monster hunter who is trained at a young age to battle deadly monsters using swordplay and supernatural abilities. CD Projekt Red, a Polish video game developer, released the first Witcher game in 2007. Although critically praised, it being available only on PC while also being a new franchise from a new developer limited its audience. The sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was released in 2011 for PC and later released in 2012 for the Xbox 360. The Witcher 2 introduced new mechanics over its predecessor and was both a critical and commercial success. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was then announced in 2013 and released universally in 2015 on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. A much larger and more mainstream game than its predecessors, the Witcher 3 was met with huge success selling over six million copies in the initial six weeks post-launch. As for the critical success of the game…………….read on.
When SG considers games for our Game of the Year award, it is done so from a very objective stance. We are not choosing our favorite game. Rather, by looking at all aspects of a game, we select the game we think most deserving given the state of the industry. How did it compare to other games in its genre? Did it set new bars in any areas? Did it push boundaries? Was it a polished experience or merely a technical exercise? These and many other questions are asked. When looking back at 2015, there were a few contenders for GOTY. But to be honest, choosing the Witcher 3 was not a difficult decision. It is a game that is so good, in so many ways, that it simply cannot be overlooked. So then, what makes The Witcher 3 so special?
Let’s begin with storytelling. There are only a handful of development companies that can tell a story in the video game medium that’s truly as engrossing as a movie. There are even fewer yet that can do so in a non-linear fashion. Not only has CD Projekt Red accomplished that within Witcher 3, but they’ve done so in a nearly unmatched manner with quests and integrated, weaving story lines that challenge any medium. You will meet, talk, battle, and work with many characters over the course of the journey. The core characters are so well developed you truly feel as if they are real people by the end. You care about them. Dialog is key here and fleshed out to much greater lengths than a typical game. It was stated that 450,000 words were recorded, by 950 speaking roles, over the course of a two and a half year period for the game. To give you some perspective, the average novel is 80,000-100,000 words. As such, Witcher 3 expects you to invest into the characters and story, thus leading to tough choices and a variety of possible endings. Should you take the time to do so, you are truly rewarded with a video game experience unlike many others.
The next aspect, and our personal favorite at SG, is the environmental design. No game world in recent memory is as engrossing as the one that’s been created in Witcher 3. The beauty lies in its realism and the diversity in which it achieves it. From wandering around a massive 13th Century city robust with life, to climbing a snow topped peak in the bright sun, to wandering a murky swamp in the middle of a rainstorm, it all simply feels alive. While playing, you feel as though you have been transported to another world and that is one of the largest compliments you can often give a game. One of the reasons this is the case, is that CD Projekt Red went to great lengths to study the environments in real life that they wanted to build for the game. You can see this reflected in nearly every area of the game; from the crooked and broken architecture in towns and cities, the variation in the walking and riding paths, the difference between the plains, mountains, swamps, valleys, and seasides, etc…Everything is crafted with amazing attention to detail, thus adding to the ambiance of the game world in a tremendous way.
Much more praise could be levied on the Witcher 3 Wild Hunt but I fear this article would become a novel. I could speak about the branching paths and multiple endings; of which there are many. I could spend time complimenting the beautiful soundtrack including a track “Spikeroog” that I am unlikely to ever forget. I could tell you about the integrated card game Gwent and how it is so well designed that fans are now playing it in real life by printing out their own decks. I could mention how CD Projekt Red added many things to the game for free since launch and how the story DLC is just as engrossing and well written as the core game. I could even mention how the Collector’s Edition of the game is likely the nicest we have ever seen and was essentially a love letter to fans. By now I think you get the idea.
With that said, congratulations to CD Projekt Red on creating one of the greatest video games we’ve ever played. The plethora of awards they are receiving are certainly well deserved and we hope more developers look at the time, care, and effort put into Witcher 3 as a template going forward. Most of all, thank you CDPR for providing us with the experience!