The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Witcher 3 doesn’t do anything wildly original. The combat system is a variation on the one in Witcher 2, and everything else functions much as you’d expect from an open world RPG. What makes it special is the quality of the writing and the quests. In other open world games, you expect that there will be content which is useless filler. Whether it’s collectibles, simple “collect 10 wolf pelt” quests, or something similar. Vapid crap which is only there to add hours to the game. Witcher 3 doesn’t do any of that.
It took me 73 hours to finish the game, and of that total running time, I’m struggling to come up with a single minute that I would rather not have played. Some parts were slightly weaker than others, but on the whole, there’s nothing that stands out as an obvious waste of time. All the fights felt motivated by the story and were quick and to the point. In Dragon Age Inquisition there was so much combat, and each encounter lasted for so long that it became a chore to do anything in the game. Witcher 3, on the other hand, is a much larger game but doesn’t suffer from that. There are loads of sequences in the game where you can go hours between fights, and the larger combat set pieces are relatively restrained, never overstaying their welcome. It gets to the point and then moves on.
I can’t remember the last time I cared this much about this many characters in a game. It’s often dark and miserable, but it’s also one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. When you’ve gone through hell, the game does a brilliant job of building back fun and hope into the story. It makes it feel warm and human. All the quests and decisions you’ve made in early parts of the game come back to haunt you 50 hours later, in ways I didn’t expect. I know the script must be a hideously complicated web of decisions that trigger minor and major events all across the game. But Witcher 3 pulls it off with such confidence that it looks easy. These aspects make other big budget games look like a joke. I hope Bioware and Bethesda take notes. They have barely even tried to do anything like this.
This sets the bar for RPGs, readjusting my expectations for games. Playing it I sometimes felt sorry for all the developers who now have to go back to the drawing board and aim higher. Will they learn the right lessons from Witcher 3? It isn't about the size or the visuals. It's the uncompromising attention to story and characters. The closest example I can think of in another game where I felt this connected in each moment to the character I was playing is the Shenmue or Yakuza series. And comparing something to those two is the highest praise I can give anything. I almost feel hesitant to recommend Witcher 3 because I can’t believe how good it is.