Monday, August 31, 2015

The bittersweet emptiness of finishing The Witcher 3

I didn’t just beat the game; I got all the trophies (I played it on PS4). I don’t always aim to Platinum a game, but there are just some games that make me want to become a master of it. I have never played the first two games or read the books, so W3 was my first experience in this world.

a funny glitch I came upon
Now, my blog is about constructive criticism. I am a creative-type; I love thinking about how to improve games. I don’t usually gloat on and on because that’s boring to read, but I will say this:

The Witcher 3 is awesome storytelling. It takes each character from its huge cast through an individual story, allows you to get to know them, makes you love them, and then brings the entire cast back in the last act for a grand finish. The last act of the game, I kept saying to myself, “I love how all of these characters have come together. I love seeing ________ here.” Even minor characters, like a certain swamp godling, return for the last act. The whole thing gave me the feels. Well crafted dialog, well thought out plot, believable characters. Lore that is rich and rewarding. Monsters that give you the moral choices to allow them to live. The Witcher 3 left me feeling bittersweet about the game's end, because the character-drive writing was so, so good. I wish it could have gone on and on.

The Witcher 3 is a masterfully crafted work of fiction. Well done, CD Projekt Red!

Let me also gush on that developer. Wow, kids. You’re really a AAA dev now. I expect a million more games from you. Not only is the storytelling some of the best in gaming ever (right up there beside Mass Effect), but it also might be the absolute most beautiful game graphics I’ve ever seen. It’s stunning. I don’t even know how or why games would ever need to look better than this. Wow.

On top of all that, CD Projekt Red made me feel so excited and love-stricken with this dev before I had even popped the disk in the PS4. Just opening the package for this game yielded a helpful story booklet (for people like me who are new to The Witcher), a soundtrack (which is AWESOME, beautiful music), a nice unfolding map of the world (in full color), and a slip of paper with the note in red:

This was really classy. Really classy. I’m not being sarcastic. The dev is saying that they recognize how hard I’ve worked to pay for their game. It makes me feel good inside, to know that they intend to support me as much as I’ve supported them. This small slip of paper is AAA customer service from a AAA dev.

And they lived up to it, with honors. Most companies take ages to patch their games, but The Witcher 3 has been patched several times, and I’ve downloaded tons of free DLC. They listened to criticisms against the game, and they’ve reacted with fixes. I’m just really, really impressed.  

 
SPOILERS AHEAD! CAUTION! 

Now that I’m done gushing, I’ll get on to the constructive criticism:

The first problem with the game was the weird leveled quest system used for progression. As I was playing in Death March mode, I felt the game’s difficulty was bi-polar. Sometimes it was unbelievably easy, sometimes unbelievably hard.

The game starts with a prologue that is supposed to give you a feel for the combat, however the first ghouls I met killed me over and over. Repeatedly. For a long time. And I had to witness that cut scene right before over and over. This is because the prologue training didn’t really give me experience for fighting against enemies. I had no idea how to avoid them. The game gave me no hints.

Once I got through that and got a feel for the game, though, I felt it was pretty easy, even on the highest difficulty. Until after the griffin, that is. You get sent to a new part of the world, and then there is nothing for your level to do.


Stuck at Level 4

Back then, I wrote this post about my leveling woes, (How To Level Up Quickly Past the Griffin on DM). To sum it up: I beat the griffin at level 3, got the EXP for level 4, and then dropped into the new map and couldn’t find a single quest to do. I wandered for hours looking for some quests I could accomplish so that I could meet the “recommended level” of the quests I had. Due to the popularity and consistent clicks I get on that blog post, I feel like others have had that problem as well.

Read the post to see how I got out of that hole, but it was aggravating at the time. I had no idea how to level up.

It’s just weird to have such a limitless world and to be so limited in what you can do. How can I put this? In Zelda, for example, you have an open world. However, you cannot go to the harder areas until you have the right items to get there. This sets a limit that keeps you from wasting time doing what cannot be done. In the Witcher 3, you are not told where the harder areas are at and are free to go anywhere. So you just wander searching for something to do and run from all the high level stuff as you encounter it, which feels like a waste of time. Sometimes limits are good, in that way.


Gameplay VS. Bang-for-your-buck

AKA: Batman vs. Witcher

Since the Witcher 3, I’ve been playing Batman: Arkham Knight. I’ve seen many comparisons. I think the big debate to which is the better game comes down to gameplay vs. volume.

The Witcher 3 is a meaty game. There are a million things to do in it. It will take you a million hours to complete. However, it comes down to the same essential events: Roleplay, witcher senses, and then fighting.

Batman AK is a gameplay masterpiece. The variety of the events and smoothness of the controls make this game constantly fun. However, it is much shorter than the Witcher 3.

I would say I will remember my Batman experiences more, and I enjoyed it more intensely, however, the Witcher 3 was a game I enjoyed for much, much longer. How’s that for a comparison?


So, about that gameplay…

I enjoyed the gameplay. However, I will say that the signs were kinda useless, except for Quen (the shield). I didn’t use any of the others much. I sometimes did get bored using the sword and crossbow over and over, and I wish that there were more ways to fight monsters than that.


Monster hunting

I loved fighting that first griffin, because the game made it really special. I felt like I was preparing for a massive fight, and when it finally came it was a real accomplishment.

Why weren’t there many others like that, I wonder. I mean, the only other monster that even nearly got as much build-up as the first griffin was the Ice Giant. After the griffin, I had hoped that each ACT of the game would be framed by a fight with a “boss” monster, but it wasn’t.

Sure, there were other, smaller, monster quests where you researched the beast before the fight, but none as in-depth as the griffin. No monster (except, perhaps that Ice Giant) was quite as special.


Skill tree… or should I say branch?

One weird choice the developers made was to provide you with a million skill tree options, but only really give you the chance to rank up a few skills on one of the trees. There are a very limited number of slots you are give, and then to top that off, you only gain enough levels in the course of the game to progress one tree. This is because you have to spend many of your points buying upgrades to skills you don’t intend on using just to level up that branch to get to the better skills. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is.

I chose combat skills, since I hardly used signs or potions. I plugged everything into my quick attack and defensive moves. I had a few points left over to build my Quen sign and my Jedi mindtrick ability.

It feels wrong that I’ve put 5 points into a skill that I don't want and cannot use anyway because I don’t have slots for it. Investing points into undesirable skills to rank up my skill tree feels wasteful.


the controls

Let’s just say it: Geralt and his horse move in frustrating ways, sometimes. The buttons you think you’re pressing don’t always match the way you think your character is going to move.

The devs sent out a patch that helps the issue, and it does help. It does not fix the controls issues, but it helps. I admire the devs for listening to the criticism and reacting with a patch that came very quickly. However, even with the patch, your character and his horse love to cling onto little bushes and trees in the environment and get stuck.

I find it odd that Geralt’s movement changes whether he is in combat or not. Like, when he’s fighting, he can’t just turn and run or climb up a wall. I don’t know why it works that way. It’s odd and I’m not sure what the point of limiting his movement is during combat. If you try to run, Geralt turns back and faces the enemy.

 

TORCHES /  FIRES / CANDLES… LIGHTING & PUTTING OUT ACTION BUTTONS

My biggest criticism is honestly trivial.

Pressing the X button to turn on and off torches is stupid and annoying. And the devs put a stinking torch next to EVERY town sign. Every time I went to fast travel or loot chests, Geralt would inevitably turn off or on a torch or candle or fire or lamp.

It was really annoying. I hate that. It’s pointless and frustrating. This may be trivial, but it was the one major issue that followed me the entire way through the game. Accidentally clicking candles and torches was so, so, so annoying.



Nitpicking

Here I’m just going to list little nitpicky stuff:

1. Missable Trophies are awful. There are too many trophies that can be missed simply because you’re not using a trophy guide.

2. The only potions I used consistently were Swallow and Thunderbolt. All of the rest barely got used and I never felt like they were all that useful.

3. Because of “Witcher Toxicity Levels,” I felt like using other potions would limit my ability to use Swallow, which is the best potion. This fear of not having the ability to use Swallow limited my desire to use anything else. Swallow is necessary on Death March.

4. All of those crafting ingredients and parts felt overdone and pointless. I had so many potion ingredients, yet I only ever needed one potion. I sold all my crafting junk, since none of the crafting options ever seemed worthwhile (or my level). In the end game, I made a master set of ursine armor and stuck with it. I bought most of the supplies right at the level 34 mark.

5. The inventory slows down dramatically when you have a bunch of items.

6. The horse almost NEVER appears in a reasonable place. I know, it’s not believable for Roach to appear on the road where you need him, but that stinking horse made it a habit to spawn behind fences, or above paths, or on top of houses… Anywhere but where I needed to go.

7. Gwent is awesome, but Northern realm is OP. Using all the spies (with some scarecrows and healers) can literally allow you to play every card in your deck.

8. Speaking of Gwent, the big tournament quest in the city was annoying. All I wanted to do was play Gwent, and yet a stinking fistfight forced into the center of it placed a ridiculous level recommendation on it.

9. It was a little ridiculous that practically no main characters died during the course of the game. Only Dijkstra died for me.

10. I wish there had been a home-base type local. I like when you deck out a base with things you've collected. There is a mission where you can go see another Witcher's hideout, and he had monster heads on the walls... WHY CAN'T I HANG UP AND DISPLAY MY TROPHIES/MONSTER HEADS???

11. The only time you ever lose horse races are when your horse gets stuck on something.



What I want from the Witcher 4

My dream for the next game in the series is this: Geralt and his Witcher buddies decide not to retire as the game's ending suggested.... NO!

Instead, they fix up Kaer Morhen and take on new candidates to become witchers. So, basically, I want Witcher Hogwarts, with Geralt as the head master. I want to create-my-own witcher character, who will go to this new Witcher school. The story can take off from there. I want to experience the the training, the initiation, and the first steps out on his own as a full witcher with a character of my own design.




That's it! That's all I want to say. I might be writing about Batman or Splatoon next. Also, HALLOWEEN IS COMING! I will be reviewing some new decorations I've been buying. 

OXYBORB.COM Official Review Score for The Witcher 3 - Wild Hunt: 9.7/10 



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