Some personal Witcher 3 reflections.
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Some personal Witcher 3 reflections.
February 14th, 2017, 11:08
I started to compile these thoughts some time ago; finally decided to finish them off thanks to Rossrjensen's post and ready them for 'Watch consumption. Enjoy!
After 147 hours over the duration of the last month and two weeks, (November-December 2016) I've been playing Witcher 3 and its two expansions. To some extent this game has been responsible for keeping me relatively quiet and post-free here on the 'Watch! I was glad to finally indulge in the adventure and what a splendid time it has been. Ending the game with Ciri as a fellow Witcher on the road with Geralt was surprisingly emotional for me, as it took me a long time to really warm to some of the new additions in this part.
Whilst it is quite the magnificent game, full of practically inexhaustible content, well constructed cinematic dialogue and high quality writing, there are still some significant "weaknesses" for me. My first criticism may sound strange, but the sheer level of polish (pun un-intended) in this game is indeed incredible - to the point where in comparison to the previous games, I have come to perceive it quasi-pejoratively as the "Hollywood Witcher", where many characters almost resemble celebrities. This is Witcher gaming for the widest audience ever - it's no longer a niche RPG for a small crowd of genre interested fans, the marriage to commercially successful open-world game-play and the streamlining of its systems evidence of this.
As a consequence, the glossy blockbuster effect made the game feel a little hollow at times, arguably without quite as many hard hitting choices as its predecessors.
Where there are time-implemented dialogue choices (a la Alpha Protocol) I very rarely found it hard or pressured to choose for whatever reason. I think the most doubt or uncertainty I felt in the choices provided by the game came in the Hearts of Stone expansion, especially at its very end.
I particularly enjoyed the contract quests and those side-quests which tied most strongly to the foundations of the first game. I did as many of these as I could and often with a level recommendation gap to enhance the challenge. I remember Jenny of the Woods beat me several times for instance.
I also liked the treasure hunts for Witcher gear and ended up going for the complete Cat set. Getting those fully upgraded over time was definitely satisfying and well implemented.
For me, this was a sad streamlining of a ritualistic and rewarding system from the first game. There were potions I simply never used in this game and not once did I observe the blade oil counters go down. I think these conveniences were designed for players to not have to think about them too much and effectively made the act of using and creating with alchemy much less exciting. This was also partly due to the nature of such an open game, as such a process becomes regular and a bit "watered down" or automated.
General game play:
Overall I felt the Witcher senses were overused as a mechanic in solving quests - though admittedly it was far more interestingly implemented than the similar "sonar search" function in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I also very much enjoyed Geralt's verbal cues and monologues in assisting the player to piece together clues and insights into the world. The first 13-15 levels I found were excellent and most tense in that here is where learning most of the game takes place. I tried to roam as much as possible at first, until I'd hit a tough stretch, where I'd simply then resume the main quest for more character progression. This general pattern marked my experience of the game all the way through.
Hearts of Stone:
The main quest with this DLC arguably represents some of the strongest content in the entire game. Whilst I didn't connect too strongly with the main narrative, the return of Shani was extremely welcome and CDP explore other "aspects" to Geralt's personality in a dramatically creative way.
The improvement in challenge with some boss fights was excellent and appreciated. The Frog Prince fight was a bit reminiscent of something out of Dark Souls 2; certainly a tricky encounter at first.
Blood & Wine:
Overall, once again I probably didn't connect that strongly to the main quest story. However, I loved the tournament quest which was a wonderful change of style, setting and atmosphere.
The last fight in this expansion featured one of my trickiest encounters in the whole game - it took several tries to learn how to avoid a potential insta-kill attack and there's some fine tension and a need to adapt throughout.
I felt the best pieces drew upon melodies and themes established in the first game. That said, the short and sweet Fields of Skellige piece is truly evocative, to me sounding like a curious blend of Enya-derived Celt folk with the vocal touches of Madonna's "Frozen". I had to stop several times for screenshots whilst this piece was playing, the hairs literally rising on the back of my neck as I took in the scene.
Fields of Ard Skellige
for the uninitiated: (or for those just wanting to hear it again…)
And a little obscure cover by Mitch Murder: (For 80's synthpop and J-pop fans!)
The Wolven Storm
Comparisons to previous games:
Geralt is much more humanised in this game, both artistically in presentation (just look at how his face has changed over time) and as a character generally in his speech and outlook. He no longer stands substantially outside of greater society nor expresses quite as much angst as his experiences have seemingly shaped him into this almost protective "father figure". As a result, I tried to keep the beard all the way through!
I felt the combat built quite well upon the more standardised system in the second game and even attempted to bridge the timed clicking mechanic of the first game to some degree. It was sleeker, smoother and overall easier to manipulate Geralt compared to the second game yet also faster and much easier to master. I relied upon both Igni and Quen extensively yet also Yrden for longer/slower fights.
My favorite battle was probably the one with Imlerith. I think I hit this part of the game at a sweet spot levelling wise as everything felt just right. Perhaps I shouldn't have completed both expansions before actually finishing the main game as the challenge level suffered to a degree, but it definitely felt very natural to do it this way from a role-playing perspective. I finished up at level 51.
Overall, the first game still has my heart for its beautiful folk romanticism, the second for its superior implementation of choice and consequence. The third however, looms tall above them for its production values, level of polish, accessibility and sheer scope of its world. It's a tremendous series of games well worth spending one's time with which I have many happy memories playing.
Thanks for reading, cheers. Feel free to comment, add your own reflections.
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