Geralt, Aloy, and Me
Contributed by DJMMT
I consider myself a Witcher fan. Though the gameplay was absolute garbage, I consider The Witcher to be a game that is absolutely worth playing. I played it years after release and I was still very happy with it. Both the writing and the graphics hooked me on the franchise, even with the mediocre gameplay. Some years later, also long after release, I finally played The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Again, I was impressed with the writing and graphics. The gameplay was considerably better than The Witcher, but still pretty bad. But that in no way turned me off the franchise. I then watched the show, which I really liked as well. I am a Witcher fan. The reason I’m telling you all this is because I just can’t seem to get into The Witcher 3. I played it for about 10 hours, and I’m just not feeling it.
My negative feelings towards The Witcher 3 are quite odd, by my own estimation. It has beautiful graphics and the same caliber of phenomenal writing. It’s a rich world of culture, epic monsters, and interesting people. For once, the gameplay isn’t total shit. I actually really like the combat in The Witcher 3. I know many have complained about it but really if you played the first two games, the gameplay in The Witcher 3 is like the difference between Super Mario Bros. on the NES and Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch. It’s that drastically improved. The difference being that the gameplay in Super Mario Bros. is not bad. It’s just really dated. The gameplay in the first two Witcher games is painfully bad. So why am I not enjoying The Witcher 3 when everything about it is an improvement on the first two games? For a while, I struggled to explain it. Eventually I stopped playing the game altogether and just moved on to other things, saying I’d return to it later. It wasn’t until I had played Horizon Zero Dawn for more than 40 hours that I was finally able to put it into words.
I’m not really a fan of open world games but I play a lot of them. I like rails. I like games with clear endings. I take satisfaction from reaching the end of something. My biggest problem with a lot of games today is that they don’t really end anymore. They just kind of fizzle out. Some open worlds are a bit more conclusive than others. Like Super Mario Odyssey, which is more of a soft open world or rather a series of smaller open worlds. It has a large map and a lot to do but there is a clear point in the game where you are finished. You’ve seen all the story, gotten all the moons, beaten all the secret challenges, and can say you are objectively done with the game. Whereas something like The Division never really feels finished. Even today I still sometimes think about the fact that I missed a lot in the first installment even though I got the platinum trophy. Though I haven’t finished Horizon Zero Dawn yet, after more than 40 hours, it does feel like a game that will have a conclusive endpoint.
So what does Horizon Zero Dawn have to do with The Witcher 3 and why did the former help me to better understand why I can’t seem to enjoy the latter? The answer is that Horizon Zero Dawn allows me to play it incorrectly. Yes, you read that right. I’m playing Horizon Zero Dawn incorrectly. As I said, I don’t really like open worlds. The reason for this is that I hate things like backtracking and having to leave tasks for later. When I get to an area, I want to do everything that area has to offer. I want to solve all the puzzles, get all the collectibles, kill all the bosses, do all the nearby missions, and then leave the area never to return. The way they want you to play an open world is that you have an objective point at some far-off location and then as you make your way there you casually do other tasks along the way. You may get sidetracked a little bit, but ultimately you are always moving towards your goal. Much later, you will return to all those areas you walked past and eventually have covered the entire map and ideally collected everything. Though this is the way developers want you to play their open world games and thus is the “correct” way to play them, it is not how I play them.
When I play an open world game, I comb the map one region at a time. I scour every inch of a region and fully complete everything I can. Local tasks, collectibles, enemy discovery, and so on. So by the time I get to that far off point to start/end the next mission, I’ve already done most of the extra stuff that they expect you to leave until later. My reason for this is that when I reach the end of the story and thus the game, I’m actually done with the game. Or nearly done anyway. I want the game to culminate with the plot. Not stretch past the plot for several more hours.
Currently in Horizon Zero Dawn I’m a level 49, have gotten every collectible in the game, unlocked all the fast travel points, gotten almost every higher tier weapon, got any of the higher tier armors I wanted, unlocked all the override vaults save for the DLC one, and I’m currently doing the side missions I’ve already unlocked in both the DLC and the base game. Yet story wise I haven’t even visited Meridian yet. For those who haven’t played the game, that’s literally the first real mission once you gain access to the open world. I basically finished the tutorial and then went full force on cleaning the map. The story mission I’m on has a recommended level of 12. By the time I do it I’ll probably be past level 50. I am objectively playing this game wrong, and I’m having a great time doing it.
I’m aware that the actual story missions will be super easy once I finally do them. I’m aware that what is meant to be a long grueling journey full of emotion, struggle, and catharsis will end up being a stroll through cut scenes and mostly easy fights. I’m aware that I’ll have weapons, gear, and mods that I’m not even meant to have yet when playing missions. So what? I’ll still have beaten the game. I’ll still have played for probably more than 60 hours. I’ll still leave the game having enjoyed it and wanting to play the sequel. My problem with The Witcher 3 is that it won’t allow me to play the game this way.
What Horizon Zero Dawn showed me is that my problem with The Witcher 3 stems from its rigid xp distribution system. Horizon Zero Dawn gives you xp for literally everything. You kill a machine, you get xp. You discover a collectible, you get xp. You hunt animals for meat, you get xp. It’s nearly impossible not to get xp in Horizon Zero Dawn. This is important because not only does it reward the player just for playing the game, but it also allows the player to get stronger just by playing the game. This in turn made it possible for me to clean more of the map. You literally cannot approach The Witcher 3 this way. The only way to get xp in The Witcher 3 is by completing quests. Not by killing monsters. Not by finding things. Like with Horizon Zero Dawn, and most open world games, quests are tied to levels. There are quests you just aren’t capable of beating before you get to a certain level, due to strength and ability limitations. This means that if I come across a quest while trying to comb the map, and I’m not already strong enough to beat it, I have to leave it and come back later. The difference is that with Horizon Zero Dawn you can level up without traveling far away from the quest. With The Witcher 3 your only course of action is to travel to wherever the next quest you are strong enough to beat is. This can be and often is very far away from wherever you are. Meaning I literally cannot play the game the way I want to play it. The game forces you to pass things and then backtrack to them later, which is exactly what I hate.
The reason I can’t seem to enjoy The Witcher 3 is because the game forces you to play it correctly. It will not allow me to play it the way I’m currently playing Horizon Zero Dawn. Now for me personally I hate this design choice. I can’t see a reason for the game being so stingy with xp. But I also can’t change how the game was made. The real question is can I make myself enjoy a game that refuses to let me play it the way I want to play it? I honestly can’t answer that question at this time. I want to beat The Witcher 3 but I also don’t want to spend hundreds of hours in a game that I don’t enjoy playing. But again, my complaint about the game has nothing to do with graphics, writing, or even gameplay. It comes down specifically to character development. I’m sure I’ll try to play The Witcher 3 again at some point. Whether or not I’ll see it through to the end is another story.