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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC) review: An utter masterpiece that reveals the fundamental flaws in open-world games

Hayden Dingman | June 9, 2015
The Witcher 3 is a masterpiece. It is without a doubt one of the best open-world RPGs I've ever played. It is bigger in scope than almost any singleplayer game I've played (except maybe Baldur's Gate II). It offers the freedom of Morrowind, the story intensity of Planescape: Torment or Fallout: New Vegas, the atmosphere of Fallout 3--it's nothing short of a landmark achievement in open-world RPGs.

The RPG is an old and entrenched genre, and at its core is the idea that the player is the character. To make a good RPG, conventional wisdom says strip away as much "character" as possible and let the player impose his or her own personality.

The Witcher series undermines this by forcing you to play as Geralt, and some people will understandably be driven away by this. "I don't want to play as some growly old white dude," you might say.

But the tradeoff is that you get history. You get motivations that extend beyond the simplistic "save the world" crap every RPG falls into. Ironically, The Witcher 3 is centered around saving the world — but not to Geralt. Because we're seeing these events through his eyes, it reduces the stakes to something more human. "Save my daughter." "Save the love of my life." "Save my friends." "Get the emperor off my back." "Live long enough to retire."

Not every person in the world knows or cares who Geralt is. Some outright despise him without even meeting him. He's neither the most powerful person in the world nor the most renowned. He's a freak. A mutant. He's a burden. He's a savior. However you play Geralt, life in these villages goes on. Sometimes the most valid response to a situation is to stand back and do nothing at all, although the old tenet still holds true: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Nobody will "remember that," though. The game doesn't call out what you did. It doesn't pass judgment. You either did something you feel comfortable with, or you did something you later regret. Most times you're stuck choosing the lesser of two equally terrible options. Sometimes there are consequences. Sometimes there aren't. Either way, the game proceeds.

Take this trivial one-off encounter, for example:

Early on I was riding my horse down the road — flanked on both sides by hanged corpses — when I came across a group of angry peasants surrounding a lone soldier, part of an invading force. The peasants insisted the foreigner be lynched. I told them to back off. The peasants attacked. I killed them all.

"Thanks so much," said the soldier. "So lucky you stopped by."

"If I hadn't stopped, only one man would've died here today," said Geralt.

And I felt bad. So bad that I succumbed to the perennial video game advantage — I reloaded. This time I let the soldier die. When the peasants walked away, there was one more corpse hanging by the side of the road. I looted the soldier, only to find a letter from his wife desperately begging him to come home.

 

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