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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.

I reloaded again. I killed the peasants.

I don't know if there's a consequence to either action. I don't know if it's ever revisited. If it is, I missed it. But that sort of morally-gray choice is rare in games, and in The Witcher 3 it's a feature of nearly every quest, nearly every random encounter. It's what makes even simple "Go here, kill this" quests a bit more complicated (and thus more engaging) than games like Dragon Age where the "kill this" part of the quest is literally your only motivation.

And that's apart from the side quests that do have consequences. There are plenty of side quests in Witcher 3 you would swear were part of the main story, were it not for the fact they're categorized under "Secondary Quests" in the menu.

You could honestly spend days picking apart The Witcher 3 and discussing what makes it work so much better than other open-world games. It's the fact the game doesn't highlight every single location or quest on the map, thus rewarding off-the-beaten-path exploration. It's running through town and hearing two characters wondering where someone from their village disappeared to. Someone you know for a fact is dead. It's blowing Geralt's cover because you never bothered to play the card-based minigame Gwent in the preceding twenty or so hours, and as a result you'll need to kill your way through a house instead of bluffing your way to the boss.

It can even be as simple as Geralt getting drunk with old pals, spending the night rehashing old brawls and talking about what they've all been up to. This living world — this sense of a past and a future — is what makes The Witcher 3 a genre-defining game.

Taping over the cracks

On the other hand, The Witcher 3's excellence casts the genre's stupidest flaws into stark relief. And I don't just mean the fact that all open-world games (including Witcher 3) are incredibly buggy.

It's the same old garbage we've seen time and time again. You're dealing with an end-of-the-world crisis, but first you're going to spend five hours becoming the international boxing champion of Velen, Novigrad, and Skellige. Your daughter Ciri could literally die at any moment — Geralt says this over and over — but for some reason you're determined to make some side-cash taking care of petty monsters for random villagers. The stakes have never been higher, but...well, is there really any harm in taking a few days to participate in horse racing?

Make no mistake — for the most part, CD Projekt's side quests are better written than any other open-world game I've played. Geralt's motivations are well-explained. Many of them put a twist on the go-here-kill-that formula, as I said. The characters involved are by-and-large interesting and worth meeting. I have no complaints with the content of these quests, for the most part.

 

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