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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – an open world done right

Tuesday, 16th July 2013 18:15 GMT By Catherine Cai

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt fronted an E3 demo three times longer than other games. Was that really necessary? Oh, yes, says Catherine Cai.

Behind closed doors at E3, CD Projekt RED showed off a sprawling 45-minute presentation to the trilogy’s finale. To give you an idea, most demos at E3 are usually 20 minute affairs, including Q&A. Was the extra time for the presentation necessary? You bet.

Open world was the catchphrase of E3 2013. Just about every developer working on a next-gen game excitedly discussed the possibilities with new technology and an open world setting. And it makes sense: when you have cool new toys to play with, why not show off what cool tricks it’s capable of performing?

That attitude is precisely why we have a bevy of games of the open world persuasion for the PS4 and Xbox One. Though developers’ optimism for the open world in a next-gen setting is infectious, I’m still a little hesitant. Too often, developers spend more of their time bragging about the size of the world they’ve created, rather than worry about what they’ve decided to populate their world with. The result is often vast, yet boring, landscapes. I’ll admit it’s why I’ve never been able to finish a single Grand Theft Auto game to date and why I was a little nervous when CD Projekt RED announced that The Witcher 3 was going to be an open world game.


Seriously, take a look at this landscape.

Both The Witcher and The Witcher 2 were linear experiences for the sake of the flow of the narrative. I enjoyed both games because they were games that weighed story to be just as important, if not more, than gameplay. It’s a design philosophy that most developers don’t take after.

The mechanics of an open world game don’t tend to mesh well with a fast-paced story. Side quests and long distances between locations, meant to encourage exploration, only serve to distract a player’s attention away from the main storyline. Many open world games, like Grand Theft Auto, attempt to skirt this issue by having plots without really having any sense of urgency to them. It creates a disjointed narrative experience; players don’t really feel compelled to play the main story in lieu of the many, many other interesting things there are to do in the game.

Games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim, which steer the player towards the main storyline by turning it into a “do or die” situation don’t do it any better. The world’s ending and Dragonborn’s just dicking about picking flowers to finish so-and-so’s quest, just because the developers didn’t see the necessity of tying side quests into the main quest from a narrative standpoint.

I sat down with CD Projekt RED’s game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz after watching a 45-minute gameplay demo of The Witcher 3 to discuss the series’ transition into the open world.

“Every landscape has got its own storyline. In every landscape, you need to gather some information. If you gather all you progress in the storyline. Every landscape got these quests that are quite near themselves, because we need to be sure that we can achieve this intensity of the storyline.”

“Yeah, it’s very, very challenging, because we have this goal that we want you to have the same intense feeling/experience that you got you got in The Witcher 2 and we want to combine it with the open world. Not the other way,” said Tomaszkiewicz.

“We got these challenges – you know, these huge distances between these points and you can forget what you need to do, and so on.”

He isn’t exaggerating about the large distances in The Witcher 3. Part of the reason why the E3 demo was the 45-minute monster that it was, was precisely to show off just how expansive the game is.

“We decided to create these three main landscapes. One you saw in the presentation. It was Skellige Archipelago. This is only one of them. We got also what we call No Man’s Land. It’s a ‘Slavic mood’ landscape. And we got the biggest city in the world Novigrad and the surroundings.”

In the demo, Geralt begins wandering about in the Skellige Archipelago to meet Jarl Crach. Crach has commissioned the witcher to looking into the Wild Hunt, which has destroyed one of his villages. Only one survivor remains as a witness to the grisly deed. Naturally, Geralt heads off to look for this villager.

“Every landscape has got its own storyline. In every landscape, you need to gather some information. If you gather all you progress in the storyline. Every landscape got these quests that are quite near themselves, because we need to be sure that we can achieve this intensity of the storyline.

“Second thing is that after few hours when you’re playing in this landscape and you get into the city, we ask player to go far from this point. When you’re travelling there, you’ll see points of interest in the distance,” explained.

The demo showed this off flawlessly. Not long after meeting with the survivor, Geralt comes across a village that’s been plagued by some sort of wood spirit. The villagers are at odds with how to deal with the problem. The elders believe that the wood spirit is a being to be worshipped, and that returning to traditional roots is the best way to appease the wood spirit and keep it from killing again. The younger villagers are skeptical and believe that the wood spirit is a threat to be murdered.

VG247 Book Club

The Witcher is based on a series of Polish-language books by Andrzej Sapkowski.

Those who’ve read the books will meet familiar characters and explore locales; CD Projekt RED is keen on recreating the franchise’s world.

Four books have been translated into English so far. The Witcher and The Last Wish are collections of short stories. Blood of Elves and Times of Contempt are the first two entries in a five-part saga.

Geralt, stumbling across this conversation, is willing to help the villagers solve their problem, for a price. After a quick investigation in the woods, Geralt finds evidence of the beast’s nature via scratch marks on a tree trunk. He believes the monster to be a Leshen, which is a level up from your ordinary monster.

The player then is faced with one of the many choices they’ll have in the game: they can decide whether they want to approach Harald, the one most vocal about worshipping the spirit, or Sven, a younger villager who wants to kill the beast. In the demo, Geralt chooses to side with Sven, who’s attitude is one that’s far too enthusiastic about killing the woodland spirit. When Geralt explains that Leshen always “marks” a villager to prevent its death, and that the villager happens to be Sven’s girlfriend, Sven is more than willing to offer her up.

After all is said and done and Geralt takes down the Leshen, he returns to the village for his payment. It turns out that Sven and his cronies have slaughtered the town elders and his enthusiasm for murdering the woodland spirit was really a play for power. The unforeseen conclusion to this all was rather unfortunate, but the witcher doesn’t involve himself in petty villager’s squabbles.

What was most striking about the demo was how organic every encounter felt. Though The Witcher 3 may not have found the solution of the disruption of the narrative as a result of gameplay—and it’s entirely possible that there just might not be one – CD Projekt RED’s definitely figured out a good sense of pacing between encounters and side quests to keep the player engaged.

Rather than having no impact on an empty, husk of a world, the player’s choices will leave visible changes. “You need to have believable situations,” said Tomaszkiewicz. “If you put only black and white choices into the game, you will feel that it is [sic] a fake.

“And these choices are very hard sometimes. You need to leave later with the consequences of these choices.”

Should the player decide to return to that same village in a few months, there will no nothing left but its charred remnants. Sven ran the village to the ground, to the point that it was no longer able to defend itself from outside attacks. These are consequences you must live with throughout your play through. This choice is just one of the many that the player is able to make to shape the world, albeit in a way that they never expected.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014.

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30 Comments

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  1. backup

    PS4 version will be best

    Just like crytek they move away from PC

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Sadismek

    I have so much faith in these guys, I don’t doubt them a little that they’ll deliver. Witcher 3 is my most anticipated game yet. EXCITEMEEEEENT!

    #2 1 year ago
  3. KAP

    Audio to the 45min E3 demo shown to the media.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRsNFKfOh4o

    Yep. Your welcome.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Mjorh

    @1 PS4 version will be best

    Why? there is no difference according to the devs!
    +

    I’ve got this hunch that this game will be the GOTY,it seems flawless.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. MFBB

    I really hope that pirating wont hurt this game again as much as The Witcher 2.

    Remember the news about the PC version selling 1 million times (which is great for PC) but they also said it was pirated about 6 million times so far (and that was only torrent, not even counting the bigger one click hoster users).

    Many people always talk about how great CD Project is for not using annoying DRM but than they all pirate the shit out of the game.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Radaway

    More info- Recent Interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq7-V04guUE

    Highlights: 45 minutes back and forth for world map travel.

    Dice will be back!

    Info on Romances- yum yum.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. backup

    @5

    lol

    there u go PC gamers are pirates,hackers and all evil things happens only on PC

    PC gamers themselves know wat they are

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Mjorh

    @7 Y So Obsessive ?!

    #8 1 year ago
  9. ninjanutta

    because pc gamers get a bad rap for piracy but id bet it was pirated just as much on 360 aswell.
    If they didnt make enough money then witcher 3 would not happen…FACT

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @10 Going to give it a rest on the whole torrent thing pal? It’s getting boring.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. MFBB

    #9 it is not a bad reputation, it is sadly the truth.

    I could always buy great PC exclusive games, but since years all that is left are MMOs and 1 game a year like SimCity.

    Only reason for that is pirating, it is completely out of control on PC.

    Playstation/Xbox still sell very well even with people pirating, the rate is much lower and people buy millions of copies.

    I really want to buy great PC exclusive games with awesome graphics like I did all my life, but they no longer exist due to people stealing games on PC so god damn much.

    They lowerd the price for PC games a lot in the recent years and it didnt help at all.

    PC gamers have to realise that they are ruining the PC gaming market and stop stealing games.

    If you dont have the money, but the games a few month later like I do it.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. GwynbleiddiuM

    @10 Just to shut you up:
    http://torrentz.me/search?f=games+xbox360
    http://torrentz.me/search?f=games+ps3

    Piracy exist everywhere, PC and console alike. so STFU maybe?

    @11 Honestly Dave I have no idea why you (VG247 staff) let this buffoon roam around the site and post utter garbage all day long.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Vice

    @12 Don’t give me this crap, PC market is getting better and better, we even got few fighting games lately, for fuck sake! FIGHTING GAMES! The only few console games we don’t have are either some jrpgs that nobody wants anyway, or console-exclusives that will stay console exclusive even if there was NO piracy at all. Oh yeah and also RDR, but I can live without it. Have it on xbox, it’s not as good as everyone says. I’d not lose much if I wouldn’t play it.
    Btw I pirated Witcher 2. I quit after making it to the middle of the game. It’s horribly boring. Finished it like one year later out of sever boredom, but would never buy a game like this. They’ll have to work harder on third game if they want my money.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. Hcw87

    @13
    Difference being you have to buy a modded console to play them, so you can’t bring it online. It’s nowhere near as easy as PC.

    Not that i agree with this backup monkey, but piracy is a bigger problem on PC than on consoles.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. Hcw87

    @14
    Just by saying RDR and Witcher 2 isn’t good, your future comments are hereby ignored by everyone and their mother.

    Horrible taste in gaming, man.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. GwynbleiddiuM

    @15 As if modding a console is an impossible thing to do. People play on modded consoles in my country all the time. Since the day of Atari 2600.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Hcw87

    @17
    I had a modded original xbox myself, so i know it’s not impossible.

    Costs more than an original console though, and not everyone has the know-how to transfer games to their console.

    PC pirating is EASIER. fact.

    With that being said, i have nothing against PC gaming, as i play alot of PC games myself (Steam games and MMO’s, so no pirating).

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Samoan Spider

    @15 I had a soft-modded Xbox back in the day because it made such a fantastic media player. At that time streaming media was just kicking off and the Xbox proved extremely capable. Modifying it was a matter of having the right game disc (Splinter cell for me :) ) and the right save on a memory stick. Very simple. Things have got harder as time has gone on but it is far from impossible and chances are, in most pubs in the land, there’s someone who knows someone who does it cheap.
    PC pirating on the other hand has always been reasonably simple. But the complexity has caught people out because it’s from knowing where to go for the cracks, keygens or disc images. For the most part though, just because a person could use a PC in every day life, it doesn’t mean piracy was easy for them because it still required knowledge and time. Which is no different to consoles. There are simply far more PC’s in the world and far more people gaming on them than consoles. It distorts the figures. Also, no one has mentioned how frightening the pirated DS game numbers are. On my local Facebay page just now, I saw 3 separate adverts for DS cards with 300+ games on them preinstalled. You can even select from different groups of games too (Boy, Girl, Puzzles and so on).
    Movies and music suffer far more than games, so this is not even just a gaming problem.

    On topic: The game looks fucking fantastic. Very much looking forward to it!

    #18 1 year ago
  19. loci

    “players don’t really feel compelled to play the main story in lieu of the many, many other interesting things there are to do in the game.”

    You say that as if it’s a negative. This is why open world games are so amazing…when done right.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. lubu

    @backup

    i’m going to put “psfanboy” user in your ass and then put you in your mother’s ass then i fuck all three of you at the same time in the ass. :)

    psfanboys are specials

    #20 1 year ago
  21. OwnedWhenStoned

    @23

    Methinks the lady doth complain too much.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. OwnedWhenStoned

    You seem upset.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Lengendaryboss

    Oh Catherine hasn’t completed any GTA title neither has Dave, strange? Does VG247 staff not have time to complete it in their free time?

    Speaking of free time can’t one of the staff members just dedicate five or ten minutes deleting troll accounts. Backup has posted nine posts filled with garbage in this thread alone.

    On topic: great write up.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. loci

    I suspect backup was bullied at school by PC gamers ~_~

    #24 1 year ago
  25. Samoan Spider

    @31 Hahaha, because he was too busy sat in the corner pirating console games.

    @27 Erm, come again? Anyway, just to annoy you I typed ‘ps3′ into torrentz which you’ll find via google if you were to go looking. Although I’m certain you have it bookmarked.
    It returned “6,943 Torrents (0.008s)” which I thought was nice.
    For DS “8,469 Torrents (0.011s)”.
    For 360 “16,839 Torrents (0.019s)”.
    For Wii “21,313 Torrents (0.020s)”.
    Does that cover your console piracy? PC piracy is as always, mental at “118,683 Torrents (0.083s)” but hey, who gives a fuck, Steam is so cheap and downloads at 12MB/s so why would I want to pirate shit at 12KB/s.
    And just for kicks – DVDRIP returns “591,656 Torrents (0.134s)”

    #25 1 year ago
  26. Un-HolyMOTHERofGOD

    How the hell could you never have finished a GTA game? Good lord! They’re only some of the best open-world games out there.

    #26 1 year ago
  27. Kuppz90

    As long as the crafting system and material gathering are godlike, im happy

    #27 1 year ago
  28. lubu

    @backup

    listen my dear mother fucker friend, i have all the consoles and a high end PC and i don’t care about GTA V because i’m not buying it on any platform. what bad about gay ? i like your tiny white ass and i like to fuck it, whats the problem ?

    someone please ban me or these to idiots. i though this site is better than N4G but little ccrying babies ruind here too. shame

    @Samoan Spider

    yeah, you always find more pc games on torrents because of 30 past years the platform still stands. pc is not a 5 to 7 or 8 years platform.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. Vice

    @backup: Just shut up already…

    #29 1 year ago
  30. FatalTee

    Hehe piracy debate!

    But first, I am so much looking forward to this game. I never was interested in Witcher franchise… then steam summer sale came, and for 3,74E when I just got sick (and sick days + interconnected vacation days) I was easy buy. Boy, these games are awesome from narrative standpoint, and story execution within the game. (I have yet to finish the first one — look I have a life — but Witcher is realy f**** A.)

    Piracy debate!
    First piracy… well that was copying of UI, Mouse, Networking concept etc etc by Apple, Microsoft, TI, when they copied everything they could from Xerox (oh, irony).

    But hey, tapes were copied, cartridiges were copied, floppies, CDs, DVDs, paper…. :)

    It is not really “PC only” phenomenon. Actually, one of reasons PSP flopped was piracy VS. high game price in beginning. (29,99E for handheld game?… no, sorry. Downloadable things for 3-10E? Yeah, probably.)

    Either way, there are no demos. When the game costs less than 5 EUR, I feel like okay, no need to test, I am interested, it is great price. But when there is new game for 50-60EUR, I really want to know what I am spending on. So for that I thank a thousand times to Piratebay. It helped me not buy so many games. (All Call Of Duties, Endless Space Disharmony, Test Drive Unlimited, Most recent NFSs, HOMAM6, Metro LL, StarTrek VG, StarCraft2, Tomb Raider…etc).

    But, GAMEDEVS should thanks PirateBay for the fact that testing the game on pirate copy lead me to buy so much more games!! (Codemasters racing games -except Dirt Showdown and Grid2, thanks PB-, KOTOR 1/2, Call Of Juarez:Gunslinger, Mortal Kombat 9, La Noire, Max Paynes…. I mean, a lot.)

    Since there are no demoes, or demoes does not represent the game well, I find PB great alternative. Also there are plenty of games which are not yet on Steam or GOG, and are only on PB, so thanks for that too.

    In the end, I do like the system, where I can try everything (torrent-based) and buy what I “really” like, not what commercials are telling me. (Also, gaming press, I know, but gaming press can persuade (and persuaded a lot) me to try, not to buy.)

    #30 12 months ago