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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – two key factors of a world to get lost in

Tuesday, 4th March 2014 13:18 GMT By Brenna Hillier

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt throws you down in a beautiful world and gives you a better reason to stick around than collecting a few hundred random objects, Brenna says.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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Coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One later this year.

The third title and an end to a trilogy; CD Projekt RED hasn’t ruled out further Witcher games but this game will provide closure to the current story arc.

The Witcher series is based on a series of eight books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Released between 1992 and 1999, the series is hugely popular in multiple European languages, but to date only the first four have been translated into English.

Polish fantasy fans are intimately familiar with the universe of the Witcher; CD Projekt RED chose to tell an original story with many overlapping themes, events and characters rather than recreate the books.

A couple of friendly chaps from CD Projekt RED turned up in Sydney recently to give we poor starving Australian journalists a chance to see a purpose-built demo of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, previously shown only behind closed doors or at big international conventions.

Now that The Witcher 3 has taken the series open-world, it’s time to dust off the inevitable comparison to Skyrim that must legally be included in any and all open-world RPG discussion. The first Witcher game was built on BioWare’s Aurora engine, but with The Witcher 2, CD Projekt debuted its own tech, with spectacular results – especially from such a young team. Nevertheless, since Skyrim was only vaguely contemporaneous and a very different style of game it seemed a little rude to put them side by side.

With The Witcher 3, though, we’re seeing the first next-gen engine from the team, and it hopes to surpass the masters of the genre. Until Bethesda produces its own next-gen engine we can’t know how that rivalry will work out, but we can look at The Witcher 3 as an example of what The Elder Scrolls team ought to shoot for.

Remember when Skyrim was first unveiled and there was a lot of excited talk about how the vegetation and weather effects were so luscious and special? All that stuff about snow drifts piling up, and real physics on water? And then you got out there and it was, while undeniably lovely and more than impressive, not quite what you’d expected? That’s the nature of previews, I’m afraid – the developer tells you a bunch of cool things about its back end tech, and you dutifully become much more excited than the end results warrant.

CD Projekt didn’t tell us anything about its tech, it just put the game on screen and let it speak for itself. The Witcher 3 is heard most clearly during quiet moments, when the world is allowed to speak. At times when the controller sat idle, while the staff explained something or answered a question, it gave me a chance to take in the individual blades of grass and wildflowers that covered the ground – literally covered, not just patchily decorated like a man not yet confident enough to rock a chrome dome and still doing that disastrous comb over thing. To watch the breeze ripple them. To admire the gleaming – and apparently not even final! – textures of Geralt’s mail, which flowed and clumped around his body, individual links shining as they caught the light.

I have died and gone to graphics heaven.

Leaving Geralt to meditate allowed us to watch the day-night and weather cycles in action, showing the dramatic variation available in just one location, but the demo we saw took us through several locations – a castle on a cliff face, the prosperous little village that clung to its ankles, the ocean, an island headland, a ruined and overgrown keep, a sulky little hamlet in the boondocks, and an ancient forest. Each of these locations was startlingly different from the next; you might run through them in a few moments and not notice the differences, but you could also stop and take in the commendable variations in assets missing from so many comparable large-scale games.

I don’t have candid screenshots or footage to show you what I mean, and I lack the language of graphics tech to explain the differences, so let me just break it down – The Witcher 3′s landscapes make Skyrim look extremely last-gen. The Witcher 3′s ocean makes Assassin’s Creed 4, heretofore the acknowledged king of beautiful oceans, look distinctly cross-gen. The Witcher 3′s character animations – well, actually, okay, apart from the sizzlingly attractive fencing, the animations look a little rocky at this point, while largely static and stone-faced characters suddenly pinwheeling their arms in gestures and throwing facial expressions around like they have sudden itches. I don’t know how much of that is CD Projekt RED’s dramatic European style and how much is work in progress.

Head to the second page to read about The Witcher 3′s “personal story” approach to side quests.

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12 Comments

  1. sidspyker

    Just a correction.

    The Witcher(1) was on Aurora, BioWare’s engine not Bethesda. Oblivion used Gamebryo engine.

    #1 10 months ago
  2. infernalism

    @sidspyker Yeah, which just shows that she did not play either TW1 (more likely), or any Bethesda game since Morrowind, since those games are REALLY not alike the first entry in the Witcher series. And yet she tries to educate the reader…
    Confusing Bethesda with BioWare can happen, you think of one developer, and you write another, it’s a mistake. But citing Oblivion, and “historical reasons” to compare TW3 with Skyrim means, she just thought that was the case. Not to mention the “surpassing its masters” comment.
    CDPR wanted to make games like Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2. Did they surpass that? Probably not (yet), but BioWare themselves haven’t been able to, and did TW2 suprass recent BioWare efforts? Easily. Now they try to beat the new top dog of western RPGs, and let us hope they will succeed, because that will mean we will have something special on our hands, when the game drops sometime this year.

    Personally, I hope that their (and their competition’s) previous games gave them enough experience and insight, to make a real masterpiece. They are really capable of delivering such a game. Something I think, BioWare is no longer equipped to do under the wings of EA.

    #2 10 months ago
  3. TheWulf

    I tried really hard to like Skyrim, but the problem with it is one raised by this article, which is a very important point.

    Skyrim tries to over-achieve so hard. Yes, it has a lot of stuff, but when all of that has no connection with each other, what purpose does it serve? And when every instance of said stuff tends to be generic, what point is there in having it? Nothing in Skyrim was designed in such a way where it couldn’t be procedurally generated, and I honestly felt like much of it actually was.

    I mean — you’d find a hole in the ground. It might have some spiders, a tree that makes your companion gasp ‘how beautiful’ at it, or it might have some traps in a corridor, it might have some undead, it might be a fort filled with faceless marauders, or if you’re really lucky, you might get some mind-numbingly dull document about the place (clearly written by someone who was bored at the time).

    So it just became a massive pile of stuff. Not interesting or memorable stuff, just stuff. I mean, the capsule machine in Shenmue dispensed more interesting things than the average Skyrim hole in the wall.

    And that was the problem with the experience.

    It’s fine if you’re okay with boring experiences, but I’m not, and the most interesting thing in Skyrim was what I brought with me. It was also by far and wide the best written piece of content in Skyrim. A mod, a character named Inigo. If not for Inigo, I would have given up on Skyrim within the first hour.

    I gave up Skyrim to play New Vegas again shortly after, as I believe I mentioned. And I immediately remembered why I liked it so much more than most other RPGs I’ve played. It had places, yes, but it treated those places like individual people. Each location in New Vegas told an excellently written and realised story, with just the right atmosphere to back it up. Either directly or indirectly told, they were all great.

    Think of any vault in New Vegas, or the Repconn HQ, or the testing site, or any number of other places. Each of them is something you explore, and it’s like it’s a person, you’re exploring a history, a story. It’s alive in ways that I’ve never seen a Bethesda game be.

    Skyrim feels like an over-achieving, self-assured Nethack clone by comparison, since it doesn’t really tell any stories or have any character of its own. It has something about dragons, but it’s not very interesting, and it brags about infinite dragons, but it’s not that impressive when all of those dragons are damn near aesthetically identical. I can spam clone dragons in Second Life, but I don’t brag about it.

    On the other hand, instead of infinite dragons, New Vegas has people. I can’t think of a group of people I actually took interest in in Skyrim. Not one. Not even the bigger factions. I mean, gee, do I choose stereotypical racists or one-dimensional, poorly written religious fascists? OH BOY! That’s some real depth, there, Bethesda. And the game broadcasts just how pleased Bethesda was with these choices, it was an accomplishment for them. A big deal! So deep!

    I’ll compare that with, say, one faction that barely gets any screen time in New Vegas. The Great Khans. You spend only a short time with them, but you come to care about their fate more than that of anyone barring perhaps Paarthurnax in Skyrim. There are a lot of characters in New Vegas that will make you care — unless you’re an unfeeling zombie, you’re going to care about someone. You’re going to be invested in them and their future, despite them being a video game character. For me, it was Raul and Lily. Though Gannon was a near third.

    But characters in Skyrim tend to be one-liner factories. Stuff like ‘arrow to the knee,’ ‘carry your burdens,’ and ‘me, I call them treasures’ became memes for a reason.

    So, what happens at the end of each?

    Skyrim has you fight the most boring boss battle I’ve seen in the last decade, then it has infinite dragons mourning. That’s it. That’s your lot. It’s static. It doesn’t talk about or consider a single thing you’ve done, because nothing you do in Skyrim matters. Ever.

    Then New Vegas — the war for the dam, a politically and emotionally charged encounter that you can defuse by talking if you want. And then you get to have a robot friend throw a particularly evil person over the dam if you desire, which was a very memorable and rather hilarious moment. After that, you get an ending — the ending talks about everyone you’ve met, how you’ve affected their lives, where you’ve been, and where you and they are going. Damn near every choice is accounted for. All of the stories coalesce into one glorious crescendo where all the loose-ends are tied up. And you feel like you being there really mattered. You made some kind of difference, for better or worse (and it can actually be worse, you don’t have to be a hero).

    If not for the bragging and over-achieving, I’d consider Skyrim to just be a bad single-player MMO. But due to all the bragging… well…

    Let’s just say that if I were to think of New Vegas as a person, I’d think of someone old but weary, yet still with so much life, lots of eccentricity, and with wisdom beyond knowing. Someone fun, clever, knowledgeable, and worldly. Perhaps, say, The Doctor.

    If I were to think of Skyrim as a person, it would be Arnold J. Rimmer.

    I genuinely want more RPG developers to look at what New Vegas did. The factions, the stories, the people, and how alive it felt — and copy that, honestly. And not half-arsedly, either. If The Witcher III is anything like New Vegas, I’ll probably dig it. But I’m so harsh on RPGs because everything after New Vegas seems so, so bad.

    I know people have different values. Some people are boring and they just want to grind around against spiders in holes in the ground. That’s fine. But I’ll take something admittedly flawed but so, so much more interesting any day of the week. It really is kind of like choosing to spend your evening with The Doctor or Rimmer.

    Everything was a story in New Vegas. That’s why everywhere was fun to explore. You didn’t just step into a hole filled with zombies or vampires (like in so many Bethesda games), instead, stepping into such a place was like turning the first page of a new novella. Mysteries to solve! Genuinely interesting stuff to experience! That, to me, is fun.

    I really do wish more RPGs were like that. More Doctor, less Rimmer.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. TheWulf

    There’s another aspect to this that bothers me, too. Bethesda games give the player no agency, they provide only their choices and account for no others. As an example, Paarthurnax. After they tried to demand I kill him, I decided that the Blades were clinically insane and too dangerous to be allowed to be free. Could I imprison them? Could I ask the Greybeards to help me with that? Could I just take them down myself, even?

    No. It wasn’t an officially sanctioned Bethesda choice!

    My way or the highway, m’laddo! I’m your superior officer, and you do as I say!

    Whereas in New Vegas, when I found Caesar to be a genuinely repugnant being, I decided to do away with him. Everyone reacted to this. The Legion put out a ‘kill on sight’ order and started sending assassins after me, the NCR’s opinion of them improved and they gave me a radio with which I could call in backup at any time, Gannon (my companion at the time) spoke up with me to offer his opinions (and a new mission), and the NPCs of the world recogised that Caesar was dead — they spoke about it.

    It’s just so different. Obsidian makes stories for you to live in, they have fun with it. It’s like the Doctor and his TARDIS, you choose a grand adventure and off you go, and you have a lot of agency in how you act. But playing a Bethesda game is kind of like being Lister. You can’t help but be annoyed by it and you want to find ways to try and rebel against it.

    I turned the Blades into chickens. Using the console. Then I moved them to a farm.

    I’m probably going on report for that.

    I don’t know, but… Skyrim was weird in that it pretended to have a lot to do, except it didn’t have much you could do in it at all, really. Unless you like mindlessly obeying orders.

    #4 10 months ago
  5. TheWulf

    Guh. Skyrim makes me so angry, it’s hard to stop talking about it.

    Another example? The Black-Briar lady and the thieves guild. In Skyrim they’re just racist thugs. Can I imprison them? Can I wipe out their entire organisation? Can I have it so that their presence is no longer really felt by taking out any form of leadership they might have? No!

    New Vegas is the opposite of that. If I see an injustice, I can fix it. When I got to Nipton and saw what the Legion had done, I made Vulpes and his people pay for that. I was allowed to do so. It was a damned tough battle weighed in their favour, due to the stupidity of taking them on at that point, but it was my choice. I somehow pulled a victory out of my butt and felt good about it, I walked away from Nipton hoping that some of the ghosts of the people there now could find rest.

    But in Skyrim I see Black-Briar and her thugs bullying people and acting racist regularly. I can’t do a damned thing about it to make lives better. And if I fail? Okay, sure. But that it won’t even let me try is repugnant.

    I just wish more people would see Skyrim as a bad game because of things like this, but most people just want to ‘kill shit,’ they want to slaughter indiscriminately, and Skyrim has lots of targets. They want to be told what to kill, and just to out and kill it, rather than acting upon any sense of justice or morality. And I hate that. I hate being a slave to the system.

    #5 10 months ago
  6. Edo

    @TheWulf
    I was just about to say the same thing.

    #6 10 months ago
  7. Shinji10TH

    Well, beside the choices problem, Skyrim never delivers the so called Open world, since it’s just a Minecraft skin, IMO, than an actual RPG with real exploration, because the majority of the locations in the world have no actual consistence, and I’m not talking about the stupid quest-generating quest system.

    And let’s not forget the most broken mechanic that TES had introduced, the self level-scaling enemies, hurray.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. fearmonkey

    Well, I freaking loved Skyrim and so did many many people so bethesda did something right.

    After reading thewulfs large dissertation, I just want to point this out..
    When I bought skyrim for the Xbox 360, I was there for a mid night launch. Having bought every TES game and Fallout 3 at launch, this was the first time I had seen so many people standing in line for a TES game. It was amazing. The fact that no one I knew played Morrowind, and only one person at the time who played Daggerfall besides me, seeing so many people excited about a TES game amazed me. My girlfriend was with me and even she was amazed, and she isnt a gamer. She had never been to a midnight launch, and outside of COD or HALO, this is the biggest game release I had been to.

    So, with all the copies sold, the fact it sells like crazy, and people chomping at the bit for Bethesda’s next game, they must be doing something right.

    All this love for Obsidian I can understand, but they focus more on the story, where bethesda focuses more on exploration, both are valid.

    #8 10 months ago
  9. Shinji10TH

    @fearmonkey
    Maybe we didn’t play the same game, because I didn’t find any exploration in Skyrim, the only feeling I got is roaming endlessly without a purpose in a lifeless universe (Except for some rare locations).
    And I didn’t want to talk about the non-existent scenario, which actually makes it worse as an experience.
    Now, with the upcoming TESO, and after the beta of last weekend, I saw how Bethesda will also fail at the Online portion of an MMORPG, knowing that the RPG one was never there even in the solo games.

    Let’s just be grateful that there’s still some talented studios like CDP and others.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. Brenna Hillier

    @sidspyker … shit. Ha ha! Thanks for the correct, will fix.

    #10 10 months ago
  11. infernalism

    @fearmonkey @Shinji10TH
    Not only did you actually read his walls of text (why would anyone do that?), but he also made you talk about Skyrim, not the game in question, which looks AMAZING really, a true next-gen experience. He wrote maybe a line about TW3 (I was skimming through the walls to find any reference to TW3), that is insane! I liked Skyrim more, than any other Elder Scrolls game, but in one thing he is right. New Vegas actually populated it’s game with interesting characters and choices, It is definitely one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and though I enjoyed Skyrim and finished it, I cannot say the same thing about it. Not. Even. Close.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. infernalism

    @infernalism Obsidian populated it’s world, not New Vegas obviously.

    #12 10 months ago

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