What The Witcher 3 owes to Skyrim – and how it surpasses it

By Brenna Hillier, Thursday, 29 January 2015 07:45 GMT

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the witcher 3 tower

A huge open world

Skyrim’s open world is still impressive three years on. Bethesda’s ever-improving environmental tech and its focus on “epic” landscapes made for a beautiful vista or beckoning path less travelled around every corner. Every little pocket of the landscape was peppered with interesting things to see and do. Even more so than the Fallout and other Elder Scrolls games that came before it, Skyrim argued powerfully for open worlds in all RPGs, and the industry has started listening.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt grabs the added power of newer consoles and uses them to top even Skyrim’s efforts. It’s not just that it’s more beautiful thanks to fancier graphics, because it’s the design of the world that matters. It’s how the world is shaped. Again, I talked about this in my feature on how The Witcher 3 has set a new generational standard for graphics; CD Projekt RED has learned from Bethesda and done a simply magnificent job building a world you want to explore.

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There are two schools of thought on Skyrim’s combat and I have to say I’m in the camp that finds it disappointing. I never felt it was worthwhile mastering the block, chop and power attack rhythm of melee combat when you could set someone on fire or hide in the shadows and pop them with arrows with far greater efficacy and none of that annoying twirling on the spot or being mobbed. Even in full heavy armour with an enormous double handed weapon, melee felt like flailing away with a wooden stick.

What I want in a game about melee combat and especially fencing is a sense of weight and gravity along with the speed. I want to feel like heavy chunks of metal are meeting each other, clashing and rebounding, forcing each other about with brute strength – or dancing around that brute strength with superior dexterity. I want it to feel like it matters.

Combat in The Witcher 3 is more what I’m after – it feels like every hit matters. Parrying, riposting, dodging and rolling are absolutely essential; you can’t just tank your way through encounters. Enemies are mobile and quick to punish mistakes, and hacking away at them wildly will never work.

The Witcher 3 has the advantage of being designed purely for third-person, which is a far more conducive approach to melee than first-person will ever be, but still: Bethesda could stand to learn a bit about swordplay from CD Projekt RED.

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So is it a “Skyrim killer” or what?

CD Projekt RED itself doesn’t seem to want to make comparisons to Bethesda’s bestseller.

“Before Skyrim, there were extremely popular RPGs as well. I personally liked Skyrim very much,” Weber said.

“Obviously in some ways we were inspired by Skyrim. We were inspired by many games. But we didn’t make our game to be like Skyrim.

“Yeah, we’re open world now too, so basically we are the same [genre]. But since we started doing our games we wanted to be open world, and I think that’s the coolest way to tell the story. I think we’re still plenty different,” he added.

“Skyrim did a lot of good things. But I think people will notice a lot of things that are different – and they will notice that they are good.”

“Skyrim did a lot of good things. But I think people will notice a lot of things that are different – and they will notice that they are good.”

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t exactly the same kind of game as Skyrim, so comparing the two directly and asking which is better is silly – especially as they’re far enough part, chronologically, to never come into real competition. It’s also unfair to compare a game released in 2011 for the last generation of consoles with one releasing in 2015 for the next set.

With those caveats in mind, it’s still impressive that CD Projekt RED has so thoroughly surpassed Bethesda’s masterpiece. It’s a compliment to Bethesda’s talents that we hold the older game up as the standard to beat, and it’s going to be really exciting to see how Todd Howard’s team raises the bar again in the future.

But here and now, today, in this world – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is probably the best RPG yet.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in May.

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