Maaaaybe I’m being a little hyperbolic with the title, but I’m kinda not. This game has me up until 3 and 4 am playing it–not because I feel the need to finish, but because I lose all track of time. And that’s not something that happens to me easily. This game immerses me. Every movement seems right, the layout and leveling seems dynamic, I am rewarded for the exploration of obscure areas, the magic fits and is well balanced, and I can kill creatures way higher than me with skill and cleverness.
But that’s not why I love Witcher 3, why it “saved my soul,” so to speak.Witcher 3 is profoundly heavy on storytelling. Like, I don’t curse much on here. But fuck.
Ever so often I come across something that inspires me in a way that makes me want to close up shop and stop writing. Simmons’s Drood did this. Aronofsky’s The Fountain did this. Witcher 3 does this. A long time ago, like, seven or eight years, I started work on a seven novel lineup that worked around a protagonist by the name of Soren in an Urban Fantasy setting. He hunted demons, ghosts, otherworldly creatures for the sake of survival with his own brand of magic. I did it, I redid it, I redid it again until I actually made it work.
Those same ideas, tropes, actions exist in Witcher, but done with a far more complete grace. While the premise is that there is magic, monsters are real, and you play a monster hunter is quite stereotypical for this kind of game, everything about the storytelling isn’t. I am embarrassed, honestly, at my foray into Urban Fantasy monster hunting. Because this is a game that does it in spades.
I have cried four times while playing this game. I like to think I’m an emotional guy, but at 33, I don’t get sucked into video games quite like how I used to. I loved Skyrim but never got emotional about it. Why? Great game. Really great epic feel. Playability through the roof. Great story.
But not great storytelling. Not like Witcher. Why? People are dynamic. The often polarized notions of good and evil are so blurred, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into with each quest. You see a monster singing, you assume you’ll have to fight him. Not necessarily. Kill a magical creature masquerading as a god to a small village for free food, because he shouldn’t be taking advantage of them? The village could turn and attack you. Tell the wrong person you’re a Witcher? There goes a quest line.
Witcher 3 clearly understood the monotony of what other sandbox games had for questing: kill x, return for fee. Find x, return for fee. Escort x, return for fee. This game isn’t just about killing. It’s about ascertaining truth, Truth, fault, blame. Hearing them out. And it’s beautifully disgusting. Minor royalty may or may not have had to carry the angry spirit of his aborted fetus all the way to his house while I protected him. It’s beautiful. It’s steeped in lore. It’s unique and original and new.
Shit, I even had to learn how to bow properly, and then when I did, thinking all proud of myself for being proper in front of a king, the king laughed and asked, “I didn’t think you bowed to anyone.” Crap. I just made myself look weak. HOW U DO THAT GAME!?
I read recently from someone about how important the details are in a game like Witcher 3. If the game followed basic quest layouts, focused on deadlines and money like (coughCallofDutyFranchisecough) other games (coughDestinycough) instead of playability, this game would be alright. Like, good job. I felt like a badass. Mission accomplished. I got badass weapons. I enjoyed it. All the first paragraph of this blog covered. Yes. A sound and powerful game. Good work Projekt Red.
And don’t get me wrong; they obviously did it for money. Money makes more games happen. Money makes the world go round. This game wanted money. But there was also passion in it. There’s something to this game I don’t see often, and that’s a real, actual, heartfelt dedication to the game. “We will release it when it’s done” is likely the greatest single promise of dedication I can read. I can’t stress this enough: Witcher 3 is beautiful, and it’s beautiful because, even as a writer, and as a storyteller who takes pride in knowing how a story will go, I often have no idea what is coming next. Because they cared to go deeper, flesh out the sides, the details, break convention.
I haven’t felt this way while playing a game since, I dunno, Halo. Or Aladdin. And certainly not to this extent. I actually pursue every side quest I can find.
And, to say the least, it’s inspiring as anything I’ve read in a book or watched on the big screen. That’s saying a lot. I am immersed, I am filled with insight, and it is beautiful. It vitalized something I wasn’t aware needed vitalizing, and that’s my sense of wonder.