Review by LawLFC
95% Fresh: POV of a Jaded RPG Fan (or Should I Get Into This Game?)
PREFACE - Who this review is for:
I am an RPG fan. Ever since FF7 stole my heart when I was young, I went back and played its predecessors, deep dived into other JRPGs, and played on when Western hands tried their hand in beating out the path of new frontier of RPGs. But as the years rolled on, I simply didn't have time to invest into games like I used to. Weekends that used to be completely eaten up by gaming are now spent at Home Depot and scratching out a few more pages on a screenplay. I gravitated toward games that are as easy to pick up as it is to put down and thus began my Fifa years.
Now and then a new RPG would roll through and I always have to simply ask "is it worth my time?" often hoping it will suck so I didn't have to pick it up, especially as I have a bit of a completionist streak. In the past decade, triple-A titles have come and went bringing new trends but left me unsatisfied as a whole (ie Mirror's Edge). But as writing has become increasingly great in gaming, I find it harder and harder to resist the draw of the storytelling of gaming. What does it for me is how FRESH the experience is, and I will tell you why this novel-inspired third installment captured my time and why it is a critical piece of the video gaming lore.
Before getting into the game: I haven't played the previous installments, so you may want to find a few videos about the first 2 games, but all you really need to know is that after the books, Witcher 1 starts with Geralt, our protagonist, suffers from amnesia. He rids the world of evil with his Witcher clansmen, with opposing factions here and there. He develops a relationship with Triss, a red headed sorceress, before remembering that he had a soul mate in Yennefer, another sorceress and prominently featured in the books. This love triangle will be developed in this Witcher 3. There's obviously a lot more you can research but I just wanted to jump in ASAP.
Geralt is given some really focused and nuanced writing. Surly, compassionate, sarcastic all rolled into one. A bad-ass with a heart and you'll never tire of his dialog. The writers and voice actors out done themselves and gave each character something surprising, either more than one dimension, or as contrast to his/her situation. Whether it is sidequests or main story, the pace and content will continue to surprise and stay FRESH all the way through.
They also STREAMLINED some of the storytelling, giving inconsequential NPCs nothing more than a one line utterance as you run past them. Leading me to the next point.
Often this is what gives completionists heart palpitations. I just want to get the most out of my game, so obviously I have to explore every corner don't I? W3 identified all those things we dread in other RPGs and STREAMLINED them so we can focus on the exciting and satisfying bits of this opus. Dialog was made easy as mentioned above. Fast travel points are everywhere. Question marks on the map help you find all those places you need to explore to get loot or ability points, but you can turn them off. My suggestion is to hit up the community boards in the towns and just go after quests, hitting up the ?'s in the middle and you will find yourself discovering gems of story just littered everywhere on this map.
Before finding the Fool's Gold mission, the discovery of a town, seeing something was wrong there, and leading to a choice with the bandits was so well worked and satisfying it left me to begin writing this review. If you hit a difficulty wall, fight the completionist urge to muscle through it and turn to other tasks, as you'll often find what you need to get past it elsewhere. The density of things to do is staggering at times and not everything is noted on the map, leaving more things to pop up and delight you, the gamer. As someone who couldn't really get into the Elder Scrolls series, this bit was very FRESH to me.
There's obviously a lot to unpack from the previous installments, but it should not be a deterrent. The lore is one thing, the storytelling is another and you can totally enjoy without playing the previous games. I know that knowing the backstory is often a big part of how the story will impact you, but knowing this, the creators builds that intrigue and anticipation in game instead of calling back to the other games. Plot lines introduce characters with plenty of juicy dialog before they develop into something FRESH. Starting with the world building, you can gage a new town by the way they receive you and watch as those conceptions change. The ending of Fool's Gold was particularly bitter-sweet and leaves a mark because of what your avatar has done, but altogether fits into the world they've build around you.
Oftentimes, you become a detective like Batman, using your senses to solve clues in the open world. This too has also been streamlined, allowing you to click on glowing objects, then dialog to fill in the pieces without taking too long (like in the Tell Tale games), allowing you to enjoy the discovery process. Before you know it, tons of exposition has been dumped on your head but didn't stop the pace and left you satisfied.
Let's start with combat, it will keep you on your toes, but won't feel like a hack and slash until much later when you get all the leet gear. The skill tree has steep costs so you will have to commit to a style before you can incorporate other components. This results in several hours of difficulty and using different configurations of melee, magic, potions, and gear. The surprise? This portion actually keeps the combat FRESH for hours. Use the beastiary to find out what works against that toughie you've been reloading on for the past hour.
The crafting and alchemy is STREAMLINED, so you don't have to remember all the names. Components you're lacking can be pinned so you can just buy the missing parts. Components and herbs don't weigh you down, so you can just keep looting everything. The gear you don't want and 'other' items can be sold off, so the player won't have to keep worrying about inventory. Inspired! (Protip: keep the books until a library)
Immersive. Superb. 10/10.
AAA done right. Lets keep going.
FRESH and STREAMLINED. The game doesn't bog you down in all the pomp of other hardcore RPGs like Elder Scrolls, nor is it a one note feature like FF15 (the combat), nor is it just about the concept (Horizon, Tomb Raider, Assassin's Creed It puts you into Geralt's shoes fast and wants you to fulfill all the vicarious desires that player deserves from a premium priced title. Even the pieces of paper you pick up often slots right into your Beastiary. A perfect example of how gameplay and story inform each other. The sidequests are just as rich if not better than the main story, and you will never hate yourself for staying up another 15 mins to open that door and find that a ****** has ****** the people within. I never felt the need to reach for a guide as they made sure I wouldn't have to and I still am content knowing that I got the most out of the game. And the extra stuff in between? Pure gravy. And I haven't even hit the DLC yet (heard it was even better than the vanilla).
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (US, 05/19/15)
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