Most obviously, Witcher 3 redefines the level of quality possible in a video game, let alone an open-world RPG. Every corner of this 200+ hour monster's three world maps is crammed full of interesting characters, creatures, and situations painted with lavishly choreographed sequences on a quality level you only expect to find in linear titles that run a fraction of the length. Even many of the more mundane "Go kill this monster in my cellar" side-quests are showered with scads wonderfully composed conversations, investigative opportunities, and, quite often. an unexpected plot twist. Couple this with strong writing and moral dilemmas, some of which my have consequences a dozen gameplay hours down the road, and recent offerings from powerhouses like Bioware and Bethesda appear positively 1998 by comparison. At one point I found myself listening to a double-crossing scumbag's stereotypical 'bad guy' speech and thought to myself, "Ya know... This guy is totally right!" I then walked away and left two of my companions be executed. It wasn't until the post-game wrap-up that I felt justified in my decision. It wasn't that things turned out right or wrong, but they did turn out for what I felt was the better. It almost made up for that Ancient Evil that duped me and went on to each a bunch of villages.
Then there's the game's outstanding encyclopedia of the world's friends and fiends, delightfully written by your character's bard buddy. And, boy, are you going to need that encyclopedia! Firstly, combat in The Witcher rewards research and preparation just as much as well timed button presses. Discovering a wyvern is susceptible to applying a draconid poison to your sword and can be knocked out of the air with a well timed 'force push' is going to get you a just as far a being skilled with Geralt's ballet-like combat maneuvers. It's also a great source for keeping up with the dozens of main characters as this game positively wallows in its source material. Witcher 3 doesn't just return to characters and events of the two previous games, but is even so bold as to tackle questionable events from the very first Witcher short story penned by Andrzej Sapkowski. While the game can be enjoyed on its own merits, lore hounds will find an endless well from which to drink. Witcher 3 brings more dramatic baggage to the table than all of your exes put together. And, unlike a gathering of how your former loves would end, it all pays off spectacularly!
I must admit, when I first picked up this game upon release, I never thought I'd be giving it the GOTY award. While undeniably brilliant in both design and execution, one glaring flaw constantly drove me to the point of madness: Your character's movement was absolutely abysmal! Root motion control systems have been a horrible blight upon 3rd-person games since GTA IV. Tying your character's on-screen movements to the animation system as opposed to, ya know, actual player input has been the biggest stick in my craw for some time now. Honestly, when the simple act of walking is an annoyance, you better have a bunch of damn good content to make it worth putting up with. It's not like anyone is ever going to fix a sloppy root motion controller in a patch. I mean, you'd have to go back and re-time and reanimate every freaking walk cycle of the character. I resigned myself to the fact that my total bad-ass, genetically engineered, medieval Batman was just the kind of guy who had to twirl around in an empty field to take three passes at picking up a frigging flower.
And yet, one glorious day, it was fixed. Developer/publisher CD Projekt Red had gone back and re-rigged not just Geralt's movement, but also adjusted the sizing and priority of every interactable point in the game. The dedication this studio has shown to the franchise over the years has been nothing short of extraordinary. Heck, The Witcher 2 got a whole new combat system a year after its release! If CD Projekt Red's track record holds, we'll be seeing free enhancements to this title for quite some time as they polish their latest work of art.
Speaking of long term dedication, it should come as no surprise that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched with an extensive DLC program. Yes, folks, SIXTEEN pieces of add-on content were announced shortly before the game's launch. You know the type: A side quest here; An arena there; A new costume; The usual. Well, usual except for one small detail: It was all free. Co-founder and CEO of CD Projekt Red, Marcin Iwiński, explained the refreshingly surprising business decision in an open letter on the game's web site:
"As gamers, we nowadays have to hold on tight to our wallets, as surprisingly right after release, lots of tiny pieces of tempting content materialize with a steep price tag attached. Haven’t we just paid a lot of cash for a brand new game?If you still doubt the sincerity of these developers, know that you can even purchase a completely DRM free version of The Witcher 3. COMPLETELY DRM free! No logins, no launchers, no Steam, no kidding.
As CD PROJEKT RED, we strongly believe this is not the way it should work and, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we have decided to do it differently. Cutting to the chase, everyone who buys Wild Hunt will receive 16 specially prepared DLCs absolutely for free, regardless of platform. You don’t have to pre-order, you don’t have to buy any special edition to get them -- if you own a copy of Wild Hunt, they’re yours. This is our way of saying thank you for buying our game."
And when CD Projekt Red did finally ask customers to open their wallets again, it was the for the $15 Hearts of Stone expansion pack, another 10-20 hours of content complete with new areas, new systems, a phenomenal plot featuring one of the most intriguing antagonists in gaming history, and bursting at the seams with a quality level that may very well surpass the original game. Even at two or three times the price, Hearts of Stone might very well go down in history as the best expansion pack ever released.
And then there's Qwent, the wonderfully designed collectible card game within the game, and the deliciously tactical combat with, like, five different difficulty settings that can be changed on the fly, and Geralt's real-time beard growth, and The Crones of Crookback Bog, and whatever the heck that creepy instrument is on the soundtrack, and... Well, you get the idea.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has set the quality bar so high on what a video game can accomplish that it is unlikely we'll see its like again anytime soon. Moreover, they did it in a genre where we typically expect some level of 'jank' and concession to quantity over quality. More than that, the folks behind Witcher 3 appear to generally feel love and pride for the product they've created. They've proven themselves dedicated to, and appreciative of, their customers. It is the kind of passion that we've rarely seen these past few years where we expect 'triple-A' games to release broken and 'early access' titles to never be finished. Here at GUO, we're taking this opportunity to send some love back to the fine folks at CD Projekt Red by honoring them with the greatest gift we can think of: 25 feet of gold plated, fire-breathing, robot baby.
CD Project Red, thank you for creating and supporting The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Growing Up Otaku's 2015 Game of the Year.