The Witcher 3 is an enigma of a game for a host of reasons. Rarely have i played a game that, over the course of a year I've loved, grown increasingly frustrated about and got more involved in the lore than I have with The Witcher 3. Technically, the game is a marvel - as sandbox games goes, it is up there with the finest of its kind - depending on your perspective, think Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim or GTA. TW3 main game contains pretty much 2 entirely distinct maps plus other sizeable locations to say nothing of the DLC and the maps are huge. I can honestly say that although I've played the game off an on for a year, I suspect that I've uncovered less than 50% of the games content. More than likely, WAY less than 50% and much closer to 30% of the game, which says quite a lot about the amount of content in the game itself.
Of course, big does not mean good and while the maps are outstanding and yes, there is a staggering amount of "content" to be consumed, this is not what I really want to talk about. You see - the mechanics of the Witcher are all good. The combat is good, the mini-games are good, the character progression, the spell casting, the side quests etc etc - you get the idea, they're all good. Basically, the game is easy to sum up in that regard - if you like open world, sandbox fantasy RPG's you're going to enjoy the Witcher 3. The game is polished, well made and generally fun to play, but none of that is really interesting to talk about beyond game mechanics, which I love, but the Witcher 3 has more to say about modern gaming than just being a really bloody good Fantasy RPG. The Witcher 3 contains a rare combination of depth, narrative, characterization and moral ambiguity that underpins the whole gaming in a way that enhance the core mechanics of the game itself. This may take a bit of explanation, but bear with me.
You see, the Witcher 3 is not just an RPG game, it is an RPG game probably more popular than the books that created the universe it was set in. In fact, the witcher 3, while based (loosely) on the books of Andrzej Sapkowski seems to play more like a greatest hits of the characters on occasions rather than canon to the books themselves. I do not mean this as a criticism - the game from what i can tell, takes source material and uses it, rather than bases the game of it This may be controversial among fans of the bools - I do not know - but what i can say is that it was SUPERB to be able to pause playing the game after 5 months and go and read the book "the last wish" to understand the back story of the lead character.
Think about that - there are not many games where you can play for over 30 hrs and then pause, go away and read a novel that amounts to less than 10% of the entire back story of the characters having basically no prior knowledge. Talk about world building and scene setting on an epic scale. Can you imagine playing "Shadows of Mordor" believing it was based on a movie? You watch the movie- the fellowship of the ring and then realise there is an entire series of books behind it. That is what playing the Witcher 3 felt like - you begin playing a role playing game that gives you access to the world yet, upon doing so, you realise that there is much more to the world and characters than you ever knew.
Yet the game does a wonderful job bringing the characters and environment alive - the world feels living and breathing, your choices matter, the characters have depth and they are believable as real people. I say this last point sincerely - the characters in the Witcher 3 are more developed and believable than in many films.
So, what is the point of all this? Basically, the game is great if you like RPGs and great if you like the witcher series, but its most impressive achievement is, to my mind at least, the fact that the game is a superb vehicle to accessing the world of the Witcher. Sure, it is not without its problems (for example, the game drags out certain elements of the story), but if you embrace it even knowing nothing about the series, there is a more than great chance you;ll end up playing a great game, reading a couple of great books and thinking about how simple moral decisions can effect the complexities of real life.
This is one of those games that is good as a game, but great in terms of the bigger picture it paints and questions it asks. Forget the game mechanics and the cool RPG elements of the game and instead, get lost in the characters, the dialogue and decisions They are what make the Witcher 3 worth playing over and above anything else. The game is as much about the exploration of people in a fully realised fantasy world as it is about leveling up or acquiring new armour or swords.
A game worth playing, both as a game in itself and as a way of visiting the wonderful fantasy world with complex themes, moral dilemmas and believable characters. Highly recommended