Opinion- The Best RPG of All Time

Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to you today with a purpose. One singular mission is spurring me on: to spread the good news that is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I’m sure most of you have heard of the game by this point. Heck, many of you may have played it, spending dozens of hours (at a minimum) traversing the lands in search of monster contracts, Witcher gear, or even a warm, cozy tavern in which to play Gwent, the regional card game of choice. Revel in your noble deeds or dream of the quests you have yet to undertake in this vast, detailed universe. Enjoy it while you can, for I am about to upset the very balance of the internet by making a bold, opinionated claim: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the most finely crafted RPG that has ever existed.

geralt

Before I am slain by fiery arrows from some champion of the SNES time period, let me elaborate a tad on the perspective from which this opinion comes. I was raised on the NES, and as the years went on I continued to enjoy mostly single-player games on consoles. Titles including the Zelda series, Chrono Trigger, Fable, The Elder Scrolls, and Dragon Age rose to the top of my favorites list and never relinquished their hold. In fact, I still consider The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to be my favorite game of all time. But after playing both Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition for an ungodly amount of hours across several character files each, I was convinced I was experiencing the finest role-playing games that the genre could ever offer. Then a day came when I ate those words willingly.

I had heard about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt long before its release, having also read about the success of its predecessor, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I gave this game a fair try, but I simply could not get into it. The intro was very difficult, and for whatever reason my paltry combat skills could not see me through the very opening act of the game. I had rented it from a store and returned it to them full of shame and frustration. Nearly a year passed, and then The Witcher 3 was released to widespread critical acclaim. I couldn’t understand why so many publications were now claiming THIS title as the bar-setter for modern RPGs, with Dragon Age: Inquisition now suddenly forgotten in its wake. I stewed in disgust for months over the praise heaped upon The Witcher 3…until a funny thing happened.

My friend came to live with me for a month and he ended up bringing two games along with him for us to play: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and The Witcher 3. We played Shadow of Mordor first, which lasted us quite a long time among all the other things we were doing (not owning a PS4, we delighted in daily YouTube uploads of ‘Until Dawn’ Let’s Plays). Near the end of the month, we were running out of things to do. SOM had been beaten and we had explored every inch of its dark world. I glanced toward my gaming shelf and saw The Witcher 3 staring at me. With chagrin, I opened it up and began installing it onto my Xbox One. It was time to personally investigate this game that had seemed to socially usurp the RPG throne from some of my favorite franchises.

Once it had loaded up, I began with the tutorial. My experience with the second game in the series had been minimal and I wanted to make sure I had a grasp of the basics. But it turns out that it was nothing like the second game. I started in an open castle room taking a peaceful bath near the beautiful Yennefer of Vengerberg, who was quickly revealed as a love interest with a sarcastic sense of humor. I was leery of allowing myself to so quickly become attached to the playful relationship between Geralt of Rivia and this raven-haired sorceress. After all, they were the rival of my beloved Dragonborn and Inquisitor. I progressed to basic movement, searching, and finally, the combat tutorial. The fighting system was nothing revolutionary, but it was so…polished. Like “see your reflection on the silver” polished. My initial clumsiness in TW2 was reforged into a basic level of competence with this new title, and I became confident enough in my skills to end the tutorial. Perhaps this game would be an improvement on its predecessor? Little did I know that the learning would continue far beyond this opening preview.

I was finally unleashed into the world proper of The Witcher 3, being exposed to the beginnings of a story that was also a continuation of past games (and books, I later discovered). I felt a bit baffled and out of the loop, but pushed on despite this setback into the intriguing story of Geralt seeking out his long-lost love: Yennefer, from the tutorial. I encountered not just more combat in the opening area of White Orchard, but also engaging dialogue options. I tried to reign in my enthusiasm as my inner geek squealed at Geralt utilizing Jedi-like mind tricks on the locals. The game was getting more interesting by the minute. After some exploring and more mingling with the townspeople I finally got my first Witcher Contract: I had to track down a banshee that had taken root in a well at the center of an abandoned village. After using my Witcher senses to search for clues in this dilapidated ruin (the process of which reminded me heavily of what might take place in an episode of Supernatural), I was able to solve the mystery and find a way to lay the troubled spirit to rest. Well, as restful as it can be getting slashed by a silver sword. More quests soon followed, each one filled with branching possibilities based on the choices that I was making. It was all so dynamic: more so than I had ever experienced in a game before at such a base, yet compelling level. Most choices in other titles were relegated to large story moments, and those that were not were often inconsequential to the game overall. After slaying a griffin and finishing all the quests in White Orchard, I had become completely hooked.

geralt griffin

My enthusiasm for the game increased with the hours that I put into it. The combat began to vary more and more, yet it always seemed to strike a perfect balance between being fun and challenging. You have the option of utilizing melee combat, Witcher signs for magical effects, and potions that augment Geralt in a variety of different ways. Each player can find their own balance between these three pillars and tailor their skills when leveling up to the area that they see fit. This allows for a number of different fighting styles. Even the quests continued to display fluidity, with the tiniest undertakings often having an impact on the world around me. Those thuggish guards I avoided conflict with at a tavern? My goodwill at having bought them all a round of drinks instead of fighting saw them let me in to meet with their lord, who otherwise would have been barricaded in his keep, requiring me to find an alternative way inside. Did a civilian witness me using Axii in dialogue to sway the mind of another person? Those around instantly lost trust in me, sometimes perceiving me as a threat and attacking. I had to constantly evaluate my choices, as even well-intentioned decisions sometimes turned out poorly. This was role-playing done right. You can even adopt different hair and beard styles to further suit your own personalized version of Geralt.

geralt shave

The real life-blood of this game, though, stems from the multitude of characters that you encounter. And not just the mainstays: every snarky innkeeper, desperate beggar, and the plethora of Gwent aficionados that you encounter all provide the experience that you are encountering a real person. The previously-mentioned choices that you have to make throughout your quest are made even more personal by the level of character realism attained by developer CD Projekt Red. Personalities dictate character actions, instead of the all-too-familiar strategy of most games wherein NPCs simply deliver plot points and go on their merry way. For me, this factor was driven home during a late-game side quest, in which Geralt and Yennefer team up to locate a Djinn. I won’t go into too many details for the sake of remaining spoiler-free, but Yennefer’s natural independence and self-motivation are ramped up to their maximum in her effort to undo an ancient magic cast upon her. The conclusion of the quest was one of the most touching moments of the entire game, and I definitely had some watery eyes taking it all in.
geralt and yen

But Geralt has many other allies in this story that draw you in and make you feel as if you truly are a part of their team. I’ve mentioned Yennefer many times, but the other side of the love-connection coin is the fiery Triss Merigold: a magic wielder who served as a love interest in the past two Witcher games. This noble sorceress fights against the oppression aimed at non-humans which includes mages, shapeshifters, and even witchers. Geralt is swept up in her crusade while trying to find information about his beloved Ciri: a girl who is like a daughter to him who is being tracked down by the other-worldly and villainous Wild Hunt. Other allies also join in the search, including Zoltan the dwarf, fellow witchers Lambert and Eskel, and the womanizing, impulsive bard Dandelion. After several misadventures and false trails followed, Geralt finally locates Ciri and brings her back to Kaer Morhen: the witcher stronghold from the tutorial. Different events ensue and lead up to a final confrontation between the forces of man and the Wild Hunt’s massive army. The final ending of your game depends on choices you made during your interactions with Ciri after her rescue, as well as other important political figures you meet along the way. The different conclusions are wildly diverse in nature, which only further lends to the level of variety and free-will the game allots you.

Post-launch, The Witcher 3 was provided with several small, free DLC packs, as well as two massive, paid expansions: ‘Hearts of Stone’ and ‘Blood and Wine.’ Hearts of Stone involves Geralt completing tasks for Olgeird von Everic, a mercenary who exchanged his soul for immortality. This storyline, as well as the numerous added side quests, all take place within the world that you are already able to explore in the main game. Blood and Wine, however, brings Geralt to the land of Toussaint: a France-inspired, colorful kingdom that sharply contrasts the bleakness of the main game. Geralt traverses this new land in search of the culprit behind several murdered noblemen. This twisting tale was easily one of my favorite storylines of the complete Witcher 3 experience. The side quests in Toussaint are easily on par with the main game in terms of quality and breadth, sometimes even exceeding the latter due to added levity and creativity. The added features in both expansions also include new weapons and armor, increased levels of upgrading for witcher gear, and an overhauled system for even greater customization of your witcher skills and spells. There is even a New Game+ mode for those seeking to expand their experience and truly challenge themselves with harder enemies beyond the basic difficulty options. If you are going to play The Witcher 3, I wholeheartedly recommend purchasing the Complete Edition that came out in 2016 so you can experience absolutely everything this game has to offer.   geralt and detlaff

One factor I haven’t yet touched upon is one of The Witcher 3’s greatest features: its incredible soundtrack. CD Projekt Red brought in a group of folk musicians who are talented with traditional instruments from Poland, which is the nationality of both the developer and the author of the original books that started it all. The songs range from energetic and inspiring to sorrowful and morose, even diving deep into the realm of eeriness on several occasions. Each scene in the game is only amplified by this well-crafted soundtrack. I even find myself humming or listening to some of the songs to this day in my spare time. I would not personally put this music on the same level as memorable classics such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Chrono Trigger, but it is nonetheless a masterful, atmospheric creation that is perfectly suited to The Witcher 3’s game world and that is what truly matters.

I cannot neglect to elaborate on the game’s greatest diversion that I mentioned previously: Gwent. This “collectible card game within a game” was responsible for a large chunk of my play time, and is even the focal point of numerous quests. The goal of each match is to utilize your various combat cards to fill out three rows of warfare (infantry, mid-range combatants, and long-range siege units). Each card is assigned a point value and the player who is able to score the most points in a “best of three rounds” scenario is declared the overall victor. Sounds simple, right? Players utilize their initial hand throughout every round of the match, so if you waste your cards in the very first round you will likely be brutalized for the remainder of the match. There are also weather cards that are capable of cutting an entire row’s points down by half and war horns that double a single row’s point value. Many unit cards also contain special effects, such as immediately killing off an opposing unit or increasing their own point value for each duplicate of their unit in play. There are also four separate decks (five, when the DLC is included) that represent different groups from the world of The Witcher. Each faction has special abilities and card types that affect play in different ways, from the rapid-spawning Monsters to the unit-reviving Scoia’tael elves and dwarves. The Gwent mini-game was so lauded by fans that it spawned its own separate title in Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, as well as several real-life decks both official and fan-made.   gwent decks

I would be doing a disservice if I did not point out this game’s flaws, despite their minuscule magnitude. The glitches in The Witcher 3 are minimal and very rarely impact your progress, but there were a couple times across my two full playthroughs when I would get trapped on geometry to the point of having to reload a previous save and losing a half hour of progress. This happened exclusively in a swampy area and was a combination of Geralt’s slow movement when walking in shallow water while stumbling into an unseen divet in the ground’s layout under the water. This is easily remedied by remembering to save often, which is a must for any open-world RPG. Minor graphical glitches occurred during certain cutscenes, which were interestingly consistent between my playthroughs but did not impact my experience beyond laughing at their ridiculousness. A few quest lines can become broken if you abandon certain items relevant to their completion (one involving animal figurines and another with small figurines of people, curiously). Most items of this nature are locked into your inventory once you receive them so it isn’t a big factor, but it was certainly an annoyance to have incomplete quests permanently branded into my journal and staring me in the face. Many NPC faces and voices are reused frequently throughout the game, leading to small breaks in the immersion. However, all of these issues are common fare for large-scale games: it is not a problem unique to The Witcher 3, and it didn’t harm my time spent with the game.

geralt thumbs up

That being said, there are truly not enough good things I can say about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It is a masterfully-crafted experience from top to bottom, excelling in every area of design. It has a plethora of compelling stories, each filled with engrossing and complex characters. The graphics are realistic and beautiful; they convey every single character’s emotions as easily as the intricate details of the landscape they inhabit.  Combat is fluid and versatile, allowing each player to find their own stride and fight the way that they feel is most fitting. And setting the stage for all of these things is a soundtrack that perfectly serves each situation you encounter. Other large RPGs have pulled off incredible feats of momentous ingenuity, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Divinity: Original Sin, but none of these titles have a masterful level of crisp refinement across every piece that makes up their entirety. No game is without its flaws, but those found in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are less than insignificant in the grand scheme of its excellence.

-Brink

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s