Game of the Decade: The Legacy of The Witcher 3
It’s been nearly five years since the final installment to Geralt’s story has graced the world, but to this day The Witcher 3 is still considered one of the best, if not the best, open world RPGs of all time, and I’d like to share why.
One reason why The Witcher 3 stands out is the sheer quality and attention to detail. Despite technically falling into the “AA” category (that is, games made by smaller studios with smaller budgets and less pre-established reputation than AAA developers like Naughty Dog, Bethesda, Rockstar, etc.), the game instantly blew, not only the expectations of Witcher fans out of the water, but it took the entire world by storm and became a global phenomenon. The game became so universally loved around the world that they made it available in 14 different languages, seven of which included fully dubbed audio for the entire game.
One of the biggest reasons why this occurred is because, despite their humble studio size and budget, CD Projekt Red managed to craft a game of equal or greater quality than the likes of games such as GTA V. Many gamers cite that the game was quite buggy at first, but it seems after the first couple of patches it was a very stable and polished experience–except for Geralt’s horse, Roach, who was so broken that the devs made a self-aware joke about it by making a “Roach” animated Gwent card where he just falls from the sky and lands on the roof near the player, something we’ve all experienced too many times in-game not to laugh.
For a game that had less than half the budget and staff of GTA V working on it (Witcher 3’s 250 developers compared to GTA V’s 1,000, with budgets of $81 million and $265 million, respectively), the massive scale and quality was virtually unheard of.
One of the many reasons Witcher 3 is as successful as it is without a doubt the superb writing. The Witcher 3 has more than 200 hours of gameplay if you try to do everything, and at no point does it ever feel like a chore. Every activity and side quest is an absolute joy to do, and this is because the side quests in The Witcher 3 are better than most games’ main story-lines. The sheer depth and care involved is insane, and this stems from the fact that the game developers based the lore directly on the already-established book series of the same name.
The writing is phenomenal in that the protagonist Geralt is not a “chosen one.” As Geralt, you’re often despised as a freak of nature, and have no particular stakes in saving the world or being a hero. In fact, throughout the entire game he’s simply doing his job to get paid. And the world often seems indifferent to Geralt–on the one hand, all of your decisions have visceral, vital consequences, but on the other, the world feels like it’s a real place and that life will go on with or without you there to observe it. No, Geralt is not the Chosen One™, Ciri is, and he’s just the guy looking for her.
The other factor involved is the scope of the game; it’s a breathtaking sight to behold, seeing the numerous vast landscapes and unspeakably beautiful vistas, and then proceeding to actually travel there. Just like with No Man’s Sky, if you see something in the far distance, odds are you can actually travel there, more often than not without a loading screen. While loading screens exist, they are few and far between, and really only separate entire continents, each being around the same size or bigger than all of Skyrim.
Although large games have been done before, it’s how dense and alive the world is that makes it special. I’ll never forget the first time I rode into Novigrad–the massive city feels so much larger than any other fantasy-game city or hub area I’d ever experienced up to that point, and the level of detail was nothing short of astonishing.
The game has this wonderful habit of never relying on filler; each quest and activity is full of twists and turns, and what starts as a simple “Go to X and talk to Y” quest might have massive unforeseen consequences, such as accidentally releasing a plague, or a king dying and entire kingdoms rising or collapsing. Most Witcher 3 players can vividly remember searching for the Bloody Baron’s family and going on a gargantuan and heart-wrenching journey that can lead either to the salvation or death of those involved depending on the nuances of every choice made.
It would be a cardinal sin to talk about The Witcher 3 without mentioning the ensemble cast of great characters. I first played Witcher 3 without any experience in the prior two titles (something I had to remedy soon after completing the game), yet even with only small amounts of exposition about the backstory of the characters Geralt already knows, you come to develop a brotherly kinship with the characters in ways few stories can truly pull off. These are the adventures of Dandelion, the warm and welcoming Zoltan, the guilt-ridden Bloody Baron, the conniving Dijkstra, and the numerous side characters who all make a fantastic impression when you first meet them. Despite only being a minor villain and not the main antagonist, I don’t think I’ve hated any character in a video game more than Whorseson Junior, because his character was just written so d*mn well.
Probably one of the best first impressions we get from The Witcher 3, and perhaps even one of the best character introductions of all time, is when we first meet Priscilla, who we see performing a sweet and melodious ballad that the player comes to realize is about Geralt and Yennefer’s past lives.
Although one thing that many gamers can universally agree on, even if they haven’t played The Witcher 3 themselves, is that is has one of the most bad*ss and memorable OSTs of any open world game. This is partly because all of the songs were played on actual medieval instruments, similar to Game of Thrones, and nothing comes close to that authentic medieval-European folk music feel than the blaring sound of lutes and crumhorns. Played by the medieval-style folk band Percival, each song is dripping with personality, from Steel for Humans and Silver for Monsters, to the eerie-as-h*ll Ladies of the Woods theme that complemented the crones perfectly.
Yet, we have yet to mention the most important part of The Witcher 3, and that is undoubtedly Gwent. It doesn’t matter if an NPC character just lost everything in a fire or if they just watched their spouse die, everyone in the game solely exists as a means for an end–so that we, the player, can beat them at Gwent, take our five crowns, and win their Gwent card. Gwent is all that matters.
All jokes aside, Gwent is a fun and addicting card game within this already amazing game, and if you’re not careful you might get sucked into a 15-hour-long campaign of scouring the globe for more rare Gwent cards, so I would almost advise not getting into Gwent too early in the game, lest you forget about your family, friends, and social life in the pursuit of this addicting card game. Don’t do Gwent, kids.
Probably the best thing about The Witcher 3 is merely the fact that it exists; many AAA studios seem to have given up on single-player open-world RPGs, thinking that players only want more online gunfights and battle royales. And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying online competitive play, as I myself do in Guild Wars 2 and TF2, one would have to be far out of touch with reality to believe that the single-player experience is extinct or not profitable. As CD Projekt Red has proven, a good single-player game, even if from an obscure studio, can be incredibly successful, and in this humble writer’s opinion, The Witcher 3 is one of the greatest games ever created, and deserves the number one spot for “Game of the Decade.”
With some of the best music, choreography, and writing possible, it’s no wonder this underdog of a game sold over 20 million copies and became a benchmark that all future titles will be compared to. The Witcher 3 is the quintessential example of what games are capable of as an artform and medium; it is by no means a flawless experience (looking at you Roach), but few if any games can approach its quality or personality. That’s why I would nominate The Witcher 3 as the game that should represent the entire 2010s era.
And I absolutely cannot wait to see what CD Projekt Red has in store for us next in Cyberpunk 2077.