Impression: the Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is weird.

…what? You need more? Haven’t you played this game for 100+ hours already?

The weirdness comes from the juxtaposition of Witcher 3 (W3) getting some things outrageously, fantastically good, all while mired in mediocrity and out-right immersion-breaking shenanigans otherwise.

For example, the environment, the gritty, dirty, pustule side of medieval fantasy life is back with a vengeance and already a highlight of my Witcher experience yet again. When you walk around hearing peasants cough with genuine phlegm, it reminds you this isn’t Disneyland, this is real (fantasy) life. People lived in the muck, practically nobody has windows, of course they’d be walking around like diseased shit-bags. The entire Witcher series has always gotten this feeling down so well that every other medieval setting I have encountered since has felt like college freshmen at the Renaissance Festival in comparison.

Then you walk into an Inn and the barkeep is selling bottled water for 42g apiece:

Brought to you by Nestle.

Brought to you by Nestle.

In the panoply of absurd gameisms out there – having access to world-ending magical powers but being unable to open locked doors, etc – it might seem disingenuous to pick on W3’s Nestle-style gouging as immersion-breaking. But it is precisely the confluence of W3’s fantasy realism and its absurd gamey bits that make little details like this so prominent.

Playing on the next step above Normal-mode difficulty means that Geralt no longer gets healed by Meditating. Whereas you might have just chain-chugged Swallow potions in prior titles to beef up your passive regeneration, W3 has opted for the Skyrim-esque “scarf fifteen pieces of raw meat in the middle of combat” HP management system. Different consumables heal X amounts in Y amounts of time, so you typically need the best to survive.

And one of the best? You guessed it: plain ole H2O.

I haven’t cared more about water in any game since Fallout: New Vegas hardcore mode. Every time I rummage through a peasant hovel, stealing everything not bolted down, I do a fist pump every time I see a bottle of water. “Silver candle stick. Old bear hide. Ruby dust. Water… score! Time to fuck up some demons!”

I’m only halfway kidding.

Please live up to this.

Please live up to this.

Truly though, W3’s combat system reminds me of Blizzard’s game design philosophy between expansions: instead of simply fixing what was broken, CD Projekt RED decided to veer completely in a different direction… again.

The combat itself is fine, for the most part. What is different (again) this time around is consumable use. Potions are no longer limited by toxicity (Witcher 1) or preparation (Witcher 2), but rather by what amounts to “per encounter charges.” Craft the Swallow potion one time and you get 3 charges of it, which are automatically replenished by strong alcohol whenever you meditate for at least 1 hour. Craft every potion once, use them all in five minutes, and they all come back after meditation. I’m not really even convinced that any alcohol is actually being consumed to replenish the stock of potions.

While toxicity still exists, it is largely window-dressing considering how a single Swallow potion’s toxicity drops to zero before the potion’s effects even have time to wear off. And while the toxicity meter limits your ability to stack potion effects I guess, the Quick Use menu is limited to two items anyway (presumably to not blow the minds of unwashed console peasants). Decoctions represent longer-term buffs that fully use up your toxicity meter, but I’m not entirely convinced this move towards the trivialization of preparation was worth it. Witcher 2 went way, way too far the other direction – forcing you to use potions before you even knew combat was coming – but why the crazy swing the other direction? Pretty sad how much better the original Witcher feels in comparison.

In fact, that’s precisely where I am mentally every time I boot up the game. It looks amazing, sounds amazing, and generally feels amazing when playing in the moment. If you slow down a bit at all however, and the high-speed blur turns into a mishmash slurry of disparate game mechanics. I’m hoarding herbs and potions out of Witcher 1 habit while throwing back Honeycombs and Wolf Livers by the pound. I’m looting every building and outhouse in sight for crafting materials so I can craft low-level items outclassed by bandit drops so I can kill skull-level monsters guarding swords five levels below me. Random loot is random, but there comes a time when the designers need to put in some goddamn sanity checks, yeah? Sitting on the recipe for Enhanced Beast Oil for 10 hours while Googling where the hell regular Beast Oil is supposed to spawn is not my idea of good game design. Especially when the answer is a shrug.

So. Like I said: weird. Good, but weird.

But hey, Gwent is pretty cool. It’d be cooler if they actually let me have enough cards to make more than one faction deck after 25 hours, but it’s still fun.

Advertisements

Posted on September 30, 2015, in Impressions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think Witcher 1 is grossly underrated, despite how generally well-received it was. It’s a nearly flawless game, that moved the needle big time when it originally came out, and still holds up very well today.

    Witcher 2 was a massive disappointment, in part because of just how good W1 was, but also because it felt to me like “W1 goes to hollywood”, which NOT being hollywood is a huge part of why W1 was great.

    Fully sounds like W3 is more but different W2, rather than W1, making it a pass for me until its on sale for $5 on Steam.

    Like

    • I’d say that Witcher 3 is way more like the original than the 2nd one… but it’s still mostly off doing its own thing. Like I mentioned, it has certainly nailed down the Witcher environment and visceral feel, on top of being more or less an open-world game. If a big part of your enjoyment of the original came from the meticulous planning and collecting of ingredients and such though – and it was for me – then you’re right, it feels more Hollywood. I probably have a stack of 100 herbs of every variety and no means to actually use them in anything, because you only need to craft a given potion once, ever, as you get full “charges” every time you meditate for an hour.

      That said, I’m playing on the Hard difficulty and can report that your basic group of Drowners will fuck you up even if you’re 8 levels above them, if you’re not careful. So at least it has that going for it.

      Like

      • I looked for mods last nite to try and balance out the silliness you mentioned. Maybe I need to look harder, but didn’t find a single game balancing mod. I know this is mainly because they didn’t release a very good mod kit, but its still disappointing. But immediately turned off gathering nodes and ? marks on the minimap. Really helps with immersion. And B&B difficulty of course. Definately enjoying the combat – way more then I expected.

        Like

%d bloggers like this: