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:
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.
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.
While I missed it Live, I managed to watch that Warlords Q&A over the weekend. You can watch it yourself on Youtube, and I recommend doing so. It was simultaneously the most raw, unfiltered interview I’ve ever seen, and the most baffling and ultimately a little demoralizing.
Before I get into the details though, here’s how I did on the BINGO front:
If you can’t bring yourself to watch the full hour of video, MMO-Champion has an extremely abbreviated synopsis and Wowhead has an interpretative transcript. What neither of them really gets across is the otherwise unbelievable number of times that Ion Hazzikostas comes right out and says “We screwed up” on a large number of topics. Like, I started getting a little embarrassed watching it, even though I felt Blizzard needed called on all of them.
Let’s start this in order though.
Although Ion stated that he “didn’t like speaking for the group,” by the time the Polygon interview went out stating flying was no more, that decision did represent a majority of the design team at the time. I have talked about this enough so I won’t belabor the point, other than to say how incredibly disheartening it is to hear that more than half of the design team are
insane coming from such a bizarre different worldview. I mean, I would feel a little bit better if the argument was “flying takes too many resources” or something. In the absence of any explanation though, I must accept a reality in which the design team is either incompetent or are aligned with a completely different entertainment paradigm than myself. If they do not know how or why this game is fun to me, how can I expect them to continue delivering a fun game in the future? Or me to expect one to be delivered?
I’m glad that the majority of the design team ended up finding a compromise palatable to their alien sensibilities. But it’s getting pretty clear that any entertainment derived from this MMO will be in spite of the design instead of because of it.
“I’m really not going to defend [the 6.0 reputations] and say that they’re awesome and fun and engaging. They are completely mob grinds.” No, really, Ion said exactly that. The explanation is that Blizzard wasn’t going to do reputations at all this expansion, but decided to throw some shit together at the last minute because of the Trading Post and “other hooks.”
“Clear failure on our part.” Ion mentioned that Blizzard did the whole “thing Blizzard routinely does” in lurching from one extreme to another, in this case a reaction to the “World of Dailycraft” theme of Mists of Pandaria. The idea was that instead of doing 5 different quests in an area, you can do the equivalent of five different quests worth of miscellaneous stuff in that same area. Only this time, the rewards were shit and the lack of narrative makes the entire enterprise more nakedly grindy. That’s not even commentary on my part, that is what Ion basically said.
Lack of Endgame World Content
The design team was so caught up in making sure Garrisons as a system was worth doing, a lot of the activities you would normally do outside are instead done in your own little instance.
See above. Don’t worry though, Felblight will fix it.™
Alt Burnout due to Garrisons
Blizzard will nerf gold gains (Account-wide diminishing returns) to save you from yourself. In fact, they don’t like alts serving to enhance a single main character either. Which is another one of those “do you even play your own game?!” moments to me.
Dungeons Being Pointless
“That’s another one of our regrets.” Ion believes that Mythic dungeons will “salvage” the situation a little bit, before launching back into his whole “doing dungeons for Valor doesn’t make sense” tirade. Which is itself utterly bizarre given the fact that A) new reputation factions do this all the time, and B) Tanaan Jungle will be raining ilevel 650+ gear from the sky. Like literally what the fuck? Unless you are trying to actively “discourage the use” of the LFD tool – which I would not put it past them at this point – I don’t understand why else he or anyone would discourage group content in this way. Even if the dungeons are faceroll, it is at least social facerolling.
Why Are Demo Locks Being Nerfed?
“Because we’d rather you not play demonology.” That is a direct quote – look at Lore’s eyes when Ion says it. Hilarious. Less hilarious is the elaboration, which essentially boils down to Blizzard not liking how the spec plays out mechanically, but don’t want to actually fix it within an expansion, so they’d rather not have people playing the spec in the meantime. Which is… well, one way of doing it, I guess.
“We’re not trying to design rotations that feel engaging fighting a target dummy.” Again, direct quote. On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. If you are able to stand still and belt out your rotation with no downtime, chances are that the raid encounter itself is boring, e.g. you are not needing to move out of the fire, click the box, collapse for a meteor effect, etc. On the other hand… what? If your rotation isn’t engaging under perfect circumstances, when is it ever going to be engaging? So for all those hundreds of hours of clunky Retribution gameplay where you are desperately waiting for auto-attack procs to play your class, it was intended? Never going to be fixed?
Flabbergasted is the only way I can describe my reaction.
Absorbs Dominating the Healing Game
It’s better than it was in Mists, but every raid should have a Disc Priest, yes. Sorry.
Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.
Guys, I don’t even know any more. Maybe the developers have always been this way behind the scenes, and we just never saw them like this. Maybe the huge influx of interns have diluted the talent pool. Or perhaps we are just all trapped in an incomprehensible universe, devoid of meaning but otherwise working as intended.
I just… I dunno. I’m just going to play some videogames instead of thinking about this anymore.
I used the Raid Finder for the very first time on Monday night. It was an… instructive experience.
One thing that I learned about myself is the fact that I felt compelled to seek out raid videos/strategies even for LFR difficulty. It is not (just) about insulating myself from group embarrassment, it is about mitigating that awful feeling of not knowing what I am doing. I hate that feeling. At first I believed the feeling to be unique to multiplayer games, as I certainly do not hit up GameFAQs or Wikis the moment I get to a boss fight in a single-player game. Indeed, wouldn’t that be cheating? Or, at least, cheating myself from the actual game.
But you know what? I hate that feeling even in single-player games. If I am dying to a boss repeatedly and have no idea why, or there does not seem to be any clues as to different strategies I could try, I most certainly hit up Wikis. I enjoy logic puzzles as much as (or more than) the next guy, but I must feel certain that logic is applicable to the situation. With videogames, that is not always a given: quests that you cannot turn in because you didn’t trip a programming “flag” by walking down a certain alleyway or whatever. There was a Borderlands 2 quest that I simply looked up on Youtube because I’ll be damned if I walk across every inch of a cell-shaded junkyard for an “X” mark after already spending 10 minutes looking it over. Playing “Where’s Waldo” can be entertaining, but not when you have to hold the book sideways and upside down before Waldo spawns… assuming you are even looking at the right page.
Things got off to a nice start in LFR when the dog fight consisted of just tanking all three dogs in a cleave pile the entire time. The second boss seemed to have an inordinate amount of health, but he too dropped without doing much of note. I died twice to some insidious trash on the way to the troll boss; those bombs are simply stupid in a 25m setting, as I found it difficult to even see them among all the clashing colors and spell effects. Final boss dropped pretty quickly as well, although I almost died a few times towards the end once people stopped coming into the spirit world with me.
By the way, the queue for the 1st raid finder was 15 minutes for DPS. Might have been a “Monday before the reset” thing.
I joined a guild healer for the 2nd raid finder immediately afterwards, although the average wait time of 43 seconds was a bit off. Was killed by a combination of friendly fire and damage reflection during the first boss, but he otherwise went down quickly. I managed to avoid falling to my death during Elegon (thanks Icy-Veins!), but was killed by an add the 2nd tank never picked up; that will teach me to do something other than tunnel the boss. The third boss… made little sense. I spent a lot of time killing adds, as I could not quite understand what was up with the Devastating Combo thing other than I must have been doing it wrong. Eons later, the bosses died.
It is becoming somewhat of a running joke for my guildies since coming back on how much random loot I pull in. The prior week I got ~8 drops from my first 5 random dungeons, for example. This time around I got three epics from my first two LFR forays, all three of which came from the bonus rolls. I was not around for the Cata LFR days, but suffice it to say, I would not have likely came away with that much loot in a more traditional PuG.
Overall, LFR was a pleasant experience. While I can certainly empathize with the criticism of LFR – it was pretty ridiculously easy – I can definitely see the logic behind Blizzard’s moves here. Some raid is better than no raid, low-pop realms like Auchindoun-US wouldn’t support a robust raid PuG community, and to an extent even the “nothing ever drops!” LFR sentiment encourages organized guild raiding in a roundabout manner. Whether this remains satisfying in any sort of long-term manner remains to be seen, but honestly, it is better than the alternative of… what else, exactly? Running dungeons ad infinitum?