As The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt celebrates its fifth anniversary today, let me share with you why I’m still very much in love with it.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt wasn’t an instant hit with me at first, and it wasn’t until much later on that I finally fell in love with it. When it first released 5 years ago, I downloaded it straight away as it was the game that everyone was talking about (who wants to be left out of gaming conversations?), but after just a few hours of gameplay, it wasn’t sitting well with me at all. I assumed that it would be this huge undertaking of gigantic, unvaried quests that all eventually rolled into one, with nothing that special going on.
As for the side quests, I assumed that they would be just as tedious. I initially cursed myself that I was sucked into yet another RPG game that was like all the others I got burned out and bored with. So I pushed The Witcher 3, uncaringly, to the side and forgot about it.
It wasn’t until some time much later that I went back to The Witcher 3 out of sheer boredom one day, and after telling myself to be a little more open-minded and to at least give it a shot, I started the game again with a fresh and unbiased approach. After a couple more hours than I originally gave the game, I finally started to see what the big deal was. Each mission was a unique and fulfilling experience, so much so that I was waiting for the repetition to ultimately kick in – it never did.
I couldn’t get enough of Geralt and the bursting world he inhabited. Little did I know then that when I pressed start for the second time, The Witcher 3 would end up being one of the best games I’ve ever played. Even though there’s a hell of a lot I could write about why I love it so much – at least for now, let’s start here for today.
What The Witcher 3 does isn’t exactly “new” or “groundbreaking.” We’ve been here before, right? There are plenty of open-world, third-person, hack-and-slash sandbox adventure RPGs out there. But none, in my opinion, match the depth and emotions that the narrative of The Witcher 3 reaches. It’s almost like trying to explain how incredible you feel a movie is to a person who hasn’t seen it; some things just need to be felt to understand it.
Very few games manage to reach the level of story development that The Witcher 3 has and how CD Projekt Red were able to flesh out and make use of every character you engaged with. Even the baddies get their own slice of the pie. The story quests never felt like a chore, whereas many games fall short in this aspect with their needless filler, like searching for treasure or a key you couldn’t give a rat’s ass about. The Witcher 3 made you care that what you are doing made a difference – if not now, then eventually.
In so many games, you usually have a main character that the story will focus the most on. You’re meant to care about this person whether you want to or not, and more times than not, a great number of other characters fade into the shadows by putting too much attention onto the protagonist. The Witcher 3 doesn’t do this; it allows you the ability to channel a broad spectrum of kinship from its incredible supporting cast. This includes the stubborn and independent Yennefer and Triss Merigold to Ciri, the trueborn daughter of Pavetta/Princess of Cintra and Geralt’s best friend, Dandelion.
Even the people in the many villages and towns you stumble across that need your help get some love and care. The key to this: CD Projekt lovingly crafts each person you interact with real human qualities. They aren’t a prop to merely guide you onto another line of the narrative, they all have their own quirks, lives of their own, and emotions that make them just as important as Geralt himself.
I debated for quite some time if playing the DLC for The Witcher 3 would be worth it. I already spent countless hours exploring Velen, Novigrad, and the Skellige Isles, to name a few – surely there couldn’t be more that would hold my interest as much as what I found in the main game? How wrong I was.
This is the way DLC should be handled. It integrated directly into the game as if it had been there the whole time. It never felt like a cheap trick to get more cash out of gamers by preying on their need for more of the same; CD Projekt delivered on their promise and then some. During my playthrough of Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, I couldn’t quite believe that the developers were able to create yet more storylines that were arguably even better than some of the storylines in the main game. Even after 5 years, I’ve yet to find DLC that is so comprehensive and as big as if it were its own game, in its own right.
What I’ve especially loved about The Witcher 3 is how it pays extra care to dialect and language. Accents in video games can be a huge hit or miss. In so many games that I’ve played, an Irish character can sometimes sound like a drunk leprechaun emerging from a pint of Guinness, and it can be extremely frustrating from an actual Irish person’s point of view. You usually come across the stereotypical Irish character shouting “Top o’ the morning” or some crap that no sane Irish person would actually say. Yes, we’ve seen the odd Irish character in games like Molly O’Shea in Red Dead Redemption 2 or Shay Cormac in Assassin’s Creed Rogue, but rarely do you hear the broad spectrum of Irish accents as you do on the Skellige Isles — named after the real-life Irish islands Sceilg Mhicíl and Sceilg Bheag — in The Witcher 3.
Being from Northern Ireland, it was a surprise and also a comfort to hear my dialect spoken by actual voice actors from my land, not just someone putting on some ridiculous voice on what they think we all sound like. It was like walking through a town here and hearing everyone chatting away about life and worries. I loved that I finally felt at home within a video game and I could relate to these characters in some way. I actually found myself lately, due to the coronavirus lockdown, strolling around the Skellige Isles in The Witcher 3 and retaining some of that social aspect of hearing other familiar voices that I missed so much in the last few months. I’ve yet to experience another game that portrays this as accurately as The Witcher 3 does, while also in drawing from the physical landscape of Ireland and encapsulating the history and folklore imbued in its real-life source material.
The Witcher 3‘s world is truly alive. From the skittish deer who roam the valleys to the monsters that await for you just around the beaten path, it feels like a real, breathing existence. From the gorgeous graphics to the audio, nothing is forgotten. Even while walking around a house, you can hear the creepy creaking of your feet on the boards or when you pass people in a village, you can listen to their in-depth conversations that range from the weather to the whereabouts of a monster nearby.
This is why The Witcher 3 is so special to me; everything is thought out with such detail to keep you immersed in its world and to keep you constantly wanting more that I’ve yet to find another game that has held me so tight for hundreds of hours of gameplay as it has. It will certainly be interesting to see if CD Projekt can keep this high level of standards up in Cyberpunk 2077 but either way, this time, I won’t hesitate to dive in with an open mind.