The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, developed by CD Projekt RED (2015).
Score: Best RPG ever.
At first I was regretting having called Dragon Age: Inquisition an impressive tour de force, because, what should I call this then? DA:I pales before this like The name of the wind before A song of ice and fire. The Witcher III is a truly adult and mature videogame, with a production of such quality that it makes me cringe at people who wonder how a videogame can be more expensive than a movie. But then I decided there’s something I can call The Witcher III: Best. RPG. Ever.
In this instalment of the saga, Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter, is hired by Emhyr, the Emperor of Nilfgaard, to find his daughter Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon a.k.a. Ciri and bring her to safety. Ciri, who is like an adoptive daughter to Geralt, is being tracked down by The Wild Hunt, a horde of ominous spectres, who want her for her congenital magic powers.
I haven’t played the previous games nor read all the novels yet, and in that case the story can get a bit confusing, though optional dialogue lines help a lot. The main storyline is quite cool, but this has secondary, bounty hunting and fetch quests that some videogames wished were their main storylines. As much fun as I had with Skyrim, The Witcher III has Skyrim for breakfast every day in this area. The dialogue is great and the characters are quite fleshed out. Sapkwoski’s mastery of the Polish language has been transferred to English with very good results: not only registers are varied and suitable to situations and social classes, but character’s accents are also used to that end, with characters speaking in English standard, Cockney, Welsh, Irish, American or German accents depending on their origin. The Spanish edition keeps the original voices and adds an excellent text translation, faithful in tone to the original English dialogue.
When I say it’s a mature game, I don’t mean ultraviolence and porn. I mean the characters talk to each other as normal adults would if no one was listening, mentioning sex and other non-family friendly topics. While it was nice that DA:I featured female breasts for the first time in the saga, in this game you can see a woman’s breasts while she’s having a bath and nobody is fainting about it. It puts you in situations that are very uncomfortable morally. Tone is an aspect where DA:I is clearly inferior: you don’t see moral misery in it. You don’t see children marooned in the forest because their parents are starving. And even if Geralt is the hero, people don’t orbit your huge charisma and you’re not able to put together people that in normal circumstances would be at each other’s throats.
Graphics and design are ambitious and up to the challenge. Being open-world and vast is no longer an excuse for poor rendering and texturing, though the reusing of face designs for unimportant characters can be a bit annoying. Water effects are stunning, and some other effects like lightning, which are rare to see, look great too. I have to talk about the fucking animals. In the past years we have seen a refining of animal modelling, especially horses and dogs, which are the ones that we see more often. This has deer, bears, wild birds, rabbits, pigs, cats, geese, several breeds of dogs, and they all look amazing. I would regularly stop at villages to look at the animals.
The gameplay is another highlight and though it’s not perfect, the constant free patches and general attitude of CD Projekt RED towards bugs and mistakes makes them forgivable. I was surprised when I was reading The last wish that the signs were not originally designed for the videogame but were invented by Sapkowski. That’s how well adapted they are. If you want a piece of advice, play in Death March, because the difficulty and experience and optimised for that mode and the easy modes can get boring easily. It’s miserable until you reach level 10 or so but it also means that you will enjoy combat design as it was meant to. Being so difficult is where the gameplay flaws can get exasperating but hey, nobody’s perfect.
In case it’s not clear yet, you will enjoy playing this even if RPGs or medieval fantasy are not your cup of tea. Its quality goes beyond genre and flavour and it seems difficult that it will be topped in the close future.
Bonus: Things I learned playing The Witcher III:
1- The contract is never for what they’re telling you it is. If it’s a wolf eating sheep it’s really a Chupacabra, if it’s an evil spirit it’s going to be a nitwit making weird noises. If it’s for killing a werewolf you can be sure it’s going to end up being a cheating husband and so on.
2- You don’t learn anything from killing monsters. You do learn heaps by telling a guy the cockatrice is dead or beating a small kid at Gwent. And I’m very sure you can actually level up by having sex with a prostitute.
3- You can be a Nietzsche wannabe in a world where there is plenty of evidence of the supernatural.
4- The genetic pool in this continent is really poor. Alternatively, they’re chugging peasants out of bottles in powers of two like in Brave new world. The merchants look like a particularly vast and prosper family.
5- Even in times of need, people are devoted to a sanctioned trading card game. Nobody forges cards or makes their own, they pay good gold for them.
6- Being a sorceress or witch means you’re immune to foot blisters and can climb rocky mountains with high heels.
7-With the right tools, you can see in the dark, stay underwater longer than humanly possible and slow time. But low fences, logs, pebbles and small fallen branches are unsurmountable obstacles, especially on horseback.
8- Geralt is a master of combat, expert in monsters and has inhuman senses. Nevertheless, sometimes he will decide that the best course of action is to try to punch a bear to death.
9- If you try to build a feminist Geralt, you’re going to get in a fuckload of fistfights.
10- Witcher potions are homepathic: they never replenish the ingredients, they just keep adding alcohol to them.