When I think about some of my favourite games there seems to be a common thread between most of them. Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto 5, Zelda Ocarina of Time, Dark Souls... I could go on.
Theyíre all games that excel in creating a believable world and making you feel part of it. Thereís more to them, obviously, from Zelda
ís puzzles to Mass Effect
ís story. They canít rely on the world around them to make my list but itís the environment that takes the limelight in these classics.
I like to feel part of a world and although I can appreciate refined level design, thereís nothing quite like getting lost in another place and feeling part of it. Talking to its inhabitants and finding new locations that take your breath away. Itís exciting just thinking about it.
When a developer nails its setting they create magic. It forces you to question how what is in front of you is possible. Before you know it your thoughts of developers working away drift from your mind as you submerge yourself back into the game and get lost for an hour or two.
When I took my first taste of The Witcher 3
it wasnít its world that made me sit up and take notice. The game opens with lengthy cutscenes and a small amount of gameplay between them. A nice enough tutorial and an introduction to a few characters that seemed interesting enough for me to bother to listen.
Soon enough I found myself roaming the landscape on my horse carrying the head of my first slain monster on its back and although what I had experienced so far had been good enough, I wasnít quite prepared for what I was letting myself in for.
The Witcher 3
ís open world is up there with the best of them. Itís not a setting that Iím particularly into, fantasy has usually been a red flag for a game that Iím not going to like, but it has this incredible way of of taking an elf and witch-filled universe and grounding it in reality.
The graphics help for sure. The Witcher 3
looks incredible, from wind shifting foliage to the technicolour sunsets, everything is in place to make you sit open-mouthed and appreciate what this new generation of consoles can handle.
But itís the sound design that makes it a cut above. As you trundle through a forest continuing on your current quest you can hear the leaves move on the trees, regional British accents nattering from a nearby remote village and crows sounding off in the distance.
It reminded me of those long walks that I used to take when I was a scout. A realistic link back to my memory of hiking through a wood, not quite sure of where I was going or what was over the next hill. These moments of reality blurred the feeling of holding a controller in my hand and playing a game. Suddenly I wasnít Geralt heading off to the next checkpoint in order to hunt monstrosities. I was me. Curious with discovery but cautious of the dangers that my surroundings had to offer.
Moments like these donít happen in games too often. Iím not saying that they should, nor am I saying that a game should rest on such accomplishments. I like them to be fun and sometimes challenging. I can appreciate blowing things up or reaching a next level. But here I was losing focus on whatever it is I was supposed to be doing and I find it hard to believe that this wasnít intentional.
As Iíve said, as good as an open world is, it canít be the only thing a game gets right to raise it above the competition. The next thing that will grab you is the plot. Treated like episodes of a long-running drama, The Witcher 3
offers you stories that can be taken as small tales on their own but with the main arc threading throughout.
In your journey to Geraltís destiny, youíll encounter memorable characters and wrap yourself in their lives. Their stories can all be influenced by your actions but in a less binary way than in, say, Mass Effect