One aspect of The Witcher 3 that is often praised is the quality of its stories and side quests. I myself found them compelling enough to seek them all out when I played. But the interesting thing to me is that when I analyze any particular story it is hard to see what makes it so good. The plot points of the stories usually follow a pretty basic template no different from any other RPG. There is a monster and possibly some missing people, The Witcher takes care of it, then returns to the quest giver to get paid. Very few of the stories have difficult choices or enough screen time on any character to get emotionally invested. Most of them don't have long term consequences. If you are reductive about what you are doing, it is the same 'fight', 'traverse' and 'talk' verbs as any other RPG with 'Witcher Sense' thrown in as well. The dialogue itself is well-written and usually well-voiced but it is not groundbreaking compared to its peers.
I think the magic of these stories turns out to be how almost all of them (both side quests and main story quests) are presented as a set of mysteries which the player actively participates in investigating. In a typical RPG quest, you show up to the quest giver and they give you all the information you need. Then you go to the cave or whatever that they pointed you at and grab the item or kill the monster. It is a simple story told simply.
In The Witcher 3, the quest's story itself is usually simple. For example, a grave hag has been digging up bones in a local cematary and killed a local boy so you are hired to go kill it. But the story plays out as a mystery. All you learn initially is that there is something desecrating the cematary and a boy is missing. When you go to the cematary you find some ghouls who might have been the problem. But after dispatching them, you investigate the grave sites and find that there seems to be some tool use in digging up the bodies which means the real problem is elsewhere. One of the graves had a putrid corpse and you follow the scent to find an abandoned hut with the dead boy and some skulls from the graveyard. Geralt recognizes that this must be due to a grave hag and that the skulls are important to it. So he uses the skulls to lure the grave hag at which point you defeat it and report back to the questgiver.
This is just one example, but happens over and over in both minor quests and major ones. It ends up being satisfying in somewhat of the same way that a jigsaw puzzle is. You don't put together a jigsaw because the picture is an amazing piece of art you want to stare at. Similarly, all the little investigation beats of a quest in The Witcher 3 don't add up to an amazing story. But it is a satisfying and compelling one because you put it together piece by piece.
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