The Witcher

The Witcher 3 has been bad for the gaming industry.

TheWitcher11 - The Witcher 3 has been bad for the gaming industry.
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Well, I've recently angered people on the Star Wars subreddit for criticizing the OT, and I'm back at it again only on the Witcher 3 subreddit.

Addendum: I don't make these posts to anger people, but I like push back and would rather spread my opinion in a place where its unpopular.

This video game was released for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 in 2015. It won critical acclaim, Gamespot even gave the game a 10/10.

It was also the darling of gamers far and wide who flooded the internet with posts about how great the Witcher 3 was or how it was the greatest game of all time.

Unfortunately many studios took note and tried to copy a similar design in their own games. The two I focus on most is Assassin's Creed Origins and Mass Effect: Andromeda.

To begin the Witcher 3 is a primary example of the action adventure genre being melded into the RPG genre. More and more the tropes of the two have become interchangeable with the omission of some hardcore isometric games being released by indie studios.

The outline of the Witcher 3 took heavily from game studios based in Montréal but subtracted most of the watch towers. The open world was horizontal with most of the mountains and cliffs being visual obstacles that don't change traversal means much. The horse (Roach) is therefore able to clip through environments and move at a pace that is unencumbered by steep inclines or declines.

The horizontal design is used to spread out quest markers. Areas are level gated, and the main tool for exploration is GPS quest mapping.

The crutch here is that now intra level design requires mapping to figure out the end location when not obvious and exploration is no longer organic.

This model has been used in many games before the Witcher 3, but no game before it was able to garner so much praise.

Much of it is thanks to the presentation quality. The wrapping on this game makes it feel special even if the design is inadequate.

The lack of gameplay diversity is also a cost of trying to cram as much story as possible onto one disc. Games are at their best when they have one (or two) primary focus they excel at, but the cross genre era means every game is seeking to dominate the total amount of a person's play time. It gives the illusion of perfection but is much lower than the sum of its parts.

So lets go over a few sections to see what I mean.

Brain usage: The customization options try to configure an amount of mental output to make this game a thinking man's game. But overly complicated crafting/alchemy excels at decoupling the game from its overarching premise.

An example of brain teasers done right is Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor manor.

The entire game is focused on puzzles that interact with one another. Adventure games use to all have their fair share of these mechanics (think Zelda) but now they have been auctioned off to the menu screen that helps remove a barrier to combat rather than change how the character interacts with the world.

Gameplay mechanics: Psychonauts is the perfect example of a game that melds and reforms its mechanics based on the differing environments. Aesthetically the Witcher 3 differs from place to place but the means of traversal and interacting with the world are much the same. Skellige replaces the horse for a boat, and Novigrad replaces the horse for on foot travel, but mechanical they have the same function of holding/pressing one bottom to move Geralt over a flat level design (with environmental clipping compensating for changes in altitude). Conversely the gameplay loop of quests (talk to someone, follow trail, investigate, follow trail, fight, complete mission, return to task giver) is covered well by its presentation, but all these activities are static partly because the traversal mechanic is always the same.

The Dialogue is also not a primarily RPG output in the Witcher 3. Remember how I was saying games were made to excel at one thing? Well here the Witcher 3 implements another RPG mechanic without fleshing it out (since doing so would compete with the rest of the game design). There are only two dialogue choices and none of them are every affected by stats or character build.

For example in Kotor 2 Wisdom, Persuasion, Charisma, or technical skills will increase the amount of information you can achieve from a conversation. It also changes based on who you've spoken with in what order.

However it is a mistake to assume a conversation is just a means to change gameplay assignments. The value is in the conversations themselves which are the bulk of games like Planetscape Torment or Kotor 2. Rather than trying to assimilate that mechanic into a structured intra-genre game like the Witcher 3 they should have taken dialogue out of the game.

Story choices could be made in real time, like choosing where to go or who to kill, which would invariable change Geralt's response in cutscenes. But trying to assimilate rpg dialogue has created an incredibly poor system that is now associated with one of the greatest games of all time. It is not unusual then for other publishers and developers to assume this dialogue system is worthy of replication.

You can see the results when Assassin's creed's dialogue which use to have some incredible consistency yet was turned into a laughing stock by Assassin's Creed Odyssey which tried to implement a half-assed mechanic into a game that does not care about why such a system was invented in the first place.

Exploration: The quest design much like Assassin's creed is based on following markers and finishing objectives. The Witcher 3 is littered with question marks which quite literally tell players where to go.

The reason Montreal based developers make open worlds like this is to undermine exploration and let the quest designs shine. That is fine if that is your focus as a developer, but then I think you should implement a more linear game (like the Witcher 1 and 2) with some choice in what order the quests are completed but without the need for an open world with level gated areas or a flat and uninteresting outline.

An example of a game dedicated to exploration over its other mechanics is Morrowind. The story in that game despite what people say is not good because of the lack of consistency. The quest designs are not the focus either. But thanks to no fast travel or question marks the game leaves you to wander and experience events at your own pace.

This is a video game equivalent of elliptical story telling. To literary parallels are Agitha Christie and Edgar Allen Poe. Both these authors write about mysteries, but one (like games designed around quests) has an exact solution and purpose behind every event while the other gives no straight answers in the desire to communicate the feeling of the unknown in readers (like exploration based video games).

On a technical level Christie is better because all her clues and suspects have well defined motives and a conclusive end. Alternatively Poe's mysteries seem to be riddled with red herrings with no ultimate end. The goal of Poe is to create a situational unease where more is implied than said.

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Implications are a powerful tool. In Morrowind finding a pyramid in the middle of a desert may not be as well thought out as the haunted tower in the Witcher 3, but the means by which players come upon it with no context or underlined level gating (enemies that are underlined in red) allows speculation and wonder to rise making the place seem like it is more than what it is.

Games like Assassin's creed and the Witcher 3 try to have it both ways and instead fail at achieving either.

Combat: Well now we get to combat, but I don't have the traditional criticism most people give.

However since it is legitimate lets get it out of the way: The Witcher 3 tries to have both the enemy hit box of the arkham games and the free moving combat of the souls games. Another example of a popular video game that fell into this trap is God of War (2018) which makes the combat especially bad.

However the context of my criticism has to do with the gameplay loop. So back where I was talking about investigation, trail following, fighting, and discussions, I only covered two of the four.

I went over how dialogue has no distinct purpose in the game, and why trail following is mechanical the same as traversal. Both of these mechanics are static and underwhelming. If CD Projekt red had made a game focused on one of these mechanics they would have done more for the industry as a whole, but they would have probably sold less copies.

The other two were investigation and fighting (combat). Before we get to combat lets get investigation out of the way.

Games like Sherlock Holmes (by Frogware) or the point and click detective genre make investigating a whole process that loops in other elements like Dialogue and Puzzles into one cohesive package. The Witcher 3 has all these elements but none of them exist to serve the other making them each poorly executed on an individual level.

As for combat, regardless of what you think of the mechanic, it does not change regardless of circumstance. The enemies have different sizes and elemental weaknesses, but this is just a means to buffer the health bar. You fight them in the same way. With silver or steel, with potions or oils, with igni or arrd, the fight is always the same.

A game that excels at combat has two different factors. Massive changes in combos or fighting styles (like Mortal Kombat) or changes in enemy types and attack patterns (like the boss fights in Arkham City or Super Mario).

The combat being unchanging regardless of gear or enemy type means the central gameplay loop doesn't change mechanically, which means the levels don't change mechanically. Compare that to Psychonauts where each different level diversifies the game itself. Spyro also does this by changing level types. Their are platforming levels, flying levels, combat levels, and exploration levels.

The difference is all these levels change mechanically as you progress. Platforming in one level will be completely different than in another. Puzzles can also have a wide variety. Meanwhile the gameplay loop of discussing, traversal, investigation, and combat are all remarkable shallow and static.

This is not just for diversities sake mind you, it exists so the game feels like it is progressing to an end rather than drawing out your run time. With modern open world games like Mass Effect: Andromeda the only tell tale sign you are reaching the end is when the story tells you the game is going to end. The Witcher 3 does the same thing as well by relying on the story to fulfill the sense of progression, not the actual game itself.

OK, that was a lot. Lets take a breather now….

So why is any of this bad for the industry? Because the Witcher 3 is the best main stream title ever created. And I don't mean this to praise indie titles or anything of the such, I mean that it takes the gameplay direction that was happening for the past decade and repackages it in a way that seems new and evolutionary.

CD Projekt Red for know advertises itself as the good guys so people like them. And their game has a remarkably high production value, but in the end it tries to achieve as many genre mechanics on its list as possible to appeal to the widest category of gamers. The model is the most profitable not just because its requires the least amount of creativity, but also because it welcomes the easiest application of monetization.

If the mechanics are not unique and specialized but just ordinary and well presented boosters and quantifiers can be added with ease. The combat does need to create a new gameplay type, it can just change the aesthetic. New Quests don't need to fulfill a specific level of talent in game design, but repackage the same gameplay loop with a different story (again, aesthetic).

The difference between the Witcher 3 and all the rest is how highly regarded it is among the community. Making it known as the GOAT has just convinced developers to increase presentation (as is the case with Assassin's Creed Origins) or add an extra filler step to the gameplay loop (Andromeda using tracking with the Omni Tool as their version of the Witcher sense).

Now games can achieve praise not for innovating or being creative, but increasing the amount of genre elements and making them as shallow as possible so they don't contradict one another.

The reason games use to focus on one or two of these elements is because the others were ancillary to their creative vision. But now we don't need creative vision, we just need to bolster the packaging. Gaming companies can now borrow the same techniques as CD Projekt red, and most of them do more to monetize their games. But its Ok because the Witcher 3 is considered the greatest of all time so anything similar to it has to be good.

And yet independently none of it is particularly well made. Sure games would sell less if they focused on one or two elements for their whole game, but they would do less to dominate the market and allow gamers to become less enraptured by one product leading to a better consumer experience.

PS. The story in the witcher 3 is subjective. I don't think its very good but that's besides the point. Video Games aren't the same medium as books and Films. The latter tell you their story, while the former shows you a story based on your own experience.

A terrible game can be filled with the cutscenes of a great movie, but you would rather watch that in its proper medium than play it. The story the Witcher 3 tells may be good, but the job of a game is to show us a story that we are a part of. That makes games without a story (like Super Mario) or ones with a bad story (Morrowind) capable of communication emotional affect based on how we experienced the game and overcame the challenges it set for us.

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