I’m still making my way through The Witcher 3, so rather than a full review, consider this just some random observations from about 25 hours or so of the game.
First, W3 is worth playing. Let’s put that out on the table first so we are all on the same page. It has terrible flaws that keep it from being great, but its still a good game worth playing. In a nutshell, W3 is a great looking game in a great setting with great characters (voice acting and writing, for the most part) that is dragged down by the stuff that makes it am actual videogame. If W3 was a movie, even a slightly interactive one, it would be amazing.
Combat has regressed since W1. And not only has it regressed, but what was novel when W1 came out is now a bit tired in 2015. The system is basically mashing ‘left punch’ until your mouse breaks, but rather than a simple punch animation, the game sends Geralt spinning and swinging to create the illusion that you are doing something more than mashing one button. Consumables are more of a chore than a series of interesting decisions ala W1, and 99% of the time everything but ‘left punch’ can safely be ignored. Just keep mashing and you will get by just fine.
The series of maps you adventure on (W3 isn’t an open world like you see in Fallout or Skyrim) reminds me of all the worst parts of Guild Wars 2. There are ‘exploration points’, except rather than having to find them, they are marked on your map. Most towns have a listing of simple tasks, and these tasks, along with most of the marked locations, end up being simple ‘kill and loot’ pinata areas that get tiring and repetitive very quickly. And while the setting itself is great, so much of it’s detail is filler that you quickly become accustomed to running past most of it on your way to an objective.
Speaking of objectives, W3 also uses an MMO-like ‘mark on map, provide guiding line, hold button to get there’ system for quests. In most games this would be annoyingly dumbed down gameplay, but its even worst here because you are playing Geralt, a famous detective who has access to his Witcher sense. Why in a game that has so much ‘solve the mystery’ questing did someone implement a ‘hold your hand the entire way’ questing mechanic? It’s almost like the game system designers and the world/story team were separated the entire time, and had to just mash what they created at the very end, so often completely contradicting each other.
And of course, the game’s most glaring error and contradiction is the main story, which has Geralt ‘chasing’ after someone, only while ‘chasing’, he stops to solve every peasants request for a missing frying pan or lost merchant. It’s impossible to take The Wild Hunt seriously as a threat when after every encounter or plot update, you return to ‘fetch this’ or ‘kill that’ quests for another few hours. There have been games that pulled off the ‘time is running out’ mechanic beautifully (Majora’s Mask being one great example), or at least somewhat competently (Fallout 1); W3 does the opposite. It wants you to buy in on the chase, but then begs you to stop chasing and pick some flowers. It’s actually so comically bad that the game laughs at itself more than once about this. Again, I’m pretty sure someone wrote the story, went on vacation, and returned to find that the story had to fit this already created game, and just gave up and said ‘here you go, good luck’.
Finally, loot and crafting are a total mess ala release-version Diablo 3. Most loot you find is pure garbage, while occasionally you will find an item 10, 20, or even 30 levels above your character. It’s infuriatingly rare to find something that is a good upgrade right on the spot, which makes finding and looting all of those pre-marked locations on your map such a chore. And that’s just the usable gear; most loot and loot crates in W3 are crafting junk ala Fallout, only unlike F4, sorting and using said junk is a major pain, especially because you won’t actually need/want to use it during crafting. Much like the loot you find, the stuff the game allows you to craft is mostly garbage that you will completely ignore.
Its a tragedy that so many of the basic systems in W3 drag it down, because the stuff that it does well is very much worth seeing. It really feels like W3 was made for… simpler people, who can either look past major flaws, or just don’t notice them. People that think they are doing amazing stuff in combat when in reality they are just left-clicking away. People who get excited by a ‘purple drop’, when in reality said item is just purple-colored junk (and my god, does W3 have so many color-based ‘grades’ of stuff). People who consume stories in Twitter-sized samples, ignoring or forgetting that story A doesn’t make sense when put in context with story B.
It’s also the perfect ‘review bait’ game, because you if you only put in 5-10 hours before giving it a score, you likely won’t run into the many inconsistencies or broken systems that grind on you more and more as you go, and will just happily walk away being impressed by the pretty sights and sounds.