The Witcher 3 Is Best When You Stop Playing It Like A Game
After spending around 20 hours exploring Velen, the only thing I can confidently say about The Witcher 3 is that it sure is a video game. It’s got all of those video game things like pixels, a gamepad, and glitches, but more than that, it’s got quests, side quests, looting, crafting, alchemy, carry weight, an open world, a horse that doesn’t obey your commands, and all of that good stuff that every video game needs.
Let’s ignore the fact that Citizen Sleeper, TheGamer’s Game of the Year for 2022, only has a few of those things. It’s more of an interactive novel than a game, because, as we all know, the more open a world, the more realistic the graphics, and the more restrictive your backpack to carry your thousands of crafting ingredients is, the more gamey your game is. In that sense, The Witcher 3 is so video gamey it hurts. It might be the most video gamey video game I’ve ever played, and that puts me off.
Quests and side quests were taking me hours to complete because I felt I had to kill every enemy I stumbled across and loot every body, sack, and chest I found. Who knows when a Candelabrum or Shirt would come in handy? The former is made of silver, after all, and the latter sells for a surprisingly high price. But when I’m off to the Armourer after every side quest to ensure I can run, it gets tedious. As does looting every mushroom or searching every chest in case there’s some Amethyst Dust or whatever expensive item it is that I need to craft some Cat Armour. I don’t even know what Cat Armour is, I just know that the numbers are bigger than those on my current armour.
I quickly felt myself bouncing off The Witcher 3 again. Despite the new fancy graphics, the improved magic menu, and the frankly delicious framerate improvements, I was bogged down by sorting through a ridiculous number of alchemy ingredients and trying to craft the perfect silver sword for my level.
All of this nitty gritty video gameness was spoiling my enjoyment of the stories that The Witcher 3 is telling. I was engrossed in the politics of bathhouse owner Sigismund Dijkstra and his rivals, heartbroken for all parties in the tale of the Bloody Baron, and breadcrumbs were laid out tantalisingly across Novigrad for me to learn more about characters like Dandelion and Triss.
Speaking of which, Novigrad is one of the best cities I’ve ever explored in a video game. To start with, I regularly got lost among its chaotic side streets, but I’m slowly learning my way around. Much like in real life, I navigate the city by memorising where its pubs are, so directing myself across its cobblestones quickly became second nature. I wanted to follow these stories to their ultimate culminations, but I didn’t want to bother with all the mechanics ruining my enjoyment. So, I just stopped playing The Witcher 3 like a video game and leaned as far into the roleplaying as I could.
My Geralt hates crafting. I don’t care if it’s the best way to get better weapons, or if alchemying up some bombs is the most effective way of dealing with hordes of enemies. If I’m not enjoying it, I’m not going to do it. I’ve binned off or sold most of my crafting items – some lucky Velenese beggar is going to become a millionaire when they stumble across the hoard – and I’m choosing the armour that looks the coolest, instead of the one that gives me the most buffs.
By removing the most painfully video gamey aspects of The Witcher 3, I’m enjoying it so much more. Maybe I’m not getting the full experience, maybe I’m playing it ‘wrong’, but I don’t care. The quests are much more enjoyable when I can just follow my nose (or my Witcher Senses) and distract myself with whatever story takes my fancy, instead of the quest that rewards the most experience or ticks off the next part of my checklist.
The Witcher 3 is so much more fun when you can solely pay attention to the stories. I don’t think the combat is particularly good, and inventory management can always get in the sea, so I’m focusing on the parts I enjoy most. If only there was a way to get these stories without turning on my console at all. Someone should put them all in a different format, completely removed from the video game mechanics. Not a TV show, that would probably be bad, but, say, a book or something? If only someone did that, eh?
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