We’re big fans of CD Projekt’s The Witcher series here at Strategy Informer. While the original had a few problems it showed a lot of promise that was realised with the release of an Enhanced Edition, and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was so great I awarded it 9/10. Twice.
That also got an Enhanced Edition and a console release for the first time. Now the final part of Geralt’s saga, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, has finally been announced – but what do we want from it? The previous game scraped within touching distance of being the best RPG ever made, what things does CD Projekt need to do with The Witcher 3 to get that full 10/10? 11 things, in fact, so we better get right to it. How about…
11: Don’t scare people off right at the beginning
I highly doubt CD Projekt will make such a colossal mistake this time, but then again they have kind of done it twice in two different ways. The Witcher was confusing and a little boring at the start, whereas The Witcher 2 threw the player into tough combat where it was really easy to die immediately. Both had amazing castle-under-attack scenarios (first game under attack, second doing the attacking) but were extremely easy for less patient players to give up on. Have a spectacular but playable opening section in the next game please.
10: Use previous titles’ savegames in interesting ways
For all their recent faults, Bioware did an amazing job with the Mass Effect trilogy leading each game into the other through clever use of saved games from the previous titles. Did you save Wrex in the first game? He’s a major character in subsequent games, but if you didn’t save him another Krogan takes his place.
The Witcher series may do the choice-and-consequence thing better in individual games than Mass Effect, but importing a Witcher 1 saved game into Witcher 2 barely changes anything at all. Having your choices matter even beyond the end credits makes players more invested with their actions long-term, and after the tumultuous world-shattering decisions I had to make in TW2 I don’t want them to be forgotten come TW3!
9: Actually tell us about important Witcher things
Thanks to CD Projekt’s work I am now a fan of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s excellent original novels too, but you can’t assume that all players will be familiar with them. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films still tell and show us why Mordor is a threat, and HBO’s Game of Thrones has done a great job making sure TV viewers are scared of the White Walkers as George RR Martin fans already were.
Therefore, please CD Projekt tell (or better, show) us why we should hear the name “Nilfgaard” and shudder as we utterly failed to do in either of the games. Nilfgaard is a brutal empire that inspires fear and is regularly at war with the rest of Temeria in Sapkowski’s books, but they’re just a random location with an ugly ambassador in The Witcher 2. Let players know these things, and if Witcher 3 fails to explain who Yennefer is properly I’ll be cross.
8: Have optional companions
This one isn’t quite as vital as the others on this list, hence the “optional”, but The Witcher games have been very lonely affairs for the most part. With the increase in space for The Witcher 3 it might make things even lonelier if Geralt’s companionless throughout.
Skyrim can get away with it since writing and characterisation isn’t Bethesda’s strong suit but even that has them optionally, so I’d like the same for Witcher 3. I want a big open-world game with strong companion characters that I care about, and at the moment only Fallout: New Vegas has satisfied me on that front. Optionally though, since I know not everyone cares what I think. Ahem.
7: Make the plot more cohesive
Now, as stated I loved both of The Witcher games, but if I was to pick the biggest flaw the series has so far it’s that the overall plot of both games doesn’t really feel involving. I can barely remember any specifics about TW1 at all, and while significantly better TW2 started excellently but kind of petered out past the halfway point.
The whole “Assassins of Kings” thing made way for sorting out a war, some sorcery, a dragon, and the fascinating story of The Wild Hunt (and Geralt’s personal involvement therein), which never got resolved because it was obviously being left for The Witcher 3. Please map out where the story goes CD Projekt, and let there be a proper beginning, middle, and end to it. Speaking of which…
6: Let there be an actual ending
Fits in with the previous point but I really wanted to highlight this shortcoming of TW2, especially as it wasn’t just plot related. While reviewing The Witcher 2 for the first time I honestly thought I wasn’t going to meet my deadline, as I had a whole Chapter left to go and both of the previous Chapters had taken me days to get through.
Imagine my surprise and disappointment (and for my editor, relief) when I finished Chapter 3 the same day I started it. The final city of Loc Muinne seemed huge but was actually pretty empty, then after one boring dragon fight and a nice chat with Letho the Kingslayer the brief wordless final cutscene rolled already (16 endings? We won’t care if they’re all this insubstantial). A poor ending to a great game often leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and will always leave me going “that ending was rubbish” rather than “what a fantastic game”. You just have to look to Mass Effect 3 to see how a lousy finale can overshadow an otherwise superb game’s accomplishments…
5: Don’t push our PCs TOO much…
Okay, this one’s more of a personal plea, but there’s also a warning attached. Yes, PCs have been getting progressively better, and yes, next-gen consoles are right around the corner. But if there’s one thing the failure of Crysis should’ve taught developers is that while it’s wonderful for the high-end PC users to show off their systems the vast majority of sales are going to gamers running medium-to-low quality video settings.
The Witcher 2 already looks fantastic and took a massive degrade to get it working on Xbox 360, so please let those with lesser systems be able to play the sequel okay? (Translation: I don’t want to buy a new motherboard).
4: … and don’t let the consoles tell you what to do.
Aha, this is more important. Now, despite TW2 being a PC exclusive there was a definite amount of “controller-creep” oozing in, with the Batman-style gamepad-friendly combat and the quick-time events. With Witcher 3 almost certainly due out simultaneously on next-gen consoles as well as PC there’s a certain degree of (historically justified I feel) fear that the PC will get the rough end of the stick.
This even happens to otherwise PC-exclusive developers – just look at Firaxis and XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s fiddly console-friendly PC-unintuitive control and camera systems. I don’t actually expect CD Projekt to do this as they’ve always been very good, but it’s worth warning them about.
3: Let our choices have massive consequences to the world
Let’s make things very clear CD Projekt – we expect big things from you in terms of choice and consequence after how great the first two Witchers were in this regard. If you’re going to ambitiously stride into massive open-world territory though you better be able to scale those consequences to match.
Our decisions should shape the entire world… so no pressure, but I’m worried they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Let’s hope their comment that The Witcher 3 will feature “a world where your choices have truly epic consequences” passes muster – instead of coming back to haunt them.
2: Don’t try to be Skyrim
Frankly, I am terrified by the open-world concept. Director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz comments in the announcement video, “everyone likes open-world games, we should go this way.” Should they? I’m not so sure. Aside from the tremendous difficulties Point 3 brings up, there’s the fact that while there’s only really been one series that has truly made open-world RPGs work – the Elder Scrolls games – their exploration value hides a lot of flaws, most notably in storytelling.
While I like the idea that CD Projekt have looked at Skyrim and gone “we want to do that”, Bethesda have been perfecting the art of open-world RPGs since 1992 and they still haven’t gotten it perfect. The idea of marrying the incredible openness of Skyrim to the attention to detail of The Witcher is an intoxicating idea, but only as long as CD Projekt know what they’re getting into. In short: don’t make another Skyrim guys, make your own great open-world game. And finally…
1: Please don’t wait for an Enhanced Edition to get things right
While I absolutely will not do anything but highly praise CD Projekt for their post-game support, and I will be the first to admit that many games have launched in far worse a condition than the Witcher titles, both of their games have shipped with major flaws that took a whole Enhanced Edition re-release’s worth of patches to correct.
And this isn’t a good thing, especially if Witcher 3 launches on consoles next time at the same time. Yes, it’s wonderful that they offered it free of charge, but at the very start crucial word-of-mouth was poor for both. I consider The Witcher: Enhanced Edition to be one of the best RPGs ever made, but when it first came out many reviewers balked at its problems – it only got a 7.7 from ourselves for example.
Likewise Witcher 2 was a surprisingly frustrating title at launch. Kudos on your ability to fix problems CD Projekt, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful… but could we have it right from the beginning next time please?
And that’s your lot. Apologies if I sounded demanding or even pessimistic, I just want The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to be the greatest RPG ever so I’m extremely driven to make sure CD Projekt get it right. I have every confidence the game will be great… but let’s make it the best thing in the history of everything instead ‘kay?