The Witcher 3 Was Almost An Open World Adventure Game

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The Witcher 3 has pretty much been received as a seminal, almost flawless game in the eyes of many. While I’m inclined to believe it is one of the best crafted video game worlds I’ve seen in recent times, I feel I must talk about one of the few but persistent things that keep it from perfection. One of Witcher 3’s main elements brings it close to a kind of video game I’ve long wanted to see, but falls just shy of the goal.

Most of the time you’re playing Witcher 3, especially during its side quests, it’s pretty much a detective game. People have already talked about how protagonist Geralt is pretty much a detective in a fantasy world. Every time you need to track a monster or break a curse you’re basically solving a crime. You go through the same steps: talk to witnesses, examine the crime scene, do some forensics, eliminate possibilities, come to conclusions. One of the best things about Witcher 3’s quests is how procedural they feel. I just don’t like the “how” of the player’s interaction with this process. Specifically, I don’t like how integral to the game the Witcher Sense is.

That mode where you hold a button to highlight relevant clues is probably if not obviously inspired by the detective vision in the recent Batman games where it technically makes just as much sense. Batman is a detective. A lot of what he does involves finding clues and tracking people. A Batman video game should reflect this. I just don’t like how the vision modes pretty much do the detective thing for you.

If you analyze these detective sections in Batman and Witcher 3, they’re a lot like the puzzles in point n’ click adventure games. In all of them you examine your environment until you find relevant objects and then figure out how to progress based on what you’ve figured out. What I’m saying is Witcher 3 could have been an open-world adventure game, and that’s precisely one kind of game I’ve wanted to see for a while now.

I’ve been waiting for somebody to make a game where you control some kind of detective who travels all over the place solving random crimes and mysteries in a style similar to a traditional adventure game. Just imagine getting to examine various environments spread out in a seamless world, and using clues to track people from place to place. Way back I analyzed an early mission in ArmA 2’s campaign where you do just that by traveling across the countryside, interviewing local villagers, and occasionally getting into gunfights. I haven’t played LA Noire but I heard complaints about how unnecessary all the shooting was. When you think about it Witcher 3 presents a more fitting setting for combining detective work with copious amounts of combat.

It’s just that when I approach a crime scene I want to simply be able to look around and press A to examine whatever looks interesting. I don’t wnat to have to hold down the detective vision button for the game to automatically tell me what’s relevant. Even though it’s obvious Witcher 3 wants you to use the detective vision, there are times when you can just walk up to a bookcase or a dead body and examine it to get a clue about the current quest. Other things though are either practically invisible without using detective vision or require you to turn it on for a second to get the button prompt to examine them.

I’m not saying the game shouldn’t be accessible. I remember earlier iterations of detective vision, like in Tomb Raider Legend for instance, were implemented because some people just don’t like solving puzzles in video games. The game designers can’t predict how every player will think, and puzzles can be some of the most frustrating things in video games. They can completely halt your progress and it feels different when it’s because of a mental challenge rather than a physical one. I’m fine with there being a button or mode to make adventure elements easier. I just don’t like it when that mode is the default. CDProjekt should have designed Witcher 3 so players could try to examine scenes and figure things out without the detective vision at all, then let them use it if they get stuck.

And Witcher 3 is better than pretty much any big release right now when it comes to planning things out so players don’t have to be told where to go and what to do. It just doesn’t go all the way. If you turn off all the undiscovered points of interest on the map screen you can actually still find almost all the secrets and important things in the game by simply exploring and thinking about your surroundings, which gives Witcher 3 a genuine sense of discovery. Sometimes a document or something will give you a good description of where a quest objective is and that’s great, but a lot of the time you can only rely on a waypoint. This game could really use something like the “Better Quest Objectives” mod for Skyrim.

But back to the detective part of the game, I understand it’s probably hard for designers to make something resembling an adventure game with today’s detailed scenes. Back in the day video game environments were sparse enough to where players could almost immediately tell what was important and what was just set dressing. In the original Deus Ex you could pick up just about every object lying around because there wasn’t that much lying around. Deus Ex Human Revolution puts players in far more visually elaborate places with a lot of set dressing. Most modern games where you interact with a bunch of objects haven’t really found a subtle way to set important objects apart from the rest of a scene. Detective vision has become the latest method.

I guess I can’t harshly fault Witcher 3 for not being the game to finally solve that problem. It’s just that, among its other achievements, it comes incredibly close to being something I’ve wanted for a long time. In light of this, that last bit of unclaimed progress feels all the more frustrating.

BULLETS:

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