Is Witcher 3 The Next Game Everybody Wants To Imitate?

Witcher-3

I still don’t quite know what to think of information on an upcoming Assassin’s Creed game being broken on 4chan of all places, but one thing did catch my eyes — the mention in that 4chan thread of a desire for a “Witcher-feel” in the game. All I could think upon reading that was “here we go.”

I guess I should have expected it. The Witcher 3 has been named game of the year by over 150 publications (and this blog) for 2015. It’s the hot new game everybody likes. Of course it would become the next secret sauce everybody else is trying to capture. Even if the 4chan thread itself was bunk, we still might see other developers make similar desires known in the near future. Everybody should definitely be learning from good games including Witcher 3, but when big developers say they want to be like this good game or that good game, in my opinion they usually end up missing the point of why those games are good.

I remember hearing spokespeople from game companies saying the same things about Call of Duty and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Those games sold a lot of copies so of course their competitors wanted to nail down why so they could tap into that audience. That’s how we got so many homogeneous blockbuster games in today’s environment.

What people took away from Call of Duty 4’s success was the carrot-on-a-stick system its multiplayer employed, and now every multiplayer game does that. While that was definitely one of the game’s strengths, I feel all the imitating games missed how COD4 also had incredibly snappy controls (and was one of the only console shooters at the time running at 60 frames per second) and really well-designed levels. A lot of other developers tried to have exciting scripted events in their games but I feel basically none of them understood the nuts and bolts of how COD4’s encounters were actually designed. This Kotaku article is a really nice in-depth look at one particularly famous level.

I think BioWare, when developing Dragon Age Inquisition, said it wanted “the Skyrim audience.” I wouldn’t be surprised if other role playing game developers said the same thing. Skyrim is after all one of the best-selling RPGs ever made, Bethesda having captured a massive audience with its games. I feel like the takeaway for many other publishers was that this is because their games tend to have big worlds filled with massive amounts of things to do. That might be part of it, but one thing other RPGs or even other open-world  games still don’t offer is a sandbox quite like the ones you see in Bethesda’s games. The functioning communities of AI characters you can interact with and subvert in Fallout or Elder Scrolls games is still something unique to Bethesda among blockbuster games.

But what does “Witcher feel” even mean? To be honest Witcher 3’s core gameplay mechanics aren’t even the most appealing thing about it. Its combat system and the feel of its controls have constantly been cited as its weakest aspects. Plus, at face value Witcher 3 is just another big open world with lots to do — not that different from Elder Scrolls or the games Ubisoft has been making for several years.

The thing most people will point out (and what I pointed out) about Witcher 3 is its excellent world building with well-written characters and interesting lore behind them. Mechanically however, Witcher 3 simply has a very well laid-out open world that feels nice to explore. That’s just a matter of good map design really. Not only that, but all the things players have to do in it feel more meaningful than the icons you usually see on the map of an Assassin’s Creed game. Every quest and every secret has some unique aspect to it. The most impressive thing about Witcher 3 is the attention to detail put into all its content given the sheer amount of that content in the package. I don’t really know if that kind of craft can be “copied” by other developers to get the same “feel.” I guess it would be nice if other developers realized that and actually tried.

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