This promo image was used so much that for a while I thought Geralt just walked around like this.
We complained about how the UI in Skyrim feels bland and unimaginative. They repay us by making the MARKETING bland and unimaginative.
I’ve been playing a ton of Skyrim: SE recently, mostly since I’ve still been enamored with Fallout 4. The problem, though, is that while I’ve played at least a thousand hours of Skyrim, there’s not much I can say about it. Meanwhile, I’ve barely touched Witcher 3, and I’ve been talking it up to my friends like it’s the greatest RPG to come out since the birth of the genre. Hell, during the VGA’s this year, I told one acquaintance that it deserved to win game of the year again this year, on account of no other RPGs (or games in general, for that matter) coming close to it. While they laughed, I watched as it proceeded to win “Best RPG” again through its’ DLC, Blood and Wine. That shut my friends up, and now that I’m out of friends to talk this game up to, I’m going to talk it up to the people who already know everything about the game: the Internet!
However, this isn’t “Fixing Gaming” without some kind of critical bashing of another development style, so I’ll use my massive amount of Skyrim experience to compare the two giants of modern RPGs, Skyrim / Bethesda and Witcher 3 / CD PROJEKT.
“The Venerable Elder Scrolls Series” is steeped in lore and history and other storyline-esque things, but it’s really difficult to actually learn about all that nonsense. Generally, each game does very little to integrate the stories and tribulations of the previous, and even then, they have to account for the player having been both the “Savior of Humanity” and “The Guy Who Killed Everyone That Wasn’t Marked As Essential”. Thus, we don’t really get too much worldbuilding going on in an Elder Scrolls game. It’s really about the experiences you make during your journey, and I think that’s what Bethesda intended for The Elder Scrolls to be about: you, the player.
The Witcher franchise is not about you, and it doesn’t give a shit if you know what it’s going on about or not. Most people who’ve played The Witcher 3 haven’t played the first game (and many haven’t played the second). This is, in part, due to the horrible controls, but we’ll get to that later. Suffice to say, characters and events are talked about as though we know exactly what they were wearing and exactly what their secret favorite sex position was. The focus is on Geralt, the player-character, interacting with a living and breathing world. Choices are fairly linear, yet there’s always a sense of weight behind every choice. CD PROJEKT enjoyed crafting the world from the books they were based on, and loved to develop the characters within them. However, it’s lack of hand-holding with the plot leaves you reaching for the glossary every five minutes.
In My Time of Need: The newest Trance Hit
In My Time of Need is an amazing example of how little Bethesda worked to make a tough choice. The quest involves two parties: a group of mercenaries, and a woman hiding from them. She claims to be a refugee from her homeland because she was against the Thalmor, and the mercenaries claim she was working with the Thalmor. Now, some people say this presents a moral dilemma, where you have to figure out who’s right. Some people are idiots. There is no way to be certain of what side is telling the truth, and there is no consequence to choosing either side. It’s left just vague enough for you to fit the narrative to your choosing, which leaves no room for worldbuilding. If they wanted to fix it, make the truth know, but have it be a rough choice either way. Saadia, the woman, ran away after realizing the Thalmor were going to betray her people. She’s in exile and regrets what she’s done, and the mercenaries are attempting to bring her back for execution. This provides a moral dilemma of whether you believe she deserves death or exile.
Witcher 3 has you find a drunken angry peasant who burned down his neighbor’s shop in Twisted Firestarter. If you turn him in, he gets to hang for a drunken mistake. If you spare him, the dwarfen blacksmith doesn’t get justice for his shop being burnt down. This provides a rough choice for the player, and that’s a sidequest that took about five minutes to finish.
Between the two games, I’d say that I prefer Witcher 3’s attitude a little more than Skyrim. Sure, Witcher 3 doesn’t let you be a Lizard Knight that dabbles in Necromancy, but it also firmly engraves your actions in the stone that is their world. Skyrim has this problem where actions don’t feel like they have consequences. Choosing the Stormcloaks or Imperials is like choosing which color you prefer, and they go out of their way to make choices “justifiable”.
Skyrim has a very simple gameplay style, as with most modern Bethesda titles. It’s generally first person, and functions almost like shooters in most aspects. You try to get better gear, of course, but it’s largely “point your camera at the enemy and attack while looking that way”. This leads to a very cohesive control system that isn’t hard to grasp and doesn’t overwhelm you at the beginning. However, there’s not much you can do with the controls. Power Attacks are ill-defined, and the simplicity can hurt the feeling of diversity (there is minimal difference between a war axe and a sword).
Witcher 3 is very complex. If you get this game, it’s best to go through the fun little tutorial at the beginning, as you may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of mechanics. Fortunately, the controls aren’t too difficult to get behind, and I can easily play the game with a controller (a plus for me). It’s third person, and there’s a lot going on. If anything, it leans more toward Dark Souls than Legend of Zelda.
Speaking of which, the difficulty tends to lean that way as well. Witcher 3 isn’t a forgiving game, and many are turned off by the lethal scenarios you’re engaged in from the start of the game. Make a mistake during combat, and you’re probably going to die (or lose a lot of items trying to survive).
Skyrim, on the other hand, isn’t a terribly difficult game. Sure, ratchet up the difficulty and you’ll die, but the difficulty comes from the damage modifiers and not the unforgiving combat. If you make a mistake in Skyrim, you’re not really going to suffer for it. You may lose a potion, but you’re not going to die.
But when you lose that potion in Skyrim, you’re probably going to find more. The gameplay loop is centered around going out to a dungeon, kicking the ass of everything in there, and hauling back a ton of loot to sell. Do this once or twice, and you have more money than the universe allows, and you’ll level up once or twice.
Witcher 3 is a lot different. You go out to complete jobs or clear areas of monsters, yes, but you don’t come back with mountains of loot. You won’t level up as quickly and it feels less rewarding to head out and help people.
While many people suggest that this category is a matter of personal taste, allow me to present my opinion on why Witcher 3 wins out: the monster hunting. In the first area you’re wandering around in, there’s a father with a sick child. He hires you to vanquish the evil ghost that’s wandering around a well to let him grab some clean water for her to drink.
If this were Skyrim, you’d go right on up to the well, kill the thing there by whacking it to death, and then return for your reward of a few coins.
In Witcher 3, you have to investigate the well, figure out when the creature appears, figure out what type of creature it is, and then prepare for the difficult fight. You investigate why the thing is haunting the area, and you figure out the best way to banish it for good. Once that is all finished, you ready your blade and fight with all this knowledge about it’s strengths and weaknesses. Witcher 3 wins because you feel like you’ve put every skill to the test to win, and when you succeed, it feels like you’ve accomplished a great deed.
In Skyrim, it feels like you got sent out to do something a few guards could’ve easily handled.
If you notice, I didn’t touch on sound/graphics quality, nor did I touch on user-created content. The former isn’t comparable due to the release dates of the games putting a technical limitation on Skyrim, and the latter creates a rift as Skyrim offers so much towards Modding that it’ll probably put Witcher 3 to shame forever.
All that said, I do think that Witcher 3 is deserving of the title “Best RPG of All Time”. It’s got an incredible world, with interesting characters and a real choice behind everything you do. It’s got tight combat and a good system of progression. Skyrim, while great for an entry-level plunge into Role Playing Games, can’t hold up compared to a work that appears to be designed by veterans of the genre.