I hold the last mission of Blood and Wine to the last, but still the time has finally come to say good bye to Geralt. If we do not want this departure to be a sad one, we should believe that this game is just the beginning of the beginning. It is not perfect, not ground breaking, but it convince me the seemingly stagnant category of AAA open world games, rather than being a collection of uninspiring story and level design, has true power hidden under their skin. Instead of recalling the good times, let us talk about the five aspects in this game which I think should be done better the future, the future CDPR has opened for us.
It has to be emphasized that none of these questions are new. Even in my limited knowledge about gaming, many games in the past had responded and turned superb answers to them, as I will mention. The point is as we enter the new era and accept the new standards, whether good or not, set by The Witcher 3, those questions seems to reappear and got more difficult.
1. How to open the battle field.
All the battles of The Witcher 3 are programmed to happen in a specific area with invisible boundaries. Different enemies occupies different area and will never trespass. Another problem is all battles is two dimensional, even for those fight with flying enemies, you have to wait for them to land. This game never takes advantages of its diverse terrain to create new game mechanism.
If there is something Bathesda is better than CDPR aside from mod support, it is the more vivid battlefield, where the dragon can appear anywhere and attack anyone, where you can find people from different factions fight with each other, where you can play hide and seek with a legion of enemies using covers like a true sniper.
2. Exploration v.s. Story
Why does our hero have so much time to do the missions and wander around when the world is at doom/his loved is in danger? This is an everlasting question for RPG, especially open world RPG. All developers want to create a large amount of freedom, while still do not want to abandon the storytelling skills learned from traditional games. What The Witcher 3 does is sacrificing the intensity of story, blending in a lot of padding missions which “naturally” lead you to explore the world. An acceptable method, but it is partially responsible for the relative flat main story and some pacing issue.
Lessons have to be learned that if you want to make an open world, you cannot just take a traditional game, make everything in it bigger. There has to be a set-up and a narration compatible with the freedom and vastness you offer. For example, Chrono Trigger let you travel freely beyond time, so there is no need to race against the boss, take your time to wonder.
3. How to fill the map
The cancer of open world game is not treated properly even at the hands of the most diligent developer. When the amazing main and side story quests are done, the map is still stuffed with repetitive activities and uninteresting loots, the most notorious ones being the question marks on the sea of Skellige. Blood and Wine even adopts Ubisoft’s “conquer this tower to liberate the region” formula.
Filling every inch of the map with interesting quests and unique gears is a fantasy not realistic to a business company. I am totally okay with smaller maps that just fits the story. But if open world is really an unshakable ideology, I think Metal Gear Solid V hit the right spot like no one else. It had established wonderful AI and genius mechanism which generate more possibility on its relatively average map and also kept my momentum most of the time with its constant rewards.
4. Interaction with environment
Together with my point 1, these are the chances to expand the meaning of “open” in “open world” aside from having big maps. There was a boss battle in The Witcher 1 where Geralt faced a monster which could kill him in one blow. Geralt finally used Aard to collapse the cave and bury the monster. That battle was poorly executed and heavily scripted where you fail if you miss any commands of the director. I dreamed of doing this kind of things in The Witcher 3 when it was announced, of course with more diverse choices and more fluent experience. But as it turns out, the environmental interaction in this game is very limited and negligible.
This is one of the reasons I adore Divinity: Original Sin so much. It the best modern example in RPG to take advantage of everything available. Of course, it is not easy to do that in real time. Breath of the Wild, will you surprise me?
5. Inventory and crafting management
This sounds like a very trivial question comparing to what we have been discussing, but it is the only thing that The Witcher 3 fails from start to the end. A whole year’s patching barely makes it from nightmare to average. On PS4, it still takes 2 seconds to shift through different pages in inventory. Crafting high tier gears involves desperate jumping from shopping to crafting pages and rolling down the same list like crazy.
I do not know why but The Witcher 3 is pretty conservative when it comes to crafting system. A crafting system for such a huge game should be intelligent and succinct, a good example is the previous The Witcher games: an object can be immediately used in crafting the final product as long as it contains the right elements. Also, there should be more customization to let players determine what to be shown and what to hidden. Finally, it is better to have a more dedicated design to PC and console respectively instead of trying to satisfy both with one design.