NOW PLAY­ING: THE WITCHER 3

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - CONTENTS - Chris Burke

De­spite the mas­sive pop­u­lar­ity of The

Witcher 3, I’ve only just got around to play­ing it. As a fan of RPGs, with quite a few de­mand­ing my time, I was a lit­tle afraid to dive into such a huge game. But now, spurred on by news of its Pol­ish devs’ forth­com­ing RPG, Cy­ber­punk 2077, I fi­nally de­cided to en­ter Ger­alt of Rivia’s fan­tasy world.

You join OXM’s be­lated playthrough early-ish in the story as I track down Ger­alt’s ward Ciri to a Te­me­rian Baron, who has hosted her at his cas­tle. There’s a catch to find­ing out where she went next—I must find his miss­ing wife and daugh­ter. I learn the wife had a mis­car­riage, and he’s buried the baby’s body in an un­marked grave. Uhoh. Con­sult­ing with a her­mit, I dis­cover the dead baby’s be­come a malig­nant spirit. The her­mit will help me use this Botch­ling’s blood ties to find Mis­sus Baron, if I find his goat. Off I go into the woods, ring­ing a lit­tle bell so ‘Princess’ will fol­low me home.

The Botch­ling is a red, an­gry baby, crawl­ing around its own grave. Shiver. I can calm the Botch­ling, and turn it into a benev­o­lent spirit, or kill it again. I opt for the for­mer. I’m not sure what I did wrong, but it trans­forms into a big de­mon that I have to kill. So while I’m im­mersed and in­vested in the drama and hor­ror of the story, my choice ap­pears to have meant noth­ing.

Are you Ciri-ous?

This brings me to my slight nig­gle with

The Witcher 3: Specif­i­cally, calling it an RPG. ‘Role-play­ing game’ is a term that’s thrown at so many games, it’s al­most lost its mean­ing. And if you’re go­ing to say that play­ing as a char­ac­ter with such a deep and es­tab­lished back story, beloved of an al­ready ra­bid fan base, is ‘role­play­ing’, then you might just as well call Halo an RPG. Or Mario Kart.

An RPG should be about more than just lev­el­ing up, chang­ing clothes, and ‘ro­manc­ing’ an NPC on the back of a stuffed uni­corn [spoiler]. Even short of the ex­ten­sive cus­tomiza­tion of, say, Skyrim, at the very least you need to be able to de­fine your char­ac­ter by class, with a unique skill-set—a choice in how you play, thus defin­ing

who you are, at an early stage. But Ger­alt is Ger­alt. He’s had two pre­vi­ous games to his name and a bunch of nov­els. In fact, so rich and com­plete is the game’s story, I could prob­a­bly watch every beau­ti­ful look­ing and won­der­fully voice-acted and scripted cutscene back-to-back (you can on YouTube, if you’ve got 13 hours) and not even pick up a con­troller.

In a true RPG you’d have free­dom of choice in what you do. But you can have all the choices you can shake a di­a­logue-branch at, if ul­ti­mately your de­ci­sions don’t make much dif­fer­ence to how the game plays out, it’s not a proper RPG ei­ther. TheWitcher3 has plenty of RPG el­e­ments like XP and craft­ing, but they re­ally only af­fect com­bat. So let’s not call this an RPG. It’s an open-world ad­ven­ture. With ‘ro­mance’ on a stuffed uni­corn.

Any­how, back to the game. My search takes me to Ox­en­furt. At the main gate, job­sworth sol­diers in­form me the city is on lock­down, and I need some sort of pass to get in. I don’t have one, and I’ve got no idea what city of­fi­cial I need to ‘ro­mance’ to get one. So, I nick a boat and sail round to the other side of the city, and walk right in. Yeah! Stick­ing it to the man!

This is the first time in the game

that I’ve seen a city; so far I’ve only ex­pe­ri­enced one-horse vil­lages (and that horse has been Roach), where all I’ve done is visit tav­erns for a drink, a fight, and a game of Gwent. The city feels re­ally… real. Ox­en­furt is how I imag­ine a me­dieval Thames­side Lon­don might have felt; wisps of smoke float on the air, there’s an early morn­ing foggy light and the at­mos­phere is tan­gi­ble, its streets alive. So, for­get­ting my quest, I de­cide that since, in RPGs, cities rea­son­ably tend to present the most things to do, I’m go­ing to push this RPG thing as far as it will stretch, and head for the big­gest city on the map—Novi­grad.

Hair to­day…

Upon en­ter­ing Novi­grad, the first thing I see is a bar­bers. Ahh, an RPG-like chance to al­ter my look! But again, I’m Ger­alt. I mean, I’m never go­ing to be able to give my­self corn-rows like in GTA’s hair­dressers, am I? Or am I? There’s an op­tion for an ‘El­ven Rebel cut’, but I come out look­ing… ex­actly the same. I’m low on coin, and I spend al­most my last money on try­ing again; for long, loose hair. I get a boy-band cut that frankly looks soooo wrong on the White Wolf. The bar­ber’s drunk— what­ever I choose, he does what he wants. I try in­stead to cus­tom­ize my beard. The very last of my gold goes on this, and, oh dear, now I’m stuck with a soul­patch… Novi­grad is even more busily beau­ti­ful and alive than Ox­en­furt. Peo­ple have con­ver­sa­tions, crowds dance and shout, and drunks stag­ger into me. Strum­pets propo­si­tion me for ‘ro­mance’, and ran­dom folk call me an ‘ar­se­mu­nch’. At least one of those must be down to the soul patch. In need of a job, I check out a noticeboard. There is tons to do, and quests keep pop­ping as I walk around. But most are way too high level, I think I’ve got ahead of my­self by com­ing here. I agree to track down an imp that’s been steal­ing from a mer­chant. This turns out to be a shape-changer; he turns into Ger­alt, and I have to beat my­self, as it were. I de­cide to spare his life, provided he leaves town, and re­turn to the mer­chant for my re­ward. Since I have no proof of the imp’s death, he pays me only half. Once again, I run into ‘RPG’ dif­fi­cul­ties. Every fi­bre of my evil be­ing wants to un­leash vi­o­lence upon this ar­se­mu­nch, but, since Ger­alt is a bet­ter man than I, I have to walk away.

So, thwarted in my ‘role-play­ing’, I go back to en­joy­ing Ger­alt’s ad­ven­ture. And I’m still play­ing the game seven hours later, well into the night. It’s not the mon­ster-fight­ing that’s keep­ing me hooked, or any need for RPG grind­ing. The Witcher 3’ s story is in­tensely rich and its en­vi­ron­ments stun­ningly re­al­ized; and more than any­thing right now, I need to know what hap­pened to the Baron’s fam­ily. This is a de­tec­tive story as much as it’s an RPG, and Ger­alt’s a de­tec­tive, who uses his Witcher senses to gain in­sight and peel away the onion-lay­ers of a deep, en­gag­ing tale. It’s one of the many rea­sons the game is rightly lauded, and why I’m now hooked. Bring on Cy­ber­punk 2077— be­cause if CD Pro­jekt Red can pour all the Witcher

3’ s ge­nius into a full, proper RPG, it’s go­ing to be amaz­ing. ■

“I could prob­a­bly just watch all the cutscenes back-to-back and not even pick up the con­troller”

Ab ove Ger­alt’s horse Roach. Mind of its own, and doesn’t even like sug­ar­lumps.

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