My Favourite Game of the Eighth Generation
I have been writing a retrospective series about the end of the 8th Generation , which includes a Top Twenty Countdown of my favourite games.
The Countdown Rules.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) held my attention for a year and a half.
These days, scant few games'll do that.
From the summer of 2015 to the end of 2016, I was either playing or at the very least thinking about Witcher 3. I went through the main story, and then watched my wife do the same thing. I returned the following year for the excellent DLC, leaving a few months between the two expansions because I didn't want it to end.
A year and a half.
I like my games to have a start and a finish, which is why I don't really fuck with games-as-a-service. And when I finish a game, I want to move on. It goes back on the shelf and, for the most part, I stop thinking about it, at least until it becomes eligible for some nostalgic yearning or I've committed to writing a retrospective series of posts that drags on for eight months. I rarely come back to games for DLC. The only modern-ish exceptions would be Burnout Paradise and Skyrim, both of which I kept chipping away at for well over a year until I finally had the Platinum Trophy (Burnout) or had played the long-delayed DLC (Skyrim).
Burnout Paradise and Skyrim. That's fine company indeed.
Wild Hunt was, and remains, my first and only Witcher, but that's OK. I'm sure it's even better if you have knowledge of the previous games, or the books if you're a word-nerd, but my ignorance was easy to overcome. The quality of the writing and character development makes it abundantly clear who these people are, what they mean to each other, and what drives them. I didn't need to trawl wikis to understand the tension between Geralt, Yeneffer and Triss, or to appreciate the relationships between Geralt, Ciri and Vesemir. I didn't even need to be subjected to pace-bothering flashbacks to fill-in the gaps. It was all there on screen and in the moment.
Witcher 3 has stuck with me as a series of moments and settings: the sprawling city of Novigrad, the craggy bays of Skellige and its equally treacherous politics; the orphans in the marshes, the hideous witches, and of course the Red Barron - perhaps the most memorable sub-story in any RPG I've ever played. The characters and stories, overarching and minor, fascinated me and kept me pushing forward.
And in the middle of it all, at the centre of this universe, is Geralt of Rivia. Wandering from town to town he wears many hats, and they all suit him rather well. He is a hunter of terrifying beasts, a pharmacist dabbling in the most ghastly concoctions, and a protector of the innocent, even if they despise him. He's as capable of turning the other cheek as he is dishing out ruthless punishment. He's a world class sleuth, a ladies-man, a seasoned drinker, and a handsome fucker. And above all else, he's a concerned parent. A surrogate father to Ciri, a woman he is compelled to protect, even though he knows her powers have long since eclipsed his own. A somewhat redundant protector but a role and a relationship that is cherished by both parties.
The game would fall apart without Geralt, but it's the relationship between he and Ciri that is the driving force.
The Continent is savage yet beautiful. Traversing the map, you are exposed to the micro and the macro. You can't escape the war that is ravaging the kingdom, but you'll spend as much time dealing with petty neighbourhood issues or isolated hauntings as you will struggling against the tides of war. War consumes all, but everyday problems for everyday people are just as vital through the course of your adventure. It all fits together perfectly.
Most of the combat is brisk and brutal. However, it still requires thought, and you must constantly restock potions, upgrade armor and make sure you are wielding the right sword for the job at hand. If you ignore your inventory for too long, you will die. The bestiary is stacked full of nightmarish creatures, but you'll also spend a good chunk of time slicing your way through brigands, soldiers and villagers who should've kept their mouths shut. The featured hunts and bosses require far more preparation and patience than your random encounters. To be honest, they weren't my favourite part of the game, but the combat certainly grew on me and I must've spent countless hours trawling through my inventory, lost in my organizing-shit element.
As for the DLC, Hearts of Stone is outstanding, but the fairytale inspired Blood & Wine might be my favourite stretch of the entire game. It serves as a fitting and colourful end to the Wild Hunt, a storybook adventure as grim as it is charming. It is the very essence of The Witcher 3.
Wild Hunt may have retroactively ruined my favourite WRPGs. Would I enjoy Skyrim or the Dragon Ages quite the same now if I were to replay them, being that I would hold them to a new and impossibly high standard? Witcher 3 takes the best characteristics of those games and improves upon them in almost every way. It's Skyrim, but more polished, focused, and with a cast so brimming with personality that it's never in danger of being sacrificed at the altar of your wanderlust.
The industry most certainly took notice of this significant raising of the bar. The Witcher 3's DNA is present throughout the biggest open-world RPG and action games of the last few years. It's influence on Ghost of Tsushima or Assassin's Creed Valhalla, for example, is undeniable. It has become a benchmark for excellence and it looks pretty good sat at the top of my list.
So there it is. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is my favourite game of the eighth generation.