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Witcher 3 shouldn't have won game of the year; here's who really deserved it

Witcher 3 is a beautiful game, but is it a good one?

The Game Awards are here again, and we have our winner. If you read my article title, spoiler alert: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is taking home the trophy.

And that really shouldn't be the case.

The Witcher 3 is an ambitious open world game. It's an enjoyable game. And the art direction makes it impossible to argue that it isn't a beautiful game. 

But what about that one aspect that critics seem to be so happy to ignore time and time again?

What about the gameplay?

Now, The Witcher 3 has a solid story, but that doesn't mean you're going to be spending most of the game actually experiencing that story. As with most RPGs, you're going to be fighting and killing things. The core gameplay you experience in Witcher 3 is being given a quest and going out to do it. Most of those quests involve killing things, thus, most of your time in Witcher 3 will, unsurprisingly, be spent killing things. And this is why the game really doesn't deserve the Game of the Year title.

With enemies that easily get locked into place, an easy to abuse magic system that trivializes just about every challenge you face, and a painfully repetitive rogue's gallery to go up against, the bulk of your time playing Witcher 3 is, unfortunately, spent on the weakest (yet most time-consuming) aspect of the game: the combat.

Don't get me wrong, the world of Witcher 3 is beautiful. I found myself just standing around as Geralt from time to time just to look at the environment. 

And the story is entertaining enough. Going through the world and hunting for Ciri, doing side quests -- it's leaps and bounds above the other open world games that came out this year in terms of actual writing. 

But let's take a look at this year's other GOTY nominees:
  • Bloodborne
  • Fallout 4
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  • Super Mario Maker
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Of these games, it's easy to notice that most of them actually have fairly poor gameplay despite their polished graphics and other acclaimed attributes. In fact, if we look at these games holistically, there's only one that I can really make a case for:

Without a doubt, Bloodborne should have been Game of the Year.

With a unique setting, evocative art direction, and a fascinating story, Bloodborne matches or surpasses The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in all of the areas where Witcher 3 supposedly trumped the other competitors. 

Where The Witcher 3 treads upon a familiar and decidedly generic fantasy world, Bloodborne does something new and exciting, combining a Gothic Victorian aesthetic with Lovecraft-inspired horror to create a fantasy world that we haven't experienced before.

And while Witcher 3 clearly has more polished graphics, what it does with those graphics is less than impressive. You can create pretty much the same sort of beautiful fantasy world you see in it by implementing a few graphic ehnhancement mods in Skyrim. While graphics are always the best place to start to make something beautiful, art direction is everything. Witcher 3 is picturesque, but it isn't painting anything particularly new.

But all this talk of aesthetic and graphics is a matter of personal preference. There's one true reason Bloodborne should have risen above the rest.

The core gameplay was the best we've seen this year.

I can go on and on about art direction, atmosphere, music, story, etc. But all of these things aren't the core of a video game. Games are made to engage players, and while you can appreciate these other aspects that go into a game, it's the core gameplay that the player is going to be spending most of their time on.

And having come to Witcher 3: Wild Hunt after fully clearing Bloodborne, I saw the painfully obvious flaws in the former's combat system. 

 

That isn't to say Bloodborne isn't without flaws, but the visceral combat system was very clearly not an afterthought. The twitch-reflex combat combined with RPG mechanics in Witcher 3 favors button-mashing and Quen-rune spamming -- it's a bare-bones combat system simply made to supplement the fantasy world you're experiencing.

Bloodborne acknowledges the fact that you're going to spend the majority of the game slaughtering things, and it realizes you want to have a good time doing that. The game doesn't expect you to be able to just blow through combat by spamming abilities. It forces you to learn and adapt to new enemies and mechanics as you optimize your character for the challenges ahead.

All the while, the game still offers the appeal of exploration, beautiful art direction, and top-notch atmosphere that parallels The Witcher 3. But again, all of these aspects should never really come before gameplay. 

If every part of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were as engaging as the world it tries to create, maybe it could have deserved being Game of the Year.

But as it is, if the bulk of your gameplay is doing something incredibly simplistic just to get to the next step of your quest, your game has an intrinsic flaw, one that makes The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt the inferior of Bloodborne

But which is your personal Game of the Year? The Witcher 3Bloodborne? Or something entirely different?

Published Dec. 4th 2015
  • billd75
    Contributor
    I agree that Witcher 3, as awesome of a game as it is, does not quite deserve GOTY. Close, but not quite. People can critique Fallout 4's dated engine or graphics (Bethesda and their chunky non-moving hair etc.lol.) all they like, but the fact is, it's a great game. Better than Witcher 3. I have played both and which one draws me back again and again to it? Fallout 4. I love both, but Bethesda has proved that they know how to craft a story better than anyone else! Need I mention all the other Beth games that have won GOTY? It's for good reason. Slightly dated graphics or an old engine really don't mean much when you are playing a great game. Half Life's (Valve) Source engine and graphics are extremely dated and yet people still create GREAT indie titles with it, to this day. It was actually a toss up between Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 for me, but Fallout 4 holds my interest better. I cannot speak to Bloodborne, having never played it, but if people say it is too much like Dark Souls, then I doubt I would enjoy it as much as the two I mentioned. The Dark Souls series is good, but not my favorite cup of tea.
  • Ahrimazd
    I couldn't agree with you more.

    By definition a game's core component is gameplay. This is why we have independent titles that harken to old style NES titles still attracting players despite their graphical limitations.

    Then of course originality. Witcher draws on the old Lord of the Rings style lore, which is boring. The originality of the environments of Bloodborne should be commended. It's art direction is superb and aesthetically more interesting.

    The challenge and sense of achievement when beating even the most meagre of bosses or NPC's is brilliant. Furthermore, the originality of the levelling up system, which only the Souls games have used before is unlike anything from any other developer.
  • KonstantinMKD
    Contributor
    I honestly can't agree more whit your base standpoint from which you created this article: that gameplay should be valued the most in any video game! It's the simplest, most absolute truth that the gaming industry is trying her best to obscure for years, in a very aggressive, un-tasteful manner. That's why so much gamers nowadays (and many who commented before me on this article) are mislead in their opinions about what a game should be. I honestly think that they're fooling themselves when saying that games with pre-dominant aesthetic orientation and shallow gameplay (like Skyrim and The Witcher 3) are making them "feel like they are actually existing in that (particular) fantasy world"?! No game can do this, and no game should aspire to... And no game should be valued "good" without having well thought game-mechanics and core (or actual depth). That must be the fundamental principle when acknowledging any video game - the game's substance should never give way to it's graphical manifestation - but that's what the gaming industry is opt to ignore these years. Hence such "upside-down" mainstream opinion in our favorite entertainment industry... But, I believe this common mistake is but a mere temporary distraction, as I'm sure is solely a product of the unrestrained growth of the industry itself, which was bound to be accompanied by such meaningless "Best Game Awards" events, who are based on shallow and utterly incorrect principles... It's mostly like the Oscars ceremony, who seldom award the best pictures, and almost always the most popular ones... So, all in all, I know that The Witcher 3 is an excellent game, but I'm also aware that it was the most suitable "Best Game of the Year" contender from day one, and it's really no surprise to me that it was voted Game of the Year, because gamers get so easily side-tracked these days... Anyway, to sum it all up, IMHO 2015's best game was The Phantom Pain, followed closely by Bloodborne. I think the awarded game is leagues behind these two titles...
  • topher339
    You wright a great argument. However, I think Bloodborne's only real fault is it's general lack of content as far as story (I know, being of relation to the Dark Souls series it really isn't expected to be full of story). This is something Witcher has in abundance. I've always been a story driven player, it's why I couldn't bring myself to finish Bloodeborne. I simply feel it isn't nearly as rewarding.
  • Autumn Fish
    Featured Correspondent
    Great argument, and very well written. While I'm not sure that Bloodborne, being a PS4 exclusive, could actually make GotY, it has the best core design I've seen in a game all year. The freedom and multi-facets of the combat system and world design makes for an unforgettable experience.

    Anyone who shrugs off Bloodborne as "hipster garbage" is missing out on one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences available on the current console generation.
  • Robert_8159
    I have 60 hours played in Witcher 3, on two endings. I am done - no urge to replay and we were promised a full Redkit. They lied..
    I have about the same on MGS5. I might go back occasionally for a side mission, but I am done and I will never buy another Konami game.
    I have about 240 hours in on Fallout 4, and am still going strong (way past the final Quest). I expect to be playing this until the DLCs and Creation Kit come out, then Mods until ES6. Bethesda is a way of life. Game of the Year? I care more about a game that I enjoy playing.
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Associate Editor
    CD PR never promised the full RedKit, they promised a modding toolset. And said "hopefully" to the REDkit.

    And you played 60 hours and are done? Well... good that's a solid amount of time with the game, so you must have really enjoyed it. No one plays 60 hours of a game and hates it.
  • Gabriel_3021
    lol what a load of pretentious hipster garbage
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Associate Editor
    So you disagree, doesn't make the guy a hipster, or pretentious. Just a person with a view on something who voiced it. Write an article as to what your GotY is, put your view across, I would love to read it!

    Now if you want to call anyone a pretentious hipster, aim it at me, The Beginner's Guide of my GotY. Can't get more pretentious than that can you? ;)
  • Vordreller_7059
    What stays with people after a game is the good moments. You say it's all killing monsters. But that not what sticks with most people. What stuck is what happened *after* your quest is complete. The people who asked you to do it. Their reactions, the results of your actions on their lives and on you.

    It all depends on whether or not that's something you find satisfying. And a lot of people did. The reviews and sales speak for themselves.
  • Si_W
    Isn't Bloodborne just available for PS4?
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Associate Editor
    Yep, doesn't stop it to be GotY in anyones eyes. While I don't agree, I just don't get along with Souls type games, which is weird because I love the setting. I just find the mechanics boring. While I haven't played Bloodborne, I have played Dark Souls 1 and 2, and a bit of Demon Souls.

    Anyway... I tend to err on the side of a platforms best game can only be an exclusive, where an overall best game can be exclusive or not. An amazing game shouldn't be pushed away because it's exclusive to a platform.

    Having said all that, you probably worked this out, Bloodborne isn't my GotY. But then neither is The Witcher 3, for me it's The Beginners Guide.

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