Witcher 3 shouldn't have won game of the year; here's who really deserved it
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:
- 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 3? Bloodborne? Or something entirely different?