Why The Witcher 3 didn't completely win me over...
First things first. I love The Witcher 3. That might seem a bit of an over-statement when you read the title, but bear with me for a moment. The open world was gigantic and full of life (and death), with a ton of unique sidequests and a solid combat-system. To me, it's easily the most complete action-RPG of the last decade.
"Ok," you say "so why are you such a whiner in the title, you click-baiting bastard?" Well, my rude reader, because of my conflicted feeling about what most people were actually happy with: the main story.
I'll start by justifying my knowledge in "Witcher lore" by stating that I indeed played the two first games and even read all the books (yeah, I'm THAT guy). So you should at least respect my humble opinion as a Witcher fan. Now that I think about it, I actually think it's this knowledge that ruined some part of the experience for me, but I'll get to that in a moment.
I also have to say that you could encounter some mild spoilers here and there, so be on your guard if you haven't finished the game yet. And if you haven't... Get off your arse, would you?
Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's begin.
The story was in no way the epic adventure I had hoped for.
It was great, but my expectations were much higher. Can we blame hype-culture? We most certainly can; I think that the long wait, the delays and the constant flux of trailers and gameplay footage killed the hype a little, to say the least. But when I asked myself if this was the main reason, I just felt like it couldn't be. It was the feeling I had a day after completing the main quest that made me scratch my head.
Wasted Plot from the Second Installement
My problem actually began at the VERY start of the game. You are directly introduced to the characters Ciri and Yennefer in a dream (which already frustrated me a little, but let's move on). Ater that, you land in the first area of the game. You do a little "research", kill a griffin to find Yennefer's location and then y- oh sh*t, there she is right in front of you...
Let me get this straight: we spent the ENTIRE second game looking for this witch and this is how they get reunited? I guess it's an understatement to say that's one hell of a way to obliterate a fantastic build-up.
My other problem with this is that it also makes the first part of the story completely meaningless. You go out to look for Yennefer, but she just appears as soon as you have (little to no) information about her whereabouts. That's an easy way to get the title "Best Tracker...Evaaaaar".
Come on man -- they haven't seen each other in a long-ass time and THIS is how CD Projekt Red chose to reunite them? For me, this ruined what could have been emotional and tense angle of the story between two very important characters. And thus crushed my immersion.
The Actual Main Quest
After this, we're introduced to the actual story for this game: find your lost foster-child because the Wild Hunt is after her. And because her actual father wants her on the throne. If you're wondering who the hell this girl is, don't worry, because so do people who played the two previous games. And because this is such an urgent matter, the Emperor wants you to track her all by yourself, with absolutely no leads at all, and all the while you make it perfectly clear you have no intent in handing her over to him.
Because this is in NO way related to any earlier installment of the series, it let me down since I was hoping for a continuing plot.
This was probably done so new players wouldn't fall off the lore-boat. Although this somewhat can be excused...it doesn't make sense if the rest of the game is filled to the brim with references and throwbacks to previous games and the books!
I have no problem with the new story that involves Ciri (and more importantly The Wild Hunt -- you already knew these dudes were badass). But what happened to the political intrigue from the second game? Oh, it's now a cut-scene where some boring dude talks over a map while you do your very best not to mash the skip button. This is supposed to be a game -- not a history lesson given by a 60 year old burned out teacher!
There is no atmosphere like there was in previous game, where the tension could be cut with a knife.
In Witcher 2, you actually felt the racial tensions -- and not just by some guys annoying an elf on the street, or some burning pyres to make you feel uncomfortable. You had difficult to choices to make about whether you would stand with the Scoia'tael or the humans, because they were all degenerate pricks.
And even if they did a fantastic job portraying the "poor-as-dirt" Vellen with the war-torn scenery, there isn't that much to the atmosphere besides the decor and people complaining about the war.
"War is tough!"
"I'm hungry, and my brother got killed.."
"Nilfgaard is at our gates"
"Who's gonna save the north?"
NOTHING actually happens here! They're always talking about it, but nothing substantial happens. Was this CD Projekt Red's version of the Cold War? Because it really didn't give that effect, that stress...
This was just a missed opportunity, I think. But let's get back to the main story.
Very Little Pay-off for the Main Quest
The actual quest(s) to find Ciri were not that bloody impressive either. You get three quests that basically tell you to go to three locations and look around a little. You have the choice to go anywhere you want, but the trip to Skellige will cost you an arm and a leg, and the required level will make you think twice about it. That's why you went there last -- not because you chose to.
And you know what's even worse? It doesn't even matter where you start! Every time you finish a part of this "main quest," you hit a dead-end and some bloke whispers in your ear that you should get off your arse and go look in another part of the world... Dude, I know, I just thought I might actually learn something!
Don't get me wrong, the Bloody Baron questline was absolutely brilliant and each quest had me invested to some extent, but my problem is that they were completely unrelated to the main story. Think of it: The Baron makes you find his family and tells you "Ciri was here, but she left". You have to free Dandillion, and he says "Ciri was here, but she left". And then you travel to Skellige to find out... Sigh... You know the rest...
Finding Ciri and the aftermath of the Battle of Kaer Morhen
When you actually find Ciri (by the way, props to whoever made that cutscene, that left me devastated for a moment) and you go back to the mainland, you have the battle at Kaer Morhen. Great! An epic battle to finally spice things up! This is what the main quest needed, because the first part just felt a little...boring.
But no time to dwell on that, we need to kick some spectral-elven ass. This finally gave me the adrenaline rush I was waiting for, and it was pretty bloody intense if you ask me. But right after that came -- once again -- a very long and quite boring preparation for a second clash with the forces of evil...
What the actual plough?
The pacing in the main quest is just god-awful! You don't have the impression time is running out at any moment, and the open-world is too big of a distraction to even care about what's happening in such a flat story. Although this could be seen as a positive note, it shouldn't be! This gives you the impression that the Wild Hunt is as big of a threat as the Fiend you slay for some cash.
In the Witcher 3, it was actually the side quests/side activities that stole the show: why go on another quest to find some meaningless clue about where Ciri took a dump, when you can upgrade your Gwent-deck? It's sad to say, but I never found myself rushing one main quest after the other, just because the rest of the game was more interesting. And for a story-driven game, this shouldn't be said about the main quest...
You see, that's the moment where I realized what I was missing: a story with pacing like the second installment of this great gaming series. The Witcher 2 certainly wasn't as long as this installment, but man I was hooked and on the tip of my toes the entire time. There were times I skipped the side quests because I was too invested in what was happening.
Just as an example, the first part of The Witcher 2 puts you in the middle of an impressive siege. Out of nowhere a dragon appears, and while you escape from that, your king gets his throat slit by another Witcher, leaving you screwed when the guards arrive. This is the first 15 minutes of the game, and the main quest rarely slows down in my opinion. Okay, you don't chase Letho from start to finish, but you're always busy with something that feels important. It seems like I didn't have time to get bored in Assassins of Kings"because there was always something epic or interesting happening in the main story. And even though the secondary quests were not always as fascinating, they felt relevant.
I'm going to end this rather long post by saying that despite everything I wrote above, it has been an amazing ride in The Witcher 3. I'm still enjoying this masterpiece and I'm looking forward to the Blood & Wine DLC. This is just the biggest issue I have with a game and a franchise I truly love.
If you made it through the entire text, I salute you, I thank you for reading my first post and I invite you to leave a comment in the most respectful way you can!
Cheers from the Burgurah!