Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Skyrim vs. The Witcher 3

Apparently I’m one of the few people who didn’t enjoy the Witcher 3 much. The critically acclaimed and multi-awarded game didn’t manage to hold my attention for very long. I played it for several weeks (so about 60-70 hours of gameplay), and then promptly returned to Skyrim which at that time I had already replayed at least half a dozen of times.

Every now and then, when I voice that unpopular opinion, I collect an interesting array of reactions: from quite derogatory suggestions that I don’t know what I’m talking about (as if preference was objective and not subjective), through preaching comments about how Witcher 3 is superior, to plain curiosity about my preference.

It finally prompted me to put my thoughts in one post, and since there hasn’t been a Gaming Writer’s Saturday entry for a while, it seems a perfect opportunity for an update.

Do I think The Witcher 3 a bad game?

When I look at Witcher 3, I see beautiful graphics, dynamic battles, and interesting quests, some with unexpected depth, some with even less expected humor. I see complexity and a potential for weeks if not months of a game play.

I definitely don’t consider Witcher 3 a bad game. As a gamer I appreciate many aspects of it… Yet, it failed to captivate me, and there are two main reasons for that.

A friend a bit too old

I admit, the first reason could be described as “it’s not you, it’s me” issue. In my teens, and then in my early twenties, I was a huge fan the Witcher book series. I read books as they came out in Polish, waiting impatiently for every new release, and then I re-read them multiple times, sprinting through the whole saga or revisiting my favorite scenes and passages.

I knew that story by heart, could name all the characters, and quote a multitude of one-liners. Now, some fifteen years later, I still remember it quite well. I’d lived in that world for so long, it hardly had any secrets. That meant revisiting all the familiar places and story lines when I was playing the game. Sure, some things had changed or were new, but the gist remained the same. It didn’t help that whenever a major character entered the scene, as soon as they introduced themselves, I instantly knew who they were and what to expect from them.

And to discover discrepancies between the books and the game world or tracing down new things was hardly enough to keep me engaged for long.
I also didn’t get to make my own decisions. Having read the book so many times, I knew what Geralt would do or how he’d behave. I knew whom he’d befriend and whom he’d love. I didn’t get to make my own decisions and create my own story. Instead, I was forced into a viewer’s position, following someone else. Which brings me to the second reason why the Witcher 3 failed to enchant me.

Not exactly an RPG

The basis of the role-playing games in its original, pen and paper version, is the character and its creation. The player has almost complete freedom when it comes to crucial character decisions: their personality, past, goals… When it comes to the physical appearance and skills, players are limited by the game mechanics and the world, but within those boundaries, they’re still free to choose whatever they want.

Yet, in The Witcher we have no choice at all. We have to play a male, a witcher, and we don’t even get to pick the name of our character or his appearance. Even the weapons and skills are limited by the character: witchers don’t use magic (the “signs” they use instead aren’t capable of affecting the game style strongly enough), and they fight with swords. So there isn’t even a choice of weapon to fit the player’s game style (there’s a crossbow introduced, but – again – it’s only support).

As a fan of pen and paper RPGs, I seek the same from their video game equivalents: freedom (to whatever extent the game is capable to offer it) and immersion. To me, The Witcher fails to deliver the first one, strongly affecting the second. Of course, the counter argument is that to make the character part of the world, some things have to be pre-defined. But Bioware proved that it can be done while still allowing nearly full freedom. In the games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect, the main characters have pieces of pre-defined history, family members, and so on, but the players still get to decide their gender, their appearance, and have a complete control over the skills and gaming style.

The freedom of Skyrim

In comparison, Skyrim offers almost ultimate freedom. Like in every game in the Elder Scrolls series, the player always start as a prisoner freed for the reasons depending on the particular game’s storyline. And after that, there’s nothing but freedom. The appearance, the skills, the game style… and the unlimited exploration.

Of course, that means the character isn’t as much a part of the story like in the Witcher or even in Dragon Age, but with the multitude of quest lines we get to fill in the gaps, engaging our the imagination, and simply living in the world instead of just being part of a story that would come to an end eventually.

Freedom also means high replayability, because each time the main character can take it into different direction, focusing on different things.

I’ve been a Nord who supported the “enemy” Empire, a High Elf who hated high-elven Thalmor agents, and an Imperial who wasn’t really interested in the politics as she explored and focused on building her perfect home at the hill overlooking the lake. I was a powerful mage, and I was a sneaky archer. I went hand to hand with the undead Draugr or killed them from afar with powerful spells. I strayed off the beaten trails to collect flowers for my alchemical experiments. Or I decided to cut straight through the mountain range instead of going around it, spending hours trying to climb seemingly unreachable rocks. The breathtaking view of the Skyrim below me was my reward.

And everywhere I turned, some sort of an adventure awaited me, ready to contribute to the story I was creating in my head.

Skyrim vs. The Witcher 3

I can understand why so many people consider the Witcher 3 to be superior: the rich and sometimes gut-wrenching story and the stunning graphics quality definitely make it a great game. And every now and then I think of trying to play it again… But I’m not a fan of returning to games after a long break and trying to figure out where I was and what I’ve done so far. I usually just start over. But in case of the Witcher 3 it means replaying exactly the same story with exactly the same character, and that’s something that doesn’t appeal to me either if the story failed to enchant me in the first place. So, in the end, I pick up Skyrim instead, create a new character, and enjoy the freedom of creating yet another story in the vast world… or of simply living in it.

Because if I’m forced to relive the story of someone else with little choice of who they are, I’d rather sit down and read a book.

This post is a part of the Gaming Writer’s Saturday series. You can check the idea behind it or browse other posts from the series.

A Month in a Writer’s Life – November 2018

Oh what a month it was! When I was making plans for November, I’d never thought that cutting down on my activities would mean I’d get even busier! Shortly after it started, my freelance work took over, pushing everything else to the side, and making me chase various deadlines and last minute requests. As you can guess, it wrecked havoc among my perfect schedules. But, nevertheless, it turned out to be a splendid month. Continue reading “A Month in a Writer’s Life – November 2018”

Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Fallout 76

I’ve been a fan of Fallout series since almost the very beginning of the series, back in 1998 when Black Isle Studios made the first two installments of the game. The post-apocalyptic world, so unlike the contemporary lousy YA renditions, mesmerized with the mix of great storytelling, complete freedom, and that pinch of an absurd humor that fitted right in with the world changed by the nuclear bombs.

Then, Bethesda Studios know of its Elder Scrolls series, took over Fallout and breathed new life into it. I was once – or actually twice – more lost in the world of retro sci-fi.

Yet, at the announcement of Fallout 76, I couldn’t help but wondering. An online game sounded like fun, but even if it wasn’t a massive multiplayer, and the prospect of venturing into West Virginia with a couple of my friends was enticing, gaming with other people brings a fair amount of problems. Extensive player killing, annoying players, simplified game mechanics or quests… On top of that, the studio announced there wouldn’t be any human non-player characters which required a new approach to quests and revealing the storyline. This all raised concerns. Would it live up to Fallout’s legend?

At the same time, Bethesda never disappointed me. From Morrowind through Fallout 4 to Elder Scrolls Online, not a single game had disappointed me so far. I knew I’d have to try it out, no matter what others were going to say about the game. Continue reading “Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Fallout 76”

The Wordwitch: A Writer’s Life in Pictures – February

You might have noticed that I haven’t been around much lately, and this month’s Wordwitch post is late. It’s because I’m in the middle of preparing to move across the States. For the same reason, the February’s A Month in the Writer’s Life won’t be posted. I’ll tell you all about my adventures in a joint February-March post in the beginning of April. Thank you for your understanding!

But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy February’s compilation of the Wordwitch pictures.

The Wordwitch

The Wordwitch (which got its name thanks to Myk Pilgrim) is a series of drawings I started back in January 2017. At first, it was one image, but soon more ideas followed and my notebook filled with more pictures. As I just recently launched my Facebook Page, it seemed a good time to start sharing them.

These drawings appear weekly on Tuesdays, on social media under the #thewordwitch hashtag, and are in monthly roundup posts here. Continue reading “The Wordwitch: A Writer’s Life in Pictures – February”

Gaming Writer’s Saturday – Divinity: Original Sin 2

A year ago, I was writing about Divinity Original Sin, and how the game surprised me with its rich storyline and great writing. I was already waiting for the second installment of the game, having backed it on Kickstarter in 2015, and even though the game came out later than I expected, it was definitely worth the wait.

Being a backer meant that I had access to the in-development version of the game, but even though I couldn’t wait for to play, in the end I didn’t spend much time with this version. I wanted to taste the finished product instead of guessing how it was going to look like. Continue reading “Gaming Writer’s Saturday – Divinity: Original Sin 2”

A Month in a Writer’s Life – September 2017

Yet another month goes by in my writer’s life. This time it was full of excitement: some planned and long-awaited, some unexpected. I also managed to be quite productive, as if with the summer gone, my body woke up from the “heat slumber”. Continue reading “A Month in a Writer’s Life – September 2017”

Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon was a game I had on my wish list for a while. Some months ago, my dear friend Anna decided to gift it to me as a belated birthday present, and after playing the game for a while, I can say it wasn’t a bad choice. Continue reading “Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Darkest Dungeon”

Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Banished

Gaming Writer's SaturdayI haven’t been playing many new games lately, and the one I seem to be coming back a lot is Banished. The game was recommended to me by my ex-coworker, and even though I got it a long time ago, it took me some time to get into this entertaining and demanding sandbox-type game. Continue reading “Gaming Writer’s Saturday: Banished”

Gaming Writer’s Saturday: The Flame in the Flood

Gaming Writer's SaturdayThe Flame in the Flood was one of the games I found through The graphics looked interesting, and so did the game play featured in the trailer: sail your raft, craft all the necessary items, and survive the wilderness. How could I resist this game for long? Continue reading “Gaming Writer’s Saturday: The Flame in the Flood”

A Month in a Writer’s Life – March 2017

Before I even realized, another month passed by. After not so positive February, I was hoping to catch up with my projects, finish things from my to-do list, and be generally more productive than I was. How did it go? In short: not bad, though definitely not as well as I hoped for. Continue reading “A Month in a Writer’s Life – March 2017”