One of the most commonly asked question among both hard core and casual gamers is, “what is your favorite game?” It’s a question that can either cause a knee jerk reaction, causing someone to yell out, “SUPER MARIO BROS 3! YOU NEVER BEAT IT!? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!?” Or, “LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCORINA OF TIME! YOU NEVER BEAT IT!? GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
For those that don’t have an emotional imbalance and still have some friends, answering a question like that might take some time. For me, a favorite game must have the ability to make me want to play it over and over again.
Replay Ability is when you have enjoyed a game so much that you want to relive the experience again and again. You spent hours attempting to master particular mechanics, fight to defeat the main antagonists, and prove that you were the hero this world needed.
Some video games cannot be digested in just one sitting. They call out to you in the hopes that you will try and find a new way to overcome a obstacle that your friends were never able to find. For awhile, games like the Uncharted series or Legend of Zelda: Ocorina of Time (YOU NEVER PLAYED IT!? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!?) have had the ability to make me want to play it again and again, even if I know what the outcome will be. It’s the retelling of a well written saga that draws us in and no other recent series has had that potential like The Witcher.
I wish that I had this outlet when I first began playing The Witcher series. For me, I had never heard of Geralt of Rivia until E3 2014 when then first game play trailer of a dormant franchise made by CD Projekt was shown. I was blown away by this white haired man fighting mythical creatures and riding around in this vast and beautiful open world. However, I had a thought creep into my head that only years of overly produced game play trailers and unrealistic CG can harden within me…this can’t be real. They must have doctored this up to generate sales. There is no way that this can be a game….looks good though (Yes, I’m aware of their tactics will work on me every time.) Months later, the advertising trailers dropped and I felt a sigh of relief that I finally had something that I could play. There was a video game dry spell around the time The Witcher 3 had come out and I was ready to wake up my Xbox from it’s yearly hibernation.
Playing it safe and playing the same Call of Duty game every year is just fine for some people. Not for me, I would much rather see what different ideas their are out there and and see if I can find a new series to get excited about. Not knowing anything about The Witcher, I started looking up different videos and started researching the lore behind it. The growing recommendations between most gamers became, “don’t play the first one and love the second.” Which gave me pause at first. I decided that I needed to take those recommendations and use them as a cautious warning as I made up my own mind.
Again, I wish I had this as an outlet when I first tried the Witcher series, because man…The Witcher (1st game in the series) was terrible. It was an older game made strictly for the computer. You played as Geralt of Rivia, a master sword fighter and wielder of basic magic who fights various monsters for money (ie. Werewolves, vampires, striggas, and other well known or never heard of monsters from folk tales.) People who take up this profession are known around the world as Witchers and are often feared because of the mutations that they undergo as children in order to be faster and stronger then the average man. Geralt ends up losing his memories due becoming mortally wounded during a city wide brawl. He is carried to the Witcher headquarters of Kaer Morhen where your mentor and fellow witchers attempt to re-teach you their skills and knowledge ultimately resulting in you becoming the famed witcher all over again and being reintroduced to long time friends. It’s a great way for new members of the series who have never read a book in the long running series to be able to pick up where they left off and become immersed in the lore. If only the game play had been better, more people may have noticed this game. The combat was a rock-paper-scissors type of system where you could perform three different moves using your mouse. Quick attacks for slower opponents, stronger attacks for quicker opponents. There was not a way for someone to move around your opponent or vary your attacks by very much. Honestly, I played the beginning of the game and could not bring myself to finish it. I ended up watching YouTube videos in order to understand the rest of the story and I felt pretty happy with my decision.
The Witcher 2 absolutely blew me away and really made up for the lackluster first entry into the series. They revamped the entire game play experience and made it feel like a true RPG worthy of standing up to modern RPGs. I like to tell people that The Witcher 2 was one of my favorite video game finds because I truly had zero expectations of it being a good game, and was pleasantly surprised. (The only other time that something like this has happened is when I played Persona 5. See my review for more information.) The Witcher 2 plays after the events of the first one and starts you off recounting recent events in your life as you are being interrogated in an underground dungeon. Your gameplay can change during these flash backs as some details can be altered based on choices that you make. I have always been a sucker for a game that gives more choices and options to the player, and this game did not skimp on these aspects. The game will eventually lead you on a great story and even better gameplay as your decisions shape the world around you as you attempt to finish recounting all of your lost memories. I feel like I will want to dive more into The Witcher 2 at some point, maybe during a ten year anniversary, but I wanted to talk about the replay ability of The Witcher 3.
Ok…I felt like I spent a long time summing the series and my experience with the series. For those that stuck with it, I hope that you have a better understanding for what I am driving at. If you left…I kinda understand.
It has been two years since CD Projekt has made the third and last installment of The Witcher series, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. (As I write this, I read an article from the CEO of CD Projekt stating they are open to making another Witcher game. Duh. This game made a ton of money and has created a cult following. Pretty happy, but not surprised.) This game is a direct sequel to every other Witcher game and as you have now completely regained your memory and are now in search of your lost love Yennifer. During your travels in the very early parts of this game, you find out that Yennifer as been looking for you as well and has a message for you. She takes you to the Emperor who will eventually tell you that your ward, a woman named Ciri, is in danger and the Emperor, who is her actual father, wants you to find her and bring her back to him. The story revolves around your attachment with Ciri and how she has become more than just your ward. Geralt had been training her at the Witcher headquarters of Kaer Morhen since she was child in the hopes that she would be a witcher and be able to protect herself from evil forces that want to use her for her magical powers. Geralt has known that she is special and has been her protector and father ever since.
The story behind this game is one of the best written games I have ever played. You feel a connection with these characters in a way that I never though possible. Each one has their own story to tell and you truly will want to know more about them and how they know Geralt. The characters might me new to you, but Geralt has known them for a long time and you start to feel those decade old bonds between them.
The game play will challenge you and make you truly think about particular strategies before every battle. Normal hack and slash games would have you do the same techniques or use the same skills over and over again until you have logged in the correct number of dead bodies and the game finally says, “ok…you win…stop killing now.” The witcher is different in the sense that it requires you to really know the weaknesses and the strengths of the monster you are about to fight. Werewolves have the ability to heal themselves over time and cannot be harmed by normal weapons. Knowing this, you need to drink the right kind of potions that will either heal yourself over time, evening the playing field, or that will injure the enemy every time they attack you. Also, you will learn that applying different poisons to your blade or using particular magic spells might give you the upper hand that you will need in order to finish the battle. Just for fun, I attempted to fight similar beasts without any preparation and found that the enemies were pretty difficult and often time would fall victim to them. This was a challenge that I had not faced many times in modern games and it made me want to come back for more.
The game also has a very vast and open world that is ripe for exploring. Your map will become daunting as you zoom out and see the endless hours of secret caves, hidden treasures, and monster nests that litter this open world. I ended up putting in close to 140 hours into the main story and I think I might have actually seen half of the map. Often time, while traveling from point A to point B, you will stubble upon a monster nest and see a giant monster coming from the edge of a forest or from the sky. It would make your heart race as you attempt to run away from it and make it to the closest town only to find out that someone has placed a contract on that beast and you are the only one able to stop it.
Much like The Witcher 2, your decisions will shape the world around as you choose what path you want to follow. Though the story missions wont change, the choices you make in regards to the people around you will ultimately help you or hinder you in the end game. You can choose to be the model citizen and do what Witchers do. Or, you can be the terror that the people make you out to be and terrorize the land scape. You can choose to fulfill your duty to the Emperor or you can prove that Ciri has always been more than just your ward. Each choice will take the game in completely different directions and will truly make you wonder if you have made the right call.
Even the DLCs that this game offers have been high bench marks for future games. Each one felt like an entirely new game with the amount of content and new stories that they offered. It did not feel like a small, one hour, semi story involving a answer to a question that no one cared about.
So, what makes a game have replay ability? My belief is that it must grab you from the moment that you pick it up, to the second you put it down. It should make you ask whether you could have done something different or if you want to try something else in order to see the different outcome. The game play should want you to master it rather than be so easy that you have already mastered it. The story should make you want to learn even more about the environments and the people that inhabit it. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt has done this for me and so much more. It led me to not only know and love the games, but it has introduced me to the book series that has turned into some of the best books that I have ever read. If you love video games and you want to try something that will hook you the moment you jump off your horse, then pick up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and understand what a true game with replay ability is all about.