I’ve always felt somewhat lonely while playing open-world role-playing games.
While single-player gaming often demands a certain level of isolation, this feeling also depicts the nature of this particular game style.
They are constantly getting bigger and more open. With each new release, whether it’s “Skyrim,” “Fallout 3” or “Borderlands,” the constant drive for developers revolves around throwing the player into larger worlds filled with quests, characters and environments they can explore or interact with as they please.
In many ways, CD Projekt Red’s “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” is defined by this design philosophy.
The game’s premise is appropriately grand. The titular witcher Geralt, a mutated samurai who hunts monsters, is tasked with saving the world from a horde of space elves. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.
The witcher must preform the task while two huge factions battle for dominion over the northern realms where the story takes place. Witchers are often feared or discriminated against, adding to the challenge.
The game’s world is vast, encompassing five gigantic, playable areas, which many times are accessible only by boat, ranging from the bustling urban labyrinth of Novigrad to the scattered islands of Skellige. The narrative itself also plays into this idea, with players being able to directly shape the story through their decisions.
Even though the size and scope of this game are undeniably impressive, the most admirable quality of “The Witcher 3” is how it often scales back or limits the player’s influence in the game.
As I mentioned, I feel a loneliness when playing these games, and I believe it stems from a certain detachment that exists between the player and the world around them. After all, players can customize their characters to be anything from a murderous thief to a battlemage of any age, origin, gender or species, and the developer in turn must design a world that can accommodate them.
While the intention to accommodate the player’s influence is certainly present in games like “Skyrim” or “Fallout 3,” building a system to account for all these factors and nuances would be too difficult from a design perspective. As a result, many open-world games often make these characteristics irrelevant to the way the player interacts with the world. In turn, a mechanic that should aid in immersion or connecting and communicating with the player actually transforms it into one that hinders this goal.
By taking a certain amount of control away from the player “The Witcher 3” manages to avoid the detaching the player. For example, Geralt is by default always going to be a witcher, and as a result, the developers can craft intricate and meaningful stories in which his profession or identity affect the way others view or treat him.
This improvement is also reflected in the mechanics, with the developers being able to design their game’s combat and combat scenarios around swordplay augmented by magic and alchemy, instead of trying to make the same controls and levels designed around swordplay just as accessible to ranged combat or stealth.
By skillfully taking away control from the player, “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” immerses the player in a richer world that connects more directly and meaningfully through its game play and storytelling. The game’s world is ultimately made bigger by becoming smaller.