The Witcher 3 is a masterpiece. It is without a doubt one of the best open-world RPGs I've ever played. It is bigger in scope than almost any singleplayer game I've played (except maybe Baldur's Gate II). It offers the freedom of Morrowind, the story intensity of Planescape: Torment or Fallout: New Vegas, the atmosphere of Fallout 3 — it's nothing short of a landmark achievement in open-world RPGs.
It is also, without a doubt, flawed. The best open-world RPG ever produced simultaneously proves that the entire genre is, at its core, broken. Can it be fixed? I don't know. The Witcher 3 certainly takes some steps in the right direction. But for every open-world trope it skillfully sidesteps (and it sidesteps a lot of them), it falls into another with the same headlong stupidity as Dragon Age: Inquisition, as Assassin's Creed Unity, as Watch_Dogs.
The Witcher 3 is best-in-class, a genre-defining game, a landmark achievement. But landmarks don't just show you how far you've come. They show how much further you've left to go.
Best in class
Everything Witcher 3 does right comes back to a central theme: World-building. The Witcher 3 justifies its open-world format. It's not the first game to have done so, but it certainly works the hardest at it. The Witcher 3 is full of life, full of people commenting on your actions whether or not you pay attention, full of tiny stories and tiny details many players won't even notice. It rewards exploration while maintaining a strong core story.
Contrast that with some other open-world games. Dragon Age: Inquisition artificially gated approximately fifteen hours of main story with forty or fifty (or more!) hours of pointless filler. Fallout 3 and New Vegas justified their open-worlds, but only because you expected a post-nuclear wasteland to be...well, mostly empty and devoid of life. Baldur's Gate II built a world of enormous size and scope, but it wasn't very flexible or reactive. Assassin's Creed just throws icons at a map as if that makes for a compelling world, when really it just highlights how dead every unplanned encounter feels.
The Witcher 3 is not an "open-world." It is a world. Do characters always react appropriately? No. Do some of the programmed reactions get old after a while? Sure. You'll undoubtedly notice that early on, when you enter the town of White Orchard for the dozenth time and run past the same damn kid singing the same annoying song for the dozenth time and getting grounded for the dozenth time.
But in general, The Witcher 3 does a remarkable job mimicking a living world around the titular witcher (read: professional monster-hunter) Geralt — and does so without making Geralt conspicuously the focus.
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