It's the existence of these side-quests that's baffling. It destroys the pacing of the main story. Every time a character says how "urgent" something is you can laugh, safe in the knowledge that there will in actuality be no consequence to puttering around the countryside for ten hours killing bears. Or spelunking in empty caves because, I don't know, maybe somebody dropped a sword in there a few decades ago?
Here's the catch-22: You can't have an open-world without filling it with side content. You can't have the side content without devaluing the stakes of the main story. It is a genre that is at its core fundamentally broken. For every step The Witcher 3 takes towards rectifying this — fleshing out those side stories, giving Geralt a purpose — it simultaneously proves the industry's whole approach to the genre is wrongheaded.
Another example: Loot. There are multiple moments in The Witcher 3 — supposedly poignant moments — where a friend rewards you with a priceless item. For instance, a sword that has "been in the family for generations," or "a one-of-a-kind sword made solely for you."
In real life this would be a huge deal. Can you imagine if you helped someone and they were so emotionally overcome by your grace and humility that they offered you a one-of-a-kind family heirloom?
In The Witcher 3, the item in question drops into your inventory and becomes one more piece of useless loot cluttering your saddlebags. The family heirloom sword? I walked down the hallway and sold it for about 300 gold. The sword that one guy made me? I literally sold it back to him. "Yeah, thanks very much for making this piece of garbage for me. Now if you could just give me money for it. I don't want it."
These are genre tropes. You can say it doesn't bother you. You can say "Well I don't even notice that," and that's fine. But it doesn't change the existence of said problems. In a game the quality of Witcher 3, where so many stupid, stupid tropes have been sidestepped, it exacerbates the issue. The lazy garbage open-world games get away with becomes all the more apparent when someone actively tries to fix some of the genre's most egregious issues.
The Witcher 3 is maybe the best open-world RPG ever made. I don't say that lightly. This is my favorite genre, and my history with it stretches back nearly two decades.
But my patience with the genre wears somewhat thin. The promise of the open-world is more natural (and more engrossing) stories. Rather than being shuttled place to place, we're allowed to live a character.
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