Experienced Points: Witcher 3 – Size Matters

By Shamus
on Jun 9, 2015
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is about how our usual metrics for the size of a game (hours and square area) are inadequate for describing the size and complexity of Witcher 3.

I wrote that column on Sunday. At the time, I’d just completed a massive siege at a castle, which was kind of like the suicide mission from Mass Effect 2. All the main characters were there, the bad guys were there, and everyone had gone all-in. The list of resources available to me was shaped by decisions I’d made over the last sixty hours of gameplay. The battle was a long, complex, multi-stage thing that kind of had a Helm’s Deep vibe. It was the perfect ending to a long and complex drama.

And then the game kept going. And going. And going. Days later, it’s still going.

I keep trying to fit the game into some sort of three-act structure, but it just doesn’t fit. Sometimes it feels like playing through a massive novel. Other times it feels like playing through several seasons of a long-running TV show.

I’m glad I have the graphics settings turned down to “terrible”, because if this game looked any better I’d probably go blind.

But really, Witcher 3 is its own thing. It defies categorization because it’s not trying to be any of those other things. It’s dense and detailed in a way that other games simply aren’t. Let’s look at the plot of Arkham City:

SPOILERS!

Hugo Strange runs Arkham City, and somehow has Bruce Wayne arrested. During his gloating monologue, he reveals that all his plans will come to fruition once Protocol 10 is complete. So Batman needs to figure out what Protocol 10 is. He gets his suit, then stops by the courthouse to save Catwoman from Two Face. Then Joker takes a shot at her through the window. Batman figures the shot came from the church. Investigating the church gives him a radio signal to follow to Joker’s lair. In Joker’s hideout he gets ambushed and captured. Joker is dying of some kind of toxin, so he puts the toxin into Batman knowing that if anyone can get the cure, he can.

Batman goes in search of Mr. Freeze, who he suspects will know how to make a cure. But Freeze was captured by Penguin. So Batman has to break into Penguin’s lair, fight a ton of bosses and traps, rescue Freeze, and learn that the cure requires some magical Lazarus juice from Ra’s al Ghul. Batman goes deep underneath Gotham, solves more puzzles and traps, get whacked out on mind-altering drugs from Ra’s, and eventually defeats Ra’s and steals what he needs. Also his sometime girlfriend Talia is there, complicating things.

Batman returns to Freeze, who synthesizes the cure. But then Freeze picks a fight and Batman is obliged to kick his ass. During the fight, Joker steals the cure. Batman goes after him. They have a showdown. There is a screne which really doesn’t work for me at all, after which Batman ascends the tower, beats up Hugo Strange to put and end to Protocol 10, and saves the day.

Finally Batman has to go after Joker one last time to rescue Talia and recover the cure. There’s a fight with Clayface and some banter between Bats and Joker. Roll credits.

That’s actually quite a bit of plot. Like, if you were making a standard Hollywood movie you’d probably need to trim quite a bit of of that. My first time through the game, I frequently found myself in situations where I’d forgotten how my current task connected to the central plot and I had no idea why I was beating up the guys in my path.

And yet, all of that is a third or a quarter of the complexity of tracking down Dandelion, which is only a small part of the central plot Witcher 3, which is a tiny fraction of the content in the full game. Trying to explain the plot of Witcher 3 is like trying to describe a fractal.

Sometimes it feels like Skyrim, where you’re just wandering the wilds, stumbling over adventures, monsters, and treasures. Other times it feels like Telltale’s Walking Dead, where you’ll spend twenty minutes walking around, looking at stuff, and discussing things with your allies.

I’ve said for years that we can’t have games like Planescape Torment anymore, because voice acting is too expensive. But here is a game even larger than Planescape, and it’s all voice acted.

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From the Archives:

  1. Christopher says:

    The difference between “Witcher 3’s Game World Offers An Abundance of Richness” and “In Witcher 3, Size Matters” is the most funny example I’ve seen in a while of making a headline more eye-catching.

    I have nothing to say on the topic of dicussion except “Good!”, since I haven’t played it and it appears to be in a different league from everything that’s come before. Hopefully, whatever tricks they used become influential and makes the RPGs of the market deeper overall. This is “big” in a way that sounds great.

  2. Jokerman says:

    What i wonder with this game is just how is this in anyway going to be profitable? We have all seen stories on how games like Resident evil 6 or Tomb Raider needing to hit 6 million sales just to break even.

    How many would this game need? I can’t imagine this selling 6m either, maybe it wasn’t meant to? Sound naive to think someone would make a game in this day and age for art. But CD Projekt have money from GOG, they could do it.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I heard it had already sold 4 million copies, and I would think they’re on a smaller budget than you would expect if they’d developed the game in the US.

      • Nordicus says:

        Accorcing to a Polish news article published today, CDProjekt spent 120 million PLN on development, which is about $32M, and 35 million dollars were spent on marketing internationally. So 67+ million

        The development costs are much much smaller than in a US studio, but I’d suppose marketing costs do not budge much even if you’re from a cheaper country

        • Abnaxis says:

          OK, so I looked up prices in Warsaw here:

          http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/city_result.jsp?country=Poland&city=Warsaw&displayCurrency=USD

          All of those are the same as what I pay in Ohio (expert internet, because this is Midwestern US).

          I don’t think the savings just came from developing in Poland. A lot of it–most of it even–came from actually spending less labor in development. Costs can’t be that much less…

          • Henson says:

            When you say ‘Ohio’, do you mean in the big cities? If not, that’s not a fair comparison to other game development houses, and even a place like Cleveland probably isn’t expensive enough. Compare rather to Boston, Los Angeles, Montreal, Tokyo.

            • Abnaxis says:

              Columbus, which isn’t quite as big as Cleveland or Cincinnati, but not small or cheap by any stretch. It’s really hipster here, which makes everything expensive

              I know California is expensive, but it’s not enough more expensive to justify how little CDPR spent compared to other AAA studios

          • Do they get tax breaks for staying in Poland?

            Uwe Boll got a domestic filmmaker tax break from Germany, which is why he was given so many properties to destroy; Him working on the projects in his home country was a significant savings before filming even started.

        • wswordsmen says:

          Why would marketing costs budge? You are advertising in the same countries anyway. CD Projekt RED is like a foreigner who becomes a big Hollywood film star, they might make movies outside of the US where it is cheap, but they will still advertise them to the US audience.

          The Witcher isn’t some local game that just happened to develop a following elsewhere. It is a big game that has an already built following.

          In short you shouldn’t expect marketing costs on big name games to change based on where it was developed

      • Jokerman says:

        They are surprisingly good sales, a pleasant surprise.

    • Otters34 says:

      I agree entirely that GOG was a major factor. It’s not like Obsidian, where they have to Make the Game to Make the Money, if the Wild Hunt doesn’t make its budget back on its own CD Projekt has a gold mine out back to cushion the blow.

      Like how by now Valve could probably afford to make an entire new trilogy of Half-Lives and Left 4 Deads and Portals all at the same time.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      It’s got to be the combination of the GOG income stream, and the much lower costs of development in Poland vis-a-vis North America and Western Europe.

      Also, if the Polish government is so proud of CD Projekt Red’s global clout that they gave US President Obama a copy of the Witcher 2 on a state visit, I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave CDPR considerations (tax breaks, incentives, grants, etc.) as well.

      • Henson says:

        I seem to remember reading somewhere that they did get government money for the first game at least, but I can’t seem to find that info anywhere. Anyone else got a clue?

      • MichaelGC says:

        One has to be pretty careful with that sort of thing in the European Union due to laws against state aid. It can be done – e.g. Britain set up a videogame tax relief after waiting several years for approval – but it’s not a simple matter. (You’d need to be able to answer ‘no’ to the question: “Does the aid favour certain undertakings?,” for example. Or at least find a creative ‘Yes. But!’)

      • Simplex says:

        As far as I know CDPR did not get any tax breaks or grants from the Polish government, we are not at that stage of development yet (Swedish Funcom gets grants). I would not be surprised if the company itself was registered in some kind of tax heaven like Cyprus, for tax “optimalization” purposes.
        Polish prime minister(ess) was in CDPR office on the day of release, or soon after. A funny photo was made:
        http://x3.cdn03.imgwykop.pl/c3201142/comment_mSoi1lDBFdbmPLxdnZ6BKzu4bRkPNuFn.jpg

  3. Grenaid says:

    I have hardly scratched the surface of the game, but talking with my sister who is playing it at the same time, I’m kind of in awe of how quests and characters keep interweaving (and I’m only level 12.) In particular, the way the Bloody Baron’s quest ties into seemingly unrelated quests (the twist of possibly having met a VERY relevant character before, but not knowing it, was brilliant.)

    May as well take this moment to ask for thoughts on BB’s storyline and character (without spoilers I guess.) I thought they showed a complicated character pretty well. Far better, than say, Bioware. And things avoided being the black and white of Bioware without, say, the Grimdark of Diablo.

    Just shitty humans being shitty, but with pretty well written and consistent characterization.

  4. Drew says:

    The killer with a game of this size is when you hit the fatigue point. You’re 80 hours in, and you kind of just want to see the end. At the same time, you know that if you skip side content now just to plow through the main plot, you’re never going to play through the game again to see that side content, because you’ll have to go through 80 hours of gameplay to get there and you’re not willing to put in that kind of investment, no matter how good the game is. So you’re stuck. You want to play through to the end, but you also feel like you have to play all the side quests because it’s your only chance.

    Then again, maybe I’m the only one who hits this particular wall. I don’t know.

    • Shamus says:

      I’ve been going through a similar thing. Every time I run into something non-plot that sounds interesting I think, “I’ll do that on the next playthrough.”

      * I’ll take these Witcher contracts next time.
      * I’ll try out crafting next time.
      * I’ll collect Gwent cards next time.
      * I’ll hunt down these rare armor sets next time.
      * I’ll explore the options with the Triss / Geralt /Yennifer love triangle next time.

      But here at the 80 hour mark it’s pretty obvious there isn’t going to BE a next time.

      • Henson says:

        Hope springs eternal.

      • Daimbert says:

        I hit that with Oblivion. When I started, I thought about replaying it with a different character, but as I went along and played it for more and more hours it became clear that, for me, this was pretty much going to be the one game, at least for a while.

        And this is coming from someone who has put over 500 hours into the various incarnations of Persona 3 and Persona 4. And will replay both of them at some point in the future, once I work through my backlog a little more.

      • Alec says:

        If the game is that good, that shouldn’t be a problem. Most games don’t get completed with me, those that do certainly don’t get a re-run. Unless…

        I’ve played through Baldur’s Gate 2 (at 80-100 hours per playthrough) and System Shock 2 four or five times and I can’t imagine I’ll not do it again some time.

        If the game is that good, there will be a next time. There should be.

        • Daimbert says:

          That works if you don’t have a lot of other great games and games that might be great to play. If you do, then the length of time you spend on the game can run you into thinking that you need to hurry up and finish this game because you really feel like trying out that new game or replaying that old one … which is not a good way to go. You end up, essentially, having to choose between multiple great games because you only have so much time. Adding in that for a lot of things — like sidequests — you might have to play for a long time to get them, it can start to wear on you.

      • Supahewok says:

        Haven’t you put over a 1000 hours into Skyrim, though? Play it every few months? Is there a reason why you would continue to replay Skyrim over W3 in the future?

        Not trying to be accusatory, just curious. I guess there’s the mods that you like that make Skyrim have more survival aspects. Does W3 have modding tools? (Waiting on a computer upgrade so that I can experience it at above minimum graphics, so I’m not up to date on all that the game contains)

    • djw says:

      Nope. I get that too. Witcher 3 is good enough that I might still manage to finish it though.

    • Jokerman says:

      “So you’re stuck. You want to play through to the end, but you also feel like you have to play all the side quests because it’s your only chance.”

      I hit the same wall, when i got to this point… i started skipping side quests, and feeling bad about it. But i really wanted to finish the main story, too invested to stop… even if i had stop truly enjoying myself a good 5 hours before the end due to that fatigue.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I think it depends on your station in life…

      At school and as a student, I had no problems playing through incredibly long games multiple times, just to perfect my technique. Some of those I could probably have played blindfolded at some point. These days, with maybe an hour on weekday evenings and two or three on weekends left over for gaming … my patience is much reduced. Kind of sad that this is the age of good indie games for small money — I’ve got so few games but so much less time to actually play them, and I already don’t watch TV.

      I bet there will be lots of highschoolers and students who will have no problem at all doing multiple playthroughs. And really really, if a game is supposed to feel like the gameworld is large and “real”, it can’t be possible to do everything because that means you’d see the boundaries. You can’t do everything in the real world, either…

  5. Khizan says:

    One thing that needs to be considered here is that Witcher 3 is from CD Projekt RED, which is a Polish studio; labor costs are much lower there. A cursory googling gives me programmer salaries at roughly 25% of US standard.

    • Richard says:

      Programmers aren’t (or at least, shouldn’t be) the big ticket item for this type of game though.

      Once you have an engine and a decent set of tools for putting varied content into the engine, then the programming is pretty much done (apart from a few complex setpieces).

      I expect that’s probably how they did it – build a really great engine and worldbuilding tools that are simple and powerful enough for technically-minded designers and scriptwriters to use without needing to go via the programming team.

      Given the screenshots and video I’ve seen, I’d guess the biggest expense was the 3D modellers and animators. Wow.

      • Ilseroth says:

        This, almost assuredly is the case. I have worked on several personal 3d projects and once I have the systems programming out of the way, I spend so much time on building 3d models, textures, animations… Honestly it is the main thing that prevent me from really trying to make a commercial product since I am not a particularly skilled 3d artist.

        And I am building things in the typical bethesda manner, as I was originally a Elder Scrolls modder, so I build all of my 3d models in a manner designed to be used like beth games which allows for content production on a mass scale… but has less individuality in each individual environment.

        So if they have individual areas each looking different and unique and not the Beth style Dungeon, Cave, Dwemer and Tower (think about it, that really is it) then I am staggered. sadly I can’t afford Witcher 3 right now so I can’t take a look meself but yeah, 3d art is time consuming as hell.

      • Muspel says:

        I don’t necessarily know if that’s true. My understanding is that engineers are usually among the highest-paid employees at a video game studio, so having to pay them so much less would probably go a long ways towards cutting development costs.

        • Richard says:

          However, good content-creation tools goes even further.

          Your level designers can produce (eg) twice as much per person as they don’t need to ask the programmers for help.

          You can hire (eg) 5 programmers instead of 10 because the designers don’t need to ask them for much.

          Now your cost of content is 25% – even assuming the same salaries for each.

      • Khizan says:

        Programmers are the only example I looked up; my point was more that labor costs are going to be much less there and that it probably applies to everything. Animators, voice actors, etc.

      • Kdansky says:

        Yes, and this explains why Bethesda is so far behind.

        Their tools are unbelievably bad. They released a (probably slightly cut-down) variant of their in-house dev tool to make their actual games. That tool is an unmitigated disaster. No wonder they can’t create interesting content. Their level designers have to spend 80% of their time wrestling the horrible tools.

        As an example: There was an official video of a level designer of Bethesda showing off how to use the editor (I can’t find it any more), and he spent twenty minutes on fixing the automated pathing system so NPCs and monsters were able to walk around in a completely flat and 2D-dungeon. That’s not rocket science. Any half-sober software engineer could make the automated process good enough to only require minor manual tuning.

        Or try to change a spell’s cost, or make it cost health instead of mana. That’s just a number, yet you have to dig seven layers of complexity deep to find it.

  6. Orillion says:

    Man I wish I could want to play this, but I just can’t get interested in an RPG that has me play a pre-set character. I really wish that CD Project had gone with a Shepard/Hawke approach to the character so I could get invested in him. I’m still not sure I’d like it unless they added the option of Geralt not being a dick, but at least I’d kind of be interested.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I keep hearing this, especially from critics, and it’s starting to grate a little.

      We already have plenty of games in the open-world RPG genre that let you 100% customize your character. All the Fallouts, all the Elder Scrolls, every MMO made ever, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Dark Souls…

      If you want an open-world RPG with a protagonist that isn’t just an uncharacterized texture-swap, alleviating the developer from having to spend more than a token effort at giving that character life, you’re pretty out of luck. I mean…does Assassin’s Creed count? Maybe Deus Ex the original is kinda open-worldy, if you kind of squint at it… Maybe Fable, I guess, although even there the character is pretty much “blank slate”…

      Now, I don’t want to tell you how to have fun, but please understand that Witcher is not worse for having a fixed protagonist. It’s just not your cup of tea. And you have a ton of options for games that are your cup of tea.

      I’m tired of hearing “well, if they just let you pick your Witcher, it’ll be so much better!” It won’t be for everybody. I’m personally getting a little tired of empty protagonists.

      • Orillion says:

        I don’t think you read my comment correctly. All I said I wanted was cosmetic customization (that goes beyond the beard and hair styles that the Witcher has). Maybe the ability to play as a female, but that’s totally optional since it doubles a fair chunk of the voice acting work. Geralt could still have a fixed name, though if he could be a she then it’d have to be something different from that. I just don’t want to be THAT white-haired, leather-faced wierdo. I want to be MY white-haired, leather-faced wierdo. And the thing is, all the assets are probably already there.

        Also, I don’t know where you got the idea that Shepard and Hawke are “empty protagonists.” Sure, you choose what they say, but you don’t choose what they think. Shepard is kind of racist in ME1. You can choose to express that or hold it in around polite company, but you can’t choose for Shepard to not think that way. And I wouldn’t have minded at all not being able to choose what Shepard says in most cases.

        And I never once said “The Witcher is a bad game because you can’t customize your character.” I stated my opinion, and you projected onto me that I was stating fact.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I didn’t project anything. It’s not that you are saying it’s a bad game, it’s that you say it’s a worse game for having Geralt be Geralt instead of a “choose your own” Geralt, and that if the developers had given players more freedom in customizing their Witcher, the game would be unambiguously better for it. Shamus has also expressed the same notion, many times, in writing about Witcher 3.

          The problem is, every freedom they give you to pick something for yourself ties the developer’s hands in the story they are trying to craft. How would Shepard being racist have worked if you could have chosen your race at the beginning of the game? Does it really make sense for Turian Shepard to fight for human superiority?

          And even then, you do still “choose” how Shepard thinks, because you choose how important they find it to be conciliatory or not. And I put “choose” in quote, because–let’s be honest–most of those choices amount to either “just how stupid do I want Shepard to be?” or “how much trite nonsense am I willing to put up with?” Because making quality dialog and interaction that makes in-character sense is borderline-impossible when you don’t have an established protagonist.

          I greatly prefer a white, gruff voiced male Geralt to “choose your own race/gender” because the writers actually did something with it. He’s an albino mutant freak who will never be considered part of society. He is also has…let’s say “complex and dynamic” relationships with women, which might not be your cup of tea, but it would be impossible to convey these relationships in the same context if Geralt weren’t a heterosexual male.

          This isn’t about voice-over recording or mo-cap costs, this is an issue of creative freedom. If a game lets you customize your character, it has two choices:

          The first choice is to virtually never have that aspect of your character be salient in any of your interactions within its systems. That’s usually the way customization is done–after all, if a game isn’t addressing themes of racism or gender roles within it’s narratives, why not let you pick your gender/skin color/race? Incidentally, this is my biggest problem with (say) Skyrim–I feel like choosing to be Khajiit versus Nord versus Imperial should be much more acknowledged by the game than it is given the narrative Skyrim presents, but they all play virtually the same. A lot of “freedom to play whatever you want!” games have this problem.

          Choice #2 is to try and make the game adjust for all the possible choices the player made. It’s been a long time since I played a Bioware game (DA:O was the last one) and I think there was a controversy since then that might make this not the case, but that’s how their romance systems used to work. When you chose your gender, it opened up/closed off possible romances with other NPCs throughout the game. The problem with that is now the writers need to account for every possible choice, doing an order of magnitude more work while also trying to avoid showing inappropriate bias or creating unfortunate implications in all of the alternatives. Even if the writers manage to pull it off at all (insert every morality system implemented ever as counter-evidence to their ability to do so effectively) then nuance in the delivery is invariably lost.

          No matter the choice developers make, the game loses out on it’s thematic content. That’s what I mean when I say “empty protagonist”–the player can invent whatever head-canon they want for their avatar because the game leaves it open, but that necessarily means there is less actual canon.

          I don’t want less canon. I want a big explorable world where there is class and society and racism and sexism and I want a main character that realistically reacts and interacts with others within that context. I get that this is my personal preference and that it doesn’t align with your personal preference, but our preferences conflict, you already have a ton of stuff that fits your preference, and by and large I’ve only seen people advocating for your point of view.

  7. Wide And Nerdy says:

    “My first time through the game, I frequently found myself in situations where I’d forgotten how my current task connected to the central plot and I had no idea why I was beating up the guys in my path.”

    Reading your articles I wouldn’t have gotten the impression that this ever happens to you. I thought I was just spacey and other people were better at keeping track of this stuff (mind you, if I make the effort, I can manage especially if I know going in that its one of those games, but quite often I don’t).

    So if you lose track of this stuff while playing, do you have to play back through to get the details for your columns or are there good sources? I find that not every gaming fandom keeps the right kind of info in their wikis for this. Do you keep a notepad on hand? (I guess this question is open to anyone who does a gaming blog, I’ve been kind of working on starting one myself just as a hobby).

    • Shamus says:

      You can sometimes catch up if you just read back through your quest log or whatever. In Batman, it would usually click once you finished a particular cul-de-sac. I’d get through the Museum and find Freeze, and then it would all make sense again.

  8. adam says:

    I’m in love with Witcher 3. It’ll probably land somewhere in my top 5 favorite games of all time when it’s all over. I keep expecting to get tired of it and quit but it just doesn’t happen. And I’m not feeling this overwhelming compulsion to do EVERYTHING or to pad out the experience in any way (like, say, eschewing fast travel). I’m just doing things, and it’s great.

    For the most part. (very, very minor spoilers below).

    One thing that bothers me is the pacing felt really off between Velen and Skellige. I got my first story quest to visit Skellige when I was about level 8, but the quest was “suggested for level 16,” despite my having waited to do the quests leading up to it at their respective “suggested” levels. So I figured I had plenty of time to poke around Velen (and rescue Dandelion) before moving on to Skellige, but then, abruptly, around level 11 I got 3-4 quests in Skellige that were all suggested-level 10-14.

    That confused me. Why would the game’s story suggest I wait until level 16 to move on to Skellige but then give me side quests there for levels well under that? So in order not to outlevel those particular quests I felt obligated to trudge on over to Skellige and knock out just those quests, ignoring everything else that tried to get my attention while I was there, before heading back to Velen. I also noticed that a couple optional quest objectives suggested talking to Yennefer, but I hadn’t seen here since the opening scenes and she was who-knows-where in Skellige, where I wasn’t ready to be yet.

    So finally I finish rescuing Dandelion at about level 17 and go back to Skellige and start down that story line and I notice quite quickly that after that one single opening quest suggested for level 16, some of the subsequent quest “suggested” levels jumped back down to 12-14. Odd.

    I feel like this was an oversight. I feel like the quest to go to Skellige should have been lowered to level 10-12 and all of this confusion would have been avoided, since then it would have been obvious to me that you’re meant to split time between Skellige and Velen as opposed to “completing” (the early story quests on) Velen before moving to Skellige.

    The remainder of my complaints are minor and mostly involve the inventory and UI. There are some keybinding silliness as well–heavy attack bound to shift + left click simply doesn’t work at all for me and I had to manually modify some .ini files to get my alternate sign mode (hold Q) to work. I also wish there was a difficulty level beyond the hardest one that forced me to use potions, bombs and oils, but other than that, it’s one of the best games of any kind I’ve played in years. I think the last time I’ve been so engrossed in a game was with Skyrim, and all told I think Witcher 3 is a superior game in most ways.

    And I can’t wait to see what the modders do with it.

  9. Gunther says:

    The thing that really impresses me is how great the facial animation is on random peasant NPC #9835 who wants you to do sidequest #742. Somebody spent hours making sure it perfectly matched every inflection of his dialogue. To do that for every NPC in this stupidly long game? For every possible dialogue option?

    It doesn’t bear thinking about.

    • Something says:

      FaceFX (or equivalent technology) automatically generates facial animations based on the sound cue passed in. While I’m sure someone had to initially set up the facial animation rig, and on the other end someone had to confirm the resulting animations looked good, it isn’t like they’re painstakingly hand animating every syllable of dialogue.

  10. Isaac says:

    Alien Isolation has the same problem. After launching the Alien into the space, all the subplots get resolved in the last 5 hours or so of the game.

    First, you try to fix the ship’s A.I., then you decide to blow up the Alien nest, then the “My mom’s last message!” subplot gets resolved, then you witness some character drama between two people the player hardly knows or cares about, then it’s *finally* time to escape the ship!

    BUT OH WAIT

    First you have to turn on, hack and reboot a bunch of shit for the last hour of the game! Once you that then you can esca- NOPE GOTTA HAVE ONE LAST SEQUENCE IN AN ALIEN NEST ok now you can go.

    tl;dr: Long games don’t equal good games.

  11. RCN says:

    You know what? This density you talk about is what initially made the Might & Magic RPG franchise so popular.

    There’s a guy in the internet that review old-school games with new eyes (because he didn’t actually play them back when they were launched), and he made a review of the original Might & Magic: Book One: Secret of the Inner Sanctum, and his conclusion, especially when comparing it to the original Bard’s Tale, was that while both were very similar in terms of rules, the grid-based maps, quest format, combat, etc… The original Bard’s Tale seemed to be more than twice as large in areas, each with half as much content.

    This was something that kept true on all Might & Magic games and what I feel make them superior to Ultima (their main competitor for old-school RPGs) or Wizardry (their main competitor for complex old-school RPGs). Ultima probably had a better story, overall, and much better theming, while Wizardry probably had more varied combat and rules, but both failed to populate their games with content to the extent of Might & Magic. Ultima games are full of expanse areas of nothingness, while Wizardry had lots and lots of NPCs with nothing to offer (much like the Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall).

    Unfortunately, I feel that was the downfall of the reboot in Might & Magic X. While it did have a lot of content in it’s area, especially for a modern game, they failed to truly populate that area with content to the extent of the original grid-based games. Sure, the modern graphics didn’t allow for them to actually make mazes where entire mountains occupied the squares in the grid, but the greatest comparison I can make between M&MX and, say, M&M III: Isles of Terra, is that X feels positively claustrophobical when compared to the freedom to go into every single grid in the map in Terra.

    • Bubble181 says:

      While I agree with your criticism, I feel the need to point out that X was made on a shoestring budget. Yes, possibly more than the earlier ones if you don’t count inflation and all that, but still. It was very much an indie game made with an AAA name slapped on. For a game made mostly by a dozen people, it was great, and i sincerely hope they’ll make an XI with just that little bit more in the right direction.

      • RCN says:

        Yeah, I probably should have mentioned it. I still loved M&MX, but I really wish that if we get an XI, it has the budget to make something closer to M&M VI-VIII. With today’s technology they could even make it truly-open world.

        I had this dream that Might & Magic X would be a Clash of Worlds, where you play in both Ashan and Axeoth, as both planets are transported into the frontier territory of the Spinward Rim orbiting one-another and your quest would be to solve all this mess and send each planet back, while clashing the story and designs of Ubi’s M&M with the original (or at least 3DO’s) M&M.

        • Bubble181 says:

          While I’d love to play that, I can’t imagine anyone ever trying – it’d mean getting a ‘new’ player acquainted with not one, but two convoluted, contradictory, over long and difficult back stories, plus a reason why they’re crashing together (again). Phew. let alone “getting the rights to” would be a mess.

    • John says:

      Dude! Give me link. Tell me what to Google. I will be eternally grateful.

  12. Bubble181 says:

    It’s sad that I’m a huge Witcher fan, I’ve pre-ordered (which I NEVER DO) Witcher 3, and all that, and still haven’t even started playing. I still haven’t finished Pillars of Eternity (yes, with my first character – I’m THAT SLOW) and I can’t have two story-heavy games going at one time or I’ll lose interest in both, probably.
    *sigh*
    That said, I’ve been a Witcher fan from the first, and I can’t be anything but happy that my #1 game suggester/reviewer/deconstructor has at last Seen the Light (I’m joking here) and Converted to being a Fan.
    I can’t wait to get started, and this only makes me want it more. Damn.

    Anyway, I’m really glad you’re enjoying this, and I hope we’ll someday get even more deconstruction and insight into the game from you.
    And, while I do understand all the reasons why you didn’t like the previous games – and there were good reasons, the games were far from perfect in many ways – I do hope you understand why some of us got a bit frustrated when you didn’t like them – in many other ways, they were already the “perfect game” as you’d describe it (no, I’m not pushing to go and replay them – some things are dealbreakers, and they’re personal. I value and accept your personal opinion and you’ve played part of both earlier games, I can’t and wouldn’t ask for more). This one may be closest to the mark yet. Let’s all join together and hope this will influence the next generation of games. And who knows, perhaps Witcher 4 will be The Perfect Game For Us, full stop ;-)

  13. Abnaxis says:

    How easy is it to mod Witcher 3? Do you think it will garner as many modders as Skyrim did?

    • Humanoid says:

      More mod-friendly than in the past, but I don’t see it getting anywhere near as much attention as Skyrim in terms of modding, at least in terms of adding content. I mean, it’s not hard to add content that matches or exceeds Bethesda-quality stuff – add a dungeon here, some basic NPCs for exposition – but adding content of that same calibre to the Witcher will plainly be insufficient and will likely feel extremely jarring whenever you encounter it.

  14. Chefsbrian says:

    I’ve been thinking about how they afforded all this content, and even with the lowered costs of development for their home country, they made this game at absolutely bargain prices for what they got, and I’m thinking that maybe its because they took so long to actually make it.

    Red doesn’t run a yearly sequel farm, they don’t run thirty cash cow franchises, and they clearly have no qualms about delaying a title to ensure its quality. So maybe they didn’t fall into the mythical man hour fallacy as well, and didn’t overburden their team with members in an effort to speed things up. If Joe here was very good at laying out the towns NPC’s in a sensible fashion, maybe they just left him to do that to all the towns for a few weeks, then came by to see the results, as opposed to giving Joe an entire team and a manager to watch over then and a hard deadline of a week.

    Maybe they just let their people work, and didn’t go hog wild.

    • Primogenitor says:

      It’s cheaper in “dollars per quality” to pay someone to keep working than to hire new people -because artists will be able to do better stuff in less time as they get used to the tools.

      Maybe other big budgets will learn this – but I doubt it.

    • Simplex says:

      I’m Polish and I have some third-hand knowledge that the crunch was pretty bad, and don’t forget that the game was actually delayed TWICE (second time they delayed it after previously saying “there will be no more delays”, so the situation must have been dire), also the game underwent massive downgrade for which the developer already apologized (granted, it still looks great, but a far cry from the early trailers and screenshots, which were supposed to be “in-game”).
      Also, the game is really buggy, very hardware demanding (Shamus can attest to that), there are perfromance issues (fps drops, asset streaming issues) on the consoles, there here have already been 5 patches on the PC and 4 on consoles and more are coming – and that’s in less than a month from release, so it’s more than one patch a week. Of course it’s very nice that the developer quickly and frequently patches the game, but it’s not nice that the game still requires so many patches after two delays (the game was originally slated for release in fall 2014).
      If I came off as some kind of Witcher hater in this post, then let me say that I preordered every Witcher game so far and I am loving Witcher 3, despite all those issues. I already sank 30 hours in it and did not even got to Novigrad yet. I also suggest trying to play with Polish dubbing to see how it feels to hear a completele exotic voice from a foreign fantasy world :)

      • RCN says:

        I usually do that by playing fantasy games in French… or Russian as they often do nowadays. Polish might be interesting as well. Though it’d be nice to have a well dubbed Portuguese one for once, but our dubbers for games are beyond terrible. They could take the hint and use some of our professionals that work on animations for the big screen, they do an excellent job.

        And considering the small team and the scope of the game, I can confidently say they worked miracles with what they had, but it probably had more to do with what Chefsbrian said and the developers simply had the time and the right people to do the game justice. It is not like they were the first to promise something and fail to deliver (one might remember the Halo 2 fiasco where they promised a game at least one generation ahead of its time on the first trailer… and of course failed to deliver. Or everything ever promised by Peter Molyneux), but in comparison to promises made by triple-A publishers it actually looks they came pretty damn near.

        For once I feel very good that once again we have a developer working by old-Blizzard standards. That is, delay as much as they need to deliver as finished a product as they can with their resources… and actually deliver it, as opposed to Valve. Diablo 2 was also a title that was delayed endlessly, launched incredibly bug-ridden… and is considered one of the best games of all time.

  15. Vorpal Kitten says:

    “This game is like all the mass effects in a row, with each combat shortened down and then more dialogue thrown in” – paraphrasing Shamus

    “As content dense as like 3 Skyrims with less monotonous gameplay” – paraphrasing Shamus

    “I’ve said for years that we can’t have games like Planescape Torment anymore… but here is Witcher 3” – paraphrasing Shamus

    I feel like Shamus is personally targeting me to buy this game! I need to buy a new video card first though, and I don’t understand how to decide which one to buy.

  16. Worthstream says:

    Can’t believe nobody said this, but there’s a website built with the only purpose of cataloguing how long each game takes to get through. The page for Witcher3 is:

    http://howlongtobeat.com/game.php?id=10270

  17. Fuzzyhead says:

    Well, well. I´ve just read your review on Witcher 1. But now it seems your cought in Witcher 3 which is kinda funny :)
    But really, it´s so complex and BIG . I told my husband: “When I buy Witcher 3 I´ll be busy playing till I´m finished. I won´t do much else besides that than going to work !” He said ok… and didn´t expect it to take so Long. (I did)
    After Mass Effect and Skyrim I thought games can´t get more timesinking but well …

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