AJ’s ‘Best of 2015’ – Best Game I didn’t finish this year

Best of 2015

I have been going a little crazy with video games (ed: “going”?); buying a lot of stuff and then not finishing them (Toro was an essential purchase, I swear) was the modus operandi of this past year.

That said there have been some brilliant games among those I haven’t finished. The Escapists was a thing of beauty; the intricacy of the later levels was inspiring but, unfortunately, also really daunting as it could take a couple of hours of trial and error to find the ideal path through the prison. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is two hours of terrible exposition which turns into a fantastic open world game with emergent gameplay that rivals (and in some ways exceeds) Far Cry 2. The reason MGSV doesn’t get the award is simply because I still haven’t played enough, and I heard it gets repetitive in the second half – which would dampen my initial enthusiasm.

So, the best game I haven’t finished this year is…

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Witcher 3 01

I had been really worried that the prescribed story of the second Witcher game was going to be diluted by the need to create enough extra content to populate an open world game. It didn’t seem feasible to me that Witcher 3 could make good on the diverse stories and the deep world building, and the combat could only remain as clumsy as it was previously.

Well, I was really wrong.

The open world has allowed for environmental story telling that only got better the more you explore. The shittiness of the world in Witcher 2 was drilled home by instances. In Witcher 3 the whole world helps convey that the sheer misery of its inhabitants.

Whether it is guiding your horse through a tiny village broken by famine, or traipsing through a town in the throes of their own Spanish Inquisition (it is always the Witches), it is clear how much of a mess the place is. Visual squalor is matched by emotional response.

It plays a slow burn game over the course of the 40 hours I played, and there is seldom a happy story to be told with the broken, confused Geralt remaining stuck in the middle for most of the game. In the previous instalment it was easy to imagine that Geralt might be a tragic but cool protagonist; in Witcher 3 it is easy to see that he is a product of his environment. Everywhere he goes there is someone with an unkind word to say and only after helping them out do they, grudgingly, offer some sort of platitude. That said, it is just as easy to do something for one of the denizens of ‘The Continent’ only for them to resent you, trick you, or just outright ignore you. Resolving a quest doesn’t always mean you end up doing the right thing.

At the same time, as the player, you are compelled to explore more of the game. Unlike in other open world titles, which tend to have a lot of fetch-quest filler intended to pad out the game with mindless distractions, the side quests here are often richly written and intricate to the point that it becomes believable that Geralt would have become side-tracked to intervene. Most of them are so well-written that they put to shame some plots for linear path games. The fact these can be stumbled across randomly and may have large or small pay-offs makes it all the more exciting.

However, it doesn't make for good 600x300 screenshots

However, it doesn’t make for good 600 x 300 screenshots

The stand out mission of the early game is the Bloody Baron. Avoiding spoilers, you get a portrait of a terrible, horrible, yet strangely sympathetic man. The great part of this is that you can completely choose to avoid being sympathetic with him – and that makes a difference to the outcome of his story and the choices he makes. The fluidity of the writing makes either conclusion believable.

The combat has largely improved after some of the clunkiness of the last few games. I didn’t really notice how bad some of the previous games’ interactions were but Wild Hunt has streamlined the mechanics and lessened the need for preparation between fights (previously you had to sit and build potions in between each fight and now it allows you to do that on the fly). The world offers plenty of other down time as you explore.

I struggle to delve into what else makes the Witcher 3 good, partly because I don’t want to spoil what I have seen and partly because I haven’t played beyond 40 hours and haven’t seen the full conclusion.

What I will write is that even with the ‘limited’ experience I’ve had, this game should be played by everyone – especially anyone who spent time on Fallout 4 instead (that’ll be the rest of AR then).