To recap: we paid lip service to what the game does right (which, to be fair, is much - not least its beautifully-depicted world, and sheer value for money; there's something like 100-odd hours of gameplay on offer), and done given a big ol' kicking to its unoriginality and story. We went overboard, but, frankly, The Witcher 3 was something of a tipping point for us, and the game became a scapegoat for every rote fantasy RPG that we've had dragged through our lungs.
I'm tired of crafting objects, and scavenging for items in every chest and sack. Levelling up is an endless chore. And I'm sick to the thorax of dungeoning. As successfully as The Witcher 3 does what it does, it still felt too familiar - the same cliched nonsense wrapped in a pair of admittedly impressive glittery leggings.
So. On "paper" then, it would seem that I hated The Witcher 3 and threw it in the bin the second I was done reviewing it.
And yet... and yet... Several weeks on, I'm still playing, and there's nothing in my bin except for scavenged hospital sharps and a rotting hen...
In the interests of full disclosure, I'm not a fan of fantasy. I've failed to get into Game of Thrones - despite it now being the law that you have to watch the show, or risk being utterly ostracised by your social circle. I've struggled with all of The Lord of the Rings movies, and suffered a terrible brain aneurysm in the first few pages of the books.
But for all that... I want to love fantasy. I want to be able to embrace it the way other people do, and dress up in elven cloaks, and run around in the woods while rubbing myself with a first edition copy of A Wizard of Earthsea. I want it to be a genre - like science-fiction - that I can immerse myself in. Yet in practice, I enjoy the idea of fantasy more than the reality of it (if that makes sense).
In short: you might think I was always probably a bit pre-disposed to have a beef with The Witcher 3. But to date, I've never massively had an issue with most fantasy RPGs. Being in those worlds, as opposed to acting as a passive spectator, is different. I even used to play Dungeons & Dragons as a horrible youth.
So, the reason The Witcher got a kicking, is because The Witcher 3 was getting praise for its story, when - to me - its story felt derivative, lacking an emotional core, and clumsily depicted. Games seem to be doing an ever better job of engaging us emotionally - The Last of Us, Gone Home, Life is Strange - and I've felt nothing like that while playing The Witcher 3
And yet... and yet... and yet...
AND YET WHAT?
I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of The Witcher 3. There's so much content in there - and so many surprises - that it can be overwhelming, yet there's never a shortage of anything to do.
But something weird happened last week - something switched in me, and I realised what I was enjoying about it. My initial issues with the story had arisen because I'd been judging the story by comparing it with film - specifically the structure of film. You know: the whole three-act thing, with turning points, and emotional spikes, and blah-de-blah-de.
And then I realised: it's not a movie. The Witcher 3 is a police procedural TV show, it's CSI: Northern Kingdoms, an anthology with thinly-drawn lead characters.
I'm not meant to be engaged with Geralt's meandering search for Ciri - it's just there as a delivery method for a story-of-the-week. Some of the side quests in The Witcher 3 are almost the size of a full story from many other games, and even what seems like a simple Witcher contract can go off in an unexpected direction.
A CASE FOR MULDER AND SCULLY
Remember The X-Files? We all loved that from the off, didn't we? And yet how much did we really know or care about Mulder and Scully in the beginning? They were there to introduce us to new characters, new situations and stories, and be a road in for the audience - one was sceptical, one a believer: each representing a different take on any given scene.
That's all Geralt is in The Witcher 3: he's not meant to have a character arc, or be emotionally engaging in the way you might connect with, say, Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy (to use an example from a popular summer blockbuster-type movie). He's literally nothing more than a tool.
Admittedly, I still think the storytelling in The Witcher 3 is abysmal - there's nothing there that really makes me care about any of the characters Geralt encounters, I still find the cutscenes mostly insufferable, clunky and all over the place tonally, plus there's no point pretending it wouldn't exist if somebody hadn't invented Middle Earth already.
But since thinking about the structure differently, I've come to enjoy the game more. I'm choosing to follow one multi-part quest to its conclusion before jumping around to another, and the game is all the more satisfying for it, my sense of achievement all the greater.
By doing that I'm awarding myself the luxury of an 'episode' of The Witcher 3: The TV Show, rather than trying to grasp hold of the decaying threads of a three-act story, and wondering about the lack of emotional development from the lead character.
I probably wouldn't change much of the thrust of that review, given the chance, but might've been tempted to give it another 1.13343% or so. Maybe. Possibly.
The truth is out there.