It's quite a large pudding to dissect, but Digi2000 will hopefully bring you some sort of a work-in-progress review next week. For now, the things you need to know are as follows: it is a good game, it is a big game, and it is an extremely good-looking game.
Indeed, all the reviews or first impressions thus far seem to be talking about it in terms of a sort of classic. Which, within its genre, it may well turn out to be... that genre being the genre of Tolkein-Infused Fantasy Role-Playing Games That Aren't Very Original.
Because haven't we been to this place before - like, about a billion times? The medieval villages? The snarling, werewolf-y things, and the dragon-y things, and the castles, and forests. Why do we seem to be stuck on an endless journey to regurgitate the same fantasy tropes, only in ever prettier ways? Frankly, where have all the original ideas gone?
Don't get me wrong: there's no denying the talent and artistry that has been pumped into The Witcher 3. It seems to be a truly beautiful game.
However, while I appreciate that it's based on a series of Slavic mythology-inspired novels (written by an author who - let's face it - nevertheless owes a significant debt to Tolkein), I can't shake off a sense of world-weariness while playing it. It's like repeating the same journey to work day in day out - there's part of me that is starting to switch off when I'm seeing the same things in these games over and over again.
Fantasy RPGS - unless they get a swift, sharp injection of originality pretty soon - are at risk of becoming utterly mundane, of being too tethered to the tabletop roots of the genre. It's like people can't separate the idea of Dungeons & Dragons with the idea of what a role-playing game can be.
And yet, tabletop, dice-rolling RPGs were never just D&D.
The spectacularly bleak Twilight 2000 was set in Central Europe in the immediate aftermath of a limited nuclear war. Call of Cthulhu was set in the 1920s, and inspired by the work of HP Lovecraft. Shadowrun - long overdue for a return - mixed cyberpunk and fantasy.
I'm not even talking about gameplay here (though I could literally shriek until I prolapse if I play another RPG where you can just help yourself to whatever isn't bolted down). It's simply the complete lack of newness and invention in the setting and visuals that's causing my sternum to dissolve.
All that talk of "Elders" and runes, and places called things like "Redania" and "Kaedwen". I'm sick of wandering around caves, and tired of "Northern Kingdoms" and "Blue Mountains" and "Empires of Nilfgaard". So much of everything in The Witcher 3 is interchangeable with so much of what has gone before. And I'm sorry to say that I'm growing painfully bored of it now. I mean... seriously, just piss off with it now.
Here's a thing (as the bishop said to the choirboy).
It was five years ago this week that Rockstar's epic Red Dead Redemption was released. The Wild West isn't a setting for fiction that's particularly original, but there have still been so few Wild West-themed video games (and certainly none that are remotely on a par with RDR) that it felt original. When I read about the 5 year-anniversary, my stomach did a little giddy cough of excitement - the thrill of that world, the sheer boldness of it, has stayed with me.
And it just lead me to question why role-playing games have to be set in either fantasy realms or post-apocalyptic wastelands (the other games genre at severe risk of becoming stinking up the fridge). Yes, you have Mass Effect, and a handful of other RPGs that buck the omni-pervasive trends, but in terms of epic-budget titles, we just end up trudging through the same sorts of landscapes, meeting the same sorts of robe-clad idiots wielding staffs.
Why hasn't there been a Wild West RPG? Or the video game RPG equivalent of, I dunno, Saving Private Ryan? Or - heck - one where you play a ghost in a world otherwise populated by the living? Or if you can't come up with something completely new, and don't want to borrow from existing genres, can't we at least reinvent things? Why does it always have to be Bavarian medieval towns, for pity's sake?
Games can take us anywhere, introduce us to anyone. They are a blank canvas for the fervid imaginations of game developers to go utterly mental. And yet... they don't. Those imaginations seem content to stay in their comfort zones, sipping tea, and keeping the curtains closed.
Isn't it time that changed? Isn't it time RPGs went nuts?
FROM THE ARCHIVE:
- THE FEEL THING by Mr Biffo
- FINDING MY FAVOURITE GAME by Mr Biffo
- GTA V - WHO ARE WE KIDDING? by Mr Biffo