The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt became the best user-reviewed game on Metacritic, with a record-high score of 9.4. It’s a rare instance when a title becomes more and more appreciated as time passes, rather than losing its appeal. We have four reasons to believe that in the years to come Wild Hunt will likely join Doom, Quake, Baldur’s Gate and other legends in halls of video game Valhalla.
1. It’s More Than the Sum of Its Parts
History repeats itself, and The Witcher 3 getting more praise from gamers as the years pass isn’t an unheard-of turn of events. It takes time to properly weigh pros and cons. If you look at early reviews of today’s legendary titlem, you’ll see that none of the them were embraced right away. Perhaps the best example is Doom.
In 1994, The Edge wrote:
„Where’s the variety in the gameplay (it’s all just kill, kill, kill)? And looking at it coldly, what is there really in Doom (apart from the graphics) to set it above even the most average, most highly repetitive and tedious 2D shoot ’em up? (…) It’s just a shame that the number of enemies is fairly limited. After a while, the multiple pump-action, blood-spraying demise of yet another pink monster is only marginally satisfying.”
The final score was 7/10.
What were they THINKING, right? It’s easy to ask this now, knowing the impact Doom has made on gamers and the industry itself. Yet the above-mentioned reproach is nothing more than thorough journalism. The author tried to stay as objective as possible, and this prevented him from taking into account the one element you can’t approach as a neutral observer: emotions. In the end, the small number of enemies or mechanics doesn’t matter when the game feels good. However, as a critic, can you slap a game with a 10 just because you have fun, and ignore all the issues?
The same thing happened to The Witcher 3. Gamecritics.com is among the outlets that reviewed the game more harshly, criticizing it for including too many side quests, combat that’s good but not perfect, and predictable AI. These sentiments also appear in PC Invasion’s review, and some others as well. The general consensus among the critics was that the biggest flaw of The Witcher 3 is that it’s not the best at everything it does.
And that’s okay to think so! These are fair criticisms. Perhaps it’s even better that the reviewers stressed them out and lowered their scores. That meant it was up to gamers to create the legend of The Witcher, which is why it actually became one.
There have been instances where it went the other way around. At first, the reviewers eulogized Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, its critic metascore settling down just a tiny notch below The Witcher’s. Yet the user score is currently at 7.8. And so, despite MGSV being one of the best-reviewed games ever, it’s just not talked about very often anymore.
The overall experience didn’t prove good enough to make up for minor flaws in the long run, but that’s something no one could’ve predicted at the time of release. Some games have to be allowed some time to snuggle down in the community’s collective consciousness. Judging by its constantly strong presence in social media, it’s pretty safe to say that The Witcher won’t lose its status.
2. It Got Improved
Pretty much every game nowadays get patches that fix all the major bugs, but The Witcher 3 got much more. Among the improvements there were the subtly redesigned HUD and a bunch of new details added to the world. Effects were enhanced as well, and the developers refined the way certain objects interact with the environment (the boat reacting to waves, for example). There were instanced of rebalancing both combat and the game world (merchants being given new stock, loot drops getting a rather important change in variety). The menus were changed to allow a more streamlined use of Alchemy and other abilities. With free DLC packs, we got more armor options, new contracts, alternate NPC outfits, new weapons and more.
To sum it up: it wasn’t simply a case of an „it’s stable and less glitchy now, we’re outta here” patch job. The Witcher 3 got actually improved in core design elements. We’d say it’s a single-player that’s received a treatment worth of an MMO. If the last time you played the game was around release, you might want to check it out again. It’s possible that you find the experience a whole lot more refined.
3. It Got Expanded
There were the free small DLCs we mentioned, but then there were the revolutionary expansion packs: Hearts of Stone, and (especially) Blood and Wine.
In the age of microtransactions, when you often had to pay for a single multiplayer map, The Witcher 3’s extensions were so long and complex that we could see CDProjekt RED getting away with selling them as standalone games. But even in another age, it would’ve been a revolutionary achievement. Blood and Wine, a mini-sequel of sorts, would’ve made the same impact in the days of big expansions for Quake or Tomb Raider. They, too, offered new chapters or entire campaigns, but nothing of such magnitude.
4. It Excels at What It Does
Why is Doom timeless? Because it excels at shooting. Why is Baldur’s Gate timeless? Because it excels at role-playing. Why is Super Mario Bros. timeless? Because it excels at platforming. By today’s standards, all these games are just ugly and antiquated (Doom disallowing the player to look up, and Baldur’s Gate UI being far from user-friendly), yet people not only play them, but make spiritual successors that share the supposed flaws! This means one thing: when you do the core thing well enough, everything else is just cosmetics.
Mechanics don’t age. Well, at least the good ones. There’s a reason why barely anyone plays Eye of the Beholder or Ultima Underworld, despite them each being one of the best-reviewed games of their time. On rare occasions developers strike the right balance and suddenly their game becomes impervious to time. We believe that in 20 years gamers may deem the graphics of The Witcher 3 outdated, but they’re still going to enjoy the game.
The thing that The Witcher 3 excels at is free roaming in a fully realized world. This is also the secret of Skyrim‘s longevity, but Skyrim’s a bit of a meme. If you come back to Skyrim, it’s more often than not to screw around, cause silly things to happen, exploit the abundance of glitches or launch an insane mod for five minutes. Skyrim is anything but believable.
The Witcher 3 is a game that doesn’t break the immersion at any point. Everything simply makes sense, and there are no poor excuses for side-missions that only aim to pad out the experience. That’s perhaps the biggest detriment to most open world games is that they throw a lot of tasks at the player, but make the weakest attempt to provide any context. Collect 50 pendrives to find the Pendrive Man. Harvest 80 flowers so Millicent the Witch is happy and you get 5000 XP. In the recent Spider-Man, it’s hard not to feel disappointed when the epilogue to a lot of the side-mission hardship amounts to: „Thanks Spidey, that’s really nice of you!”
The Witcher 3 also has certain categories of missions (get X amount of Y, slay this or that), but each comes with its own story and ends long before the repetitiveness sets in. Pretty much every quest is a mini-adventure with a proper introduction, middle and end. When you complete a quest, you know you did something: influenced an NPC’s situation in a significant way, or changed the balance of power.
This makes The Witcher 3 perhaps the best realized game world ever, and a title that sets an example how to handle both design and post-release support. We are quite sure that in the years to come, it will take its place alongside the timeless legends.