The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt preview – Balancing an open world with a strong character

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

By on August 28, 2013 at 10:55 am

One of the biggest contributing factors to the immersion of The Witcher games is the strong characterisation of protagonist Geralt of Rivia. Conversely, the relative lack of freedom that comes from playing such a well established character could be considered one of the series’ greatest constraints.

So, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt championing an expansive open-world and a pre-defined protagonist to boot, what kind of challenges and benefits does this present to CD Projekt RED? We caught up with the developer at Gamescom to find out.

There’s no doubt that Geralt’s predefined personality, widespread notoriety and the Witcher’s code of conduct lend a high degree of narrative cohesion to his actions. Geralt also elicits meaningful reactions wherever he goes in the world and so it’s easy for players to find themselves taking certain decisions based on Geralt’s personality; something that isn’t possible in RPGs in which an otherwise blank cipher is defined wholly by the dramatic deeds that you perform.

However, the downside of this strong characterisation is that certain character development paths and play style choices are subsequently blocked off to Geralt and to the player. There’s no opportunity to put down roots or significantly alter Geralt’s character class, for example, and he’ll never become truly proficient with anything other than his signature weapons.

“For sure, it’s extremely hard to tell a compelling story in an open world because we have so many predefined elements,” acknowledges head of CD Projekt RED Adam Badowski.

“These elements help your character to grow in varied and interesting ways … and they also provide us with a lot of constraints. On the other hand, it’s cool to have guidelines when it comes to dialogues and some of the quests because this is a story-heavy game that’s conceptualised in books and brought to life by the studio.”

During the 45-minute Gamescom demo, we saw a couple of varied ways in which CD Projekt RED is breathing life into an entire world. Even in side quests, decisions taken for what appear to be the right reasons can have unfortunate consequences for innocent people and a course of action in a seemingly isolated area of the world might have far-reaching consequences elsewhere.

There are also situations where Geralt can choose to remain neutral, which was a fantastic mechanic used in the first game but that fell by the wayside somewhat in the more ambitions Assassins of Kings, where Geralt became embroiled in conflicts in which it was necessary to choose one side or another.

“[Inaction as a choice] depends on the quest,” Badowski says. “We’re going to develop on the highly unique quest structure and every quest is hand-crafted so whether you can choose to remain truly neutral and have quests resolve through your inaction depends on the storyline of each individual quest.”

It’s a huge undertaking for CD Projekt RED to develop an engaging open-world that contains hours of entertaining diversions and still sculpt a meaningful and well-paced conclusion to the antagonistic relationship between Geralt and the spectral Wild Hunt. So far, though, this is a developer whose ambition has been matched by its talent and whose player-centric mentality is equalled by its ability to deliver.

3 comments (Leave your own)

Personally I have no issue being pigeon holed by a character’s personality.

Generally I enjoy an RPG most when I experience a characters story rather then creating my own story in a unique world.

 
Nasty Wet Smear

If The Witcher was a person I would make love to it.

 

flabcab,

I agree, I’m happy to play as Geralt. In fact I probably enjoy playing a predefined character more, because I know what he probably would do. Maybe I should put more effort into making backstories for other RPGs that aren’t so defined…

Last paragraph touched on my concerns. a ‘well-paced conclusion’. All I’ve heard is how big this game is, but bigger doesn’t mean better. In fact, if it’s really big I’d prefer if to be in 2 games, just because I don’t want it to stretch out for so long that the story and adventure loses its impetus.

 
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