I’m faced with a decision: forcibly stop Keira Metz, sorceress and former advisor to a King, from making a terrible, no-good, very bad decision; use words to convince Keira to not make said decision; or berate her for making the bad decision but refuse to stop her as she’s a grown-ass woman and can make her own decisions. Because I’m a man who respects people’s agency, I, in my role directing Geralt of Rivia’s interactions in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, opted for the third choice.
And Keira died. In fact, not just died. Was murdered for her terrible, no-good, very bad decision. Impaled, orifice to orifice. Radovid, am I right?
But, no. Not Radovid.
Wasn’t I to blame? Didn’t I know that Radovid, hating sorceresses, would murder Keira? Didn’t I know she was smugly waltzing to her death?
No. Keira was to blame. She knew the risks. She knew Radovid’s predilections. But had I done my best to ensure she knew the consequences of her actions? Had I made the right decision?
That one dialogue sequence, the ending of an optional quest in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, haunted me long after I stumbled across Keira, spitted and bloody, in Novigrad some 25 hours after I’d made the choice to let her make her own decisions.
And this is why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is my overwhelming choice for the game of 2015. The care that went into the narrative arc of a quest many players might miss speaks volumes for the care, the detail, the filigreed etchings that the development team at CD Projekt Red stuffed and trimmed their entire game with. I felt deeply for this side-character, and, to this day, I still regret my decision.
To be clear: I regret a downswipe of an analog stick and the pressing of a confirmation button.
Yet there was no controller in my hand in that moment or in the thousands of other similar moments during my 100-hour playthrough of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I was inside the game. I was Geralt. I was the author of his every feat and foible. I was living a novel, reliving a history, weaving a tapestry that would warm my gamer heart long after the game’s true ending(s).
Were the controls a bit wonky? Yes, until you adapted to them. Was Geralt’s movement (later patched) unrealistically realistic? Yes. Did the game sometimes unfairly disguise its intentions in vague dialogue choices? Sort of. Did Roach roach? Absolutely.
However, trumpeted artistic works always have their flaws. Yes, there’s a penis on Jesus’ abdomen on the famous cross of San Damiano. Yes, Ella Fitzgerald indelibly flubbed lyrics in Mack the Knife. And, yes, there is that Mass Effect 3 ending. The flaws, though, remind us of the humanity of the creators behind these works and give us a clear perspective on the superlative nature of the work as a whole.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not an exception to the rule that stunning art endures despite its own troubles. It shines (in narrative, in characterization, in impactful decisions, in branching plot, in folklore, in its strong women, in mood, in environments, in item descriptions, in customizability, in battle preparation, in gwent) even as some dull edges (early controls, movement physics, Roach) catch our collective eye. CD Projekt Red has achieved a masterpiece, not just in video games but in media and art.
However, their success proposes a no-good, very bad, terrible question: can any other game, ever again, measure up?
My answer, and a secondary reason why I love that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt exists, is yes. As the work pushes gamers in new directions, the game will push developers, too. They’ll find a way to incorporate, iterate, remix, and improve. Art evolves, but it cannot do so without master class subjects to build upon. Like Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, Diablo, Halo, World of Warcraft, and Mass Effect before it, Witcher 3 is the cloth from which other games will be cut for years to come, the shoulders upon which future games will perch.
Now, excuse me, it’s time to begin my journey through The Continent again. This time, I’ll let Keira know there’s a somewhat safe place in Kaer Morhen for her.
Game of the Year Runners Up:
2. Rocket League
3. Rise of the Tomb Raider
4. Fallout 4
5. Super Mario Maker