How will Witcher 3 handle the open world and will they meet their goal of doing it better than Skyrim?
Source: Game Informer Magazine
CD Projekt RED (creators of The Witcher series) has plans to tackle the open world RPG system in their next game: Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In a recent interview with Game Informer, developer Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, mentioned a key word several times during his discussion about developing their game and comparing it to others that are already out there: immersion. Skyrim, one of the most popular open world RPGs, will undoubtedly be the game it will be compared with most often, and the developers didn't shy away from comparisons in their interview.
"Everyone in the studio played Skyrim," Tomaszkiewicz said about the game, "but the problem is you need to care about immersion with the game." He went on to explain, saying that "Skyrim was generic" and pointed out that many of the quests were essentially rehashed with NPC interaction not tied enough to the character and what he/she is doing. NPC's were a sore point for Tomaszkiewicz, going on to add, "I try to name some of the NPC's in my head after the game and I can't." It wasn't all criticism for Skyrim, however, as he talked about learning from Skyrim to build a large world full of adventures wherever you go.
Anyone that follows my work here on The Outhouse knows I'm a huge Skyrim fan, but I'm not here to attack what they had to say about Skyrim. I love the game and it is probably my favorite to date, but I realize it is far from perfect. Immersion is a problem at points in the game, combat is overly simplistic, and glitches all too common, to name a few issues. What I'm writing about here is what I think many games fail to do when attempting to tackle the "open world" concept and will be the same mistakes I worry that Witcher 3 will suffer from.
1. OPEN WORLD SHOULD ALSO MEAN OPEN CHARACTER
This is something I don't think many developers consider when they start comparing a game to one like Skyrim, and I'm fairly certain Witcher 3 will suffer from this. It is something that can keep a game limited and one more step away from greatness. Will you get to play your character, or will you play their character? Yes, I'm sure we will once again play Geralt and that is fine, he's a pretty cool character. But he's not my character. He's CD Projekt RED's character.
One of the things that makes a game like Skyrim so great is that, even though you are playing this individual the plot will center around, that character is created by you. You can create a man or a woman, you can be one of several human races, elven races or beast races, and you customize their appearance from hairstyles down to the shape of their nose, mouth, jawline, body size, scars, and more. Plus, in addition to personalizing the players experience, It also offers better replay value as well.
A game can still be amazing without this, but it will also fall short of what Skyrim offers to players. It also doesn't offer you bragging rights about building a story around one pre-made character when you compare it to a game that is designed around a character that could be of a variety of races and either gender.
2. LACK OF OPTIONS BREAKS IMMERSION
The developers were right on the money when they talked about how generic responses and quests really hurt Skyrim. The thing that most often gets overlooked, however, is that options apply to more than just interactions and quests. Having a variety of options in as many parts of the game as possible is what is needed and builds on the 'open character' concept.
Witcher will already take away the option of playing someone other than pre-made characters, so what will it offer in terms of equipment? It's easy to compare the Assassin's Creed 3 outfit to one in Skyrim and point out how the AC outift is better designed. But it doesn't offer the options Skyrim does. Not to say it doesn't offer some options, but you're comparing a dozen or so full outfits built to one specific pre-made body to hundreds of outfits that can be mixed and matched on a variety of body types. I think Witcher will fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
It seems everytime I see shots of Geralt, he is wearing the same few outfits and carrying the same swords. Having several good options for character appearance and look is important. Plus, if you are going to target immersion, just remember, everytime a player sees something in your game they can't do, take, wear, wield, etc., it breaks immersion.
3. OPEN WORLD SHOULD ALSO MEAN OPEN PLAY
Open Play? What am I talking about here? Being able to go wherever you want to on the map? Sure, that'a requirement of 'open world', but it's not what I'm talking about in this example. It's a fancy way of saying NO CUTSCENES!
Nothing ruins a game like cutscenes. It may be a bigger issue for me personally than most players. Actually, it must be, since we see games with more and more cutscenes and less play time that sell very well. Take again Assassin's Creed 3: if you stayed somewhat focused on the main plot you could very well spend more time watching a strung together mediocre movie than actually playing a game. Witcher has previously made use of cutscenes and I'd like to see them move away from this myself.
Cutscenes take the game out of your hands, disconnect you physically from the character (you don't need to do anything with the controller to move, select options, etc), and often begin playing different graphics as this 'special encounter' plays out. When you play Skyrim and enter into a conversation, whether it's special or generic, you stay in your character (whether you play 1st or 3rd person). The camera doesn't change angles unless you change something, the graphics don't change, and the conversation goes along the path you choose. Granted the choices may be more limited than you wish, but there are still choices. Anytime the 'camera' or character control is taken out of the players hands, it breaks immersion and makes the game less open.
Remember, game developers: You may be able to make your world a little larger scale than Skyrim. You may be able to improve upon some of the shortcomings of Skyrim. In fact, you should, since Skyrim is an older game than whatever you're building now. But, if you are going to make us play your character in a game where we are just activating cutscenes, then it will always fall short of what Skyrim does, no matter how 'open' you make the map. Does that mean it can't still be a good game? Not at all, but if they are going to compare it to Skyrim, I think it's important to look at all the things that made Skyrim successful, and an open map is just one piece.