Monday, August 7, 2017

Dropping GTA 5 for Witcher 3

Of the remaining games in my backlog, the two largest games (both in terms of acclaim and scope) were GTA 5 and Witcher 3. Since I’ve been playing a lot of fantasy RPGs lately, I decided I would tackle GTA 5 next. Having been a fan of GTA since GTA 2 on the PS1, I was pretty disappointed to find that the new(ish) and insanely popular entry just didn’t grab me, but I’m not sure if it’s the series that changed, or if it’s me. Some thoughts:
  • From a technical standpoint, the size and level of detail of the game world are very impressive.
  • The cars and aerial vehicles all handle far better than they did in previous GTA games. Even when using mouse and keyboard.
  • While the story production values are clearly high, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. Of the 3 protagonists, only Franklin is even remotely likable and he quickly gets sidelined in favor of Michael and Trevor. Michael’s family drama, in the beginning, has the potential to be interesting, but the game doesn’t really do much with it after the first few missions. Trevor’s antics were amusing for a little while but got old very quickly.
  • The game's FBI vs CIA vs corrupt businessmen plotline fails to be engaging since each side is equally despicable. Earlier GTA games and their progeny (especially 2012's Sleeping Dogs) did a better job of showing the motivations of each of their respective factions and managed to include a few interesting characters in each.
  • The game’s snarky cynical tone just doesn’t jive with me; maybe this just isn’t a game world I feel like spending time with in 2017. The humor and attempts at social/political commentary don’t feel like they’ve evolved at all from 90s GTA.
  • After playing a high-octane open-world action game like Just Cause 2 last year, it's become painfully apparent how much time is spent in GTA doing mundane tasks like chauffeuring characters around while they chitchat. I do enough boring commuting in real life, I don't need it faithfully simulated in my virtual life of crime.
Despite my issues with GTA 5, I was still having some fun with it for the first 10 - 15 hours. At about the 20 - 25 hour mark, however, it was feeling pretty stale, so I decided to look up how many main story missions were left since I figured I was pretty close to finishing the game. Turns out I was less than halfway! With that revelation, I promptly dropped the game and moved on to Witcher 3.

I'm only about 8 hours into Witcher 3 and am enjoying it a lot so far. Some early impressions:
  • After playing the first two Witcher games last year, this one doesn't feel like the revolutionary leap forward that some people had lead me to believe it was. It's more like a quality iteration built on an already strong foundation.
  • The combat has a slightly different feel to it than the previous two entries, but there's enough similarity for me to still be able to take out enemies several levels above me when playing on medium difficuly. 
  • Like with the previous two games, I'm playing with keyboard and mouse controls and doing pretty well, though I may remap some of the harder-to-reach keys to my extra mouse buttons.
  • There's a good mixture of familiar characters from the first two games and new faces.
  • I was initially concerned the new open-world format would lead to a lot of back-tracking, but so far this hasn't been the case. Also, there's finally a convenient fast-travel system!
  • I have no idea how to actually win a game of Gwent, but it seems far more interesting than the dice game in the earlier Witchers.
Witcher 3 is a very lengthy game, so it's too soon to say if it'll manage to stay engaging for its entire duration, but for now, I'm looking forward to exploring it further. 

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