These games and awards were decided during the Ward Podcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Ward Podcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.
If one were to say that open world, free-roaming games are the best at creating a sense of adventure and the open road, then The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a contender for one of the greatest adventures ever embarked upon.
And adventure isn’t typified by any one quest or mission. It’s best represented by each and every encounter in the world’s villages and caves, battling monsters and protecting villagers. There’s a throughline that pulls you through the world, in this case, the hunt for your adopted daughter, but there are tendrils coming off of it that lead you down dozens of new paths. There are regional dramas that tinge the characters you meet and the quests you do with a greater sense of importance, from White Orchard to Novigrad to the Skellige Isles.
Geralt travels through grand vistas that shimmer and amaze with fidelity due to CD Projekt Red’s technical and artistic expertise, and it’s all set against a backdrop of war. It’s not a thunderous, modern-era war, but a medieval war that spans a lifetime, like the Hundred Years’ War or the War of the Roses. There are lulls between active combat where everyone tries to regain a semblance of everyday life while your country is occupied by an enemy nation while an insurgency attempts to break you free, and as you travel through these towns as Geralt, you see villagers harassed by the occupying force, evoking imagery of historical events like the quartering of troops before the American Revolution or contemporary events such as Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine.
The Witcher 3’s adventure is also supported by a cast of characters. Some motivations can be confusing or vague, such as the bosses of the criminal underworld that run the free city of Novigrad, and other character motivations can devolve into bland and unoriginal fantasy. But characters such as Bloody Baron are well thought-out and Geralt meets them during important turning points in their lives.
The game relies heavily on player’s knowledge of the story previous games, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because it shows that the game, and therefore the player, values the stories that have already been written. However, it can be difficult to catch players up to speed on events that they haven’t witnessed or characters they haven’t connected with. Characters like Dijkstra, Vernon Roach, Yennefer, and Triss or events like Geralt’s amnesia can remain inconveniently in the abstract if you haven’t played Assassins of Kings.
But the game does make sure that you’re aware of a witcher’s social status within the throngs of society. They’re an exterminator but also a mercenary. They’re someone you really don’t want to have to call upon, but you’re really glad that they’ve arrived when a monster is harassing your village. The witchers bare the burden of being outcasts; villagers portray them as mutants only interested in coin, but you come to know them as orphans and discarded children. The witcher Lambert became a recruit in his childhood because his father had nothing else of value to pay a previous witcher’s contract.
The game can fail itself at times, from its gratuitous sex scenes to character development sometimes appearing as two-dimensional, but The Witcher 3 wins the award for Grandest Adventure. It is second to none at simulating the open road and feeling as though you’re on a quest against a backdrop of tumultuous events in this world’s history. This game feels like an interactive epic on the scale of the Odyssey, and just as Odysseus’s journey was long and arduous, so too will it be for you and Geralt.