Recently – I say recently, it was before lockdown, so a lifetime and a half ago – I started a new game of The Witcher 3 from scratch. Not because of the Switch port; as impressive as that is, this is a big-screen game for me. A little bit because the Netflix series had pushed the game, which celebrates its fifth anniversary today, to the front of the public consciousness and so into mine. Mostly because there was nothing new I fancied playing, or rather I fancied playing nothing new – I wanted the soothing feeling of old routines, patterns of thought and movement worn smooth with use. I wanted to go on a quest and upgrade my armour, and quest again and upgrade again, like I did five summers ago. I wanted to be weak and become strong, to be drab and become stylish, to be simple and become sophisticated. I wanted a comfort game.
What I have found is a game that is just as I remembered it – of course it is, I know a lot has happened, but five years still isn’t that long ago. I still love it, but I don’t love it for quite the reasons I thought I did. Those are not the things that drew me back in, and certainly not the things that have kept hold of me.
I had grown accustomed to thinking of The Witcher 3 as a masterpiece of world-building and storytelling hung on a serviceable, not to say mediocre action-RPG framework. The combat was a little sluggish and lacking in refinement, perhaps, and it never seemed to matter much where you invested your skill points. The consensus – which I hardly disagreed with – had it that the game’s greatest achievements were its rich, humane tapestry of questlines and the lived-in texture of its landscapes; its portrayal of a messy, complicated medieval world that was past redemption.