Opinion: Games Like The Witcher 2 Are Dying, It's Up To Us To Save Them
Written Friday, April 27, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
The Witcher 2 isn't like other RPGs. It's willfully, almost stubbornly different, an exercise in creative power that not many studios could pull off. It is its own beast with its own voice and it's brilliant. But it's also a dying breed.
The sad thing is that despite The Witcher 2's bright and creative approach, games of its type are a rare phenomenon. Fantasy RPGs have been around almost as long as the game industry itself, of course, but increasingly few display The Witcher 2's levels of courage and commitment.
The risks of mainstream, AAA development are well documented. Games of this type cost so much that developers and publishers have to be sure that they will make their money back. They cannot take chances because if they get it wrong, they risk extinction. CD Projekt RED is one of the few studios capable of gambling.
Take The Witcher 2's splintered storyline. While other RPGs play lip-service to choice and consequence, The Witcher 2 dives fearlessly in. An entire third of the game, representing months of development time and millions in studio cash, can be bypassed on your first playthrough. Many gamers will never, ever see it.
Then there's the content. Whatever you think of The Witcher 2's sex scenes, of which there are many, what's laudable is how committed CD Projekt RED are to them. The developers made a choice to stay faithful to the often racy source material and they executed it without compromise. They stayed true to the vision.
What this results in is character. Coupled with its bawdy, earthy dialogue, memorable inhabitants and murky morality, The Witcher 2 stands alone, unique and proud of what it is. Meanwhile, many mainstream games copy what has gone before, locked in a world of focus testing and market research. We see so many shaven haired marines, post-apocalyptic wastelands and dull brown colour palettes for a reason: They are proven to sell.
Now, games that display these characteristics are not necessarily bad. Many of this generation's greatest experiences have built around these familiar tropes. Iteration is an important tool for progress. But when something as individual and fresh as The Witcher 2 comes along, it's our job as gamers to champion them, in the hope that publishers take notice.
We recently ran a piece discussing what we want from The Witcher 2's sequel. One of the requests was for better maps. The Witcher 2 has a poor map and an even worse mini-map. Yet as some commenters pointed out, it's things like this that make the game unique. The commenters were right.
The maps are a design choice, not a mistake. CD Projekt RED don't want you to be able to navigate the world easily. They don't want their game to be about dumbly following an arrow to a man with a giant exclamation mark above his head. Instead, they want you to explore and enjoy their beautifully crafted environment. They want you to feel like you are part of the world. And if that means getting lost every now and again, then fine. If you don't like it, you can go and play something else. Choose another game. The Witcher 2 doesn't want everyone to love it, it's confident in what it is.
Much of this stems from parent company CD Projekt's financial independence. A huge deal in their native Poland, the company rose to prominence as the central European publisher of titles like Baldur's Gate and Planetscape: Torment. A few savvy business decisions later - they own GOG.com - and they were able to form CD Projekt RED, a studio devoted to games development.
What all of this means is that they were able to make The Witcher series without searching for investment and without the need to compromise. At no point did they have an external businessman hovering over their shoulder, telling them what to do. They got to make the games they wanted to make, in the way they wanted to make them.
Very few studios have this kind of power. You could make an argument that Epic Games has, perhaps, but Valve are an easier comparison, with Steam affording the dev studio wing of the company some valuable creative breathing room. They stand alongside CD Projekt RED as one of the few studios capable of combining AAA clout with the creative outlook of an indie. It's a perfect, yet atypical mix.
We love big, expensive-looking games here at X360A. We want to see cutting edge visuals, massive set-pieces and huge, expansive adventures. We enjoy military FPSes, sci-fi epics and explosive action games set in post-apocalyptic wastelands. All that is great. But we also want them to be unique. We want them to stand out from the crowd.