But what of The Witcher 3? The game, recently announced for the PC, PlayStation 4 and presumably the next Xbox, will be the last in the series. It'll be an open-world game many times larger than its predecessor. It'll be developer CD Projekt's biggest opportunity to fully realize author Andrzej Sapkowski's dirty, violent, sexy world and its hero, the gravel-voiced ronin Geralt of Rivia.
I spent the better part of last weekend replaying a big chunk of The Witcher 2, and fleshing out a list of things I'd like to see in the new game. Some of these are small. Some are large. Collectively, they make up the things I'd like to see in The Witcher 3.
We're going to start with the sexiest, most exciting thing possible. That's right...
The world of The Witcher has always felt welcomely grounded to me. Everything is really rooted—when Geralt makes potions, he kneels on the ground and takes his time. The crafting in both The Witcher and The Witcher 2 are defining elements—or at least, they're supposed to be. Geralt is a master herbalist, and what he lacks in powerful magic he makes up for with scientific knowledge and alchemy. But the crafting system itself is a touch impenetrable in The Witcher 2. Of the three specific skill trees available (the other two are swordplay and magic), I never chose to drop a single point into herbalism, and as a result felt like I was missing out on a big chunk of the game. The whole thing was difficult enough that even on replays, I never felt confident ditching swordplay and magic to focus on herbalism. It'd be great if in the third game, alchemy not only became easier to use, it became a universal skill that could be used by any player. I'd love to craft and use more potions, but I don't want to have to forsake vital combat skills to do it.
This one's a no-brainer, and almost certainly something we'll see in the new game. The Witcher 2 has a couple of notorious first-act difficulty spikes, from the Kayran (very difficult until you know exactly what to do) to the first fight with Letho, a vastly more powerful Witcher that feels damned near impossible to defeat. I must have taken on that Letho battle thirty times, and even upon replays I get stuck there for a while, though it helps to know that I only have to get him down to half his health. I know a few people who quit the game outright at that moment never to return. Surely CDP doesn't want that to happen in the new game, and it's a safe bet they'll smooth out their difficulty some. I certainly hope they do.
I picture a world where Geralt of Rivia walks up to a door and simply goes through it. In this world, the camera does not pull in tightly behind him, the screen does not fade to black. It's a magical place where the doors work like in every other open-world game. Dream with me, and maybe we can go there.
Some of the worst bits of The Witcher 2 involved half-baked sneaking, with one in the first act closing off a notable large chunk of story potential if you were spotted. Contextual sneaking—that is, sneaking where you don't have a "sneak" button, but where your character crouches on his own—is almost always a drag, and it was a drag in The Witcher 2. Hopefully the third game will jettison stealth altogether, but if they decide to include it, I hope that the system underlying it will become a bit more robust. Some kind of improved line-of-sight notification, a detection meter, something. If you're gonna make me play a stealth-game, act like a stealth game!
The menus in The Witcher 2 (this is based on the PC version) are pretty terrible. It seems to be some combination of not quite designing the game to work with a controller and not quite thinking through the way a player might have to access them every time they play. They violate several of The Ten Commandments Of Video Game Menus, including the fact that the first option after loading the game is not "continue," and that you have to go through multiple menus just to quit. Here's hoping CDP rebuilt their menus from the ground up.
While I appreciate the earthy look of The Witcher 2's map, it's awfully useless. Look at this thing:
It's very difficult to tell just what the hell is where. Given the layered, overlapping maps in The Witcher 2, particularly in the dwarven city of Vergen (which the map above is of), it's not an easy task to create a 2-dimensional map that can accurately convey where everything is. But surely it's possible to make a map that's slightly better. In fact, here's a total lark: Given how earthy and rooted everything in the game is, what if CD Projekt bucked tradition and gave Geralt an actual in-game map, like in Far Cry 2? Every time you needed to check the map, you'd pull it out and actually look at it. It'd make it clear where you were going, but you'd eventually learn to navigate the world using a combination of your senses and visible points of interest. Hey, that'd be pretty cool. (It will never happen, but okay.)
Replaying The Witcher 2, I was struck by how much I actually enjoyed the way combat felt. I like how Geralt pulls cool somersaults and dive-bombs to move himself across the battlefield, and I like the music and the satisfying feedback from smacking an enemy with your sword. But I don't like the fact that most of Geralt's moves can't be interrupted in order to dodge, which often leaves Geralt flailing like an idiot while a huge enemy winds up an attack and crushes him. Combat in the game would be a lot more fun if it was possible to interrupt Geralt's swings at any time to dodge, and it'd make some of the more maddening bosses much more survivable. It'd also be cool if parrying got an overhaul, and just sort of worked, without draining the same energy you use for magic. I guess what I'm saying here is that while the fundamentals for combat were ok in The Witcher 2, it'd be nice to see the game's action become truly fun.
This seems like something the CDP will almost surely address in the new game. One of the weird bugbears of The Witcher 2 on the PC was the fact that while it had an autosave slot, it didn't have a quicksave slot. So, every time I'd hit F5, I'd get a brand new save. I saved quite often, and as a result wound up with a crapload of saves. A minor thing that I bet will be fixed in the new game.
Despite the fantasy setting, I've always thought of Geralt as more of a Western hero. He's a man with no allegiances, on a personal quest, with nothing but his own code to guide him. He rolls through towns, helping people along the way. So it's great to see that Geralt will finally get to ride a horse in The Witcher 3. Here's my one request with the horses: Don't make them suck. Look to Red Dead Redemption and even Skyrim—the horses may not have been perfect in those games, but at least they could go pretty much everywhere. I've always noticed that The Witcher 2's areas aren't nearly as open as they seem, and that Geralt runs up against a lot of invisible walls. As Assassin's Creed III showed, invisible walls and horses don't really mix. I'm glad that there will be horse-riding in The Witcher 3, but I hope that it's not terrible.
I sincerely hope that the poet/bard/goofball Dandelion is back for the third game, and that Geralt's quest "journal" is still written by him. That was one of my favorite parts of the second game, and his narrative way of summarizing what I'd done until my current point in the story actually made it much easier for me to keep track of the twisting, often difficult-to-parse story.
Neither The Witcher nor The Witcher 2 were easy games—in fact, both could be right difficult, even on the normal difficulty setting. While I'd love to see combat get a facelift, I hope that the third game is just as difficult as the first two. In particular, I dearly hope that CDP doesn't add the ability to take health-replenishing potions mid-battle.
The second act of The Witcher 2 remains as audacious today as it felt back when I first played the game. Depending on a single decision, you'd spend the entire second act, possibly the biggest act of the game, in an entirely different area, doing entirely different things. While it seems unlikely that the third game will have any blocked-off content that large, it stands to reason that the game will have some branching. Hopefully it'll be more dramatic than the "kinda but kinda-not" branching in other similar games.
So there you have 'em—some things I'd like to see in The Witcher 3. But that's just me talking; I'll be sitting down soon (probably later this month at GDC) with some of the people working on the game, and I'll probably ask about half of this stuff right off the bat.
In the meantime, what do you hope to see in The Witcher 3, and what do you hope will get fixed? And given that I've never actually finished the first game, is there anything that was removed from the second game that you'd like to see in the new one?