Player Choice and Investment: How the Witcher 3 Does It Right

had initially planned to do one last “design through the lens of Oblivion” style article today, on quest design, but decided to take a bit more time to get more samples. It’s been a while since I played Oblivion, so I want to make sure my remembrance of certain quests is accurate as I replay them.

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So today, let’s talk about player choice, and how that leads to increased investment in the game world. Most games attempt this; after all if a player isn’t invested, they’re less likely to continue. But few games truly succeed when it comes to investing players in the narrative and setting, rather than the gameplay loop.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does this masterfully. I have never played an open world game that affords this level of choice on how to approach most situations. It is relatively rare I feel the game forces me into a fight, and almost never does it do so with sentient creatures that aren’t nameless bandits (and even there, you have the choice to fight or flee with no consequences). You can go through the game parleying with most of your foes or “monsters of the week”, and are always given at least the ILLUSION of being able to interact meaningfully with hostile NPCs. The only other game in recent memory I can think of that afforded this level of freedom was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and it has its own stumbling blocks (namely, the unavoidable bosses) that mar the experience.

In my leisurely stroll through The Witcher 3 I’ve experienced many quests in a single game that would stand out in other, lesser (but still good) games as their crowning achievement in narrative. I’m going to stray away from spoilers, save this: Skellige’s Most Wanted is great, and really makes you feel like your decisions earlier in the game have real weight and consequence to them. Having your actions acknowledged, and having that be translated to a peaceful resolution to a quest is a sublime feeling for a player, and really shows the love and care that went into this game.

This kind of choice, and simple acknowledgement of those choices (for good or ill; I’ve made some bad ones for sure) as having real consequences is such a huge boon to an RPG it’s frankly astounding a game like this doesn’t come along more often. More than any gameplay element or strictly story-based writing this kind of investment is what makes people remember a game fondly long past the time they put down the controller, and it’s something games desperately need more of.

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Players recognize this, I feel, when it isn’t delivered on or is botched in its delivery (see the outcry over Mass Effect 3‘s original ending), but too seldom stop to appreciate it when it’s going on or articulate that this feeling of investment and being sucked into a world that feels alive is what makes them love the game to developers and publishers. Too often we gush about graphics, or mechanics, or vague statements like “it had good writing” that don’t convey our desires to the gaming industry at large (and given The Witcher 3′s massive popularity, I feel comfortable speaking for all of us that people want more games like this), and I think this is part of what makes games like this so rare, People can’t quite pinpoint what it is that makes them love games like this so much, s let me pinpoint it for the next time you fill out a survey, or leave feedback on a forum, or if by some chance you’re part of a publisher’s focus group or something: You like feeling invested. You like at least the very strong illusion that your choices matter, and would like to see more games that deliver that illusion to you.

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While we’re at it, you probably like it when a game is self-aware about the nature of the protagonist and their relationship with the world too, if you like The Witcher series. Maybe clamor for that too. Too often characters in games seem to just float from scene to scene without self-reflection (either internally or externally motivated). It’s a big part of why Fallout 4‘s story falls so flat; the main character adjusts so quickly and their emotions shift so rapidly between dialogue options that it becomes farcical. Because the game and narrative doesn’t treat them as people, and the characters therefore aren’t given the illusion of thinking through their actions, so you don’t really care about their “emotions” when they do conveniently surface at the right story beats. Food for thought.

What do you guys think? Let us know down below

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