With the news that Witcher series protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, is coming to SoulCalibur VI, the Witcher’s popularity has never been more evident. While the series began in 2007, it was May 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that saw the series reach mainstream success. The quality of the game speaks for itself, receiving a score on metacritic of 93. With the release of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One in November 2013, the new generation of console began. However, as with all new consoles, a slew of rushed launch titles and overhyped releases followed. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was not just the first game to truly use the new hardware to its fullest, but was the first “next-gen” game to deliver on that title. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s release ended the transition between 7th and 8th console generations, signalling the start of the “next-gen”.
18 months of growing pains
While the “next-gen” consoles were released in November 2013, the titles released between then and May 2015 failed to meet expectations. A sling of launch titles, which felt like forced excuses to upgrade, and disappointments, that used the expectation of the “next-gen” to overhype themselves, filled this void. With the release of the Witcher 3 in May 2015, the growing pains of the “next-gen” had stopped. Developers had learnt how to best use the new hardware and consumers understood and managed their expectations. However, this wasn’t a seamless transition.
With every generation of consoles, the launch titles are often placeholder products developed for the most eager of fans. This was certainly the case with the PS4 and Xbox One. The Xbox launched with Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Killer Instinct and Ryse: Son of Rome. The Playstation 4 launched with DriveClub, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack. While these games were visually impressive, with Ryse and Killzone highlighting what the new hardware was capable of, they all received average reviews at best. None of these games felt like they needed to be on “next-gen” consoles, but rather were shiny new games to give to industry reviewers and media. Most cross platform titles that launched, like Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts, were released on PS3 and X360 anyway. The launch line-up failed to provide a “killer-app”, leaving gamers with no incentive to upgrade.
Hype train derailed
In the post-launch period, there were numerous significant titles that excited gamers. The relative unknown potential of the “next-gen” meant these games were marketed as the next big thing. With gamers’ imaginations running wild, these games were supposed to symbolise the next step in the evolution of games. However, until the release of The Witcher 3, these all disappointed. The two biggest releases were Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and Bungie’s Destiny. The original Watch Dogs E3 2012 trailer promoted such mind-blowing graphics that it began speculation over the PS4 and Xbox One’s existence. However, the graphics in the trailer were no where near what was delivered on the final product. After the controversy blew over, gamers were still without a game that properly pushed the console’s power. Bungie’s Destiny was marketed as a the first massively multiplayer shooter for consoles. When it was released, players quickly noticed how much content was cut from the original reveal trailer. While expectations for a lore deep SciFi shooter were unrealistically high after Bungie’s Halo trilogy, Destiny failed to meet expectations. While both Watch Dogs and Destiny were sound games, they were more of the same. Gamers were still waiting for a game to set the bar for a “next-gen” experience.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
While not perfect, this fantasy RPG is the closest thing to it. Where launch games were PS3 or X360 game with PC graphics, and post-launch games failed to impress, the Witcher 3 delivered. Objectively, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a critical success. It ranks in the top 10 games for PS4 and Xbox One on Metacritic, nearly three years after its release. More importantly, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt delivered the first “next-gen” experience that was expected from gamers.
The obvious way the Witcher 3 delivered was visually. While there were significant downgrades from the E3 trailer, like Watch Dogs, the Witcher 3 still remains one of the most breathtaking video games of all time. While the Witcher in 2007 and the Witcher 2 (2011) pushed PC graphics to their limit, the Witcher 3 is a visual benchmark. From the photorealistic style, delivered by RedEngine3, to the fantasy epic designs of monsters, the Witcher 3 is a visual love letter to fantasy fans. The closest comparison is the live-action TV series, Game of Thrones, which is a testament to the graphics. This game pushed the Xbox One and PS4 to their utter limit. Where some games stop at cinematic realism, like Xbox’s Ryse, the Witcher gave players sprawling open cities. Locations like Novigrad weren’t just visually realistic, but populated with hundreds of NPCs like a real city. The Witcher 3, even now, has some of the best graphics of the PS4 and Xbox One.
While the Witcher 3 wasn’t the first game to visually push the “next-gen” systems, it’s gameplay was. No other game until this point gave players such a deep gaming experience that truly needed the “next-gen” consoles. As an open world fantasy RPG, the Witcher 3 was compared to Skyrim before its launch. However, where Skyrim delivered an open experience, the Witcher delivered a world. The sheer amount of content is something that hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t been replicated. Not only does the Witcher 3 boast four distinct locations, but each is bursting out the seams with distractions. A simple side-quest offers the same deep story and detail as a main-quest. With something as simple as Witcher contracts containing cutscenes, dialogue and a self-contained story arc, the Witcher set the bar. The scope and scale of the game was a step-up from anything seen before.
Finally, players were given a game that wasn’t what they were used to, with good graphics. They had played the natural evolution of the open-world RPG genre. Finally, gamers had a “next-gen” experience.
Between November 2013 and May 2015 the next generation of console failed to give gamers a “next-gen” experience. Launch titles were shiny examples of what the consoles could do meant for reviewers and media. Everything in the 18 months before the Witcher 3’s release failed to be anything more than a 7th-gen game with better graphics. With the release of the Witcher 3, players could finally see the potential of the “next-gen” consoles. Not only are the graphics incomparably good, but the gameplay also introduced an unprecedented scope that marked a new generation of games. While the “next-gen” consoles hosted a slew of games, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was the first “next-gen” game.