The Witcher 3 is a really big game. This is known. Still, I’m not sure everyone grasps just how massive it is. I sure didn’t.
I’ve already “finished” the game; I played through to the conclusion for my review. But as I said at the time, I had to blow past a bunch of sidequests to get to the ending. I’m now neck-deep in a second playthrough on PC, and I’m only just getting my head around this game’s utter hugeness.
I’ve been playing hard for a week now — often eating dinner while I play and staying up absurdly late most nights — and I feel like I’ve seen somewhere between a third and — optimistically — half of what there is to see. According to my Steam counter, I’m about to cross the sixty-hour mark. That’s how long it took me to complete the entire story the first time through, but this time… I’m nowhere close. Like, nowhere close. I’m just approaching the story’s halfway point, looking at a passel of sidequests and contracts that leaves me feeling overwhelmed.
Yesterday, our guest editor Phil Owen wrote that the longer the game goes, the faster he moves through it. I feel fortunate to have already finished once; I no longer feel any anxiety about reaching the end, and can simply relax and do every sidequest, collect every piece of armour, and explore every question-mark on the map. Only now, after a combined hundred and twenty hours of play, do I have an appropriate grasp of this game’s scope, and only now am I able to relax into a mindset that lets me fully enjoy it.
The game’s map is very large:
Which is impressive on its own. Every tiny road on that map is a road you can walk down, every little patch of green is a full forest you can explore. To put things in perspective, the city of Novigrad (to the north), which looks teeny on that map, is properly city-sized. Here’s the view from the southwest side of the city’s port:
There are still areas and alleyways in Novigrad that I haven’t seen. There’s a yellow quest exclamation-mark waiting for me in the western part of the city, but I haven’t visited it yet in part because it’d take so long to walk over there. That whole city takes up but a tiny portion of the northern tip of the map.
What’s more, that map doesn’t even really convey what’s remarkable about The Witcher 3‘s scale. (For starters, it makes Skellige look much smaller than it is; it’s hard not to boggle when you arrive there after countless hours in Velen only to find a map that feels just as large.) What stands out to me about The Witcher 3 isn’t just its geographical size, it’s how much there is to do within that space.
Sixty hours in, I’m sitting on 13 sidequests, nine witcher contracts, and five more treasure hunts. That’s only counting the quests I’ve found so far, and that isn’t counting the more formulaic boxing, card-playing, and horse-racing missions that accompany each region. I already know how much of the story I have left, and I’d say I’m about halfway through. Meanwhile, my “completed quests” section lists 117 finished quests, hunts, and contracts. One hundred and seventeen!
On their own, those are just numbers, but the thing to keep in mind is that just about every sidequest in The Witcher 3 is consequential and takes a good chunk of time to work through. The smallest quests are still thick with dialogue and story, and rarely do I feel like I’m going to place A, killing thing B, and checking another item off of my to-do list. When I’m over-leveled for a quest, it doesn’t really matter — it’s still enough of a challenge at the second-highest difficulty, and even if it’s easy (or there’s no combat at all) the self-contained stories are entertaining enough to see me through. Even the “Treasure Hunt” quests are cool, as the majority of them take me either to puzzle-filled temples or to remote locations I’d otherwise miss, all in pursuit of some neat-looking gear.
Is The Witcher 3‘s size an unequivocal positive? Probably a debate for another day, once more people have actually done everything there is to do. The volume of optional content may hurt the pacing of the main narrative, and that can be an issue, given how often the sidequests subtly intersect with the main characters and story threads. (Some sidequests become inaccessible past certain points in the story, for example.) By and large, however, The Witcher 3 is working pretty well for me as a collection of short stories — a narrative-light, open-ended Witching simulator, as opposed to a more traditional fantasy narrative like the one spun by the main questline.
For now, I really just wanted to more-clearly articulate something I didn’t fully grasp when I first reviewed the game. The Witcher 3 is enormous. It’s far bigger than I thought it was, and I already thought it was pretty big. If you sense you’re getting near to the end, you probably aren’t. Slow down, relax, and take it all in. It’s gonna be a while.