The Witcher 3 Is Even Bigger Than You Think

The Witcher 3 Is Even Bigger Than You Think

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.


  • Anybody over the Witcher articles on kotaku? No? Just me…ok, I’ll see myself out.

    • would you rather go back to a dozen articles every single day on Bloodborne?

    • At least it’s a change from the Maria/zelda boredom. But I mean holy crap, a gaming website that talks about…gaming stuff! Unberievable!

    • Me too. Happens when ever a big title games out though.

      The amount of bloodborn articles was crazy

      • Crazy awesome! This is why I now try to play big releases at launch, because the coverage you get is amazing. Previously I’d just read the articles (avoiding the spoilery ones) and enjoy the game vicariously. Experiencing the game and reading about others’ experiences at the same time is fantastic πŸ™‚

    • Hey, I had to put up with half a dozen Bloodborne articles a day for weeks, you guys can handle a few Witcher articles πŸ˜›

    • Give it a week and they will find something else to write about. E3 is not far. Better bunker down to ready for that onslaught.

    • Its less a comment on the Witcher, and more a comment about the rest of the industry (and the lack of any AAA quality titles at the moment)

    • I’m not, I was over all the Bloodbourne ones but I also have not played that game. The Witcher 3 however, I am very much into that game and have enjoyed the articles on it.

      When a new game is out and is as big as The Witcher 3 you have to expect a large amount of publicity on it, most game sites are similar. They are providing insights/comments on something most people are playing.

  • I’m with you.

    Currently loving all of the side quests, and trying to knock down as many as I can in Velen before heading to Skellige, where a lot of quest lines are currently drawing me towards.

    I want to experience every side quest before finishing the story, and I’ve already clocked in almost a hundred hours. The crazy part is that I’m not bored yet, or rushing about from marker-to-marker. The environment itself is enough to get lost in and enjoy riding around in, much like how Red Dead Redemption felt for me.

    What a fantastic game.

    • I’ve played for about 6 hours and the sum total of my activities is:

      1. Combat tutorial;
      2. Arrive at White Orchard;
      3. Gwent tutorial and repeat game;
      4. Help some dude find his brother on a battlefield;
      5. Try with some bewilderment to make sense of the inventory and alchemy systems;
      6. Level up to Level 2.

      I have a feeling this game will keep me busy for hundreds of hours…

      • So many hours!

        There’s so much to do that I find myself planning what to do each session before I get home. Same with a lot of guys at my work who are playing. It’s a good feeling.

  • This game has made secondary quests awesome. Not just the same shit different location like other games. They are interesting stories contained within secondary quests. Love it. All of game companies could learn from this.

    • I liken it to skyrim except rather than another “go in cave, get to end, get loot” event, it feels as though every location has some story to tell, often because they actually do but also due to design. It never feels like they slapped down a location because a certain part of the map felt empty.

      • I’m enjoying it much more than skyrim. Skyrim mechanically speaking had terrible combat. This is coming from someone who logged over 300 hours in fallout 3. Witcher 3 is just superior in every way, hell I liked 2 more than skyrim too.

        • Witcher 3’s combat can be a pain too though. It enrages my inner swordsman every time he tries to do a spinning lunge attack on an enemy right in front of him.
          I agree that it’s better than Skyrim, for me at least. After various Elder Scrolls and Fallout games I couldn’t help but see everything done before which soured everything new and interesting.

          Now all we need is someone to combine Skyrim, Witcher 3 and Dragons Dogma into a sprawling RPG epic with insane combat.

          • Yeah, but that’s namely from an execution/targetting pov and understandable. Skyrim just had fundamentally boring as fuck combat imo. Then again, I can’t stand first person sword swinging outside of like, Chilvary and TF2 melee scotsman. Swordplay is meant to be visceral and/or elegant and combos, and that just doesn’t translate in first person.

  • I think I’m 10+ hours in and I have just arrived Velen and did some side quests πŸ™‚

  • Sounds great. That was one of the problems with DA:I all the side quests and extra stuff was boring go here kill this pick up 4 these etc and just served as filler wheras the witcher 3 side quests are actually story driven

  • I think I would love a game that is all sidequests, or at least lacking a “true” main quest. Something open world like GTA, Fallout or Elder Scrolls game where you are completely free to do whatever you want and there is a plethora of ways you can go. Often when I play open world games, the main quest gets forgotten as I explore the world, discovering all the weird and wonderful things that exist. The main quest in a fallout or elder scrolls game especially often feels like the least interesting part, and has to have all sorts of play styles shoehorned into it. True adventure is when you discover something you are not guaranteed to discover.

    • I’ve put in 300 hours into skyrim. Never once finished the story. Furthest I ever got was … actually I dunno how far I’ve gotten cause I don’t know how it ends. I think there’s time travel but I never got far enough to get the elder scroll.

      • Only 300hrs.. pfft light weight πŸ˜› try 1270 according to steam. Bow down before my utter lack of social life!

        Anyway back on topic, I dont think we can even call these side quests anymore because of how well done they are, I mean thw whole bloody baron part of main quest included a few side quests and that section by its self would of easily been a game in an of its self. And then theres the Cardinal Sins quest which is so fleshed out it could of been a bloody tv mini series

  • Yeah, I’ve been taking my time but often finding myself rocking up to areas that in a regular linear game, I might not reach until later in the game. In one instance of this the other day, I stumbled across a monsters den at one of the many question marks on the map. Turned out to be a Nekker nest filled with many, many level 16 Nekkers.. I didn’t get much further than around 10 metres inside the cave entrance before beating a hasty retreat. πŸ™‚

    • I was thrown off my horse and almost killed by a wolf.

      (playing on Death March)

    • “oh a question mark I haven’t explored, I gotta check this out”.
      “oh a guarded treasure! sweet. what’s guarding it…”
      “oh look a monster with no level number, just a red skull”
      “fuck this noise, I’ll stick to gwent!” (hasty retreat)

      no seriously, this game is awesome.

  • So a question….. When I finally finish Witcher 1 and then 2….

    Is the Witcher 3 large as in:

    A) DA:I isolated areas with 1 main mission and a bunch of read letter go other end of map find body /endquest (as opposed to the find dead body travel other end of map find letter /endquest). Basically zones separated by great big fuck off loading screens?


    B) Skyrim/RDR big open area seamless loading find quests as you go?

    I really don’t like the Bioware of the patch work world.

    • It’s much more like Skyrim when it comes to the world. There are some separated areas, but only three main ones as far as I know. These areas are completely open, with no load screens, and are enormous. Not linear at all.

        • Definitely a good idea to be playing the first two. I’m a newcomer to the series, so while I understand the story and can pick up on the cues, I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of cool jokes and references.

          • Yes, definitely play the first 2 games. You will appreciate the characters and their history together a lot more.

  • unlike DA:I this games world feels like a connected whole and not just ‘zones’, even though it basically is. Unlike DA:I which feels lazy and unnecessarily cluttered. This actually feels like everything belongs in the world and not just artificially invented just to pad content.

    Truly an amazing achievement of a gaming world.

  • I like doing the side quests first for two reasons:

    1. My OCD demands that I explore EVERYWHERE; and

    2. Leaving the main story for last ensures I still have an overarching purpose in playing.

    A couple of games I finished the main story and just couldn’t be bothered doing the side quests or challenges before losing interest.

  • 54 hours in, and I’ve covered about 2/3 of Velen’s map.

    I paid the Australia tax, but I’m certainly getting my $/hour value here.

    • Yeah I got the $200 PC collectors and it so far has been what 30c an hour of actual brilliant content. Just mind boggling.
      Don’t think I could justify another 6 hour shat shooter again even on sale.

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