There are a lot of things that keep me coming back to The Witcher 3, but few are as effective -- or as quaint -- as the game's wind.
Yes, the game looks gorgeous by traditional reckoning. The textures, the lighting, the animation, it's a good-looking video game by video game standards. But there are a lot of good-looking video games set in vast open worlds that I don't revisit all the time and just sit back, sigh deeply and let wash over me like The Witcher 3's, and that's because their worlds don't feel as alive as Geralt's.
Consider open world games, from Skyrim to GTA V. They're big, beautiful games, but once I complete their main storylines I rarely revisit them, because without a narrative impetus pushing me along their roads and over their mountains, the worlds feel flat and empty. Not of things to do (especially if you make videos on the internet) but in the sense that without something pushing me along I quickly find they have become lifeless Video Game Spaces, and not a little self-contained universe I could get lost in.
Now look at this shit. Look at this wind. Look at how it swirls around the player, moves the trees, sways the grass. There's an audio element to it, with all that whooshing, and it affects the game's lighting as well as the sun flickers and dances across the ground while trees move overhead.
There are 3D models and a floor here, like there are in any other game, but the wind in The Witcher 3 is filling the space between it all. It breathes life into a static place. It is, in many ways, the energy bringing the world of The Witcher 3 to life in a way no other video game has ever managed.
Of course, it's not for everyone.
There are even mods out there designed to turn it down! (Though it still looks amazing).
Even I'll admit that, as much as I enjoy it, the wind in The Witcher 3 can be a bit much at times. But like...come on. It's a world full of elves and monsters and magic. I think we're entitled to some excessive gusts if the art team thinks it makes the game look good.
So here we are, talking about how a video game's wind has kept me coming back to it long after its story had run dry. Wind! Of all the things. Some damn wind. You can't even see it. We're technically just admiring a bunch of trees and hair whooshing around.
Yet I love firing The Witcher 3 up once or twice a month and just riding around, enjoying the world. Long strolls along a beach, a quick ride through the mountain paths of Skellige, it's a video game where I know combat and challenge is there if I want it, but I usually just seek out moments of beauty and solitude with the sun slipping over the hills and the wind literally at Geralt's back.