by Stuart Moulthrop
WITCHER III at Lunch Zone – June 19, 2019
Impressions of Witcher-world: lots of horsing around on linear plunges through a dusky, Hieronymous-Bosky landscape… truly gigantic map… gibbets and lynchings as regular design motif (hard to take on Juneteenth)… odd splashes of color in the desaturated landscape – all those sheaves of what look like hollyhocks outside the cottage yards; visually attractive/distracting… light and weather change, though we never seem to get full daylight; or is that just a trick of memory? Does this game just seem crepuscular?
Above all, the FLUIDITY of life in the Open World, reminiscent of Read Dead Redemption, or “Grand Theft Horse,” as Justin Schumaker calls it. Just keep amblin’ on, or mount on up. Story will find you eventually, podner. Er, Witcher.
A generation is going to grow up thinking all of Europe had an English Midlands accent in the Dark Ages. (I know, Witcher is actually post-apocalyptic.) Also, that you can mount a horse from port or starboard or even abaft — where I grew up, coming from anywhere but left could get you a kicking.
On the never-ending Reflection Quest, Kelly and Nathan started an interesting discussion of games that do or do not promote off-quest exploration (one of the Final Fantasies was mentioned). Eventually this morphed into consideration of the balance between narrative objectives and banal realism… e.g., the need to get our sword fixed so we can smite a bunch of wolves and ghouls on the way to disposing of some inconvenient bodies. There was also talk about economies of savepoints and the differences between Sierra adventure games and those from Lucas Arts, where you were less likely to suffer playdeath.
What you do suffer in Witcherworld is a barrage of incoming information/stimuli – game imitating life, at least that unpleasant part of life I think of as email, though folks these days may think instead of social media. I seriously expected a dispatch offering Sword Enhancement. Or an encounter with a Nigerian prince. The world is awash in datapoints. Hey mister, have this creepy doll. Look, a dumpling!
For much of the hour we found ourselves in a curious zone where (as Kelly noted) we were neither advancing any narrative nor racking up experience points. Ludonarrative limbo, but also maybe a little-understood aspect of open-world play: that half-aroused, lingering dwell state where there’s nothing to do except wonder about our relationship to this world and its game. In a way, maybe, this experience is cognate with the long takes of Slow Cinema. O the banality! Are we falling out of love with narrative?
When you’re lucky, as we were today, there’s also the miracle of eventual coherence, or closure. Just at the hour, Nathan found his way to an ACTUAL BLACKSMITH… well, an amateur Blacksmith, but hey. At least the dude didn’t have one of those salad-bowl haircuts. You have to appreciate a game that gets us reliably back from Limbo, and right on the stroke of one.