Witcher, Skyrim and Fable – Feeling like a part of the world

I’ve been revisiting Witcher 3 recently, specifically the Blood and Wine dlc. It really is rather good – if you haven’t downloaded it I’d highly recommend you do, and if you haven’t played Witcher 3 go do that right now. No spoilers here though, so maybe you could read on first…

I used the word ‘revisiting’ in the first sentence very specifically. Playing Witcher does feel like visiting somewhere. To use a gaming cliche, it feels like a living, breathing world. But there’s nowhere near the level of interactivity of Fable 2. What’s that? I get to talk about Fable 2 some more? Well ok then…

Fable 2 is, hitherto, my favourite example of feeling like part of a gaming world. I’ve written about it before, repeatedly. Sorry. You’re able to use various emotes, from posing to growling to farting, which the people of Albion respond to in different ways. Some of them find burping disgusting, some find it funny. And depending on how you’ve behaved on your travels they may have a different response altogether. And if you’re fat they might call you Pie Eater. I love it. Witcher doesn’t have this though. On the surface, Witcher seems to have more in common with Skyrim than Albion. 

I find Skyrim to be a frustrating place. At the beginning of the game the responses you receive make a sort of sense. You’re a nobody and by and large people are standoffish towards you. But my character pursued the mage guild quests. He worked his way up the ranks to become the Dean of Winterhold College. The Dean. The head honcho. The wielder of the largest wand. His staff most definitely had a knob on the end. And yet. The way people greeted me, even in the college itself, didn’t change. I was still being hailed with the same stock lines about my honeyed words, being looked down on as a stranger. Skyrim is so immersive in many ways and really jarring in as many others.

The Witcher, like Skyrim has a pool of stock reactions with which the populace greet you. Every now and then there’s something a little more personal, but by and large there’s distrust. Fear. Hatred of the outsider. The lines may be better acted, but it seems similar to Skyrim. Last night I wandered past a village, and the whole populace were dancing around a fire. Some kind of fete was going on. I stumbled down the hill, eager to take part, but I couldn’t. Geralt doesn’t have those verbs. In Albion my hero could have danced around the fire, but Geralt and the Dragonborn have to look on and wonder. 

But then I realised. Geralt feels much more a part of the land than the Dragonborn does. And it’s very much because he is an outsider. He is sneered at by passers by, called the Butcher of Blavikenand much worse. And he always has been. He looks distinctive. Word spreads. He is a mutant and people have their opinions of that sort. Because Geralt feels like as much of an outsider as the player does, the world of Witcher 3 feels real.

Ok, I know I promised no spoilers, but since starting this piece I’ve played a little more and there’s something from the main quest that’s pertinent. So skip the next para to avoid SPOILERS.

There’s a moment when Regis asks Geralt whether, if he could start from the beginning again, he would want to become a Witcher or whether he would rather live a normal life. And the player gets to choose the response. It’s a great question and cuts right to the heart of this topic. Is Geralt satisfied with being the outsider? Is the player? Cursed to hear the same petty insults wherever you go, to never be allowed to join the dance… It’s probably the longest I’ve thought about a response in Witcher? The answer? To me, Geralt would want to be a Witcher again. He still feels like a part of the world, even if he is apart from most of it. And he gets to hang out with some pretty nifty sorceresses, so it’s not all bad.

End of spoilers.

It’s the synergy of player feeling and character feeling which enhances what is already an excellent game, and it’s in part the lack of that which has left me slightly cold (ahaha) about Skyrim (full disclosure: I’ve completed the main quest and more beside, and started a second character – so it’s not entirely without merit!).

Fable 2 and Witcher 3 are my favourite examples of immersive game worlds, but please recommend some more to me – it’s plainly something I respond to!



Films of 2016 – a pattern emerges…

Last year I saw more films in cinemas than I’ve seen in a year before – it’s quite a nice personal record to break (without specifically trying to I hasten to add), and I still missed some films I was pretty keen on. All in all I saw 55 films in cinemas in 2016, a full list can be found here if you’re interested.

While the real world was becoming less and less palatable, I thought the cinema was a jolly good place to hole up – it was a pretty good year all told, with not a single film walked out of. And the top five? The
order is pretty flexible except for the top spot:

1.      Sing Street

2.      Under The Shadow

3.      Green Room

4.      Your Name

5.      10 Cloverfield Lane

This year I’ve noticed a pattern in my choices, which is something I haven’t really been aware of before. Sing Street is, plot-wise, an unremarkable feel-good schoolkids-form-band tale. Under The Shadow and Green Room are pretty standard horror set-ups (though of wildly differing kinds). Your Name is a teen body-swap fantasy. These are all very well-worn set-ups or tropes. The general plot beats by and large aren’t that surprising (though there’s a twist in Your Name which I didn’t see coming at all). 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t fit quite so well into an archetype, but neither does it exactly re-invent the wheel.

This was a year where I really responded to genre being
embraced. All five films grip hold of genre preconceptions and use them to best advantage. They hone all the best elements of the films they remind me of or call back to or flat-out reference and then take them on that step further. They seem like they were made with a genuine love of their genres. Even just out of my top five this is apparent. Hell Or High Water is in my top ten of the year and was a love letter to a kind of Thriller that doesn’t seem to make waves much any more. Nocturnal Animals was also fantastic, with about 80% of the narrative being a pretty standard revenge thriller – albeit one featuring the two best male performances of the year.

Whether this is something changing in my tastes, a quirk of the year’s finest films, or just me trying to find a pattern in an end-of-year list, remains to be seen. I imagine I’ll see a similar number of films in 2017 so I’ll refer back to this in a year’s time.

In the meantime, happy cinema-ing and let me know what your favourite film of the year was.

Oh, by the by, Sing Street and Green Room are on Netflix right now so I’d strongly recommend watching them if you haven’t seen them already. Let me know what you think.