Merry Christmas, MMORPG.com readers! Across the internet, gaming publications are posting their yearly Best Of 2015s. Perhaps more than any other category, RPGs have a serious head to head to consider: Fallout 4 versus The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. On the one hand, Fallout is a phenomenon years in the making. On the other, The Witcher is a grassroots success that has taken the gaming world by storm. Despite a long, beloved history and mighty publishing power of Bethesda, The Witcher 3 is by far the better RPG. Here’s why.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Let me begin with an example. When I began Fallout 4, I made my way from Vault 111 as a father. I had one mission, to find my boy. I left Sanctuary a man distraught, having lost a family and finding the world I once knew in tatters. My intention leaving that place was to go about my way as non-violently as possible; that was my character and it fit with the story. When I arrived at the first diner and met the mama ready to face down the drug dealers, there was no way I could walk away without blood on my hands. If I took a side, the other side immediately started to attack me. If I had invested heavily in charisma, I might have, but instead it turned into the first of so many shoot outs.
The Witcher 3, by contrast, is painted in shades of grey. Even though it also pushes you into combat more often than it should, roleplaying through quests isn’t tied to a single “or else combat” stat. There, I can convince the scoundrel to walk away without sacrificing my combat ability. There also, I can go back and explore dialogue options to find out more about every character I’m interacting with. Mostly, anyway.
Where Fallout 4 shines is the interactivity of the world. The Commonwealth feels like a place people live in and that it goes on without you. The Witcher is much more static. There are NPC scripts that make citizens walk to and fro, but in Fallout, those citizens have deep routines. If a character tells you that they are walking three villages over, you can follow them and they’ll walk three villages over. If you come across an AI battle, it’s worth saving then and there, just so you can reload and watch it play out differently the second time. The reason Fallout will never be bug free is simply because there are layers on layers of programming that breathe life into parts of the world you’re not even seeing.
Likewise, you reach out and touch it. Even though The Witcher is incredibly rich in lore and filled with places to explore and surprises to find, it’s also much more limited. You can’t pick up every little thing and turn it all into craftables. You loot what the developers say you can loot. Fallout is absolutely rich in junk to fill your inventory and turn into useful crafts.
Yet, that depth of world doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s also just a much simpler game than The Witcher is. There are fewer stats to consider when equipping new items. The perk system is fun but also feels simplified in a way that screams “accessibility.” The Witcher 3’s stat system makes finding new gear exciting. You also find mutagens, which affect your abilities, and rune stones to enhance weapons on the fly. In Fallout, I was often hoping for a lucky drop -- and who doesn’t love the feeling when you get one? -- but in The Witcher, I went on treasure hunts and took trophies from my kills. The gear game is just superior in every way, except for crafting. There, Fallout is the obvious winner.
Combat is in Fallout is rote: aim, shoot, run, cover, VATS. It’s the best version the series has ever had; Fallout 4 is a competent, if not great, first/third-person shooter. The Witcher 3, on the other hand, is streamlined from its predecessor, but still provides more tactical options 100% of the time due to Geralt’s signs (spells) and the use of weapons, potions, oils, and bombs. Fallout has these as well, but they feel, well, bland.
Where both games excel are in hiding interesting stories around the world. The Witcher 3 is the definitive RPG when it comes to side quests. It is a high water mark that we’ll be talking about for years to come. Likewise, Fallout 4’s best content is usually off the beaten path. Unlike The Witcher 3, Fallout gives you much more freedom to make your own story. Many players, myself included, love this. But there’s something special about a game that surprises you with well crafted stories where you least expect them. My story is haphazard; interesting, but rather random. I love finding characters to care about and decisions that leave me feeling shaky. Even though Fallout has these also and easily tops The Witcher with its faction system, The Witcher 3 just stands out from other open world RPGs with hidden gem sidequests.
Ironically, I think the main reason Fallout feels like less of an RPG than ever before is because it’s a better shooter than ever before. It’s clear that Bethesda sunk many hours into refining the shooter mechanics and the game is immensely better because of it. Combat steals the show, and it’s clear that the developers felt the same, since every Wastelander is pushed into the mold of a cold-blooded killer. But that’s not the role everyone wants to play, and since they are, some of that roleplay sits like cut fat.
Fallout and The Witcher 3 went head to head this year, and it’s clear to me which is the better roleplaying game. But, shooter emphasis or not, they’re both still roleplaying games and very good ones at that. 2015 has been an exceptional year for RPG gamers. This conversation is a testament to what a good year it has been.
Here’s to an even better 2016!