Read any forum, reddit thread, or review of The Witcher 3 and you’re likely to come across Skyrim. No, I don’t mean purchase links or cross-promotion, screenshots, or any of the like. I mean the constant comparisons, the “it’s better than, worse than, learn this from that and don’t forget the crafting” kind of banter that puts these two games at odds with each other. It was an easy thing to do before having played the game. Now that we have, can we all just admit that we were so, so wrong? These games shouldn’t be compared. Here’s why.
They’re not the same kind of open world
Reading through the comments on last couple articles, more than one reader has questioned my use of the term “open world” in discussing The Witcher 3. Comparing it with Skyrim, it’s hard to argue. The Witcher 3 is not open in the same sense. There are loading screens between regions and if you push too far in any one direction, you’ll eventually be met with the “you’ve reached the end of the world” message and reset on the map. Skyrim, on the other hand, is as open as they come; pick a point on the map and go.
The Witcher’s open world is a much closer match to Dragon Age: Inquisition. You pick a region and it loads up a sprawling map just for that region. Unlike Dragon Age, there are good reasons that make you want to return to these zones, making them feel less one-off over the course of the game. What I like about The Witcher’s world is that once you’re in a zone, you’re there. Few, if any, loading screens pop up to take you out of the experience. It feels open.
They don’t play remotely alike
Skyrim and The Witcher just aren’t in the same field when it comes to how they play. You’ll do the usual RPG stuff of completing quests and killing mobs for fun, but the experience of doing those things is drastically different. First of all, The Witcher plays entirely in the third-person which dramatically changes the gameplay experience. Skyrim is first-person, which actively makes you the character (more on that in a second). As a result of this, how you experience things such as combat is like night and day.
But let’s go deeper, into combat itself. Skyrim allows you to customize the way you play, from stealth, to weapon type, to going full wizard or archer. The Witcher locks you into casting and swinging but presents those paths with far more fluidity and style than Skyrim could ever dream of. Combat in The Witcher also relies far more heavily on a ballet of dodges and ripostes.
Wild Hunt also doesn’t allow you to be just anyone, anytime. You won’t be murdering civilians and getting arrested for petty theft (though you can steal). Ultimately, you’re still the silver-haired Witcher of worldwide renown and won’t head too far from that road.
The Witcher is character driven, Skyrim isn’t
This one is important and probably the biggest difference between the two games. Skyrim is about making you the adventurer. You make your character at the outset and develop them through the game. In The Witcher, you play as Geralt of Rivia, a character with so much history 8 books, 2 previous games, and 6 comics have been written about him. You won’t suddenly be dying your hair pink and abandoning your silver sword because the fancy strikes you.
In Skyrim, you make your way in the world as the sole saviour, come fresh to forge your own path to glory. This is why first-person works so well, because it lets you experience the world as if you were your character, because that’s how the developers want you to feel.
Playing as Geralt means that you’re stepping into the shoes of established fiction. You can certainly customize the experience and make your own version of the character, but you will still see the world through a carefully crafted lens. Dialogue options allow you to personify the witcher, but in the end, he still works for money, he’s still a gruff, gravel-voiced lady killer, and he’s still going to chase Ciri to the ends of the earth.
Being character driven actually endears Wild Hunt to me far more than Skyrim is able to. One of my biggest gripes with open world games is that they can veer into overwhelming directionless-ness. Here, there is a strong main campaign (more, if you’ve read the books), and a huge array of interesting side-stories are colored entirely by being part of this Witcher tale.
They’re two different kinds of fantasy world
Just as importantly, the worlds of Skyrim and The Witcher stand apart, each occupying a unique but no less important place. Both are high fantasy, true, but The Witcher is darker and more grizzled by the horrors of war. Characters are often ugly and scarred and feel more realistic for their lack of beauty -- except for the main characters who, of course, own property in Video Game Sexyland.
Skyrim, on the other hand, feels more generic. It’s as if the creators intended it to be generic; a “here, come play in our high fantasy sandbox,” if you will. Which isn’t that bad if you think about it. Bethesda’s approach is to allow you to exist in the high fantasy world of your dreams, the one that’s existed for decades, but that you can now walk and explore first person. Not a bad idea, if you ask me.
So, please. Let’s stop comparing. It’s like standing Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings side by side. Yeah, they might be high fantasy but, eh… not quite in the same ballpark.
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