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Some minor spoilers for plotlines in The Witcher 3. Also for gwent.

Butch:

Two trophies last night! One for a gwent stunt. Gwent! On a gwent technicality no less. I tell you, I’m the man at gwent.

I checked: at this time, I have more trophies than you and Mr. O’. This has never, EVER been true in any game ever. Usually, Mr. O’ has like 87% of them in 72 hours.

Bingeplayed last night, and still didn’t finish this quest.

Found the witch, which wasn’t all that hard. She’s plenty hot, but not worth leaving Morrigan for. Just so you know. That triggered another quest with a lot of witch exposition, that, even after two hours, I have not finished. Helpful tip: Bring a shitload of alochest. You’re gonna need it.

We’ll talk. Later.

I WILL say this is one of those games where doing one quest makes your quest list ever longer, if you know what I mean.

Feminina:

Didn’t play last night: Mr. O’s turn at the console.

The Baron quest also spawned several follow-ups, and I’m not yet done with it, so it’s probably just one of those “you have to do a lot of different things along the way to accomplishing the ultimate goal” things.

Since I don’t have an update, here’s an inflammatory statement to get things going:
I contend that this game is Skyrim, but with better story.

Which is a big ‘but,’ because story is important!

But the crafting, the craft-related ingredient collection, the flower-picking, the quests that spawn other quests, the landmarks you want to check out so you can fill in spaces on your huge map, the looting and selling random household junk–hell, the randits–it’s Skyrim. But with much more engaging story/character animation at all levels so far. Skyrim done right, we might say (those of us who are really into story).

A little less open world, since there are still regions we can’t get to yet, and with better control of the direction players take…we’ve both succumbed to episodes of magpie-fluttering off after shiny objects and question marks, and we’ve both also found ourselves herded more-or-less gently back towards a) specific, manageable side quests (Skyrim didn’t offer a clear level-warning for side quests like the color coding here, so you really didn’t have a sense of being nudged toward one over another) and b) the main story (Skyrim was pretty terrible at even making you remember what the main story was, let alone actively encouraging you to pursue it).

Discuss.

Butch:

Yeah, that’s a mighty, MIGHTY big but. I’ll hear you out, and….to sum…..

You say that TW3 has some control of what direction players take (Skyrim had none), a good story, good characters (shit, CHARACTERS), better animation…. ok…..

You’re saying it’s like skyrim in that it has flower picking, random hut loot, and a bigassed map.

All of that’s true.

But what that shows is that Skyrim was bad. Why? Cuz a game can have a big map, hut loot and flowers, and BE SKYRIM just with all this other good stuff. That’s all Skyrim had. Every game from now till the end of time that has a big map and flowers will make us say “Hey! This is just like Skyrim!” That’s because when all you have is a big map and flowers, it’s pretty easy to have that in a subsequent game. I mean, if there was a mini game in this that had dots and ghosts, we could say “Hey, this is Pac-man, except with a good story and characters!”

So yeah, sure. Quests, alchemy, hut loot. Swords, spells, randits. But that does not make it Skyrim. That means they took the very meager basis that is Skyrim and built on it.

I mean, there’s two big glaring differences: one, there ARE locked off areas. White Orchard was contained. The palace was contained. I dunno about the baron’s castle, but where I am is contained. Shit, I’ve even met a couple of bridges I can’t cross until I get something in my magpie travels. Skyrim had none of this, and it led to diffuse uselessness.

Second, and this is the big thing that makes this game better than so many…..the sidequests have substance. Real, actual, narrative substance. It’s more than they’re introduced by voiced characters. They have story. They have theme. They have stages. In other games, those ghoul’s nests would be side quests. Some cat person would say “Go blow up that nest,” he’d give you a gem as a thank you, and that would be that.

So sure. It has all that Skyrimy stuff, but so much more. To say it IS Skyrim would be like saying the pond by my mother’s house is just like the ocean, because, after all, the pond has fish in it and so does the ocean.

Feminina:

Indeed, the differences are key, but I argue they are differences in quality, not in kind.

Now, certainly we can say that TW3 is not literally Skyrim, because duh, only Skyrim is literally Skyrim. If TW3 IS Skyrim, than so is DAI and every other large fantasy game that comes down the pike. And, Skyrim, in that light, IS Oblivion (the first Elder Scrolls game I played) and Oblivion is probably Marrowind or whatever came before that I didn’t play. And if Skyrim came after this, we’d be saying “It’s TW3, but not as good.”

So, yes, “TW3 = Skyrim” is a factually untrue statement–I’m generalizing by using ‘Skyrim’ as shorthand for a type of game, of which Skyrim is the most obvious/recent big example.

The point is, they’re both the same KIND of game, and if you throw more meaningful story into Skyrim it could potentially also be a really engaging game. The point is that story is the big deal.

Because I’m in no way debating you that TW3 has, so far, way better story and narrative depth and control. I think that this comparison emphasizes how critical the story component really is (for some players), by making clear that what we object to about Skyrim, ISN’T, really, all the things we idly complain about, like crafting armor we’ll never wear and picking flowers and collecting random junk and killing random monsters. We don’t fundamentally object to these mechanics: we accept them in a game that we think is good.

So what we’re really objecting to about Skyrim is the fact that these mechanics don’t feel as if they’re in the service of any larger narrative arc. Saying “TW3 is Skyrim but with better story” is basically saying “story is the point.”

Picking on Skyrim for being full of time-consuming activities is the wrong objection: picking on it for not having good stories is the real criticism. And I mean, we’ve always known this, we’ve always come down to this in the end, but I just think it’s made stunningly obvious by comparing these two games.

Because they are very, very similar if you were to just describe their broad outlines and basic game mechanics to someone who’d never played either one. The difference is not fundamentally in the game you’re playing, as a game with rules and specific actions you can take and set challenges to overcome. The difference is in the story. It’s like playing D&D with a good DM as opposed to a mediocre one. It’s the same basic game: the story makes the difference.

Butch:

Agreed that comparing the two makes the importance of story incredibly obvious.

I mean, I brought this up when we played Transistor: nothing pisses me off more than a good game/movie/book/whatever that should have been great. Skyrim had all the ingredients for greatness. The main story had the potential to be a great, GREAT video game story. But they pooched it. The Dragonborn? All that Parthanax stuff? The old dudes who’s names I forget? That could have been, and SHOULD have been a deep, intriguing, wonderful story. Shit, there were even THEMES that were sorta kinda there in Skyrim. Could have gone into the unwilling savior bit a la DAI, could have gone a lot of ways. And it didn’t. If it had, it would have been a spectacular game, even with all the flowers.

Shit, for 30 minutes, I thought Skyrim WAS going to be that. The opening sequence to Skyrim is awesome. Who are these people? Why am I getting executed? HOLY SHIT DRAGON! Why is it helping me? Wait, I can shout? Why me? Those are great questions! That’s a great set up! I was pumped!

Then……they sort of forgot they asked those questions. And I was not pumped.

And that’s beef with Skyrim. Not the flowers. Cuz really, I didn’t do much of that anyway. Shit, I didn’t in DAI either, or TW. I’ve pretty much given up even caring about diagrams for anything that’s not witcher gear.

Weirdly, TW3 is actually LESS like Skyrim in terms of the minutia of alchemy. This whole meditate and it all reappears so long as you have booze mechanic is new. In TW2, it was much more like skyrim in that you had to say “Ok, I’m out of swallow, do I have the ingredients, ok, craft craft craft, ok, how about cat?” My heart kinda sank when I saw all those pickable flowers in TW3, but they got rid of all that micromanaging.

“The story makes the difference.” It sure does. We’ve been saying that all along.

And yet Skyrim has such legs. There’ve been better story games out since, but Skyrim still dominates the conversation (even ours) and sold a bazillion.

News today though that TW3 has sold through four million copies in two weeks. That’s a ton. I’m hoping that the world sees this and says that good story and no multiplayer may well be what the people want. At least enough people to keep making it.

It sure is something to compare TW and DA in the post Skyrim world. I’m very, VERY curious to compare FO4 to Skyrim. Bethesda to Bethesda, apples to apples. Will it be more of the same? Light story and crafting? Or not? FO3 had some of the best story moments I’ve ever seen.

I mean, everything reacts to everything else. DA and TW clearly reacted to Skyrim. FO seems to have a voiced protagonist, a reaction to bioware and CDPR. It seems that everyone’s reactions seem to be making everything better. Here’s hoping THAT continues.

Feminina:

Hear hear, to games reacting to other games and getting better all the time! And there is much cause for optimism, because there really is a lot of amazing stuff going on. It’s a good time to be playing games.

You’re right, it’s interesting that we continue to refer back to Skyrim…I mean, for me I was just playing it a few months ago hunting trophies for platinum, so it feels semi-recent, but in actual time it’s an ‘older’ game at this point.

It was just so huge when it came out! Although I’m not honestly sure why, because it felt to me like essentially the same game as Oblivion but with a different story and location, so I don’t know why it was perceived as so groundbreaking. I mean, I enjoyed it (more than you did, for sure), but I didn’t get what was hot and new about it.

Sure, this was fun, but I did most of the same stuff during the Oblivion Crisis! Kids these days, don’t remember what old fogeys did back in the day… And here you see that I just have this habit of reducing games to broad types and calling everything an update of something else. Ha.

Also you see that I’ve claimed the old fogey mantle, even though the first game I ever played was DAO.

Butch:

It really is a good time to be playing games. The best time in history, I think. And I’ve been gaming pretty much since the invention of games. These people who say it was better back in (whenever) do not get it. They just don’t.

Skyrim was four years ago, which is forever in game years.

As for what was hot and new about it, well, the scope of it, for one. I mean, the first word anyone thinks of when they hear “Skyrim” is “big,” and it sure was. I mean, it is even by today’s standards. By 2011 standards, it was mind blowing. And the technical prowess of it. Being able to go pretty much anywhere, to ride around picking flowers literally for hours without hitting a single load screen? That was unique in 2011. And it was cool. That aspect of it still is. Even DAI didn’t get environments you could explore without a load screen that were as big as Skyrim.

I also think it hit at the right time. For many a moon, real RPG geeks were all about the MMOs, specifically World of Warcraft. In 2011, WoW had sort of stagnated. There wasn’t a lot of new content, WoWers were getting bored. Now here comes a hugeassed game that is single player, sure, but gives you the freedom of an MMO with all this new shit right at the time when the blush was off the WoW rose. I don’t think it’s an accident that so many people play Skyrim like an MMO: grinding, doing whatever the hell they want, not caring about story. There’s a good amount of WoW refugees playing Skyrim then and now.

And the fogey mantle suits you.

We’re doing well today with the thoughtful discussion. Ironic, as I was going to start with “finally saw some sorceress boobs last night.”

Feminina:

Oh, now I want to read your sorceress-boob post! I feel cheated. Ha.

I haven’t seen any nudity on my questline. Well, monster nudity I guess. But not…adult female humanoid monster. Let me qualify that very carefully. To sum up: no boobs. Good thing you started with the witch quest.

I can’t imagine how it could have been better whenever. Just the sheer variety of things you can do with games now boggles the mind in comparison to ye olden days. And the other great thing is, so many of ye olden games are still playable/playable again because people make new versions. Plus, old consoles are cheap. If you really yearn for those times, you can still play those games! Which is great!

I do agree that Skyrim serves a lot of the same purposes as MMORPG-ing, if you aren’t attached to the MMO part. If you just want to roam around attractive landscapes and fight randits and wandering monsters, Skyrim is perfect. Because it does have very attractive landscapes, and an endless supply of randits and wandering monsters. I recommend it wholeheartedly for that purpose. The no-pressure storyline only helps, really, if you’re not particularly into that.

Honestly, someone with that kind of desire would probably only be frustrated by TW3 and its more focused narrative drive. Why does it keep killing me when I wander into certain question marks? Why does it give me these quests I can’t even do yet? WHY DOES IT KEEP PUSHING ME TO FOLLOW THIS STUPID MAIN QUEST????!!!! We like having that sense of direction and momentum, but probably not everyone does.

And hey, those people who don’t like it also deserve a game to play, and I wish them years of joy with Skyrim. Another reason it’s a great time to be playing games. Options!

Speaking of attractive landscapes, TW3 also has them, and another thing I keep noticing is the level of detail in things like the clothing, the grain of the wood in buildings, and so on. Really gorgeous stuff. I keep admiring the individual stitches in the patches on Geralt’s worn jacket. This level of fine detail is definitely secondary to good story, but it’s certainly impressive.

One thing they HAVEN’T figured out is eating/drinking animations…for some reason no game ever makes those actions look natural. It always looks as if the character is awkwardly pretending to eat or drink, instead of actually doing it. Maybe that’s the next frontier of game animation. Still, I forgive this minor flaw in realism, especially since eating and drinking is not (so far) a major component of the game.

Butch:

Oh dear. Ugly monster nudity. Nope, the witch quest gots boobs. Cuz sorceresses.

People think it was better whenever cuz people tend to gloss over stuff. I see comments: “Games today are so buggy!” Well, they were then, too. That and there’s the ivory tower people who want everything to stay the way it was, and not have all these artsy fartsy types and all these women mucking up their thing. “Games were so much better when they were just mindless fun!” (which they never were) and shit.

As for Skyrim’s no-pressure storyline, see, that’s kind of a problem with these games. Stories must end. I don’t even really like that DAI plopped us back in Skyhold after the “end.” Stories end.

Re: being pushed to follow the stupid main quest…There’s that, though I haven’t really seen that backlash against it yet. I’m sort of surprised I haven’t, actually.

But then, even at four million copies, that leaves it about 40 million until it catches skyrim. There may well be tens of millions of people who don’t want that story and leave it on the shelf.

Yes to the fine details — And yet people bitch about the graphics “downgrade.” Another thing about youngsters. Games used to be UGLY. Shit, even DAO looks a little ragged these days. FONV is awful. This game is gorgeous.

The sunsets. Just the sunsets. And they all look different. It isn’t like “oh, the sunset again.”

Eating isn’t great. They’ve got kissing a little better. Kissing has always been a bit of a mess.

The hair, though, isn’t up to other games. But I forgive.

Feminina:

I do appreciate that at least they have an in-game explanation for WHY all sorceresses are gorgeous and have nice boobs. Magic! Because they can make themselves pretty and so they do, because pretty people get more positive attention in society (ours, so reasonably theirs as well). Thanks for not just throwing in random boobs without even attempting to justify it, game.

A little rationalization, that’s all I ask. I mean, I’m satisfied with the ‘witcher tax’: obviously I can accept some pretty twisted justification.

The sunsets, yes. They are gorgeous. And I love the way they handle light in general. When the sun’s coming up, and the light is in your eyes, so everything else looks dark in contrast? Or the way the tone of the light changes over the course of the day, or from clouds to sun… Brilliant. Beautiful. I don’t know what the last one looked like, but this is plenty nice in terms of graphics as far as I’m concerned.

Unattractive hair aside, that is. We can’t have everything.

I think it’s really easy to assume the past was awesome in ways that it may not actually have been. It was uncomplicated! A simpler, purer time! Without all these ISSUES people are always COMPLAINING about now!

No it wasn’t. You just weren’t paying attention. And if you want to stop paying attention now, and go play whatever you want quietly by yourself, that would be fine, and you and the internet would probably both be happier for it. Alas, this does not happen.

People want to recreate happy experiences from their childhoods, maybe–nothing necessarily wrong with that–and a lot of things seem uncomplicated to children because there’s a lot that children just don’t understand yet. That doesn’t mean a thing was actually uncomplicated, but the child’s experience of it was. Which was appropriate to the child’s age, and a good thing at the time: but trying to recapture that as an adult, and further arguing that everyone else should also be having that same uncomplicated experience regardless of their own age or inclinations, is…neither reasonable, nor really possible to do. Alas, this does not stop people.

Butch:

Re: justification for hot sorceresses: I know, right? Learn from this bioware! I’ll just assume Evelyn and Morrigan did the same thing.

Also, it’s not twisted! At least it’s in game. You’re just making shit up. And boobs are less immoral than stealing from the poor.

As far as graphics, the last one was pretty, this one’s better. And doesn’t require a NASA grade computer to play it, like TW2 did.

Lighting is SO important to a game. We could do a whole thing on that. But we could also do one on sound.

I get so used to the sun that it’s very disconcerting when it rains.

It does not happen, that people quietly go play what they want. Also, people were too young to know. So many whiny voices are all “Hey, I’m old. I had a PS2! When I was 6!” Dude, Commodore 64 or stfu.

And it does not stop people that the arguments are unreasonable. Progress marches on, which is awesome. For us, anyway. And the progress is amazing, especially now that this gen is coming into its own.

Feminina:

“Boobs are less immoral than stealing from the poor.” That’s a T shirt slogan.

Hard to argue with that, too, but I’ll try: it’s not stealing! It’s just accepting a generous donation. They left that there for me! Or other witchers who might happen to pass by, I’m not so full of myself that I assume it’s all about me personally. Witcher tax, like sorceress boobs, is a time-honored custom in this land.

Therefore, neither is immoral.

So say we all.*

*’We all’=me and my Geralt.

Butch:

Well, how this manifests in the real world scares me. You see boobs every day. How often do you steal from the poor?

Feminina:

It’s not stealing! When I wandered into that apartment next door the other day and went through their cupboards looking for water, chicken legs, and hardened leather, I was only fulfilling my part of an ancient contract!

Sheesh, it’s not like I just made up the witcher tax three days ago to assuage my own guilt or something.

Anyway, I never look at my own naked body: I might be tempted into sinful thoughts. I bathe and dress under a heavy poncho to avoid this problem.

So basically, you’re wrong about everything.

Good work on the trophies, though! We’re obviously lagging. Mr. O’ hasn’t gotten into gwent either…I think that’s going to be just you.

Butch:

You don’t know what you’re missing, man. You know, there’s the promise of that gwent master in Novigrad or Skellege or somewhere. Bet there’s MAD loot if you beat him. I will brag about the loot. And my trophies.

Feminina:

I know, I know, I keep trying gwent, but I can’t get the hang of it. I mean, I get how it works, I just don’t GET how it works, if you know what I mean. I mean, I can’t actually beat anyone. I mean, I can play, but I suck. Kind of like chess. “Can I start hitting people now?”

And no, I will not play you in gwent when they make an online version of the game.

Butch:

You won’t play me cuz I’ll humiliate you.

It’s not that hard when you see it. But you do have to think a couple of rounds ahead. It’s strategic. Sorta like witchin’.

Feminina:

You’re damn right I won’t play you ’cause you’ll humiliate me. I know when a challenge has a red skull on it, and I leave those alone.

Butch:

I haven’t lost since that one dude at the palace, and he had a fucking BEASTLY deck. I still beat him eventually.

The trick is make ’em play all their cards early. Even if you lose the first round. If you go into round two and you have six cards and they have three, you’re sitting pretty. You just have to watch it if they’re northern realms or monsters, cuz of the perks.

I am a red skull. That I am.

Feminina:

I did get that you want to make people run out of cards, I just can’t make it work. I mean, I’ll probably try again now and then, when I’m bored and talking to a merchant who plays, and maybe one of these days I’ll win a round. You’ll be the undisputed champion, though. I just don’t see getting that into it.

Butch:

Ok. Make sure you have at least three cards with a value of 6 or more in your hand, or at least like cards that’ll get bonuses next to each other. Get a bigassed lead, like at least six or seven points. Then pass, and he’ll play out until he wins the round. If you’re lucky, that’ll take at least two cards.

If, for some reason, you’re losing the first round, wait until HE passes, use decoy to get a good card BACK in your hand, and concede the round.

Boom.

Of course, you have to have enough cards to make sure you draw a good hand.

Feminina:

Yeah, that’s my problem. I have exactly the cards I started the game with, so I don’t draw a good hand.

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