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Gaming's fallow summertime season, where major new releases grind to a near-complete halt, presents the opportunity for reflection and expectation. What's been played in 2015 and near enough forgotten already, what's been parked in the memory for nostalgic butterflies to flutter around later in life, and what I'm positively swollen with anticipation for. I care not for its exaggerated hype potentially skewering its end-product reality, as I am so hot for space-faring, planets-discovering, procedurally-generated epic No Man's Sky right now that I swear, crack an egg into the palms of my pad-contoured hands and that albumen will pop and sizzle for a solid four seconds. And there are more amazing games coming between now and Christmas. A new Fallout. A new Tomb Raider. A Star Wars game that almost certainly (hopefully) won't be shit. Sonic 2 in stereoscopic 3D. I haven't properly started Metal Gear Solid V yet, but when I do, oh boy.
But I can guarantee you that, after the presents are opened, the wrapping paper crunched into bin bags like the giant waste of time and money that it is, and disappointment stinks up the air of your familial home like someone's basted the turkey in underarm sweat, I'll still be playing a game I essentially started in January. It was way back then that I first got my hands on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the third role-playing game in Polish developer CD Projekt RED's series based on the fantasy novels and short stories of author Andrzej Sapkowski.
I was invited on a press trip to Stirling, Scotland, at the start of 2015, the game's makers keen to preview their title in surroundings that inspired some of its environments, inside and out. I feasted in Stirling Castle's Great Hall, its design mirrored by the game's Kaer Trolde. I soaked my inappropriate footwear in the snow that'd fallen the day before my arrival, freezing my toes. To be honest it was a beautiful location, and I felt pretty bloody lucky to be there, not being the kind of person who generally goes in for such jollies—but the abiding memory I took away with me was of the game itself.
I played only its prologue, set in the small but open area of White Orchard, effectively a training zone for the main game to come. As the series' monster-hunting leading man Geralt of Rivia, I took care of a griffin that'd been plaguing the locals and invading Nilfgaardian army alike, as well as a great many minor monsters. I upgraded my gear and sought out hidden loot, foraged for herbs to concoct potions and oils, and cultivated my dynamically growing beard (one of the game's countless small but so very satisfying delights). On the way home to the south coast I thought of little else than playing more of this amazing game.
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I'd not been all that familiar with the supporting lore of the Witcher series ahead of the third game. I'd played some of the second, Assassins of Kings, on Xbox 360 when it came out as an "enhanced edition," but found its controls fiddly and its prison-set opening off-puttingly claustrophobic, and I didn't stick with it much beyond its first "boss" fight with a magical octopus (or whatever the hell that was). But from its dramatic opening cinematic onwards, I've been hooked by The Witcher 3, following up that north-of-the-border taste with a good 50 hours of "review" play on an advance version of the game, and I'm now catching up to where I was when I had to hand that disc back by using a regular, retail PlayStation 4 copy. That means seeing some of the same scenes, sorceresses, and specters for a third time—and I've not minded one bit.
Because the expansive, fantastic world of The Witcher 3 has become my happy place in 2015, a destination I'm eager to reach at the end of every shitty day that quite naturally comes (now and then) with publishing video games-related content to an unseen audience consistently featuring a vocal minority full of clickbait-this and liberal agenda–that commenters crowding my timeline with horseshit. I've worked in the online press long enough to feel no deep personal burn from pricks trash-talking content I've worked on, or that the many freelancers to VICE's web-based games coverage have spent several hours shaping into something (IMHO) pretty bloody great; but if I'm ever the slightest bit bummed out, the streets of Novigrad, swamps of Velen and peaks of Skellige make for fine pick-me-up retreats, swarming with interesting characters to exchange a quip or two with, or simply murder for a few more florens in the money purse.
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And I'm picking through proceedings quite deliberately slowly, to make the experience last. The Witcher 3 doesn't skimp on side-quests, treasure hunts and monster contracts—Geralt's bread-and-butter, missions where a particular nasty is neutralized in exchange for a bulging coin sack—so I can go a good fortnight without so much as touching the game's main narrative. Recent evenings have seen me, as Geralt, get leathered with a couple of loquacious travelers and wind up significantly lighter of clothes and possessions the next morning (oh, don't worry, I got them back, plus interest); track down and kill a spectral hound that was threatening the productivity of an apiary; and helped a troll decorate his dilapidated military post. I also took on a poisonous basilisk several levels above me and brought it down, to be rewarded with the treats it guarded. That was a good fight.
I'm still a little way short of where I was when I had to abandon the main story the first time around, having actually put in extra hours—but I'm enjoying myself a great deal more, straying from the beaten path and seeing what CD Projekt RED has filled my game of the (whole) year's extremities with. Wonders, basically, and while they will one day cease, I aim to make them last, through until the next snow's fall.
This article is taken from VICE magazine volume 22, issue 8. More information here.
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