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Greatest Open World Game of All Time - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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There are many games whose origins and raison d'être are rooted in free-form open world experiences. It’s hard to imagine a Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls or Fallout game set to a linear and carefully orchestrated pace; and a game like Minecraft would be flat out impossible in that type of environment. In the past few years however, the term ‘open world’ has become almost a turnOFF for gamers, rather than something that gets them excited. More and more, new games and sequels to existing franchises are going the open world route, to the point where it’s starting to feel like the default state for every new AAA title. Whether due to technological restrictions or budget restraints or too much ambition, open world games often come with concessions. When the player is free to go almost anywhere right from the start, it’s hard to deliver a cohesive narrative and engaging story. The more things you allow a player to do in the world, the more the game has to stretch itself to accommodate all of these options and features.
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There are many games whose origins and raison d'être are rooted in free-form open world experiences. It’s hard to imagine a Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls or Fallout game set to a linear and carefully orchestrated pace; and a game like Minecraft would be flat out impossible in that type of environment.


In the past few years however, the term ‘open world’ has become almost a turnOFF for gamers, rather than something that gets them excited. More and more, new games and sequels to existing franchises are going the open world route, to the point where it’s starting to feel like the default state for every new AAA title. Whether due to technological restrictions or budget restraints or too much ambition, open world games often come with concessions. When the player is free to go almost anywhere right from the start, it’s hard to deliver a cohesive narrative and engaging story. The more things you allow a player to do in the world, the more the game has to stretch itself to accommodate all of these options and features.


Its for this reason, the fact that so many games need to make sacrifices that CD Projekt’s 2015 role-playing game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is, in our opinion, the greatest open world game of all time.


Of course this is a bold claim. When WatchMojo ranked the Top 10 Best Open World Games back in 2014, we gave the #1 spot, deservedly, to Rockstar Games’ 2013 sandbox, Grand Theft Auto V. Since then however, the underdog Polish developer CD Projekt managed to pull off something even more amazing. They took a series that had, until now, been a linear story-driven RPG with explorable hub areas, and turned it into a massive, highly detailed and immersive open space. The game also came out right before open-world fatigue set in, and the idea of a linear franchise going open world was still exciting.


There are other franchises that tried to make the leap to open world that haven’t been successful. The Prince of Persia and Thief series both took a stab at non-linearity and failed. With the former, giving players the option to traverse the levels in any order removed the difficulty curve of an already easy game and made it feel repetitive and uninteresting. The latter, Thief: Deadly Shadows made the levels a lot larger with optional areas and different ways to approach them. It was still a good game, but not as good as its predecessors because the open-ness took away from what the series was recognized for; carefully structured and detailed environments. The Thief series helped pioneer what is now called the ‘immersive sim’ so trying to translate that into an open world pulled the rug out from underneath the franchise and ultimately, the game’s poor success lead to the cancellation of Thief 4.


That’s why it’s so impressive that with The Witcher 3, you get the sense that its existence as an open world is the game’s default state. Unlike many other contenders for the greatest open world game of all time, The Wild Hunt didn’t have to sacrifice what made the first two games so well recognized; it’s well told story, core gameplay, well developed characters and attention to detail.


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Just look at this spot right here. The road is so worn out from weather and use that this little section can no longer be traversed, so the grass next to it is trampled down from other travelers going around the obstacle. I just think that's really cool and everywhere you look in this game you find details like this.


Possibly the most important aspect of an open world game, the thing it needs to pull off in order to justify its existence is the world design and navigation. What an open world gives players is the opportunity to say ‘no, I don’t want to do that mission or quest right now, I want to go over that hill and see what lies on the other side’. In The Witcher 3 there is ALWAYS something there for players to find, and often it’s not just a pack of wolves or a collectable but a unique environment, a space that is carefully constructed with its own story and characters that often contribute to the world as a whole. And that in itself is amazing and it sure as hell isn’t easy.


Think about the first time you arrive at Skellige and start exploring the cold, northern environments, or the excitement of tracking down and fighting some new monster. All of these moments feel unique, feel like they were carefully constructed and yet part of your personal story within a story. The line between what is a side quest and what is part of the main narrative sometimes gets really blurry. That’s because the quality of every experience, optional or otherwise is polished at such a fundamental level that exploration and questing becomes something you want to engage in, and very little feels like a chore. You want to push forward not just to further the stories of these interesting characters but to actively take part in an adventure that connects them, and you, to the world itself.


The flexibility players have when blazing their own trail also carries over into the action. CD Projekt didn’t just apply this all-in mentality to the world and story, but every ‘game’ aspect of the game itself was carefully designed, tested, massaged and perfected. Every entry in the Witcher series improved on the core gameplay mechanics of its predecessor and The Witcher 3 represents the best of everything the franchise has to offer. The combat is deeper and more elaborate with a new dodge mechanic, more fluid animations, better enemy AI, improved magic, crafting, and honestly… there is just too much to list off. Instead let’s jump straight into the DLC.


In the current gaming climate of loot boxes, map DLC, and microtransactions, it’s almost unfair how much CD Projekt has given to its fans since The Witcher 3 was released in 2015. The game now seems perfectly timed, narrowly avoiding the microtransaction climate that plagues AAA gaming. You get what you pay for here, so none of the base-game content hidden behind a paywall, something that we are seeing less and less of as time goes on. Besides all the free DLC released, which consists of small items like new armour sets, minor quests and Gwent cards, the paid expansions, Hearts of Stone and more importantly Blood and Wine have so much content that they are practically games in themselves. This business model of pay once for everything is slowly starting to disappear, and it’s entirely possible that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be the last, best game of its species.


There are many open world games out there, with more to pick from every day. But looking at the core aspects of what these games need, and struggle with, story, characters, immersion, freedom, gameplay; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt really is the complete package. All the elements work together and communicate with themselves and with the player for an experience that is vast, unique and exciting. There is always something of value around every corner and everything Wild Hunt accomplishes from its story to the immersion, world building and exciting gameplay make this a surprisingly easy choice for the greatest open world game of all time.


What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree. What is your favorite free-form experience and why? This kind of thing is really important to us we really want to hear from you.
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