What is your personal game of the year!!!?... that wasn’t released this year?
Resident evil 7, Nioh, Nier: Automata, Persona 5, ZELDA!!!, Hellblade, The Evil Within 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted: The lost legacy, Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein 2 and a whole bevy of other top name GOTY contenders littered the calendar this year (and still more to come.).
It seems with a list so robust and differing in nature that one would hardly have time to keep up with every “must play” title that stumbled across their path on what seemed like a continuous, if not at the very least, monthly basis. Still, even with release after release vying for gamers attention and hard earned dollars there has been some “down time” from the next “big release”.
Luckily I’ve been able to dive into my own personal backlog on more than one occasion throughout the duration of the year, something that has actually been a good thing as there were a few games I had been meaning to check out but for whatever reason (shakes fist at new releases.) wasn’t able to get to when they were fresh off the presses.
-Fresh off the presses, Ninja? What year is it?-
Even though I and many others in a similar situation missed out on all the excitement and hype when these games were making waves during their respective releases in some cases it actually worked out even better as many of the titles on sale months (or even in some cases years.) after their respective releases were heavily discounted, released as GOTY editions with all their extra content, or in many cases both.
Games like Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb raider, alien isolation, and a few others rounded out my own personal list of games vying for my attention in what was already a jam packed year thanks to all the hot new releases being dropped on what seemed like a never ending basis. But there was one that stuck out in my mind over the rest. One that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy as much as I did thanks mostly in part due its classification of not technically being a full game like the others.
It’s here where I must somewhat break with my own question of “What’s your game of the year… that wasn’t released this year?” in order to give my answer.
-Can’t even stick to your own rules, huh Ninja?-
My game of the year that wasn’t released this year wasn’t technically a full game… it was DLC.
-Say what, Ninja?-
That’s right. The DLC I’m talking about is none other than The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone.
-Oh, darn it, Ninja! A technicality… I hate it when people do that!-
As much as I enjoyed myself with the main game I found myself gravitating to the events that unfolded in The Witcher 3 DLC that came bundled with my “complete edition” in a way that I had not only not anticipated but in truth enjoyed even more than the events of the main entry itself.
-But… but… BUT IT’S NOT THE MAIN GAME NINJA!!!-
I completely understand why some may scoff at such a claim and it goes just to further prove my point that it was something I don’t think I had ever anticipated. After all, how many pieces of DLC out there can it be argued are actually better than the main game they are meant to compliment?
-Wait... wait, Ninja. So you’re saying you didn’t like the main game? (grabs pitch fork.)-
Not at all. While I did enjoy the main game itself there were a few issues I had with the story and overall pacing that did not seem to present themselves in the same manner in both DLCs offered. As for why I chose the hearts of stone over the blood and wine, well... I just found the events and mystery surrounding the man of mirrors more stimulating and engaging.
-But Ninja, how can you like the DLC more than the main game?! Blasphemy!!!-
Lower your pitch forks and torches everyone. There were a few main reasons for my gravitating towards the DLC over the main game.
1: More friendly to people who are new to the series.
I have to admit, the first few hours of The Witcher 3 I found it very hard to care about anyone or understand half of the seemingly random jargon thrown about so casually. Add in the fact that we are dealing with a title where you are engaged in dialogue for probably half of the game (I’m not exaggerating in the slightest.) and I can understand how some newbies might be completely turned off.
To be completely fair this is not the games fault. This is the main problem most people have when jumping directly into some sort of sequel without having played any of the other entries in the series (which was my scenario.). To help combat this effect I watched 2 one hour videos of the events of the 1st and 2nd game. Even with this aid it did very little to help me understand what was going on for those first few hours of the Wild Hunt. Names of places, kingdoms, enemies, characters, etc... all went through one ear and out the other (-Not surprising, Ninja.-) but at the very least it helped me understand who the main players were as well as what the overall theme of the world I was about to dive into was all about.
Still, even going in with that somewhat limited knowledge I didn’t start “connecting” with characters as well as motivations for certain actions until a good 7 to 10 hours in. The same couldn’t be said of the Hearts of Stone DLC.
-WHOA, WHOA, WHOA Ninja! That’s not fair.-
You’re absolutely right. It’s not. I started playing the DLC right after I finished the main game and as such I had a firm grasp of the characters, events, and motivations of certain individuals. Geralt, Chloe, Yennifer, names I had heard in those first few hours and not really resonated with were suddenly names that brought with them fond memories.
However, even with all of that in mind during my playthrough of the DLC I kept that in the back of my head. Having completed it I came to the conclusion that while having played the main game would definitely be a huge advantage in knowing the world you would soon be traveling through the truth is that one could have played the DLC with very basic knowledge. In a sense the DLC could have been another separate entry in the Witcher series altogether (which technically I think it was.). Personally I think this was why it was so much easier to get into than the main game.
The player wasn’t tied down with unnecessary baggage from previous decisions in prior entries and similarly previous knowledge about characters and scenarios were not the driving motivator behind the events unfolding in this installment.
2: Fewer pacing issues/more direct path to main goal.
Unlike the main game the focus of the narrative and the events that unfolded surrounding certain characters/events in the DLC seemed first and foremost the main focus driving the game forward. While you could go off and explore and investigate to your “hearts” content (-I see what you did there, Ninja.-) it was very hard to lose sight of the main task at hand. In a sense it felt more structured than the overlapping “main missions” present in the full game.
To that end it also seemed that although the main game had an overall theme and main goal (find you know who ;) ) it was quite easy for that task to be put to the back of one’s mind with all the other missions. While it’s somewhat true that at the end of the day most of those “where is this going” missions helped cumulate in rounding out the overall narrative it still in the moment made it very easy to lose sight of the importance and weight of just what the main reason for Geralt heading out on this journey was to begin with.
-What, Ninja? That makes no sense.-
Let me put it this way…
It wasn’t uncommon for me to boot up the main game day after day and say to myself “So… what am I doing again?” while when the same scenario unfolded with the DLC I didn’t have to rely on the various load screen texts (which were very nice by the way.) to know what it was I was doing or trying to achieve again.
To that end I personally felt the tale being weaved was a more coherent and direct one.
-Unlike your ramblings, huh Ninja?-
3: Less forced procrastination.
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. We’ve all been there before. You’re playing a game (usually an open world game.) and when things are just getting good and you can’t wait to see what happens next the developers pull the old “you have to complete some trivial/meaningless task(s)” in order to advance the plot. It’s almost analogous to when you were in school and the teachers gave you “busy work” in an attempt to keep you quiet(-In your case Ninja you must have been doing busy work all day-).
It’s been a while since I played The Witcher 3 so I can’t remember every instance of this scenario but one that does stick out in my mind (forgive me for not remembering character names or places.) was when I had to collect enough funds to convince a captain of a ship to set sail for my supposed new destination.
I’m pretty good at collecting and holding onto things in games (my 1000 items of the same thing cause you never know, I may need them all can attest to that ;) ) so I was expecting to maybe spend another 10 minutes or so collecting the required amount of money I needed to convince this stubborn drunkard (the captain.) to set sail. Needless to say that’s not how it panned out at all. I must have spent a good 2 hours running around the city engaging in extra trivial encounters such as street fights and the occasional random Witcher contract in an attempt to gain as much money as possible.
While doing all that extra stuff can be seen as a form of incentive on the developers part to help open up and expose the player to new things in the environment it’s a double edged sword (at least for me.) as it abruptly halts the flow of the narrative. Suddenly all that excitement and build up turned to the same kind of “enthusiasm” one would have towards doing some kind of repetitive chore (-like reading all your posts, Ninja? Ah, gotcha.).
From my time playing Hearts of Stone (and Blood and wine.) those hang ups were far and few if there were any at all. The main focus of the story seemed unmarred by these trivial “side quests” (technically they are not side quests but you get my drift.) and as such I rarely if ever found myself rolling my eyes that I had to busy myself with some meaningless and time consuming task just in an effort to see what was ahead.
4: A mystery.
This last point (-Thank goodness, Ninja. We would be here all day.-) is more a personal preference than an actual criticism of design or flow.
While the main games’ focus surrounded finding a certain someone Hearts of Stone surrounded the events of a mysterious traveller. As more was revealed about this individual (and his nature.) the more my curiosity peaked in uncovering what lay beneath the surface. Discovering why you were doing what you were doing (the tasks.) as well as unraveling information from those who had some kind of knowledge of just who you were dealing with added another layer of intrigue to an already tantalizing mystery.
Due to the insane amount of love this game has garnered over the years I once again feel it necessary to stress that while I preferred the DLC that in no way is somehow insinuating the main game wasn’t a great game in and of itself.
-Still going to crucify you, Ninja.-
I really enjoyed my time with the Witcher 3 and in hindsight I’m glad I held out for so long on giving it a shot as it gave me a chance to experience the DLC; something that if I had bought the regular game I probably wouldn’t have spent the extra cash to get as I would have thought it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as the main game.
So Giantbomb community, you’ve heard my thoughts (-more like rants, Ninja.-)…
So the question stands…
What is your game of the year that wasn’t released this year?
-VIDEOGAME RAMBLER APPROVED-