There’s some cracking design choices in the Witcher. The casting of the player as a professional monster-hunter-for-hire makes all the usual quest tropes seem so much less contrived – plus the ability to haggle over the price of a job 🙂
In addition, it limits the player’s character development choices to a very specific set of skills – still plenty of options, but this is fundamentally and unashamedly a game about melee combat. The freedom of Skyrim allows the player to play how they want, but often that creates a very unbalanced experience (I played Skyrim as a full-on Mage, spells only, no armour. It involved a lot of running backwards shooting fireballs). The Witcher gives the player plenty of choices within a very specific field instead.
Finally, the depth of story in every side quest is brilliant – for example the haunted well in White Orchard, which sounds like a simple “go here, kill monster” but unfurls into an elaborate backstory that links with several NPC backgrounds and other side quests. That sense of consistency and rich detail makes for powerful worldbuilding.
The menu text is far too damn small on a console though 😉
DontNod’s “Life is Strange” is a wonderful game with a refreshing setting and design. But what impresses me most is the mileage they get out of their primary gameplay verb. The time rewind is fantastic in the context of a branching narrative, allowing you to see all the ways any given encounter can play out in the short term, but without removing the mystery of what consequences will happen later on. But it’s also used to retrieve information from the future, unlocking new narrative choices. And it’s used as means of teleporting past obstructions because in some areas the rewind does not affect your position. The game is a masterclass in getting maximum value out of a single mechanic.
I am loving this game, apart from one minor niggle…don’t place all your buttons right at the edge of the screen if you’re using push-scrolling. I am constantly brushing the edge of screen with my pointer and moving the map away from what I was looking at. At least offer the *option* to turn it off since you already have the drag-to-scroll alternative.
On the positive side, I absolutely love the seamless zoom from close-in 3D models to strategic territory overview. Clearly a LOT of thought and effort went into getting that right, because it’s beautiful and shows me exactly what I need to see at every scale.
[Experiment: “Button Bash” is a series of micro-posts which will hopefully encourage me to write more frequently :)]
The recent(ish) Thief reboot is fun, but I have some UI niggles. The light gem, critical to gameplay, which used to be centred at the bottom of the screen, is now tucked into the left corner and easily ignored. Perhaps because the gem is now so obscure, crouching adds a dark vignette to the screen, reducing your field of view just when you want to pay most attention to your surroundings.
I would have done away with both the light gem and vignette. A far simpler gauge of your own visibility is Garrett’s own hands, which are always on screen and would provide a very natural indicator of how visible you are.