As one of the very first games confirmed to be coming only to next-gen home consoles, CD Projekt Red set expectations for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt even higher than they may have been on their own. But after putting on an impressive show at E3 2013, the developers announced that the game would be delayed from its initial release date, hitting store shelves on February 24, 2015. So why did the team need the extra time? According to the heads of development, the game’s open world just wasn’t up to the level they demanded.
It should come as no surprise to those who played The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings that of all elements of game design, the team at CD Projekt places story above all others. From what we were shown of Wild Hunt during the behind-closed-doors demo at E3 2014, story and writing is still very much the top priority. But with next-gen promising a larger, more detailed open world than ever possible before, the developers also had more work than ever before.
Given just how impressive the game showed at E3 2013, to say the delay came as a surprise would be an understatement. So when we got to speak to Game Director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, the reason for the delay was our first question. His response was a candid one, and as is usually the case with The Witcher, it started with story:
“For us the most important thing was to tell our story. everything begins with story. Geralt – our main protagonist – defined a lot of aspects of the game, because he is unchangeable, he’s defined. We’re happy, because it’s the same way that Batman is defined; you can expect how he would behave in most situations. So we started with that, and then we knew we had to tell a very cool story… but the open world was a missing element.
“It’s not like open world is another ‘genre’ of the game. We just want to deliver a great immersive story, and we were missing the open world. Now we have technology, we have knowledge, we have experience, and I think we can make it in the way that we had dreamed.”
There’s no question that several open world games helped raise the bar of just how smoothly side content or story-driven content must be layered into environments. The Witcher 2 was a more directed experience than something along the lines of Skyrim, but CD Projekt isn’t shying away from the raised expectations. Boasting over 100 hours of gameplay – 50 in the main story arc, 50 in side quests – the team was never hurting for sheer content.
As Tomaszkiewicz explains, the problem wasn’t that the team needed more time to populate Wild Hunt, but to deliver that content with the same precision as their much-acclaimed story:
“It needs to be natural. For me, the definition of a role-playing game is freedom; freedom and immersion, and they’re strongly connected. We want you to feel – as The Witcher, the ultimate monster-slayer – involved in a story, that you have a goal. And we wanted players to feel the urge to finish it, to follow the main story arc.
“I don’t like to call it ‘main quests,’ or ‘story quests,’ I’m using the term ‘main story arc.’ You can go different places, you can do different things, and you will advance this plot forward. Then you may be involved in something which may seem at the beginning to be a different story, but at certain points you will figure out that it may be connected. And you’ll realize that you’re actually pushing the story forward as well; sometimes, even by not doing something.
Studio head Adam Badowski elaborated on the same point, claiming that players may have a hard time keeping ‘side content’ separate from the main story – even if that fact will only be clear once the game releases:
“There’s a moment in the demo where… In the main quest, you’re following ‘The Ashen-Haired Girl,’ but in this moment when you have to make a decision, it opens additional side story lines. Your goal is still to find the girl, but this moment opens up a lot of choices, and a lot of consequences. But we only have forty-five minutes to show, so we can’t follow the consequences just yet.”
As made clear by the trailer released in time for E3, story is still going to be driving the events of Wild Hunt – even if the titular band of supernatural warriors is still absent from most of the game’s marketing. But the desire to lose oneself in the sprawling world of The Witcher was always going to hard for the team to satisfy. That being said, they are already confident that the game’s world is now as likely to win over players as its story.
The players will be the ones to decide if the delay was needed or merely overkill, but which aspects of the game are you most interested in? The story, or the ‘natural’ way side content will blend together in the wilds of the game’s world?
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt releases February 24, 2015 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.