It seemed many moons ago since I wailed a small wail after finishing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Those days were dark, but finally the light came. The Witcher 3 turned up in the post and normality was restored to the universe. I like the Witcher 3, but this blog is not going to about my experiences with the gameplay, my opinion on the story, why I am loving the characters and the beautiful environments. Instead it’s about how much I hate that bloody horse. Epona, your horse in Red Dead Redemption… um, the head of that horse in the Godfather video game, I guess. Sorry, I’m struggling to think of great video game horses. Shadowmere, the toughest horse in the whole of Tamriel, oh yes, yes I remember I leaped off a cliff and killed it. Oh, how about that one from Shadow of the Colossus? Roach from the Witcher: Wild Hunt certainly doesn’t make the list. Roach is a total ass. In fact, that gives it the qualities of an American donkey, let me rephrase geographically – Roach is a total arse.
I have nothing against real horses, it just seems to be with video game horses, (which is the story of my life, especially when I now tell you I actually have a job working on a horse game). So why the long face, you must be saying? Well the Witcher’s horse, named Roach, is so annoying. Either I am just really crap at owning a virtual horse, or I just don’t know how to play a video game after playing them for 28 years. I like the Witcher: Wild Hunt. I like it a lot. Well, to qualify that I like it a lot more than having no fantasy RPG to play before Elder Scrolls Online comes out on consoles, and also, I’m a sucker for games recommended by Conan on Clueless Gamer. Let’s just say that I actually have made it beyond the tutorial on this game, which is more than I can say for the Witcher 2 – which seemed to forget that just mapping a PC control scheme onto a console is a recipe for people putting the game into the ‘I really should play this but I can’t be bothered pile’. It’s playable, very playable – apart for the fact that Geralt appears to have no brakes, which means that he skids into danger rather than away from it, a problem when bandits 12 levels above me decided they don’t like the way I look at them with my cat eyes. Everything that is slightly niggling about the control scheme when you’re in charge of a human gets even more annoying when you’re in charge of a horse.
Find that you end up punching something as a human rather than using your sword? On a horse, if you manage to actually pull off a sword slash, expect it to be a vicious critical hit on the air a good distance behind when your foe was. Roach has mystical powers, even if you dump it somewhere and take a boat to escape the equine asshole, you call and she teleports to your location on the other shore. In return, she expects you to be a psychic and predict where an enemy will be in two seconds time because that’s when you need to press the attack button. Also, there are meters on Roach that really don’t need to be there. The beautiful Badlands represented in the Witcher: Wild Hunt are hard enough to deal with, but when you come across a really tough enemy who you want to escape from quickly, say on horseback, the ‘fear meter’ kicks in. Roach gets stuck halfway through a tree, then bucks you off onto the floor, only for you to fall into the one-hit kill range of an enemy who is punching well below their level weight.
Then there’s the stamina bar. OK, in GTA 5 you can only run for a certain amount of time, and then you get tired. In GTA 5, you can also steal a car. Maybe I could forgive the stamina bar for Roach if you could steal a dragon that was just flying around because, let’s face it, riding on horseback and on dragonback would be awesome. In fact, I’m praying for that in an update – I’d even settle for being on horseback on gryphonback. That’s not the case. You have to travel on horseback everywhere, because the game is flippin’ huge. Unlike fast travel in Dragonage: Inquisition, you have to go to a crossroads to travel to another crossroads and how do you get to those crossroads? Let me tell you, it’s not on gryphonback!
So, if this was a review of The Witcher: Wild Hunt, it would actually be pretty glowing. Of all the things that I could complain about in the game, I’m fixated on the horse – and let’s face it, no one has got that right in an RPG yet. The “Zelda Scrolls” may prove me wrong (at least Epona has the sense to avoid trees from looking at the demo) but rather than a simple button press, I’m worried that I’m going to have to learn the eight notes of a virtual ocarina tune again. I guess the point is that with a game as good as The Witcher: Wild Hunt, the small niggles really build up to a lot – as there are small issues that really stop the game really immersing me in the way that the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge leap for Witcherkind forward in terms of gameplay, but you would have thought that the QA department over in Poland would have been able to pick up on the points. I mean, I assume that CD Projeckt Red has the money, it’s not like they seemed to spend any of it for the advert that seems to run ad-nauseum before every other YouTube video these days. Guess they blew it all by getting the hairdo from IGN to promote the weird Witcher: Wild Hunt movie screenings at Odeon cinemas here in the UK (which almost stopped me buying the game, because from that – you would have thought it would have been an XBone exclusive).
Now that CD Projekt Red has finished with Witcher: Wild Hunt, I am looking forward to Cyperpunk with chrome-plated baited-breath. However, if I end up having to ride a steel horse everywhere, I am going to make a stance against the Polish team and stop buying garlic-flavoured ghost shaped ‘Wampyre” Cheetoes from my local Polish supermarket – and that’s not a threat I make lightly.