Some Kind of Witcher-ful

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The hype around The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt reminded me of a time back in about late-2011 when I first bought and played Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. That is to say, everyone everywhere seemed to be playing the latest, greatest RPG. I too had jumped on the bandwagon, taken an arrow to the knee, and spent some serious attention on that wide world of dragons and swordplay adventure. I’ve easily sunk over two hundred hours into that game across multiple campaigns on at least three platforms.

The biggest difference was that a few years later, in 2015, when Witcher 3 was released for sale I was busily preoccupied by a few other side interests that had me neglecting most video games.

I let the whole Witcher 3 craze slide past me: Never bought it. Never played it.

The advantage therein, of course, is that four or five years later when this award winning title appeared for a song in an online discount sale I found myself enticed into picking up a licence to a new-to-me game with incredible ratings and amazing community insight.

…if I could ever find the time required to play yet another massive RPG.

Thus The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been sitting in my virtual Steam library for a long while now. And being a fan of massive RPG games it has been teasing me to actually download and install it. Oh, and maybe even play it, too.

Thanks to my speedy internet bandwidth, the 32 GB install only took about an hour this morning. I killed the time with a five mile run around the neighbourhood, a shower, some lunch, and then a backyard play with the dog. After that, I settled into my office chair, in the dim glow of my PC monitor, and booted the game… five and a half years after everyone else.

As the game opens, I was treated to a five minute cut-scene with plenty-o-exciting action. Oh, and then a fade to some soft-core animated action. (Um?) And then a twenty minute combat tutorial which turned out to be a character dream. And then I rode a horse for about fifteen minutes… and onto the actual game.

What I would call playing Witcher 3 commenced about forty-five minutes after loading the software.

I suppose since I started off comparing this game to Skyrim at the beginning, I can continue. In Skyrim I seem to recall opening my virtual eyes as a prisoner being transported to my execution, watching a scant few minutes of story play out, then running for my life from a dragon attack… and into the game.

Playing commenced about ten minutes after first loading the software.

I offered to give my neglected game titles each about 90 minutes of my time. But for Witcher 3 so far half of that I was pretty much just watching a short film play out as I opened doors and followed the fighting instructions on screen.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that my introduction to the game today resulted in only about 45 minutes of actual gameplay which amounted to a half dozen combat encounters, a lot of horse riding, a few lengthy conversations, and the kicking off of the first (of many?) fetch quests… and then a random monster killed me and I figured that was a good place to stop.

Does that position me to offer a fair assessment of a five year old game that has recieved otherwise stellar reviews around the web? It’s a beautiful game and I can sense both the depth of story and action behind it all. And the thing is… I’m not a game reviewer, but I am a gamer …in my forties… who doesn’t often have two hundred spare hours to devote to complex, slow-burn gaming titles these days. Economy of time and playtime and… gah, get on with it! I’m very tempted to leave it installed and come back to it again, and I very likely will, but I’m also just as apt to open up one of my old Skyrim campaigns and revisit a world I don’t need to watch any more cut scenes to understand.

Neglecting all that Anthropomorthic Island-Hopping

Rating: 8 out of 10.

One of the last walks I took through the downtown shopping mall near where my pre-pandemic office was located took me past a video game store where a large stand-up cardboard cutout display heralded the impending arrival of a game of which I was only peripherally aware.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released in late March 2020 to the kind of gloriously suspicious fanfare that actually floated wacky conspiracies that Nintendo had created the COVID-19 virus to coincide with the launch of its lockdown-perfect game. After all, checking into a virtual island daily for multiple hours was a luxury few had until forced to stay home and avoid human contact — by law!

I bought into the hype in early April and ordered a copy from that same mall video game chain (but online) and the Switch cart arrived on my doorstep on one of those blurry days of the spring first wave. We plunked it in, built an island (with a trio of family players) and —

Truth be told, my family kept at the progress long and strong, while my interest faded to other things by early May. My character spent each night in a small, one room house with a cot for a bed, while the other residents built multi-story mansions, elaborate virtual friendships, and checked off the museum bingo card of collectables.

So it seemed pandemic-appropriate that the first of my neglected games for the holiday season saw me booting up the title that had kicked off the first month of what is now a nine-month-long ordeal and a two week stay-at-home (by law!) vacation.

After nine months the family has come close to capping out their own progress. I re-enter the game as a player who missed out on halloween goodies, thanksgiving party supplies, and a summer of curious collectables. My little house invited me in and reminded me of my neglect by releasing an infestation of cockroaches scurrying across the floor.

“You gotta squish them, dad!” The kid informed me.

Yet despite the virtual oppulence that has blossomed all around me, I am no further ahead as a ride-along passenger on our Anthropomorphic Island. My recipe collection lacks. My house is crowded among cultivated gardens and groves looking more like it was in the way of the kid’s inspiration than part of a larger plan.

I ran around the landscape and tried to remember what I was supposed to be doing. I shook some trees, picked up some tree branches, dug a worthless fossil from the ground, and was scolded by some very outgoing animals for disappearing for SEVEN MONTHS! I thought you were avoiding me, they chided.

Maybe I was.

Yes, maybe I was.

The game became something of a meme, landing on multiple lists of pandemic lockdown to-dos.

Did you bake sourdough bread? Check.

Did you grow your hair to your shoulders? Hell, yeah.

Did you binge-watch Netflix? Of course.

Did you play Animal Crossing? Did we ever!

The game has a way of keeping you connected, of course. Unlike mobile app games it can’t send you reminder notifications or nag you to check in, though. Instead, it worms into your brain and implies that this little virtual world is alive and chugging along in real time, and stuff still happens while you were out there in the real world, y’know, working, buying groceries, and trying to stay sane through the wackiest year of your life.

Will I keep checking in? It’s the holidays and it’s so easy to load it up for a few minutes while chilling on the couch — so, yes? It may not satiate that trigger-finger, action-craving gamer urge, but I’ve got an extra reminder to visit more often: Dad? Have you checked your mail? I sent you something. Dad? … Dad?

Neglected Games Project

I buy too many video games.

To be precise, I thrift purchase a lot of video games when they show up on really good sales or in humble bundles or in clearance bins.

A small number of my games I do buy at full price, things I really care about or titles that I’ve been tracking through their release and am excited to play, but my honest self would tell you that I am a bit of a digital hoarder and I’ve built a fairly extensive library of titles that looked interesting or piqued my curiosity, yet have never once been loaded on my system to try out.

Some day, I tell myself, I’ll have time to play them and then rather than pay full price I’ll realize I already own them and

It’s been a kooky year and while most people have been struck by an abundance of free time as they stay home and isolate, I’ve been working more than ever. I do one of those jobs that has a key role to play in a piece of the public pandemic response, but is neither front-line nor considerably public. I just need to put in long, often 10 hour days, to get my little part done, and then also the other parts of my job that have nothing to do with living through a pandemic. In other words, I’ve had a lot less free time than many. And what little free time I have had has recently gone to writing a novel and caring for a puppy.

But I’ve decided to take a couple weeks off from work. We’re not actually going anywhere for the holidays, and given the lockdown, this ultimately means little more than sitting in a different chair, maybe some longer mid-day walks, and logging into a different computer each day.

Such as, say, logging into a computer with access to a couple hundred new or newish-to-me video games that may make for an interesting “not work” project for two weeks of deep-winter, pandemic lockdown, can’t go anywhere for Christmas fun.

My plan, and as always this is subject to mood and other obligations, is to load a previously unplayed or barely-played video game title each day, spend at least ninety minutes exploring it, playing it, enjoying it, and then posting a short update here. There are no strict rules other than me trying to find something in my library of games that I’ve spent less than ninety minutes on in the past, install it, play it, and accumulate some play time at least as long as a cheezy holiday film.

Stay tuned.

I’ll warm you up and tell you that my first title, and the title that inspired this, is playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time. Bought for a song on sale. Sitting there teasing me… never even installed. Let’s fix that.