The Witcher 3: Part 2

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

So I finally completed the main story of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, including most of the question marks on all maps and the free DLC with side quests. It took me almost 99 hours and I reached level 35. Save games are available – see the top menu bar.

This is one of the best games I’ve ever played and I would recommend it to anyone interested in an open world RPG, regardless of whether you liked the first two games or not. Fantastic atmosphere, groundbreaking facial animations in cutscenes, a lot of great quest stories all over the places, and I also liked how I could get a lot better at fighting as time went by and I got used to dodging instead of rolling.

I remember wondering about the claims that The Witcher 3 made Fallout 4 look completely lacklustre in comparison, but now that I’ve completed it, I can certainly see it.

Screenshot

Boy am I glad that I played Fallout 4 before this one.

The Witcher 3: Part 1

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

This may very well be the prettiest game I’ve ever played so far. The texture detail is really out of this world. The faces of the 3D models are extremely detailed, with stubble, pimples and birthmarks accompanied by realistic facial animation that fits the lines of dialog well. The clothes really look like clothes, whether it’s dry or wet from rain – it’s almost like I can feel its volume at times.

Graphically, this game sure is a feast for your eyes.

Screenshot

But as is typically me with big and complicated RPG these years, it didn’t actually grab me until the third session or so. It felt too overwhelming to begin with. Tons of screens, skills, inventory tabs, a tutorial that frequently paused the action, and words on the internet about enormous maps with a never-ending amount of question marks to find and reveal. I persevered because I knew it would be like this for me in the beginning and it turned out to be the wise thing to do.

Eventually it finally managed to grab me because of how meticulously it was designed. Although I didn’t agree with all of the gameplay mechanics, it was clear that the developers really tried to do their very best in many areas. If one part of the gameplay made me frown a bit, five other things made me grin like a child being offered an ice cream that needs to be held with two hands.

Especially the side quests have been really impressive so far. So many RPG pile this up with quests about acquiring ten bear asses, but in The Witcher 3 they are almost all interesting and varied, with lots of dialog and often a bit of detective work. Borrowing from games such as Rocksteady’s Batman series, I can turn on my Witcher senses (a fish eye effect then occurs) to spot evidence in red, examine it with comments, then perhaps following a red trail of footprints or a thread of smell meandering through the air. Surprisingly many side quests have this part built into them and it’s a nice digression from smacking monsters.

Completed: The Witness

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I finally managed to complete The Witness after six sessions. The last save game said I solved 359 puzzles, and according to Steam it took me 26 hours. It has a tendency to exaggerate, but somewhere in the early twenties is probably right. Only 7 out of 11 lasers needed to be switched on in order to enter the mountain and I decided to settle with that. I never had any intentions to be a completionist about this game.

Another good reason for not wanting to solve everything in this game is that I actually didn’t like many of the later puzzles. I never cheated or read any hints and I can honestly say I figured it all out on my own, but some of the puzzles were too difficult for me to find them fun. I really had to be on the nails of my toes with some of these. Especially inside the mountain the puzzles got really vicious, mixing existing rules with damaged or combined panels. Some where inventive, some very difficult to observe at all, and many were combined across smaller and bigger puzzles.

Screenshot

Without spoiling too much, I almost thought I found my final nemesis puzzle in the bottom of a big shaft inside the mountain. It was another one of those where several smaller puzzles were combined with a big one to make everything come together. I had such a hard time with that one that I actually had to draw the board and pieces on paper, cut them out, and spend hours puzzling them together at my dinner table. I imagine many other players would have given up here and found the solution on the internet, but I was very stubborn. I got this far and I wanted to complete the game without cheating. Eventually I did succeed in finding the correct combination of pieces, flipped the answer, and the door went up.

The Witness: First Impressions

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

After completing Pneuma, one of my friends gifted me this game on Steam – removing it from my wish list. He spoke of his endeavors in this game and it got me enticed. I installed and started it almost immediately and played it for more than 5 hours yesterday. Enough to dish out my first impressions about it.

I completed Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid back in 2012 and have had an eye on his next game ever since. It seemed like quite a quantum leap from Braid – from a 2D platformer to a completely open world puzzle game in a pretty 3D engine. I didn’t care much for the pretentious story and ditto quotes in Braid, but the gameplay was truly awesome. It had so many time manipulating ideas that really surprised me by how ingenious they were. And just as I thought I had seen it all, Jonathan Blow managed to conjure up yet another fresh approach.

Suffice to say, I was very curious about The Witness.

Of course The Witness just had to be one of those modern games that starts immediately without a title screen, just like e.g. Limbo. You could say that as long as the spot is as secluded and safe as it is, but I don’t know. I’m probably old fashioned, but I actually like a title screen up front as the first thing.

Then again, ten years ago I didn’t care much for digital games and stubbornly wanted a disc in a box, and look at me now. Why waste shelf space on a box when you can have it on Steam?

So maybe in a few years, title screens will be the annoying thing.

The game started with very small baby steps indeed. Almost all puzzles seemed to be based on using the mouse to draw a line through a maze on a panel, and it started with the basic straight line, then an angled line, and so forth. Soon mazes appeared with dead ends, and the starter area made it clear how the panels turned on more panels through wires now lit up, meandering through the grass and over walls. So, lots of following wires and finding new panels with puzzles to solve.

Pneuma: Breath of Life

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Developer: Deco Digital | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I spent this Saturday morning playing through this charming first person puzzle adventure game. It took only about 2 hours to get through it, but I was fine with that. I’ve actually been yearning for shorter games lately. Of course, the length depends on the genre but especially platform, puzzle and adventure games can easily overstay their welcome in my book. (Maybe it’s because I’ve completed so many of them?)

One thing that puzzled me about this game was a warning I was shown when starting it up. Fraps has been known to crash D3D11. Okay. I’ve been using Fraps as my loyal companion for years on end, snapshotting screenshots for hundreds of games without trouble – but that message was probably pointed towards video recording (which I almost never do).

Warning

Either way, the message felt out of place. It almost looks like a personal vendetta against Fraps.

As a first person puzzle it used the recent fad of having an eloquent narrator comment on a lot of findings, sometimes philosophizing his existence as the god he clearly believes he is. He reminded me quite a lot of the narrator in The Stanley Parable. Sometimes entering a room triggered a long debate which went on a bit too far, but for the most part he was entertaining. Especially towards the end, where he became extremely paranoid. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was certainly interesting.

Comparing the Three Risen Games

While playing through the three Risen games, back to back, I took about 700 screenshots for each of the first two games and more than 1200 for the third. I thought it would be interesting to gather this together and compare similar things across all three of the games, to see how things evolved or changed.

I’ve wrapped the screenshots inside spoiler tags that you have to open up (unless you’re using an RSS reader). I’ve indicated in the spoiler title how severe the spoiler is. Open a section and click a thumbnail to open the media carousel. Game titles are shown in the bottom of it.

You can also just hover the mouse pointer on a thumbnail to see the game title.

Spoiler: Admiral Alvarez (Mild)

Admiral Alvarez

Admiral Alvarez lives in the harbour town of Antigua and was introduced in Risen 2. He didn’t change much in Risen 3. My guess is that the developers merely copied and pasted his model.

Spoiler: Admiring a View (Mild)

Admiring a View

These are mostly panorama screenshots where our hero is looking into the distance, typically from higher ground. You can see how the details, lighting and view distance changed across all three games.

Spoiler: Beach (Mild)

Beach

Just walking along the beach in each game.

Spoiler: Boat (Mild)

Boat

In Risen 2 and 3 you can use a small boat on the beach to either reach your ship or fast travel to a different beach on the same island or peninsula.

Spoiler: Bones (Mild)

Bones

Bones was introduced in Risen 2 as a crazy voodoo doctor in a camp of natives. In Risen 3 he appears after the tutorial and even has his own sloop. He joins the crew as a potential companion in both games.

They changed his model between both games (or maybe he just grew more hair).

Spoiler: Camp of Natives (Mild)

Camp of Natives

In one island or peninsula in both games (it differs) there’s a camp of natives with huts. This too was first introduced along with the pirate theme in Risen 2.

As you can see, the circular staircase arena was reused.

Spoiler: Captain Crow (Severe)

Captain Crow

Captain Crow was introduced in Risen 2 as an antagonist the hero has to face in a boss fight where a Titan Lord is also summoned. The hero kills Crow in this fight. In Risen 3, Crow appears as a ghost captain in control of a fleet of enemy ships. Apparently his model wasn’t changed.

In Risen 3, the ghost Crow appears both in the very beginning of the game (before the tutorial) as well as in a short battle that is repeated almost verbatim much later in the game. But for some odd reason, he has a blue tint in the beginning and a green tint in the actual battle.

You can see these before and after colors in the gallery too.

Spoiler: Captain Slayne (Severe)

Captain Slayne

Another captain introduced in Risen 2. The hero meets him for the first time together with Admiral Alvarez on the island of Antigua. Slayne betrays the hero who later kills him in a duel to the death. In Risen 3, he appears as a ghost in one of many dream sequences.

It doesn’t look like his model was changed in Risen 3.

Spoiler: Captain Steelbeard (Severe)

Captain Steelbeard

The mighty Captain Steelbeard, father of both Patty and of the new nameless hero in Risen 3, is actually only referred to in the first Risen. His first appearance is in Risen 2, where he accompanies Patty and the first nameless hero (with the eye patch) on the island of Tacarigua.

After defeating Captain Crow and obtaining his legendary weapon, Steelbeard is killed by the Titan Lord Mara at the beach. Much later in Risen 2 our hero meets the ghost of Steelbeard in the Underworld. In Risen 3, he only appears as a ghost in various dream sequences.

Apparently his model wasn’t changed in Risen 3, apart from now sporting a blue ghost tint.

Spoiler: Caves and Dungeons (Mild)

Caves and Dungeons

A collection of screenshots in various caves and dungeons, across all three games.

Spoiler: Chani (Mild)

Chani

Chani was introduced in Risen 2. She is a native voodoo priestess and can become your companion if you choose her faction in this game. In Risen 3, she is a quest giver and part of an event in the story line.

Spoiler: Character Screen and Inventory (Mild)

Character Screen and Inventory

In the first Risen, the character screen and inventory was mixed together in one encompassing window, although the inventory itself could also be opened in a small window when e.g. looting.

Risen 2 introduced segregated screens with tabs for attributes, inventory, skills, and more. Risen 3 was based on the same style and set of screens, merely tweaking the graphics and attributes available.

The first Risen was also the only game in the series that used levels. The pirate theme of Risen 2 and 3 replaced this with a stream of undivided glory (XP) which could be spent on increasing attributes.

Spoiler: Close Combat (Mild)

Close Combat

All three games start with almost solely close combat using blades or similar melee weapons. The first Risen had a more traditional fantasy system with blades, shield, and magic based on mana.

Firearms were introduced in Risen 2, either as a pistol in one hand activated with a special hotkey or as shotguns or muskets that has to be aimed with an orange ring that fills up to indicate precision.

This section only shows screenshots from close combat.

Spoiler: Commandant Carlos (Mild)

Commandant Carlos

Commandant Carlos is one of the good guys of the Inquisition and can be found in all three games. In the first game he’s in the generic harbour town, in Risen 2 he’s in the Crystal Fortress in Caldera right at the start, and in Risen 3 he can be found on the small Fog Island.

It looks like the model is the same again across Risen 2 and 3.

Spoiler: Cooking Meat (Mild)

Cooking Meat

Risen uses loot and amount windows and shows the cooking in the actual game engine itself. Risen 2 and 3 both uses a segregated screen.

Spoiler: Creek or River (Mild)

Creek or River

Spoiler: Crouse (Mild)

Crouse

Crouse pops up in both Risen 2 and 3 as a parody of the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe. They changed his head in Risen 3 (clearly an improvement) but he’s still wearing the same trousers.

Spoiler: Dialog Choices (Mild)

Dialog Choices

Here you can see what it looks like when you get a list of dialog choices across all three Risen games.

Spoiler: Drinking Minigame (Mild)

Drinking Minigame

The drinking minigame was introduced in Risen 2 and used again in Risen 3.

Spoiler: Dusk or Dawn (Mild)

Dusk or Dawn

One screenshot for each game in the series.

Spoiler: Eldric the Druid (Moderate)

Eldric the Druid

Eldric is an interesting NPC that has an important role to play in all three games. In the first and third Risen he’s only a quest giver but he actually joins your crew as a companion in Risen 2.

The model for Eldric has changed considerably across all three games. It actually looks like a completely different person in each of them. Personally I really liked the way he looked in Risen 2.

See page 2 for F to N.

Risen 3: Profanity Overload

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While I was playing through Risen 3: Titan Lords, and also later while writing the blog post about it, it repeatedly hit me how much the characters were cursing and swearing all over the place. I don’t consider myself a sissy regarding this – in fact, I often decry the lack of profanity in American TV shows.

Nevertheless, the writers certainly didn’t hold back regarding profanity, mocking and negging in this game, and there were places where I thought they really overdid it. I know this is a pirate game and it is supposed to fit the theme, but just a tiny bit more moderation might still have been for the better.

For example, have you ever had this dialog option before upon meeting the bad guy for the first time?

Screenshot

Screenshot

He deserved it, no doubt, yet it still seemed out of place. And Nekroloth didn’t really react to it anyway.

Risen 3: Titan Lords

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Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2014 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

I decided to round off with the third game in the series now that I was on a roll anyway. Again, it was from Steam and included all DLC. This played like the quite the best game of the three. Yes, it reused a lot of assets and ideas from the second game (which probably also explains the development gap of only two years) but it felt more refined and it also grabbed me a lot better in the beginning, especially because I visited Fog Island first where plain old exploration was in the lead.

The game was more colorful and overgrown than ever. Truly Caribbean “Bounty”-land and lots of weird plants. For some strange reason the guy in my control was now Patty’s brother, without any explanation about what happened to the previous nameless hero with the eye patch. Maybe they simply didn’t want gamers to see that eye patch anymore? Alas, the siblings really left a skewed first impression. Patty now looked like a porn star with tits right in your face. I love tits as much as any man, but her outfit was really ludicrous. Similarly, the new nameless hero had a deep and dry voice that was just contrived.

I was already missing “John” and his normal voice. Two games and he was out.

The human models were much better now and added a lot to the overall impression. Eyes now moved properly to the sides, lip sync was slightly better, and although gesticulations were still a bit exaggerated, they seemed more focused now. Dialog was the same old. It still had that feeling of superfluous information that I often had to skip to get to the point, or maybe the interlocutor passed that point long ago and just kept on blathering anyway.

Risen 3: Spell Immunity

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I’m in the middle of playing through Risen 3: Titan Lords and have just acquired some offensive magic spells by joining one of three factions in the game. I’ll try to keep spoilers at a low level here, so I won’t go too much into specifics. (A minutia blog post about the game will be uploaded when I’ve completed it.)

After joining up with the faction, I was given a trial of killing a golem with an offensive spell. The trainer recommended using a fire spell that i could buy from him now, but then my experience with a ton of RPG immediately begged to differ. In most of these games a common denominator often say that creatures are probably immune to elemental spell damage that matches their own affinity. Fire demons ignore fire damage, ice golems ignore frost damage, that kind of thing.

But the trick is that in most RPG, beings immune to lightning are actually quite rare – most of the time even nonexistent. Lightning often works well against all elemental creatures, including fire and ice. And for that reason, I’ve favored this type of magic for quite a while.

So I ignored his recommendations, went to another trainer, and bought a lightning spell!