The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2015 was the year massive, open worlds became the norm for AAA gaming. A few years in to the latest generation of consoles, developers were ready to flex the new hardware with game worlds that were immersive, dynamic, and beautifully rendered. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt tamed its immense scale with a narrative that felt both epic and personal. Its ending called back to notable choices that players made throughout the story, solidifying a cohesive sense of agency that is hard to pull off for a game where you can spend this much time aimlessly wandering around and slaying monsters.
The game leading up to that satisfying conclusion is a challenging blast, as well. Warsaw-based developer CD Projekt RED has been working on the series non-stop since the first game in 2007, and all of that passion is reflected in this refined culmination of the trilogy. The basic experience remains the same: you are Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster hunter who slays beasts and seduces sorceresses in a medieval high fantasy world with Slavic inclinations. The main story revolves around Geralt’s daughter-figure Ciri being pursued by a band of inter-dimensional elves for her immense power. Its side quests range from standard fantasy RPG fare to grittier territory involving abuse, serial killers, and genocide. That emotional gravity is balanced out by the right amount of humor, and a lot of good old-fashioned monster slaying.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt tamed its immense scale with a narrative that felt both epic and personal.
The character progression system is the most flexible and intuitive yet for the series. Combat is fun and challenging, replacing the flashy sword heroics of other RPGs with a tense, positional dance that puts your timing and tactics to the test in any fight against more than a handful of grunts. High-level monster contracts can be especially tough, giving you more incentive to do your research and prepare with the appropriate oils, spells, and weapons for the extra edge they afford you. Inventory management can be clunky, but that’s a common and mostly forgivable sin for the genre.
While no one element of Wild Hunt stands out as particularly innovative, CD Projekt RED has put together a stunningly large, studied, and cohesive RPG that sets a high watermark for modern fantasy.
In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain you can approach any objective from any angle, with any combination of equipment and support you want. Stealth is encouraged, but you can still come in guns blazing. Trouble behind the scenes rears its ugly head in some of the game’s structural elements, unfortunately, likely due to the abrupt departure of series creator Hideo Kojima during development. The game is a delight, but still feels like a missed opportunity for true greatness.
Fallout 4 is the most refined Bethesda RPG. Boston is the setting, full colorful characters and interesting details that compel you to aimlessly explore. The new leveling system is simpler and more flexible than previous versions, allowing for a great degree of control in how you want to play. New item-modding, crafting, and base-building systems—features are also a perfect fit. Fallout 4 has a bright future ahead of it too, with no level cap and the promise of mods and DLC.