In the weeks leading up to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's release, everybody knew it was going to be big: a massive world, hundreds of hours of gameplay, breathtaking visuals, satisfying combat and complex characters. This was the next-gen RPG gamers had been waiting for.
And it didn't disappoint.
Rave reviews and impressive sales helped make CD Projekt Red's most ambitious project to date also its most successful. Of course, none of that should come as a surprise to those who have played the game. Witcher 3 is one of the finest RPGs ever made. Critics and fans said it when the game was released on May 19, 2015, and they are still saying it one year later.
But looking back on the game a year later, it's not the game's powerful storytelling or excellent world-building that strikes me the most. It's not the bloody battles or colorful characters. What stands out in my mind a year later about The Witcher 3 is that it simply did everything right.
Not from a gameplay perspective, though there are plenty who would argue the case. The Witcher 3 is a fantastic game, but it has problems. The inventory can be a mess to deal with. The horse is occasionally frustrating to control. Crafting is often a hassle, and the game doesn't do a great job of ever explaining many of its numerous systems. On consoles, it doesn't run exceptionally well, but the story, gameplay and jaw-dropping vistas are all great enough for most players to overlook the fact that the game runs below 30 frames per second more often than not.
No, The Witcher 3 isn't perfect. But everything surrounding it - the game's post-launch support, the physical box itself, CD Projekt Red's honesty, the game's treatment of DLC - is. More so than anything else, The Witcher 3 and developer CD Projekt Red respected its audience and fans. There was no wool being pulled over anybody's eyes. No shady microtransactions. No false promises. The Witcher 3 claimed to deliver an incredible gaming experience, and it did.
What players saw was what they got. What they saw was a developer that treated those who purchased their games more like partners than as dollar signs. CD Projekt Red created a great game, and it sold it honestly and with a class rarely seen in the game industry.
From the day I picked up my copy of the game, I knew that was the case. The game box was evidence in and of itself. Have you bought a physical version of a game recently? When you open up the box for the first time, what do you see? The game disc and maybe a slip of paper advertising for the game's season pass. Sometimes it's not even that. Gone are the days of instruction manuals and carefully crafted artwork.
That was far from the case with The Witcher 3. Those who bought a physical copy of the game were in for a treat. A detailed world map. Stickers. A who's-who of the Witcher universe. An honest-to-goodness instruction manual. And last but certainly not least, a message from CD Projekt Red thanking fans for buying the game. Holding the case in my hands, it felt like it weighed 3 pounds.
It's a great example of how CD Projekt Red does things, and those examples have just continued to add up over the past year. The next came in the weeks and months following the game's release, as CD Projekt Red looked to improve the Witcher 3 experience. Patches helped the game run better and look better. Updates helped fix some of the game's inventory problems. The patches were fast and frequent. The whole time, free DLC in the form of new costumes, armor sets, quests and more were made available to players free of charge. New Game Plus was added because of player demand. As players discovered money-making exploits in the game, CD Projekt Red fixed them in clever and fun ways that added to the world, rather than simply punishing players.
Even prior to the game's release, CD Projekt Red managed to send a clear message to gamers through both its words and deeds. It issued a sadly revolutionary view on DLC, a stance that distanced the team from the vast majority of developers and publishers in the industry.
When talk of how the The Witcher 3 saw major graphical downgrades from the time of the game's announcement to its final release, CD Projekt Red didn't attempt to put a spin on the subject. Instead, it simply explained why the game looked different now as opposed to before, in the process educating gamers about the complexities of game development. What could have been a controversy instead faded into nothing, all because of CD Projekt Red's honesty and faith in its product.
In October came the game's first expansion, Hearts of Stone. In it, players found a robust DLC offering that easily included 7-10 hours of additional gameplay, all for only $10. It delivered everything that fans of the core game knew and loved, focusing on great writing, fascinating characters and an ever-present sense of imagination.
Immediately following the game's launch, The Witcher 3 was clearly a serious contender for Game Of The Year awards only five months into 2015. That changed in the following summer months, as the long-awaited Fallout 4 was revealed to the world.
Game Of The Year talks involving The Witcher 3 almost instantly started to come with caveats attached: "Witcher 3 was great, but Fallout is going to be amazing." "I love Witcher, but Bethesda is the master of open-world RPGs." "Witcher 3 was fun, but I don't think it will be able to compete with Fallout 4."
Yet compete it did. The game swept game of the year across numerous websites and publications, and even went home with the top prize at The Game Awards. When it didn't win game of the year, more often than not it won RPG of the year. The Witcher 3, a relatively new franchise and the first open-world entry in the series, went head-to-head against one of the biggest RPG franchises in the history of gaming and won.
Sure, The Witcher 3 might not have made as much money as Fallout. Nobody could have expected it to. But the title is still selling well for CD Projekt Red, with close to 10 million copies of the game sold to date.
Clearly Witcher 3 did something right ... in this case, almost everything. It was, and still is, a fantastic game. It's also more than that. A year later, it's a shining example of how post-launch support and DLC should work in an industry where the relationship between gamer and game developer feels increasingly antagonistic.
The legacy of The Witcher 3 isn't as simple as being a great RPG that gamers will play for years to come; it's also a testament to what can be accomplished when a developer goes above and beyond to treat its customers right.