Video Game Feature – 2015’s Game of the Year

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It has been a while since I last wrote something on here. I’ve been busy though; work and some new and exciting ventures are keeping me busy and that’s great. But it doesn’t leave a lot of time free, and let’s face it waffling on here doesn’t actually pay the bills so… yeah that’s life! I’d love to say that I’ve been away for so long because I’ve been sinking all of my spare time into a bunch of video games, catching up on some long-missed reading, or binging my way through copious amounts of Netflix, but unfortunately that’s just not the case. And if I’m not able to do any of that, it means I’m not able to write about it #obvs. None of this is a complaint though – it’s just an explanation as to why DressLikeTheHulk has been so quiet for so long. Like I said though, being busy is great and I’m doing some interesting new stuff which is taking me way out of my comfort zone, but in a great way.

So, what have I been doing then? Well last year I set myself a personal challenge: to do something new each year to raise money for charity – something that would push me and that would not be easy. To kick things off in 2015 I completed my first proper actual running race by taking part in the Worcester 10k. After year’s of running for myself without a target, I felt it time to put that to good use and to the benefit of others, pushing myself to go further and faster than I normally would. Not only did I finish the race, but I managed to beat my target time by finishing in under 45 minutes, whilst also smashing my fundraising target for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. If you helped by donating, or by encouraging me, then you have my sincerest thanks. 

This year, however, I wanted to change tact and do something a little bit different, and even more challenging. Since just before Christmas I have, therefore, been submerged head first in the world of competitive ballroom and Latin dancing. That’s because I am preparing to compete in H1 Healthcare’s Strictly Worcestershire 3. The event takes place at the Chateau Impney on Thursday 26th May 2016 and you can find out a lot more information than I’m going to share here, as well as show your support, via Twitter, Facebook, and through the official Strictly Worcestershire website and Just Giving page. 

The event is raising money for two local breast cancer charities: Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer and Worcestershire Breast Unit Campaign. Breast cancer effects so many people – family, friends and colleagues – and I’m delighted to be able to support these fantastic local charities in the third and final Strictly Worcestershire event. I’m also terrified of dancing in front of about 900 people – I was not built to dance and I have never done it before. They might even have invented the phrase “two left feet” just for me. Fortunately I’m blessed with a very fast learning, understanding and graceful partner, Jennifer Appleton from ISO Quality Services Ltd., and a very patient dance teacher, Sharon Tilki.

#TeamJennifORR
Jennifer Appleton and I doing are best Strictly Come Dancing impression. Cheers Simon Fall-Taylor (FT Images) for the photo.

As the title of this article suggests, however, I have not come back just to make excuses for failing to write anything for the last three or four months and to gloat about how good I am at dancing (because I’m not – sorry Jen; perhaps one day your toes will recover?!). No I am back writing because I want to talk about my Game of the Year for 2015 – and before some smart-arse comes along, no it’s not Just Dance!

Last year saw the release of some truly exceptional games, with the new generation of console hardware finally delivering some excellent exclusives and jaw dropping cross-platform games. There were a lot of great games last year: Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Until Dawn, Dying Light, Forza 6, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and many others that I’m either forgetting right now or am just too lazy to add to this list. 2015 was also the year of massive sandbox games, with many of those new releases mentioned above offering huge maps to explore full of quests, side missions, and hours of innovative gameplay.

One game for me, however, offered a truly unique and exceptional experience, delivering one of the best open world environments seen in any video game to date. It also had some of the best ongoing development support with improvements, tweaks, new features, free content and proper expansions all delivered as promised. For those of you who haven’t already guessed the game from those last couple of sentences, or from its absence in the list above, then I am of course talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Monster Hunter
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the true Monster Hunter.

The Witcher 3 is a remarkable game. It’s open world is vibrant, colourful and diverse, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you realise there’s a whole new massive part to explore in the Skellige Isles. Quests are diverse, interesting and exciting with CD Projekt RED tackling war, romance, and monster hunting through the game’s main protagonist, Geralt. The Witcher 3 is an example of an action adventure role-playing game at its best, with the world feeling so immersive that it’s almost impossible to stop exploring it.

I’m not usually a fan of fantasy fiction. Don’t get me wrong; I loved The Lord of the Rings, but that’s about it. Game of Thrones does nothing for me, The Hobbit was awful, and games like Skyrim are even less appealing – which is weird as Fallout is one of my favourite game series’. Something about fantasy just doesn’t appeal to me, and yet the the world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has become one of my favourite places to escape to. 

The reason for this is simple; every aspect of the game works both in isolation and as a whole. Improving Geralt’s weapons and abilities is simple yet also in-depth enough to allow unique play styles and experiences to emerge. The world is huge and beautiful, but never empty – it’s full of things to discover for yourself from the exciting main plot, to diverse side quests and hidden locations. Similarly the combat is intuitive and brutal, but yet at times truly challenging requiring careful tactics that combine swords, oils, potions and magics. CD Projekt RED have made every mechanic feel both innovative yet also intuitive, creating a game where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Combat, exploration, story-telling and a beautiful open world all combine to make The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt an exceptional video game experience.

Things haven’t always worked as well as they do now in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt though. CD Projekt RED have released several patches for the game since it came out that have included free downloadable content, a steady delivery of performance updates (and the performance wasn’t really even that bad in the first place – try Just Cause 3’s frame rate on the PlayStation 4 and then try and complain about The Witcher 3!), new features and gameplay mechanics, and more. It might sound like the game wasn’t finished or ready at release, but really with the amount of content and the sheer size and detail of the world that CD Projekt RED offered, all of these updates were just minor improvements that enhanced an already fantastic game. What’s even clearer is that many of these updates, such as Geralt’s alternative movement controls or the ability to stash your inventory in a safe place, have happened off of the back of requests from the player community. CD Projekt RED have been, and still are, listening and acting on the feedback they receive. 

And if that’s not enough to make you care about this Polish video game developer, then consider the fact that The Witcher 3’s paid downloadable content consists of two huge single-player add-ons that can only be described as expansion packs. For those of you too young to be familiar with this term, an ‘expansion pack’ is the old fashioned name for downloadable content with one key difference: an expansion pack has you pay a reasonable chunk of money for a big, newly developed, bit of game that enhances your original experience. Downloadable content, on the other hand, tends to attempt to make you pay an unreasonable sum of money for a hat that was removed from the original game to ensure your wallet would be bled dry without anything of importance being added to the overall experience.

Ultimately, The Witcher 3 is an open world video game better than any other release so far, with a wide variety of quests and a lovingly crafted world steeped in Polish fantasy lore. As someone who has very little interest in fantasy, particularly in video games, I found The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt fascinating, sinking hours into the game, and even now I still find myself drawn back to it regularly. If you haven’t played it yet, then you really should, and you can rest easy knowing you’ll be in the safe hands of CD Projekt RED. In fact it’s probably fair to say that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not only my Game of the Year for 2015, but also one of my favourite games of all time.

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Images from FT Images & www.thewitcher.com/witcher3

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