A few hours in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt it becomes clear: I’m already stuck. Not that I don’t know where to go or how to get there, I’m just cripplingly malnourished. Leveling up in this game, as with so many AAA action-adventure RPG style titles these days, is grueling, an endless parade of side quests and enemy battles. Meanwhile, I am a chronic leveler, always keen to operate one or two notches above the suggested level for a given task. For Witcher 3 this led to the inevitable: getting trapped in the grind.
Grinding to level up is nothing new. And luckily, it’s a little less monotonous than before. Back then, that just meant throwing yourself into battle after battle, trying to rack up those precious points (hello, every Final fantasy Game). Now, games generally give you more ways to do this beyond direct combat. But that doesn’t mean it’s not monotonous, especially when you’ve just started mashing pimples on something new.
In other words, grinding is a big stupid chore. Not only that, it’s a big silly chore that happens all too often during those precious early hours of a game when you’re just trying to navigate your way and master the gameplay mechanics. And when you’re thrown into a sequel and you have not played the previous installments (Wild hunt is my first foray into the Witcher franchise; continue me), these first moments are even more essential to understand what is happening. Spending them on grinding can be, well, a drag.
Unfortunately, with Witcher 3, it is a must. As soon as I completed the first main quest, I arrived in another severely under-leveled area of the world map. I hadn’t completed enough side quests at the start of the game (many of which expired after completing that first quest; whoops), and now I was facing an uphill battle.
I’ll admit it: there are times when leveling up can come in handy. These side quests allow players to experience new combat mechanics and try new combat tips with little risk. And it can be a lot of fun to explore the map, which can add experience points. I would even say that it is an integral part of the game; if you play an open world game without thinking outside the box, what’s the point?
This is not complaining about having to do things that are not the main quest (and let me be clear, I am Absolutely whine here). It’s about being obligatory do these things. The amazing thing about The Witcher 3 is its size; the world is huge and there is something new in every corner of the map. The flip side of such a great game is that it can seem overwhelming. Staying focused on the main quest early on is necessary to get familiar with the game, and excessive grinding takes attention away from it. It’s entirely possible that this was an intentional gameplay mechanic: the developers may have chosen to encourage timid gamers to explore the larger world of Witcher 3 before continuing their quest. It’s fair, and it’s good to challenge yourself in a certain way as you play. But that doesn’t change the fact that I hate it. I want to play this title like this I want — not to venture into invisible realms against my will. Grinding can be a necessary evil, but it shouldn’t be tedious.
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