On May 19, 2015, Polish studio CD Projekt Red released The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the final entry in its trilogy continuing author Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher saga. With a huge open world, the game was a big departure from the style of the previous two games, but the risky move resulted in a game that still holds up five years later. It is often considered one of the best role-playing games of all time, and its enormous and lively world is largely responsible for that. Filled with characters and environments that felt like they were real and independent of the player's own actions, it was one of the most impressive settings in video games to date.
In an interview with Polygon, the CDPR developers have talked about how The Witcher 3 was such a big departure from other games in the series, and what went into making that change.
“Our quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, said that the main goal [of The Witcher 3] was to combine the design philosophy of previous Witcher games, which was to create a complex and mature story that has choices and consequences, with an open world," senior quest designer Philipp Weber told Polygon. "There used to be this preconceived notion you would hear a lot that open world games can’t tell interesting or deep stories. So that was something we took up as a challenge."
As quest designers, the challenge for the team at CDPR was to design quests that would still work if a player chose to take a different path through the open world.
"At first, changing our design [to fit an open world] seemed difficult, but in the end it actually improved quests a lot," Weber said. "With the open world, our quest structure also became much more open, and we could give players many more opportunities to experience our stories in the way they wanted. If I can solve different parts of a quest out of order, then maybe this will have different consequences later on. Since we were always big fans of nonlinear choice and consequence, this was a huge bonus."
Weber also mentions some of the systems the Witcher 3 team used to make the world feel more alive, such as a feature where wolves will be able to smell when a monster or animal is killed, causing them to head towards the new food source. For many players, the level of depth and life in the world was what kept them coming back again and again.
"One of the things that people mention a lot when it comes to The Witcher 3 is how long they actually played the game and enjoyed it, which was at first very surprising and funny for us, because during development we always thought it would be too short and were trying to add more into the game," Weber said. "So seeing that kind of feedback was actually a great relief, made even better knowing that people still play the game now."
The full Polygon interview has more, including diving into the details of some of the specific quests that handled this so well.