Only took me seven years, but yes, I've finally started playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Complete Edition (PS5). My first encounter with The Witcher was the first game many, many years ago. The combat system and its tutorial were both exceptionally awkward and when I finally entered my first town and sampled the RPG-system, I noped out of there fast. A horrible wrong-fest lacking any kind of subtlety. I can totally understand why it's getting a remake.
That initial experience soured me on the whole franchise; I experienced it by proxy as a game that lives on its connection to a book series and its copious sexual encounters. Nobody disputed the negatives, people seemed to regard those as a necessary evil almost. So when part three rolled into view and quietly fixed most of its issues to become playable, its fans around me didn't really focus on it as it just contained more of the stuff they loved and less of the stuff they didn't. I completely ignored it as if it was the next Call of Duty or FIFA.
There's one wrinkle though. An old colleague and good friend of mine worked on The Witcher III (and also happens to be working on that remake of part one). He kept urging me to play the game, especially in contrast to other open world RPGs. I think I might have physically hurt him when I mentioned I loved Ghost of Tsushima and yet hadn't touched his work. So eventually, I relented and bought a copy a few years ago on sale.
Only for CD Projekt Red to announce that copy would get a free PS5 upgrade.
Which meant I waited another couple of years for that to come about as CDPR bungled the hot mess that was Cyberpunk 2077 at the same time. All to say, yeah, it truly took me a while to get here.
You don't need me to tell me it's good. For all intents and purposes, it is a very capable and playable open world RPG. What I'm surprised by is how good the world itself is. Of course, this might sound a bit biased considering the involvement of said friend, but starting out in White Orchard, you can kind of feel and intuit the world is already in motion. It's not "waiting for you". This is something that annoyed me in Horizon Zero Dawn and to a certain extent also in Ghost of Tsushima: the world and what happens there basically is at a standstill until the hero comes along.
Here, there's stuff happening. Arriving highlights a conflict, then another conflict pops up as you enter the tavern, you turn out to be a bit of a conflict as well, albeit one that can maybe help out on the others. The result is that everything is on edge and the responses of all characters have a certain weight to it. Jin and Aloy are saviours working towards the end of the game. Geralt is merely a cog in the machine that is life (something highlighted again right after White Orchard) and the result is more of a tapestry of stuff to latch onto instead of being the only hope in the land.
It might still end on that note, and that's okay, but most games make the mistake of starting out on that note making everything very boring and providing "plot armour by proxy" on everything around you. If you can't act, the world stops. The more expendable a main character is, the more extraordinary their heroic feats will be. Aloy (and Jin to a certain extent) feel like an inversion of that.
Combat is still not very good though. Or at least, I find dodge and parry not being reliable. But anything that's not Souls-like in combat feels off to me these days, so don't take my word for it. Still, the first few hours of The Witcher III have been good fun and I'm very interested in seeing how many of those good aspects remain standing by the end of it. So far the game seems to actually deserve its praise.