Shacknews Spotlight: Is The Witcher 3 better than Skyrim

The gang sits down to discuss whether or not CD Projekt Red's newest RPG The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has what it takes to knock Skyrim out of the ring for best RPG.



Since it's been so long since we've done a spotlight, I'd like to take a moment and point out how this thing works. Basically we choose a topic each week, then hash out our opinions in an email thread. From here I start up a Chatty thread asking your opinions on the matter, and then once it is all over we put it all together into a nice shiny article. That said: these are our opinions, and spur of the moment responses. They may not always be the most intelligent or amazing responses, but they are our opinions.

- Josh

The Question: There's been a lot of talk about The Witcher 3 being a better RPG than Skyrim. What do you think? Is it one of the best RPGs you ever played? If yes, explain why. If no, explain why.

Josh H: Having completed the main quest of the game at just around 80 hours of game time, I have to say, I am extremely satisfied with The Witcher 3, and how it played out. It’s a massive game, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything that the game has to offer outside of the main quests. It’s definitely, hands down, one of the best RPGs I’ve played, BUT I don’t really think it can be compared to Skyrim in any fashion. Sure, both games are inherently part of the same genre, but overall they are extremely different.

Skyrim is more open, and explores the balance of good versus evil, whereas The Witcher 3 slides along in a gray area of morality and reasoning. The world is darker, the theme is darker, and overall it’s just more of an adult themed story than Skyrim’s tale of dragon slaying. That isn’t meant to belittle either game, as I think both games should be, and can be appreciated for what they are without trying to place once in the other’s shadow

Daniel P: I agree with you, Josh. I think it's unfair to compare The Witcher 3 and Skyrim with one another. Doing so will belittle all of the accomplishments each game has made not only to the open-world RPG genre, but also to gaming as a whole. But -- since this topic is discussing whether or not The Witcher 3is better than Skyrim, then it appears we're going to have to do some comparing regardless.

I believe I've put somewhere between 5 to 10 hours into The Witcher 3, and while I'm enjoying its more adult-oriented story, I think Skyrim made some things a little easier. For example: Not receiving experience points when killing random enemies is bugging me. The only incentive I have to killing anything outside of a mission directive is to loot their bodies for a potential ingredient I may need, but I haven't really been paying attention to potion ingredients until I absolutely need them. Skyrim gave me experience points for everything. Even surviving a high fall gave me experience in some thing, and that kind of freedom has made me unexpectedly jaded when I kill something and don't get instant gratification.

Combat, on the other hand, appears to be a much more gratifying experience in The Witcher 3. Skyrim felt like more of a hack 'n slash with some light strategy when needed. When I'm fighting with Geralt, I feel like I'm playing as a more experienced swordsman. Geralt is better at parrying, dodging, and attacking with magic than the Dragonborn was, or at least it felt that way when I played Skyrim.

Josh H: Yes, it would appear we've back ourselves into a corner here Daniel. However, I would like to point something out. It was original believed that you didn't receive any Experience from killing enemies, however, you actually receive small amounts of experience for each enemy you kill. It's not nearly what it was in Skyrim, but it does give you that added edge to things I suppose.

I can definitely agree with your thoughts about the combat. Skyrim aimed to include first person, and third person combat. It worked well, was fine, but to me the melee attacks always felt blocky and rough, whereas things in the Witcher focus on third person, and thus don't have to worry about nearly as many animations. While I'm sure it would be cool to cut Drowners and Griffins into pieces in first person, I think the idea of limiting players to that one camera view was a great choice on CD Projekt Red's part, because it allowed them to make the animations more fluid, and smooth.

I don't really mind the removal of large XP chunks for killing enemies. I want RPGs to push me into the story, without me feeling the need to endlessly slaughter enemies. As for not having a reason to kill enemies not pertaining to your mission... That's not a problem for me. I like to see the top halves of men and Drowners explode in the opposite direction of their body when I slice through them using my steel or silver sword. Yes, I know... I'm a maniac.

Steve Watts: Since you brought up the combat, Daniel, I think we have to recognize some of the differences there as well. The Witcher 3 (and in fact the entireWitcher series) has a refined combat system that encourages a specific playstyle. You're supposed to be using melee attacks augmented with the occasional blast of magic. The tools are designed around that style, and the tutorial section teaches you pretty explicitly how to handle yourself.

Skyrim is a little more flexible. You talked about it being a hack 'n slash, but as a mage character, I did very little of either. If I had chosen to be a bow-wielding character I could be more ranged. I think that level of variety excuses some of its shortcomings. It's more of a jack of all trades, while Witcher is a master of one. It's really a pretty good but extremely flexible combat system versus an extremely refined but more narrow one.

Steven Wong: I'm probably in the minority here, but I have a stronger preference for Skyrim's combat. As Steve pointed out, it's much more flexible. Despite its use of parries, dodging, and blocking, the combat in Witcher 3 feels very hack'n'slash to me. There aren't any stealth options for sneaking in and eliminating a few enemies before engaging in open fighting. In Skyrim, I could hide in the shadows, summon a magic bow, and pick off a few enemies before hitting the rest of the group with a burst of chain lightning. Geralt isn't really a sorcerer, so he doesn't get to do that, but that's no excuse for giving players no choice other than sword fighting.

In discussing Daniel's point about XP, I think there might be something to killing for experience. I love The Witcher 3's story, but you have to go through hours of unrelated side missions to experience it. Some of these missions are awesome. Some are stupid, like getting a frying pan back for an old lady. Furthermore, you have to travel to the far reaches of the world to complete them. I haven't completed the game yet, but so far, I'm not really getting the sense that I'm becoming a better Witcher. At least with Skyrim, I always got a sense that I was getting stronger, whether it was by decapitating foes or something ridiculous like squat-walking across the country to improve stealth.

Josh H: "Geralt isn't really a sorcerer, so he doesn't get to do that, but that's no excuse for giving players no choice other than sword fighting. " This is a great point Steven, however, there is actually a completely FINE excuse with giving players no choice other than sword fighting. Witcher's don't use bows. They don't summon magical beings to fight for them, and they aren't technically used to sneaking around and assassinating people from the shadows. The witchers have a set of rules they must follow, and this rule set dictates that their weapons are to be a Steel Sword for men, and a Silver Sword for beasts brought into the world by magic.

The game series is based off of a popular set of Polish novels and short stories. The rules for the witchers were already in place before CD Projekt Red acquired the rights to create the game. Skyrim allowed the developers to be more open, and allow the players to 'choose their path' so to speak. You still have some of this freedom in the Witcher (the choices and their consequences), but all in all the witchers are meant for one thing... Monster hunting. They aren't political assassins, though Geralt's story does bring him beyond the rules at times, a witcher with a bow would be less effective than one equipped with a Steel and Silver sword. Allowing the freedom to combat enemies any way you want, like Skyrim, would fundamentally break the lore and history built into the Witcher series.

Steven Wong: Ah, but Witchers can bend the rules to adapt and change with the times. For example, Geralt gets a small crossbow to fight flying creatures like the griffin with. He gives a little huff about breaking from tradition, but he takes the crossbow nonetheless. Similarly, his sword can be coated to poison or weaken whatever he's fighting. I don't see why he can't sneak up on a camp of bandits in their sleep and slit their throats like any rational killer would do.

It always drives me nuts when open world games treat obvious solutions as out of the box thinking. For example, there's one side quest where I had to kill a werewolf, but it repeatedly kicked my ass. So, I figured I'd camp outside it lair until sunrise and kill it while it's in its human form. But instead of an vulnerable unarmed human, I found a daytime werewolf. With Skyrim, I was allowed to think strategically. Vampires are weak during the day, werewolves revert back to humans, etc., which is partly why I still think The Witcher 3 combat feels very hack'n'slash to me.

Josh H: The various creatures of The Witcher 3 do have weaknesses, and these can be found within your Beastiary. Werewolves and creatures like Wraiths are much stronger at night, yes, but they can also be found during the day. There is strategy underlying every creature you take on in The Witcher 3. The main problem with games like these, is people tend to stick to the 'traditional' rules of things, and assume that the rules are the same as anything else, when they are not.

As for Geralt bending the rules some... yes. He does accept the crossbow, and uses it to great ability within the game. But there is a massive difference between a witcher adding to his arsenal, and a witcher saying 'screw this sword business! I wanna be an archer!". These are men who were taken at very young ages, experimented on, and trained to do one thing... kill monsters. They have believed in the same set of rules their entire life. You can't possibly expect them to throw that all away so they could use a bow instead of a sword.

Steven Wong: Well, firstly that werewolf wasn't any weaker during the daytime. Secondly, The Witcher's own lore states that werewolves run around at night and turn back to human during the day. It's in the Bestiary, it's in one of the books you find, and the victim of of the curse keeps a journal where he very plainly states that he reverts back into human form when the sun rises. I thought that was my cue for an easy solution.

I suppose there has to be room for some limitations in a game this big, but really, the developers should have accounted for the tactic somehow. What really bugs me is that there are so many instances where Geralt doesn't have to fight. He can use diplomacy or his confusion power to make people back off. In some instances, he can say, "This is none of my business" and let bandits get back to the work of burning someone alive. Yes, Witchers are monster slayers, but they don't necessarily have to use a sword. There are instances where I could choose to cure an affliction, or in the case of the botchling, convert monsters into friendly spirits. There are plenty of examples of Witchers taking advantage of multiple approaches, so why shouldn't that apply to combat?

Josh H: I have no answer to your issue then Steven. I've stumbled across several werewolves out during the day, so I can't say as to why that tactic didn't work out. I definitely see your reasoning in it, which would make sense, so who knows. It's just a little dev oversight. That being said though, I think overall The Witcher does a great job of helping you understand the creatures that you're fighting. Sure, the game may be more hack and slash than anything else, but overall there is strategy to beating your enemies.

Steve Watts: If we're done with Josh & Steven's Werewolves Corner, I think that does relate to how the two games treat their world-building. Skyrim has a pretty rich mythology that's been built up through the course of several games, but it's still par for the course for high fantasy. Witcher has the benefit of being high fantasy with its background rooted in the novels. I haven't delved deep enough into Witcher fantasy to say this for sure, but as a beginner at least, it certainly seems like the world is a little more fleshed out if someone does want to get deep into all the world's factions and political maneuvering.

What Chatty Thinks

W3 is better at telling a specific story, better graphics and more entertaining combat, Skyrim has much better loot/equipment variety and gives you much more freedom both in character creation and doing whatever you want. Witcher 3 is good at letting you play one role, Skyrim lets you play any role.

Vince Grayson:
Since November of 2011, I've consider Skyrim my favorite game ever.

The entire concept of "open-world RPG" is pretty much my ideal game, regardless of setting. Skyrim came closer to the "simulation" of a world than, IMO, anything before it, and it did so in a beautiful package, while of course leaving plenty of room to improve, both in terms of technical stuff, and things like the writing and characters of the world.

But it delivered like hell on dumping me into a fantasy world and letting me live there, making decisions about what I was going to do not from a dialogue tree in any appreciable sense, but instead based simply on what I did. Actions spoke louder than words. I firmly believe I've never enjoyed a game as much as I did Skyrim at launch. I've since put 250+ hours into it (which I know is small to some, but I rarely stick with, much less finish even the shortest of games), and it's been firmly my favorite game of all time.

That is, until May 18th.

Witcher 3 is, in many ways, not *quite* the epitome of my dream game. After all, you'll always be Geralt, and no matter what I do, Geralt's journey will be largely the same (at least as far as the main quest) as everyone else's. There's no version of the Witcher 3 where Geralt murders the emperor for an assassin's guild and then just retires quietly in the woods. There's no version where I can just pretend the main quest doesn't exist and be a down-on-his-luck mage trying to find a place in this strange realm.

Instead, it's one of the most well-told stories in a game like this, with characters that are well developed and interesting to talk to, quests that (so far) are more than they seem to be and never just a question of "Do X thing Y times". Hell the only quest I found that was kind of like that had more going on as soon as I went to finish it.

The world is perhaps the most impressive I've ever seen in a non-MMO game, both in terms of its craft and the feeling of place. I won't bother to muse on the technical stuff, because I know very little about that, but there are moments in this game where I just stop and think "Wow, I've never quite seen anything like that before", even if it's just something simple like how the fading sunlight changes the color of foliage.

The combat is fun and simple enough not to drive me crazy, and so far, I like the level of difficulty a lot (in that it's not hard, as I don't play games for challenge and never will). The music is pretty great (save the main combat track which has gotten a little annoying now), and the localization is easily the best these guys have ever done. I played Witcher 1 and 2 in Polish mostly because I prefer doing that, but also because when I heard them in English, they did not sound good. This game though? Geralt's voice actor conveys so much that it reminds me of when I played MGS1 for the first time and marveled at how much more Snake felt like a character with voice acting.

I still love Skyrim, but man, this game is the fucking tits, and I almost feel bad for Bethesda, Bioware, and anyone else interested in releasing an open-world RPG for a long time. They've got some big f****** shoes to fill.

Skyrim's exploration is fun and mods are great, but as an out of the box experience, it's Witcher 3 definitely.

The two big differences for me are the combat and animations. Skyrim's animations are just shit, and the combat system is pretty disjointed feeling with not a lot of skill required. It's too easy to just get great gear and then all combat is a pushover.

At least from what I've played of the Witcher so far (admittedly only about 8-10 hours), the combat is much more focused on knowing how specific enemies work, and using the right tool at the right time. The animations are also much better (not a difficult task), with specific enemies getting targeted and animations lining up, instead of just swing a sword and if an enemy is in the way then they get HP subtracted.

What do you think? Share your opinions below, and check out the master thread by clicking here.

Shack Staff stories are a collective effort with multiple staff members contributing. Many of our lists often involve entires from several editors, and our weekly Shack Chat is something we all contribute to as a group. 

From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 5, 2015 1:30 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shacknews Spotlight: Is The Witcher 3 better than Skyrim

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      June 5, 2015 1:33 PM


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      June 5, 2015 1:38 PM


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        June 5, 2015 2:07 PM

        I mean, other than the starting area (and kaer mohren I guess?) is the world gated by quest progress? You can go to skellige as soon as you get to velen if you want to.

        It's also in my opinion just as open world (if not moreso) simply because not every cave, house, store, city, etc is loaded in an interior cell like in skyrim. Witcher has drastically less loading screens than Skyrim did.

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          June 5, 2015 2:25 PM


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            June 5, 2015 2:31 PM

            Can you expand on the player freedom thing? I don't really see it, I guess. AFAIK once you get to velen none of the character development stuff is restricted behind quest progress, unlike skyrim which gates abilities and skills behind main quest progress. You can roam around and do whatever you want just like in skyrim. Also, fallout does have a perk that allows you to see every point on the map. I dunno. You are right that you can only play geralt, but there are a lot of ways to play and develop geralt so I feel like it doesn't paint the whole picture.

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              June 5, 2015 2:46 PM

              Although I'll concede that skyrim is a better sandbox, at least with mods.

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              June 5, 2015 2:48 PM


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              June 5, 2015 3:46 PM

              you can go to skellige very early on but good luck finding any monsters or quests that are near your level

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              June 5, 2015 6:05 PM


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                June 5, 2015 6:10 PM


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                  June 5, 2015 6:18 PM

                  I'm currently playing geralt, gwent champion edition.

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                June 5, 2015 10:13 PM

                This is just totally false.

                While yes, you could play every Skyrim character as the everyman who takes all quests, joins all factions, etc, that isn't even remotely the only way to play.

                Especially on PC, where you can use mods, it's trivially easy to just skip out entirely on even *being* the Dragonborn. If you don't play the main quest up to a certain point, dragons will never spawn in the world, and you can play an entire game's worth of content as just a lonely mage looking for treasure. Or you could play as an assassin, work your way up the ranks of the dark brotherhood, and retire once you finish that quest line.

                Witcher 3 is great, but it will always be the story of Geralt looking for Ciri and the events surrounding that. There's nothing you can do to change that.

                In Skyrim, you're a different person, and depending on what you actually *do* (rather than say) in the game, you can have a completely different story from one character to the next.

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      June 5, 2015 1:48 PM

      Witcher 3 is the better game. Its a game changer. Its really that simple. Past experiences with older games cant account for what CD P accomplished here. I loved Skyrim also. I loved Fallout also. The boys over at CD P Red, raised the bar, its really that simple. Oh and its not just open world rpg's its ALL open world games. That's Just Cause, Watch Dogs, Ass Creed, GTA and so on.
      There on notice.

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      June 5, 2015 2:28 PM

      It's not even a question. the answer is Yes.

      The Bloody Baron questline has more story and emotion than all of Skyrims quests put together.

      The only enjoyble part of Skyrim for me was stealthing around putting arrows in peoples heads and them thinking it was just the wind if they didn't outright die. everything else in the game is bland and boring.

      The only things in the Witcher 3 i didn't like is :

      1. is the controls for the horse and swimming.

      2. the pointless questions marks in Skellige where 90% of them are Smuggler's Caches (i went to every single one just so it wasn't a question mark anymore.)

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        June 6, 2015 6:16 AM

        They improved swimming and horse controls in yesterdays patch!

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      June 5, 2015 2:31 PM

      nah, Skyrims the best "Western" representation of a Fantasy Game, Skeletons, Spiders, Dragons, there are there. The Witcher has a Polish feel to it.

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        June 5, 2015 2:36 PM

        Whats polish about it

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        June 6, 2015 12:55 AM

        Witcher 2 had some big, fuck off spiders and a dragon. And The Wild Hunt are skeletons, no?

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          June 6, 2015 6:27 AM

          Endrega are not spiders and the Wild Hunt are not skeletons, but yes there was a dragon. Ofcourse, dragons are everywhere, not just in western fantasy.

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          June 6, 2015 1:46 PM

          Yeah. Tchest is right. Endrega aren't really spiders, and the Wild Hunt are spectres/ancient elves not skeletons. They skeleton stuff is just their armor.

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      June 5, 2015 2:37 PM

      I'll admit this is my first time reading a shacknews spotlight, but this is really great.

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        June 5, 2015 2:38 PM

        BTW this would have been awesome on the podcast if it wasn't already

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          June 5, 2015 2:43 PM

          I can't think of a more useless discussion, really. Two games that came out years apart, and arguing which is better? What's the point? They aren't competing for your time really. They're both really good.

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      June 5, 2015 3:13 PM

      I didn't like WItcher 1 or 2. Somehow I'll be duped into buying this one as well but I'll wait for a very deep discount this time.

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        June 5, 2015 4:43 PM

        It feels much more open compared to 1 and 2

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        June 6, 2015 12:43 AM

        It's just as janky as 1 or 2, so if you didn't like it because it lacked production values / good combat, you won't like 3 either.

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      June 5, 2015 3:43 PM

      They don't have the same goals. The Witcher shares as much in common with Red Dead Redemption or Assassin's Creed as it does with The Elder Scrolls.

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      June 5, 2015 5:11 PM

      Yes. Couldn't stand Skyrim, Witcher 2. Witcher 3 is badass.

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      June 5, 2015 9:08 PM

      It's somewhat unfair to compare them, just due to their seperate development cycles. Skyrim is nearly four years old.

      With that said, as a long time PC Gamer, Witcher 3 is one of the best games I've ever played. It really illustrates how games can transcend their standard medium and move into something more like a movie, where you control the main character.

      Witcher 3 combines incredible graphics with solid gameplay. While those two elements make any game good, what seperates Witcher 3 is the story. The story, dialogue and voice acting are all some of the best. There were times during phases of dealing with Dikjstra I would forget this is just a game. But the part where the game hit another level for me was when you finally are reunited with Ciri. I became invested in these characters like I would with a good book or movie without realizing it.

      It's one of the first games as an adult I thought to myself, this was made for me.

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      June 6, 2015 12:06 AM

      Pointless to compare them IMO. They seem to have a very different focus and feel.
      Skyrim feels much more focused on exploration that the witcher 3 and in the witcher you can only play as Geralt.

      The world in the witcher 3 feels like it was made specifically to tell the story of Geralt and Ciri,
      Skyrim's world feels more like a living world for you to explore in any way you want.

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        June 6, 2015 1:42 PM

        Oh of course. I couldn't agree more. This was a fairly hot topic after the game's release, and we saw a LOT of people comparing the two games. I personally love them both.

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      June 6, 2015 1:34 AM

      I think the world of the witcher is so much more grounded and interesting.
      I never read a single book in elder scrollz

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        June 6, 2015 1:44 PM

        It also probably helps that the entire world, the magic system, and everything is all grounded in several works of literature. CDPR had an easy job when it came to creating a magic system and other things like that, mainly because the novels were so rich in that information. Not saying their job was any easier than Bethesda's... but they had a lot of groundwork already covered before they even tried to bring the game to life.

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          June 6, 2015 1:45 PM

          Skyrim had their magic system from previous Elder Scrolls games, but it wasn't nearly as fleshed out as that of the Witchers. Us creative writers have a knack for over complicating things with lengthy in-depth descriptions of how, what , and why they work. heh

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