Polish studio CD Projekt Red has everything going for it as it builds to a Witcher 3 crescendo in 2014. But there are concerns - concerns about it being open world and perhaps flabbier and more unfocused as a result.
Lead quest designer Mateus Tomaszkiewicz tackled these concerns at EGX in London today.
"I think I've seen this before... oh right, it was just about everywhere else," was his way of describing the challenge of filling a big world with quests that aren't repetitive.
Witcher 3's answer? Dividing quests into types - monster hunting, mini-game quests, major side-quests, "and many many more" - and spreading them over the world so that any one type isn't overused in any one region.
"I used to be excited... but then I took 200 miles to the knee," was the next problem he posed. His point: if you're asking a player to travel a long way, you'd better have something worthwhile for them when they get there. Or, better still, have several worthwhile somethings.
The Witcher 3 has an events cluster system that tries to achieve this. It chains a number of events together around a destination, ensuring there are multiple things to do when you arrive. And that's in addition to whatever side-quests you tackled along the way.
"Yay! Complex story... ooh, but, let's chase that butterfly first!" was the final problem. Letting players off the leash to explore an open world means they'll get distracted from the main quest. And if that main quest is complex as CDPR wants The Witcher 3's to be, then players could lose their place in what's going on.
A new Storybook feature hopes to combat that, with its animated and narrated story reminders about what you've achieved so far. There will also be flashbacks to choice-making moments when consequences are unfolding in front of you.
"Open world is not a goal in itself," concluded Tomaszkiewicz, "it's a tool for increasing immersion in the game world." It was what CD Projekt Red always wanted to do with The Witcher series, we've been told before. The subtext is that this isn't an answer to knee-jerk reaction to Skyrim and its colossal success.
Tomaszkiewicz also had a brief word on the modding tools - the REDKit - for The Witcher 3. Not only will there be one, but it should arrive far closer to the game's release than The Witcher 2's tools.
"For Witcher 3 we are aiming to release the REDKit sooner than we did with The Witcher 2," he said. "The reasons for the late release of the tool was so we could make it more accessible for the modder community. We don't want to release a tool that will be troublesome and too complex. At the same time we aim to release it much earlier."