Friends – I have a problem with finishing games. It’s been keeping me awake at night for years now. Sometimes, like all people who are so old they might as well be dead, I have to leave things half done, unresolved, move duly onto the next adventure; the thread of all my work and commitment dangling freely in the prevailing wind of whatever Eurogamer have had a go at this week. And the thing is, in my head, I’m this avid completionist who doesn’t feel right until absolutely everything is done, and done properly. In order. As it was meant to be done. The reality is, I suppose, I just don’t feel right most of the time.
Let’s turn this into a confessional for a minute. Some of my favourite, favourite games I’ve never finished. I’ve not finished a Soulsbourne game. I never finished The Phantom Pain. Until just the other night, I hadn’t even sailed to Skellige in The Witcher 3; a game I will defiantly tell a room of strangers, (albeit under some form of life-threatening duress because who wants to say anything out loud in a room full of strangers), is one of the best ever made.
Sometimes I feel like this gives me no right to email people and tell them they should invite me to their games event.
Especially when I glance momentarily at my Twitter feed; a handcrafted collation of excellent games industry people – journos and devs and journos and editors and freelancers and artists and journos – who’re all playing the very latest thing, excitedly swapping stories and screenshots, as I press my nose against the glass and point with inquisitive excitement to a copy of Aliens: Colonial Marines.
To name but a few vessels bobbing by my cabin window day in day out; I need to play Hellblade, because a) Ninja Theory and b) I’ve never heard of a game exploring those issues, which’re kinda close to home, with such reported dexterity and insight. I backed Cultist Simulator on Kickstarter, created by the underappreciated heroes of storytelling Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan, and still haven’t got round to reaping my reward for doing so by playing the damn game. A latest-gen Monster Hunter is a release I’ve awaited for a long time and yet I haven’t even picked up a copy. I never played Shadow of the Colossus first time round, and this Guardian review made me feel like I might have made it myself in a different life where I was good at stuff.
In conclusion, I am missing out.
So. I finally sailed to Skellige. Why is this relevant? Because The Witcher 3 is one of my favourite games, and yet I have never seen perhaps two thirds of it. Which obviously invites the inquisition as to how it can be my favourite game… The majesty of the environments in The Witcher is a staple of the instalment – when you finally step off the wastelands of Velen and into the bustling metropolis of Novigrad, it almost feels like you’re playing a different game. The world is addictively diverse, fluid, natural. I had so many experiences in this cordoned off area (massive though it is) that I didn’t even need to see any more to be such a fervent advocate.
When you travel to the Skellige islands in the game, you’re treated again to a whole new topography to discover, new people to meet, an impressive abundance of Northern Irish accents to marvel at.
I bought and started playing TW3 when it came out nearly three years ago. Of course, I restarted my game when I came back to it a couple of months ago, but even so, that is a lot of play time over a huge span of IRL time. And when I finally hit the button to sail away from the area of the game I’d come to know so well, and onto pastures new, but pastures potentially lesser than the ones I was familiar with, it felt wholly, entirely significant, unique, nerve-wracking.
It opened a new door in this piece of creative work and unveiled the bits of it I had no idea about. The occasion felt momentous.
Sometimes, I begin to charge ahead in the main quests. I pick up side quests and try to get them out of the way quickly, hurrying along the dialogue, sprinting and fast travelling. I want to get The Witcher 3 finished, partly for my own sanity, and partly so I can play the aforementioned releases I’m always falling behind on, and yet I also want to savour every last moment of it, create sailing-to-Skellige-esque experiences of self-imposed grandeur wherever possible.
I have to stop myself charging through these side quests because one of the most enrapturing things about the game is how well-written, well acted, well-thought out even the smallest, most missible and inconsequential (to the main story) side quests are. But if I do that, will I ever finish this extraordinary, sprawling game?
A few years ago I came to the stark realisation I expected more from my games than I could ever hope to actually experience.
Four-hour slapped-together Call of Duty campaigns or not for us. Hamfisted narratives and uninvolved dialogues are not for us. Short, facade-driven environments that indicate no character prior to your arrival, are not for us. I want my games to be involved affairs, with depth and personality and thought, brimming with the capacity for story and excitement and art and things to see and do and become. I demand towering accomplishments from these digital experiences.
And yet I have a comparatively miniscule capacity to actually experience and appreciate the efforts that developers go to to create games for people like me. There are plenty out there, but like with Monster Hunter, Zelda BotW and Assassin’s Creed Origins to name but three of late, I have no way of feasible playing and enjoying and holding the appropriate esteem for these purportedly amazing, damningly huge games, that are simultaneously perfect for me and the very opposite of what’s right for me.
I went back to The Witcher 3 this year because I felt, more than anything, that it deserved my time and commitment. It deserved to be finished, in some way. But it has had a pretty big knock on effect on what else I can play, or want to play. Ultimately, my the nuances of my gaming preferences are at odds with, well, life.
So what’s the answer? There ARE alternatives – for one, Mike Bithell’s reportedly superb capsule, single-session game Subsurface Circular (soundtracked by the one and only Dan Le Sac) is perhaps the exact type of game for someone in my position. Involved, narrative-driven, contained and short. But I have little doubt I’d still be left yearning for the big name titles, even if there were an influx of games just like SC.
Who knows. I wanted to write this as a proper feature piece a long time ago, but it’s finally come out in haphazard blog form. If you have a solution to my problem, drop me a message. Better still, drop me a shed load of cash so I don’t have to go to work and can play everything I’m missing out on. Till then, I’m having an excellent time exploring the rolling, mountainous land of Skellige, sailing its shores, stabbing its monsters, and being passive aggressive to its inhabitants.
More soon then.