The 2015 GOTY race is winding to a close, and some of our writers already have their choices locked in. Problem is, pretty much everyone’s answer is different at this point. So we decided to air out our own discussions on which game should take this yearly crown for our site.
First up is a battle between editors with Max Delgado and myself talking up Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V respectively. We’re both fans of the other’s choice, but still fight bitterly to make sure our arguments are heard. Our differences won’t stop us from bashing on The Game Fanatics’ Game of the Year of 2014 either. You gotta enjoy the little things.
Follow along our first of several rabbit hole debates that will hopefully settle the 2015 GOTY race for us, and stir up some healthy rhetoric for you readers. Also, Spoiler warnings for both entries here.
Myles: So, we’ve had half of this conversation before when our games came out, and you’ve said that Witcher 3 was basically your favorite game ever. Does that still hold up?
Max: Witcher 3 is undoubtedly my game of the year, and by extension, without a doubt in my mind the best video game I have ever experienced. Now, I realize in debating Metal Gear Solid V and Witcher 3, their different genres play a part in not being able to compare them directly, but Witcher 3 blows MGS V out of the water. Let’s talk about MGS’s weaknesses, in short.
The game’s side missions are presented in an ever updating log of repetitive tasks such as “Find Prisoner 1, 2, 3, 4…19, 20.” Repeat the formula for different types of side missions such as wandering soldiers, hostages, etc. It’s banal. There’s no substance to it. The side missions in MGS don’t do anything but act as “power boosters” to bump your funds so that you can develop more items. Which brings me to another complaint with the game. Everything you would want to use is tucked away behind a time wall. If you have the funds to develop a weapon, there is no logical gameplay reason in why I should wait another 1.2 hours for said weapon to be deployable.
On open world design, MGS did not benefit from its open regions whatsoever in my opinion. I realize I haven’t played previous games in the series to speak on how well or poor the linear mission construction was done, but the open region in MGS was average at best. They served their purpose solely to house the repetitive side missions and nothing more. Main missions did benefit from tactical infiltration; planning your attack and having an open landscape to move around in, though honestly, each main mission could have been its own “level.”
Witcher 3’s open world was brilliantly realized. It felt…alive. MGS’ Afghan and Africa were barren and had little to no sandbox to mess around in. Okay, there were outposts and guardposts, but those are only ever fun to clear out maybe thrice. Velen, Novigrad, all of Witcher 3’s regions were large and detailed. The NPCs were lively, wildlife moved around organically. The world reacted to the player’s doings.
Narratively, I have not played a single game that can be compared to Witcher 3’s main storyline. The game’s characters, its pacing, and overall tone were executed nearly flawlessly. Whereas MGS suffers from a rushed Chapter 2 and a first chapter where only about 6 of the 30 missions had anything to do with advancing the plot, each and every main quest in Witcher 3 felt tense and important as you met complex characters in search for Ciri.
On gameplay, Witcher 3 is not perfect. There exists issues with restrictive character development and an embarrassingly easy difficulty curve on Death March. But beyond all that, combat was tight and intuitive. Enemy types were varied, loot and gear all felt different and worth a test. In MGS, once you find that “one gun,” you’re never going to deploy into the field with anything else unless you’re calling in a rocket launcher for taking out heavies.
Again, Witcher 3 is not a perfect game, but it’s one of the very few games where I will actually go back and play over and over again. Sad to admit, I already have 370-odd hours clocked in and haven’t even finished my NG+ playthrough, but I already know I want to revisit the game after Fallout 4 is eventually cleared. With MGS 5, I felt as though there was little to no incentive to replay anything in the game post-completion.
Myles: Some valid points, but I think you’re giving MGS the ice burg treatment in that there is so much depth and satisfying risk to most activities in the game. Far, far more so than in Witcher 3 on the gameplay front. So let me go through some arguments against Witcher 3 first.
Witcher 3’s side missions were interesting enough, but I can pull out a hundred RPGs with the exact same plot beats repeated since the modern RPG came about. That’s my major problem with the game: it feels like I’ve played it before as recently as Dragon Age inquisition last year. And the main narrative, when you break it down, has a compelling enough three act structure, but if you make one or two choices even outside the ones with timer bars you, your relationships and Ciri are all screwed. The first 20-30 hours of the game are a gigantic lull in Witcher 3 as well because the same exact “where’s Ciri?” question receives no answer and ultimately only one or two clues. It is the side content that carries the game to that point.
Gameplay isn’t even close in my experience. I’m clicking power or light, maybe stopping to use a Sign or heal, but there were very few instances when Witcher 3 felt like anything more than a slower, less fun and precise version of Dark Souls even on harder difficulties.
There’s no arguing that Witcher 3’s world felt larger, but MGS’ world felt more alive to me because the enemies, wildlife, and even potential missions all moved and lived without waiting for my input. They adapted, changed shifts, made me adjust my play style. Witcher 3 couldn’t offer any of that. When I died, I didn’t have to conjure up a new way forward. I just had to beat my head against the same strategy again and again.
Max: I will give you the point that MGS’s gameplay is superior. The methods and equipment involved in tackling objectives is extremely enjoyable, but at the same time, my issue in that in the actual missions, the gameplay mechanics are so repetitive that it kinda breaks the overall fun factor. If that makes sense. Had the content been varied, I think I would have been more into it.
I agree to an extent, that Witcher 3 is restrictive in character development (gameplay wise, not narratively), but not so badly. There may only exist two types of sword moves and five signs, but character skill points can change the way your swordplay is deployed. And there are tons of perks for Signs that alter gameplay. Then there’s the Alchemy tree which goes unnoticed by most, further solidifying that there are far more ways to play the game than just slashing at foes with steel and silver.
And whoa, I have to stop you right there if what you’re bringing up Dragon Age: Inquisition. Inquisition is arguably the worst game of 2014. It baffles my mind how it won GOTY from the academy. The game is awful in terms of writing, quest development, and gameplay.
I see your point. The stories that are uncovered while looking for Ciri are more engrossing than the hunt itself. Though I have to disagree. The moment Geralt finds Ciri on the Isle was one of the most eye-swelling moments in a game for me.
I can’t help but feel coldly opposite on MGS’ world. It felt very far from alive. Yes, the enemies reacted to your play style and were intelligent foes, but there was so much unnecessary open space between guard posts that I feel as though the game could have been just as great (gameplay wise) if each main story mission was its own level like traditional campaigns.
Myles: I get that you’re not a series nerd like me so a lot of the characters were fairly new to you, but this is where the two games really diverge for me. Witcher 3 has a story tailored for your choices and your actions. Phantom Pain is about revenge and how that lifestyle can destroy those that live it. These characters, besides Venom Snake, aren’t really meant to be relatable so much as a cautionary tale in their downward spiral to the main villains of the next series entry canonically. And it was pitch-perfect in that regard whereas Witcher 3, again, just felt like a standard choice-driven story.
And Dragon Age: Inquisition was Game Fanatics Game of the Year 2014, sir!
Max: But are you denying Witcher 3’s story was not touching and well written? I admit the pacing of Act III was not handled well. Or were you just not a fan or the story and the characters?
My issue with what you bring up is that there was really only one character who I felt what you’re saying rang true: Miller.
And, well, to hell with Inquisition! At the time playing it last January, I felt okay with it, but the more time I spent away from it post-completion and engaged in online discussions about it, the more I disliked the game.
Myles: The story felt nearly absent for that first chunk, then did pick up in the middle when you could intermingle with most of the cast around the first defend against the Wild Hunt mission. But – running theme here – I’ve seen every single one of those characters in another game from a personality standpoint. It is a well written game and that didn’t go unnoticed, but it’s the same beat after the same beat. I won’t act like the message in Metal Gear Solid V is any more original (war/anger is bad), but so many of the scenes and deliveries were.
When Venom has to shoot his most loyal soldiers in the heads and they’re saluting him with the Peace Walker theme playing somberly in the background…jesus. The game built to that point and delivered on their loyalty, and the subsequent pain a Big Boss would feel, so well. There were other, similar bulls-eye hits for the game as well.
Miller was the loudspeaker for that revenge, but Skull Face, Huey, The Man on Fire, Eli, and even Quiet all had anywhere from serviceable to amazing character arcs that just made you want these poor misguided people to stop and think see the whole picture for once.
And I wasn’t a fan of Inquisition either haha.
Max: While I agree MGS had memorable scenes such as Quiet helping take down the jet, Venom taking out his men and then later spreading their ashes, Skull Face’s death, or even the Prologue, I can’t help but feel as though for every one well-directed scene in MGS that evoked a feeling of some sort – positive or negative (in the good way) – Witcher 3 struck my chords plenty more. And while MGSs scenes were great on an individual basis, Witcher’s all felt far more important to what was going on. Be it through finding Yennefer in the beginning, saying goodbye to Triss, Vesemir’s death, pretty much any of the endings, defeating the Crones, finding Ciri or so many other scenes.
I’m not entirely sure if my dissatisfaction with MGS’s narrative rests with me being a series rookie, but I can’t be held bias (not saying you’re claiming I am) towards Witcher 3’s either as Witcher 2 was the only other piece of the series I had experienced beforehand. I just don’t see it that same as you in that Witcher story was the same beat by beat with similar character personalities. Maybe I need to indulge in more RPGs, but I felt that The Baron, Radovid, Dijkstra, Yen, Triss, Kiera, Lambert were all fantastic.
My main takeaway with MGS was its gameplay and its performance. But my main takeaway with Witcher was its narrative, its complex characters, its dark world, and overall, just the way it made me feel. And I think that last bit is important.
Witcher 3 made me feel. It moved me. Whereas MGS didn’t. And I know that’s not the be all end all of games, but that’s a huge factor I consider important in determining a game’s “success” or what have you.
Myles: Absolutely because that’s what made you jump into Slack and rave about it after you beat the game.
My main sticking point is that The Phantom Pain felt different in so many ways from both the series and what other games in the stealth-action genre have attempted, and it nailed every point for me. It took such a step ahead of Guns of the Patriots and away from a lot of standards whereas Witcher 3 felt like another layer of paint on a familiar genre. Phantom Pain took risks and landed them more so than any other game this year, I’d argue.
Max: I will make a side note to you or anyone reading, that if Witcher 3’s writing stuck out to you, I strongly suggest checking out Sapkowski’s novels. After completing the game, I felt it only right I visit the source material and after finishing the first two, I fell in love with the series/lore more than I had with Witcher 2 and 3.
But anyways, do I agree MGS is a great stealth title? I honestly can’t place a finger on a stealth-action title that exceeds MGS’s strengths. But when I compare MGS to Witcher, on grounds that can be directly comparable like writing and open world design, Witcher 3 has to take it home for me. I know I’m not doing a good job at further supporting my side, but MGS just doesn’t come close. I just can’t really get over the strength of the game’s writing compared to anything else this year. And I know it’s an obnoxious mindset to have, but every title I have played since Witcher 3 always begs the question, “Is this as good as it?”
But I’m finding it difficult to provide further points on comparing the two since they’re both such different games. You know? And let it be known that this isn’t to say, “I dislike Metal Gear.” “MGS was horrible.” “MGS has NOTHING on Witcher.” Not at all. Like I said, I had fun with Phantom Pain, which is a thing most games don’t do right these days. It just didn’t scream to me like others.
Myles: No, no, we’re both fans of the other’s choice here.
One point that I’m not sure you have a defense against is the stability between the two games. You’d agree that Phantom Pain seems far more “clean” of bugs and glitches and such, correct?
Max: My viewpoint on that matter is that with every update CD Projekt Red pushes out, it unfortunately breaks another aspect of the game. Funnily enough, the game was most stable at launch compared to what it is now. That’s my understanding from what I’ve gathered on the CD Projekt Red forums. Luckily, I didn’t encounter anything serious during my playthrough.
So I have to be completely honest that both games performed fine for me. But from my understanding, MGS performs better than Witcher. Though we have to take into account Witcher 3 is larger with less loading screens. I’m not tech intelligent at all about stuff like this, but surely that puts a massive load on the game (lack of loading screens).
Myles: Yeah, alright, that’s fair. My experience with Witcher 3 was both hilarious and debilitating with missions glitching out completely. Phantom Pain, I can recall two errors that happened throughout all the hours of play time. The Fox Engine really did its job, it seems.
Any last words of support for Witcher 3?
Max: I think I’ve said my piece(s) for Witcher 3! I just want to reiterate that if anyone enjoyed the characters, do yourself a favor and read the books, then replay the game. It’s a whole different experience!
Myles: Yeah, be a nerd and read. Or just play Phantom Pain….
That’s round one of our 2015 GOTY talks. Throw your own arguments at us in the comments, and be ready for more talks soon.