I stopped playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on 6th June, swore off it for life, told colleague Robert Ramsey that he'd Made_A_Huge_Mistake.gif awarding it a 10/10, and spent the following six months ridiculing everyone for liking a game in which following a floating foetus is widely regarded as its best bit. I was wrong.
Y'see, valued reader, I'm never afraid to admit when I've made a mistake, and I was unfair on CD Projekt Red's sprawling role-playing release. You have to understand this: I hate fantasy with a burning passion – the thought of tackling Tolkien's body of work worries me almost as much as what I'd do to the attendees at a Lord of the Rings cosplay convention.
I detest fantasy more than Legolas' stupid pointy ears and Orlando Bloom's boyish good looks.
So when I started playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and it began bludgeoning me over the head with Eastern European interpretations of English accents and fictional Nordic words, it put me right off. Ramsey, ever the optimist, promised me that it got better: "It's like a dark fairy tale," he said, reinforcing his perfect score. "Stick with it."
I did stick with it, and took him up at his word. A dark fairy tale, he promised me, and an early quest regarding a wench drowned in her wedding dress caught my attention. "This is it," I thought, before recovering her bracelet and being greeted by a noon wraith – Andrzej Sapkowski's answer to Pokémon's Lickitung.
Even as early as that quest, I suspected that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt wasn't going to be what I wanted it to be. I was expecting the short story to conclude with a haunting vixen: torn wedding dress, snowdrop décolletage, wild hair obscuring her facial features. But instead of delivering my interpretation of a "dark fairy tale", I got bog-standard roll-your-eyes fantasy instead.
And I just couldn't get into it – despite an agonisingly brief detour to Vizima proving promising. At the time, murmurs were starting to build around The Bloody Baron – a quest line so dense, so heavy, so unbelievably brilliant that it would obviously win me over. But I laughed when I dug up a miscarried baby, transformed it into a Lubberkin, and went on to chase it through Velen like a racecourse's rabbit.
It was 6th June and I was well and truly done. At that point, 18 hours into the knock-off fantasy world, I swore off it for life, told colleague Ramsey he'd Made_A_Huge_Mistake.gif awarding it a 10/10, and spent the following six months ridiculing everyone for liking a game in which following a floating foetus is widely regarded as its best bit. But I was wrong.
I shrugged through Game of the Year with Push Square commenters hailing the RPG as the second coming of Gandalf, and my perspective was reinforced by Giant Bomb's end of year podcasts, whereby, unsurprisingly, the crew weren't enamoured with the title – they fortunately don't really like anything over there, after all.
But there was a niggle as January started. Vizima, a short distraction in the opening hours of the story, had stuck with me, and what if there was more of the same? Also, having sampled such a slender slice of the adventure, how could I keep battering it with verbal abuse when I didn't know for sure? I'd have to go back and give it another chance.
And this weekend I gave it every chance. I figured that if I let it try to win me over, then I could gleefully tell everyone that they were wrong about it when it "inevitably" let me down. So, I pulled up a Wiki and the in-game glossary and I started reading, trying to catch back up with the plot beats that I'd forgotten and also get a better understanding of the universe as a whole.
I pored over it, and then I played. Within about an hour of picking up the controller, I'd mopped up the parts of Velen that interested me and travelled to Novigrad, and that's where it started to click: the Elizabethan costumes, the powdered faces, the pantomime nature of Dandelion's love pursuits – this is what I'd been hoping for from the start.
And so, having just prised my lips from those of flame-haired accomplice Triss Merigold, I've come to tell you that I was wrong. I still think that the combat's crap, and I can't believe that it launched with such laggy controls, but even though I'm expecting more godawful Godling designs and other similar fantasy guff from the final 40 hours, I've discovered The Witcher 3's beating heart at last.
Now I understand what everyone else fell in love with. And I'm feeling butterflies a bit myself.
Did you struggle to get into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at first? Have you ever come back to a game after a prolonged break and found that it clicked? Follow a Lubberkin into the comments section below.