Should The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4 win Game of the Year?
It's the final month of 2015, which means gaming sites across the web will soon be running their Best Of 2015 features. We here at GameCrate are no different, and in the coming weeks we'll be awarding Golden Crates to the best games in different genres, along with some of our favorite hardware and gaming peripherals from the past year.
While nothing has been officially determined yet as far as our best games of the year go, for me (and probably many of your reading this right now) the choice for Game of the Year has come down to two possibilities: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout 4.
I reviewed both games when they came out, and gave The Witcher 3 an 8.75 and Fallout 4 a 9. Numerical scores aren't an exact science though (and are never intended to be a substitute for actually reading the reviews), and when I think back over my time with both of these titles, it becomes harder and harder to pick a clear winner.
Let's go to the tale of the tape, and see how the games stack up against each other in some key criteria.
Please note: Much of what you are about to read is subjective, and rooted in opinion. If that's going to seriously upset you, it's probably best to leave now.
Both The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 are sprawling open-world RPGs, and you could easily sink dozens of hours into both games without bothering much with the core narrative of either one. Interestingly, both games task the protagonist with hunting down a missing person (either a literal child or a childlike figure, in the case of Ciri) before ramping up the drama and complexity of the situation in their third acts.
Both titles offer core stories driven by personal drama and introduce well-written characters and factions with often compelling viewpoints about the way things should be. They also both mix some fantastic sidequests in with a whole lot of grinding and fetching that pales in comparison to the narrative highlights you can find in both games.
Though I found Fallout 4's story to be more powerful and emotionally engaging than I expected from the franchise, I think many gamers will agree that The Witcher 3 offered a more exciting story throughout. The Witcher 3 offered twists, turns, and drama that you just don't get in Fallout 4, and it did it all in spite of the fact that Geralt sounds bored and annoyed the entire time.
Of all the ways to compare The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4, the most striking contrast can be found in the graphical difference between the two games. Simply put, The Witcher 3 trounces Fallout 4 graphically. While Bethesda's Creation engine does a lot of wild and impressive things, it doesn't hold a candle to the visual flair offered by The Witcher's REDengine.
The Witcher 3 is one of the best-looking games ever produced, with stunning sunsets and colorful natural environments that offer a feast for the eyes (and which drown out the dull browns that dominate much of Fallout 4's Commonwealth). The Witcher 3 also has a better musical score, though in that area the difference between the two games in a lot less dramatic.
Open-world RPGs are only as good as the stuff you actually spend your in-game time doing, and both Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 offer plenty of exciting ways to interact with the world. Both titles reward exploration, and give you richly textured maps full of challenges and rewards both big and small.
The Witcher 3's gameplay centers on melee combat, which can be augmented to some extent with spells and ranged weapons. The combat can be punishing, and rewards patience and expertise. There's also a wide variety of sidequests to undertake, bounties to claim, monsters to slay, and frustrating crafting to attempt.
Fallout 4 offers the best FPS combat we've seen in a Fallout game yet, along with a tweaked V.A.T.S. interface that means it's still possible to (sorta, kinda) play the game in a pause-time fashion. On normal difficulty the combat isn't much of a challenge, but once you start ramping up the slider the world becomes a lot less forgiving. When you aren't fighting mutated beasts or raiders you'll be exploring abandoned buildings, using a crafting system that's a bit better than The Witcher's (though it still has plenty of issues), and maintaining your network of settlements.
In the end, it's Fallout 4's settlement system that pushes it over the edge in terms of gameplay. It's a huge addition to the game, and provides a compelling reason to scavenge and explore. Great Fallout 4 sessions can now alternate between actually going out and questing and upgrading and improving your home bases. It's a system that has actually managed to get players excited to carry around broken radios and desk lamps, and it adds an extra layer to the gameplay that's missing from many other open-world RPGs, including The Witcher 3.
Image from Trainwiz's Atom Bomb Baby mod for Fallout 4,
Both Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 offer tremendous replay value even before any post-launch content is taken into account. Both titles include character progression systems and skill trees that make it challenging (if not downright impossible) to try out all the games have to offer in your first playthrough.
Though Geralt will always be a sword-focused sort of guy, the way in which you choose to upgrade his magical abilities, items, and other skills can push his combat style in some interesting different directions, most notably determined by which class of armor you choose to focus on. There are also some huge decisions to be made during your adventure, leading the way to a huge array of different endings that leave Fallout 4's four distinct ending options in the dust.
Fallout 4 allows for a bit more character customization than The Witcher 3, providing you with more stats to manage and unique skills to unlock that can make for big changes in the way you play the game. On your first playthrough you might be a fragile, smooth-talking sniper who excels at combat in the dark, while the next time around you could be a tough-as-nails moron armed with a baseball bat who is healed by exposure to radiation. If you choose to follow the main story to completion down one of the available branches, you also get different late-game experiences to enjoy.
To break the replay value deadlock we need to go beyond what the core games offer, into the worlds of mods and DLC. The Witcher 3 sported a nice selection of free DLC post-launch (a combination of small cosmetic tweaks and some more in-depth content) and two large expansion packs (one of which has been released so far), along with some limited modding tools. Fallout 4 has some unspecified DLC plans in the works, along with robust official mod support expected in early 2016. In something of a game-changing move, Bethesda also plans to bring mods to console versions of Fallout 4, allowing those players to finally get a taste of what mods have to offer.
Fallout 4 has barely been out for a month and its modding community has already produced hundreds of mods for the game -- all without the forthcoming official mod tools. The Witcher 3's mod database is nowhere near as rich, and it's likely we'll have to rely on the second official expansion to really expand or change the game in any significant way.
Thanks in the end to its robust mod community, already producing exciting and interesting content even without the suite of tools they'll eventually have to work with, Fallout 4 promises to be a wilder, crazier, more interesting game in the long term than The Witcher 3.
There's much more to say about both games, of course, and more ways to compare the two. We could talk about stability, with Fallout 4 thus far seeming to have the normal selection of Bethesda bugs and Witcher 3 afflicted by hard crashes and some graphical weirdness post-launch (much of which has since been fixed). We could talk about the relative entertainment value of a horse vs. power armor, or of the quality of Witcher 3's two distinct maps compared to Fallout 4's one. We could even debate whether collecting magazines and Bobbleheads is more or less fun than playing Gwent.
It should go without saying that the choice between Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 is ultimately a matter of personal preference. They're both fantastic games, and liking one more than the other is not wrong. 2015 was a year with two fantastic open-world RPGs, and fans should enthusiastically applaud both games, and hope for more of the same quality in the future.
But of course only game one can be named GameCrate's Game of the Year for 2015. We still have a few weeks left to make our decision. Until then, voice your opinions in the comments (we'll be doing the same in our office).