How The Witcher's User Interface Hates Gamers

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I spent my birthday weekend playing The Witcher extensively, and I’m pretty sure that 20 hours or so is more time than the developers spent playing the game.
It’s not that Witcher 3 is a bad game, mind you: it’s just that there’s a really great game in there, smothered underneath a bunch of horrible terrible UI choices, making it more mediocre with each playthrough.  And some of these UI sins are so easily fixable, you wonder whether they actually played the game at all.
Now, I’m not talking about the big problems that would be tricky to fix: sure, I’ve died thirty times because my all-powerful Witcher got caught on the edge of a fence in combat.  Sure, I can literally go get a soda, drink it, and still have another minute’s wait left before the “Loading game” screen finishes.  But those are technical problems: it’s a big game so I presume there’s tons of data to load, and reasonably recreating physics is a tough challenge (I’m looking at you, Skyrim and your randomly unclimbable slopes).
No, it’s dumb shit.  Things that sap the game’s fun, because you have to do this dumb-ass thing over and over again that gets in the way of the game.  Things like:
The way the huge-ass map doesn’t point the way to your next quest.  Seriously, this map is frickin’ massive, meaning your next quest could be on the other side of the world – and you’re often scrolling in every direction, trying to figure out where the contract is, playing a mind-numbingly boring game of “Find the yellow dot.”  Maddeningly, the mini-map does point you towards your quest, so eventually, you dope out the workaround of “Point your character’s face at the dot, then switch to the large map and follow a straight path in that direction until you find the dot.”  And hope you’re not angled slightly off, because being five degrees off-dot over large distances means you may not find it, ever.
Hi! You’ve just gotten a new quest! Do you want to start it? Well, you can’t, because you have to read the letter that the Earl of Whogivesafuck left behind! And to do that, you have to open up your inventory, scroll to the “Quests” tab, find the letter among the seven other letters there, and open it.
Why didn’t the game just display the letter when you found it? I mean, you picked it up. It’s reasonable you’d just read it by default instead of folding it up neatly to stow it the depths of your pack. But no, The Witcher involves a constant stream of “God, I’ve gotta open up the tasks screen, switch over to inventory, switch three tabs over to my quest items, then down, then press X.”  Over and over again.  Over and over again.  Over and over again.
Speaking of “Over and over again,” it sure would be nice if the crafts screen preserved your last choice when you switched tabs.  I generally dislike games with intensive crafting systems, but Witcher makes it maddening: Oh, hey, you can make this great set of armor if you could only buy two vials of hummingbird tears!  I’ll switch tabs to buy some hummingbird tears – and then have to scroll down literally through thirty choices when I switch back.
Oh, and did I mention that the merchants’ goods aren’t sorted by name at all, with no way to sort them?  So if you don’t know what a fucking vial of hummingbird’s tears look like, you have to flip through eighty tiny icons hunting for the ones that look like vials, until you narrow it down and finally purchase one. God help you if you need three purchases to finish crafting that armor – and keep in mind, crafting seems to be the only way to get good armor, as the drops from monsters usually just provide craft materials – because you’re in for a hunt-the-pixel-fest.
I get that you have to start a conversation with a merchant to shop.  That’s fine, because you might also want to play this more-boring-Magic variation with them, too.  But when I’m done shopping, I don’t want to talk to you any more – and yet still I have to navigate two selections down to select the “Done talking” option. Can you just assume that when I’m done shopping, I’m done talking, and save me literally a thousand pointless menu selections over the course of the game?
Likewise, I find the crossbow to be a useless goddamned weapon.  I know many love the stealth approach; I want to charge in swords-a-blazin’, which thankfully the Witcher allows me to do.  But the game keeps switching my default alt-attack to crossbow whenever I switch, instead of the grenade I selected, or the witch’s lamp I use to get better light in dark areas.  Which means I keep wasting precious crossbow bolts as I think I’m throwing a smoke bomb and oh, shit, we’re back to crossbows again.  WHY DO YOU LOVE CROSSBOWS, WITCHER.
Also, hey, a better auto-save system would be good, considering some quests you get involve you traveling to the other side of this goddamned unwieldy map.  What frequently happens is that you spend two minutes galloping across hills and valleys to get to that stupid yellow dot, get caught on a fence, and die – and then have to spend five minutes reloading the game, and then travel again.  Wouldn’t it make sense to have an auto-save whenever you transitioned between distant areas, so you wouldn’t have to backtrack over and over again on quests you made?
And lastly, you have horses. They are kind of neat horses – I appreciate that if you hold down X, the horses will follow the roads, allowing you a sort of quasi-fast-travel.  Yet frustratingly, you are smart enough to have a trail of white dots showing you which roads will lead you to your next quest – yet the horse does not know this trail, so you’re constantly horse-course-correcting when the horse jukes left and you can see the dots on the road leading right. How much effort could it be to have a logic in place that says, “If the horse is choosing between two paths automatically, choose the one with the white dots on it?”
All that stuff gets in the way of what I want to do: talk with your fascinating characters, fight the bad monsters, do Fantasy CSI investigations.  Instead, I’m scrolling AGAIN through thirty craft entries to find the hummingbird-needing armor.
That’s not as fun as you think it is.

1 Comment

  1. brad
    Jul 7, 2015

    This is why we play RPGs with keyboards. If I’m misunderstanding, there are likely UI mods, like how skyrim’s ui is garbage but is modded into something mostly useable. (skyUI is hinky when you have too much stuff)
    Having a console version ruined 2/3 of the dragon age series. It may be cold comfort when you’re holding that gamepad, but I’m glad there’s at least one AAA dev that doesn’t sacrifice their games 0n the altar of thumbsticks.

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