In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom loves the bushes of The Witcher 3.
Today we were wondering why The Witcher 3 looks better in-game than in screenshots—more so than most games. The answer, of course, is movement. The Northern Realms has the most bendy bushes I've seen. Wow, right? Well, yes wow! A bush quivering alone is nothing, but an army dancing to a unifying, dynamically generated breeze is quite new. Not to be outdone, The Witcher 3's trees lash back and forth with the energy of a metronome keeping Dragonforce time. In the low light of a sunset each one casts a moving web of contorting shadows over the mud and corpses alike. In the background, birds flock and swoop. Everything seems to be in motion. It's spectacular.
I wonder if that level of dynamic movement necessitated the move from shiny, intricately textured leaves to more impressionistic foliage—a worthwhile trade-off, if so. Get some elevation and you notice even trees on the horizon are enjoying a drunken sway. The changing intensity of all that reactive foliage is uniquely good at selling the energy of a storm, especially when the wind starts to howl. Geralt will even keenly employ his supernatural observational skills in this instance to sagely observe “wind's picking up” or “shit, a storm”.
The Witcher 3's foliage has made me realise why forests so often fail in games. Virtual worlds have to oversell the illusion of life to keep pace with the real thing. Even a boring real forest full of fat, immobile oaks seems to teem with creatures thanks to those bonus real-world senses, like smell, and touch, and the eternal subconscious fear of IRL bears. That's why The Witcher 3's trees are wanging so hard. They can't jump up and down and shout “look how bloody alive I am!” so they have to wave, and keep waving for dear life in a neverending wind.
No wonder they go giant and evil occasionally. A few locations in The Witcher 3 use dark, twisted trees to excellent effect. You spend so much time in the wilderness that the flora becomes a defining part of a zone's identity. Warping the plant-life and pulling the trees into twisted new shapes instantly sells the fact that something is wrong without Geralt, Butcher of Blaviken and King of Hot Takes having to jump in with “shit, trees are weird here”.
Let's take a moment the next time we're wandering through one of The Witcher 3's lovely forests, to stop killing things with swords—only for a moment—and appreciate how hard those leaves are working. Look at them go, the little rascals, doing everything they can to bring The Witcher 3's exceptional world to life.