The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt wins our 2015 GOTY award for Best Singleplayer. Yesterday, we revealed our overall Game of the Year winner, and the distinction between these two awards is explained by our process. Each staff member casts votes for multiple games, and then we tally them up, agree on an overall winner, and tailor the rest of our award categories to best represent why we love the games we chose. We felt that the Witcher 3 deserved recognition most for its expansive, richly detailed story and world, which we talk all about below.
Shaun Prescott: A strange thing happened when I was playing The Witcher 3. When someone spoke to me I listened. When a cutscene played I didn’t mash my keyboard in search of the ‘skip’ button. When Geralt faced a difficult decision, I stared at the wall and thought about it. Many other RPGs hit that sweet spot for players more patient than I, but it’s my belief that CD Projekt RED hits it better than anyone else—by a long margin. Sitting down to an evening of The Witcher 3 feels like diving into a meticulously written fantasy novel, and it still astonishes me that it’s far more than a great story. It’s a game too of course, with one of the most rugged, despairingly bleak yet oddly beautiful worlds I’ve ever explored, and more adventures than I could ever hope to embark on. How did a once tiny, still independent Polish studio pull this off? With love, obviously. Love and care is writ large over every aspect of The Witcher 3, from the frequent post-launch updates to the way the sun melts over the plains of Velen. Just don’t talk to me about Gwent. I hate Gwent.
Andy Kelly: I tried and failed to get into the first two Witcher games, but this is the one that finally clicked. In terms of quests, The Witcher 3 is one of the best RPGs I’ve played. The writing, characters, locations, and rich lore of the world combine to create some really compelling side-quests. It was ‘Family Matters’, the tale of the troubled Bloody Baron and his missing wife and daughter, that really made me love the game. It has everything that makes it great: fantastic voice acting, gruesome monsters, and tough moral decisions. From the snowy islands of Skellige to the grand city of Novigrad, The Witcher’s world is just as vividly realised as its characters, and exploring on horseback, helping people and taking on mercenary work, makes you feel like almost like a wandering samurai.
James Davenport: There was a moment in The Witcher 3 where I had to pause the game, set down the controller, and go on a long walk. It wasn't after a tiresome battle or character death or revelatory plot twist. I went on a walk because I just told someone that I didn't love them anymore and I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do. Thing is, I could have told this character that I did love them. It's a game after all, my decisions don't carry real consequence. Sex 'em all! But I was so absorbed by the world and my relationships that I felt compelled to be honest, to be a good person. Not because it gave me more Good Guy Blue Points that would eventually unlock a cool good guy roundhouse kick, but because I felt like I needed to be honest, that I needed to be good person for the sake of being a good person.
This quest in particular speaks to the amount of detail and care in nearly every aspect of The Witcher's design. Relationship questlines are expected in RPGs now, but CDProjekt took a trope, scrubbed it of cliches, and bathed it in subtlety. The same can be said for the bulk of the writing and narrative. This was just a moment. I spent 80 hours living in The Witcher 3. Coupled with challenging combat, a gorgeous war torn open world, and—everyone except Shaun's favorite—Gwent, The Witcher 3 is one of the best games I've played.
Wes Fenlon: It’s hard for me to convey how utterly and completely I was absorbed in the world and story of The Witcher 3. I played it for more than three months. It was just about the only PC game I played during that time. When I felt the end drawing close, I avoided it for days, taking on one sidequest after another. In great RPGs, sidequests are often more interesting than the main story, giving you a peek into the world you’re exploring or teaching you something new about your own character. The Witcher 3 is not just great. It’s exemplary, utterly stuffed with both mainline and secondary quests more nuanced and original than the best moments in other RPGs I’ve played. I’ve never been absorbed so utterly by a world or for so long.
Phil: As a campaign, The Witcher 3 is fantastic. It's filled with some of the best quests and side-stories around. There's a clever progression from previous Witcher games, massively expanding the world and its individual vignettes, while dialling back on some of the more complex systems. To an extent, I wish CD Projekt Red had doubled down on the series' systemic quirks—like the investigative research elements that they've never quite perfected—rather than sanding down their rough edges. But make no mistake, this is a quality production, and a beautifully crafted world full of stories.
That, to me, is why it deserves a Best Singleplayer reward. As a moment-to-moment experience, it can be lacking—the combat is annoyingly imprecise, and there's little that's groundbreaking about its open world encounter design. It's not as revolutionary or as fascinatingly playable as MGS5, our Game of the Year. But as a campaign—a journey through a narrative with strong characters and meaningful consequences—there's nothing that quite surpassed its quality.
Tim Clark: It feels entirely appropriate that the game which felt most luxurious to spend time alone in was also the one that launched a million hot tub thumbnails.
We'll be posting the rest of our awards and personal picks daily as we approach the end of the year, and you can find them all on our main GOTY page.