As a gamer, when I was young, I believed that each game was capable of almost anything. I can remember tirelessly playing through Pokemon Snap for hours on end, trying to coax the Legendary Beasts out of hiding. I spent weeks trying to unlock Waluigi in Super Smash Bros. At one point, I literally thought that Ocarina of Time went on forever and that there was no end. To me, as a kid, video games were able to do whatever I imagined. There was no limit.

With the invention of the internet and my own burgeoning maturity, those myths and mysteries were quickly dispelled. You can’t take wicked pictures of the Legendary Beasts in Pokemon Snap because they didn’t exist at the time the game was made. You couldn’t unlock Waluigi because he isn’t in the game. Ocarina of Time does end, sadly. Growing up meant realizing that there are limits to what each game can and can’t do. After all, the developers behind your favourite franchises are just people, and there is only so much they can do with a single game. As much as I still love games, that naïve, innocent understanding of the infinite possibilities of video games is gone.

The Witcher 3, made by CD Projekt Red, has made me forget what I know to be true. Every few hours, my common sense fails me. I catch myself thinking “Does this game go on forever?” I know people have beaten the game—I’ve seen journalists discuss the ending and friends who have Steam achievements for beating the game—but it almost seems impossible. I have poured 70 hours into the game and in no way am I close to the final act. Instead of assuming I can’t do something in the game, I try. My imagination is slowly coming back to me.

There isn’t one thing that I can attribute this success to. It’s in how huge the map is, how every nook and cranny seems to be filled with something interesting to find or explore, the way in which main quests branch into side quests/side quests bleed into the main quest etc. The game constantly makes me feel that if I were to play it a hundred thousand times over, I would never experience it the same way twice. Even if most decisions and events are set in stone, The Wild Hunt is a master illusionist, making you believe that it is you and you alone that shapes this adventure. With a world this vast, populated by more characters than my own city in real life, I’m bound to be missing hours upon hours of content without even knowing it — and I have ‘inspect-every-texture-of-every-leaf’ style gaming OCD. If you have tunnel vision and only focus on the main quest, I won’t say you’re playing the game wrong, but you are definitely missing out.

This leads me to another lost aspect of childhood gaming: the way in which people played the same games for different reasons. Sure most people play Pokemon to be the very best trainer there ever was, but my cousin was content with simply being a master Pidgey trainer. You could say the end goal of the original Dark Cloud was to defeat the evil Dark Genie, but for my best friend it was all about rebuilding the towns exactly the way the villagers wanted them and fishing for the biggest prizes. There were layers to games beyond “Go to point B to kill the thing” or “Get to level 50 to unlock the best gun.” As children, we only partially cared about the why and focused on what it meant to us. We took these experiences and made them our own.

The Wild Hunt brings back this child-like sense of freedom and wonder. You can solely focus on the central plot of finding your surrogate daughter Ciri, or you can scratch every single question mark off the map as an avid explorer, or live to hunt down the fiercest beasts supplied by Witcher Contracts, or you can go on treasure hunts to equip Geralt with the best loot available. Or, you know, you could just play the card mini-game Gwent, staring at a static wooden table background until your eyes bleed (this may or may not be my greatest weakness). With a game this overloaded with content, I can almost guarantee that in a group of five people, no one shares a favourite aspect of the game. And therein lies the greatest strength in The Witcher 3’s mighty arsenal: you choose your own reason to play.

There may come a time in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt—I imagine near the end of the game—where the disillusionment settles in and I remember once again that there is a limit to what is possible. There won’t be a way to ride griffins as I hope there is and Geralt can’t grow a beard quite as long as Gandalf’s. Eventually, I will run out of things to do. But I applaud CD Project Red for making me forget, even for a second, that video games aren’t capable of anything. 

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