I wanted to like Witcher 3, I really did. My friends all insisted that it was the best game they’ve played in years, and the stunning graphics and immersive plot-line certainly piqued my interest. However, when it got down to brass tacks, there was one glaring flaw: the combat sucked. It was slow, it was clunky, it wasn’t responsive. Switching between swords and activating spells was a chore and didn’t encourage me to seek out combat. I couldn’t understand how it was smattered all over the internet winning accolades and awards when something as simple as combat seemed so glaringly bad. I’ve been playing video games for over 25 years, I like to think that I generally have a good sense as to why a game would be good or bad, so what was it about Witcher 3 that I was missing?
It wasn’t until I was browsing reddit one day and came across a random thread about someone who picked up some great Black Friday deals on games that I got my answer. They had posted a picture of three great titles fanned out: Batman – Arkham Knight, Witcher 3 and Bloodborne, and in the comments someone casually mentioned “Save Bloodborne for last. It will ruin you for other games.” This triggered a flood of responses in agreement, many stating the same general idea: once they had played Bloodborne, pretty much every other combat system paled in comparison.
Admittedly, I’m hardly the only person to come up with this idea. In fact if you google “Witcher 3 combat”, one of the suggested searches completes that with “Sucks”. Additionally, Googling “Witcher 3 vs. Bloodborne” populates a flood of pages that tout the superiority of Bloodborne’s combat system, and the lament that it lost out to Witcher 3 on many levels.
So, what is it about Bloodborne combat that sets it apart so far from the rest of the action-game pack? Well, for starters it’s extremely responsive. You press dodge, that dodge is immediate, whether you’re hopping backwards to avoid a swipe of your enemy’s cleaver, or side-rolling to narrowly escape a hail of projectiles. When you attack, the response is sudden, though some delay can be expected depending on the instrument you’re wielding. Obviously you’re not going to swing a gigantic hammer with the same finesse and speed as a rapier. However, that’s another brilliant element of Bloodborne’s combat – it allows for a multitude of combat styles. Interested in fighting like a ninja with twin short swords, diving in to deliver a flurry of blows before retreating to recuperate? Go for it! Maybe you want to speak softly and carry a huge broadsword, cleaving enemies in two with your fierce attacks? Bloodborne says “You do you!”
Unlike From Software’s previous Dark Souls titles, fast and furious combat is encouraged, as opposed to the more balanced and patient methods of Dark Souls combat. When you’re struck in Bloodborne, you lose health, but part of that lost health is highlighted differently. This signifies health that can be regained by going on the offensive if you act quickly enough. Each hit you land in this critical window recovers some health, and this mechanic, combined with the lightning-fast response time of general combat, makes for some fast-paced and adrenaline charged battles. Though you certainly get used to the combat, it wouldn’t be a true From Software title without a particular brand of difficulty. No matter how powerful you are, if you get too cocky you can easily find yourself on the receiving end of some serious punishment, even from the lowliest of enemies.
With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that when I picked up Witcher 3 I was very disappointed. Geralt is supposed to be a badass monster-hunter. His prowess in battle is legendary, as men and monster alike fall under his blade. Yet when it’s time for you to assume this powerful figure, he dodges like he’s learning how to somersault at the local Gymboree. When you go to switch spells, sure it helps that time “slows down” (isn’t that convenient) so you can pick the spell, but it just ends up seeming sluggish…and don’t get me started on the whole “Steel sword vs Silver Sword” nonsense.
In short, Witcher 3 is a lovely game. The graphics are beautiful, and from what I can tell the sexual exploits of Geralt seem to keep a lot of people busy…pun fully intended. However, after playing Bloodborne I just couldn’t enjoy this “Game of the Year” as much as everyone said I should. Bloodborne’s fast paced and excellently constructed combat system outclasses Witcher 3, and as far as I’m concerned sets the standard for future action titles. Damn you Bloodborne, I love you.