When it comes to ranking the best role-playing games of a generation, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim both deserve to be near the top. Both games have been praised for their vast, engaging, and entertaining RPG experiences. However, The Witcher 3 and Skyrim are polar opposites in their approach to RPG formula. Some of these differences, such as a third-person versus a first-person experience, are easy to spot. Other differences, such as an elaborate and voluntary story, are not as obvious at first glance.
It may seem like apples and oranges to compare the two games, but The Witcher 3 and Skyrim have significantly changed the video game landscape. After acknowledging their excellence, one can’t help but wonder who would win in the match that is The Witcher 3 vs. Skyrim.
After much thought and consideration (and a few pints of Cintrian Faro), it's undeniable: The Witcher 3 is better than Skyrim, and there are several reasons why.
Obviously, a well-established hero has more depth than a blank slate, and compared to the Dragonborn, Geralt of Rivia has a lot of history to mine from the previous Witcher games and the literature that inspired them. But that's only part of what makes Geralt a compelling character in Witcher 3.
Compared to the various ways you can design your Dragonborn character in Skyrim, there’s not much creative freedom in Geralt - since he's a well-established character. However, the way you mold Geralt’s personality throughout the game is far more dynamic than anything you can do in Skyrim. Through actions and verbal decisions, you can develop Geralt as a daring hero, a sarcastic charmer, a cunning strategist, or a cold-hearted mercenary.
The moral choices you make as Geralt shape your destiny, for better or worse. On top of that, you have the powerful vocal performance of Doug Cockle that sells anything Geralt has to say in the game. The self-insert power fantasy of the Dragonborn has its charm, but the limited impact your attitude has on the world of Skyrim makes your actions in the game feel insignificant.
Admittedly, it’s a little unfair to compare a nearly 10-year-old game like Skyrim with something more recent like The Witcher 3, in terms of technical power. And while Skyrim has been released on modern consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the game was originally released for the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Nonetheless, Skyrim running on the strongest PC with every beneficial fan mod installed still can’t catch up with The Witcher 3 out of the box. The character models, environments, objects, and special effects in The Witcher 3 have an incredible amount of detail and personality to them. Whether you’re talking with the locals or engaging in combat with a fearsome beast, you’re always tuned into the world. Most impressive of all, The Witcher 3 doesn’t sacrifice its large scope to deliver these amazing details.
Even if you ignore the graphical might of The Witcher 3, the laundry list of bugs and glitches that famously plague Skyrim (and other open-world Bethesda games) makes it an inferior product to the former.
A big difference that separated The Witcher 3 from previous games in the series was the introduction of an open-world environment. While the move was expected - since so many prestigious games were moving in that direction - fans were still concerned about the series moving into uncharted territory. In the end, The Witcher 3 put those worries to rest with its beautiful geography that enticed players to explore every inch of its landscape.
The world of The Witcher 3 is made up of numerous kingdoms and cities, all of which are visually distinct from one another. The cold yet adventurous landscapes of Skellige come across as a visually-ambitious Skyrim in The Witcher 3. And yet, there are more jaw-dropping regions to explore, such as the architecturally intriguing city of Novigrad, or the gorgeously gloomy No Man’s Land called Velen.
When you factor in the additional lands found in the DLC, such as the vibrant color palette of “Blood and Wine,” The Witcher 3 beats the monotone world of Skyrim with ease.
On the surface, it may seem like Skyrim has The Witcher 3 beat in terms of combat. After all, with all the classes and weaponry available in Skyrim, there’s no way the simple sword style of Geralt can compete, right?
While there’s no denying the variety of combat in Skyrim, so many enemy encounters boil down to you spamming the same melee attacks. There’s more oomph in using magic attacks than initiating physical combat, but learning the right spells takes time and a lot of grinding. Furthermore, the most difficult enemies in Skyrim are only hard to beat because their health is at ridiculous levels, so beating them never feels rewarding.
Swordplay in The Witcher 3, however, never feels like the same old boring thing. Enemies - man, monster, or animal - require different strategies to defeat them. You may need to exert your strength for one enemy, take advantage of a magical weakness for another, or play it safe with a long-distance delivery of an arrow to the head.
While there is a rhythm to your swordsmanship in the game, it never plays out like a lazy hack and slash. Button mashing your way through a crowd of enemies will get you wasted. Trying to block an attack from a monster twice your size will get you wasted. Not taking advantage of the wide range of secondary weaponry and spells will also get you wasted. You need to play attentively and strategically to win the day.