Back in the bad old days of the 1980s, there was no such thing as an open-world game. RPGs generally railroaded you through a pre-determined story, with gameplay that was identical from one playthrough to the next. Now, we take open-world games for granted, from RPGs like Skyrim to action games like Grand Theft Auto.
Two of the most popular games of the last decade were The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. If you’re trying to decide between the two, here’s a quick guide to break down the differences.
Main Differences Between The Witcher 3 vs Skyrim
The main differences between The Witcher 3 vs Skyrim are:
- The Witcher 3 uses a third-person perspective, whereas Skyrim is designed for a first-person perspective.
- The Witcher 3 focuses more on relationships with a small group of characters, whereas Skyrim has more characters with less development.
- The Witcher 3 slowly opens up new areas for play, whereas Skyrim lets you travel anywhere right at the beginning.
- The Witcher 3 has 3 skill trees you can level, whereas Skyrim has 18.
- The Witcher 3 has modern graphics, whereas Skyrim has more dated graphics.
For most players, the most important consideration when choosing a game is the gameplay. This only makes sense. If all you want is a good story, you can watch a movie. If all you want is great graphics, you can watch a “let’s play” video. But there’s no substitute for quality gameplay. Here’s an overview of the gameplay in both The Witcher 3 and Skyrim.
The Witcher 3
The Witcher 3 is a true action RPG. As a result, gameplay involves a variety of phases. When you first start out, the opening cutscene segues directly into a fight. The fight itself isn’t essential to the story, but it’s a great introduction to The Witcher’s combat. You’ll learn to perform various types of attacks, as well as to juke and roll to dodge enemy attacks.
Next, you’ll get a taste for the game’s travel system. Your character, Geralt of Rivia, uses his horse, Roach, to traverse the massive game world. The travel controls are very easy to use. Roach will even automatically stay on a path once you’re on it.
When you get to the first town, you’ll get to experience the conversation system. Similar to many other modern RPGs, you can respond to other characters with a variety of options. As a result, your particular Geralt can be a shining paragon of virtue or a gruff jerk. The choices are up to you and make a significant impact on how the game develops.
At first, the world of The Witcher doesn’t seem that big. The first game area, White Orchard, is relatively limited in scope. It’s designed as an extended tutorial, so you can learn the game’s basic features. After the first few story missions, you’ll be able to explore much larger areas like Velen, Novigrad, Skellige, and the Kaer Morhen Valley.
That said, you might want to stick around the opening area for a bit longer to level up your character. Much of the gameplay revolves around completing contracts for various NPCs. Contracts are conveniently marked with a recommended character level, so you won’t get in over your head. Feel free to take contracts that are two or three levels above you. Beyond that, you’re liable to meet a quick death.
[Witcher 3 gameplay video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx8kQ4s5hCY]
One important aspect of combat is using Geralt’s magic powers – called signs – to augment his sword skills. You can also use a crossbow, which helps with some of the faster-moving enemies. It also helps you take out stronger monsters without getting too close. As you level up, you can improve all of these skills – sword, bow, and signs – by putting points into individual skill trees. Think carefully when you allocate your points, though; there’s no way to max out all three skill trees on a single playthrough.
Another important part of gameplay is taking potions to temporarily grant Geralt extra abilities. At first, your options are limited. But as you explore more areas, you’ll discover more potion ingredients, allowing Geralt to brew more powerful potions.
There’s also a fun mini-game, called Gwent. Gwent is a card game, played with collectible cards, and you can find a game at most of the in-game taverns. Beating a particular NPC for the first time will grant you more powerful cards. As you play against more opponents, you can eventually build an exceptionally powerful deck. Gwent is so popular that it’s even spawned its own spin-off game. That said, if card games aren’t your thing, you can skip it. It’s entirely optional.
Set in the fantasy world of Tamriel, Skyrim is a first-person action RPG that’s based around choices. Before you even begin, you create a truly custom character. Choose between 10 different races, from a human-like imperial, nord, or regard to an elf, an orc, or even a cat-like khajiit or a lizard-like argonian. Customize your face and your starting stats, and you’re ready to begin.
True to form, Skyrim puts you immediately into combat. Like previous entries in the Elder Scrolls franchise, you’ll eventually be able to build a godlike character. But at level one, you’ll spend most of the first fight running from a dragon and killing weaker foes.
During this process, you’ll also learn the game’s conversation system. Choose your options carefully. Even at the beginning of the game, your choices matter.
Once the first quest is over, you’ll get directions to your next quest, but there’s nothing forcing you to proceed. You can explore at will, and start taking side quests right from the get-go. This is most players’ preferred method of gameplay. Some side quests are standalone quests for individual NPCS, while others allow you to progress through the game’s various guilds.
[Skyrim gameplay video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6uVksblx-w]
As you explore and level up, you can put points into several different skill trees. These include various types of weapons, heavy or light armor, several schools of magic, alchemy, enchantment, and stealth skills like lockpicking and sneaking. There’s no level cap, so allocate points as you see fit.
Throughout the story, you’ll gain the ability to use special dragon magic, called shouts. These shouts are exceptionally powerful, but they require you to find them throughout the world. Most of these shouts are totally optional, but a few of them are required to beat the game. You’ll learn these shouts as part of the main questline.
If you want to learn about more games like Skyrim, check out our earlier article, Best Games Like Skyrim Worth Playing.
Like most RPGs, The Witcher 3 and Skyrim lean heavily on their stories. We’re not going to deliver any major spoilers, but we’ll cover the basics.
The Witcher 3
The story of The Witcher 3 revolves around Geralt of Rivia, a witcher. Witchers are magically mutated humans, who have the ability to drink potions that would be deadly to a normal person. They have enhanced reflexes and senses.
Geralt is searching for Cirilla, a young woman with mysterious powers who’s like a daughter to him. Along the way, he meets up with old friends, including his witcher mentor, Vesimir and the bard Dandelion. He also meets some old flames, the sorceresses Triss and Yennefer.
You begin Skyrim as a condemned prisoner, although it appears that you were imprisoned by mistake. In the opening cutscene, you’re literally seconds from beheading when a dragon shows up and forces everybody – including you – to flee in terror.
From there, you’ll be thrown into the midst of a civil war in the province of Skyrim, the northernmost province of the Empire of Cyrodiil. Meanwhile, dragons have returned after being extinct for centuries. Choose a side in the civil war, and gain the powers of dragons to learn their ancient secrets.
Depending on your preferences, graphic quality may be very important, or not at all. Here are our thoughts.
The Witcher 3
The Witcher 3’s graphics remain among the best you’ll see in any game. The world is simply stunning, with a day/night cycle that looks fantastic at any time. The character models are particularly impressive. When characters are talking or fighting, you’ll sometimes forget they’re computer-generated.
Skyrim is a bit older than The Witcher 3, so the base game’s graphics look a bit dated. Still, they’re beautiful, with plenty of fantasy locations to explore. The newer, remastered version of the game features enhanced graphics that look much better on a large screen. The modding community is also very active, with literally hundreds of mods for both graphics and gameplay.
That said, the character models look very dated. The eyes have an uncanny valley look, and the dialogue doesn’t always sync with the way the characters’ mouths are moving.
Compatibility & Availability
Both The Witcher 3 and Skyrim are available on all major platforms. Whether you play on Xbox or PlayStation, or whether you’re a member of the PC master race, you can pick up a copy easily. Skyrim has gone a bit further. You can also play it on a Nintendo Switch, a newer smartphone, or even, famously, on Amazon Alexa.
One thing to keep in mind is that The Witcher 3 has more advanced graphics. If your gaming PC is getting a bit long in the tooth, it won’t be able to handle The Witcher. In that case, just get the console version. Frankly, the console controls are a bit more user-friendly anyway.
Pros & Cons
So, which one of these games is the best? Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered.
The Witcher 3
- Action-packed gameplay
- Stunning graphics and gorgeous environments
- An engaging story with well-developed characters
- DLC is a great value
- Won’t run on older PCs
- Customizable player-character
- Tons of side-quests
- The large, active modding community
- A deep world with lots of lore
- Outdated graphics
- Underwhelming combat
This is a tough call. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is among the most critically-acclaimed games of the 2010s.
But The Witcher 3 might just be the best RPG of all time. The action-packed combat, the fully-developed characters, and the beautiful graphics put it over the top. If you haven’t played it yet, go out and buy it. You won’t be disappointed.