A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
Out in The Fields
April 14, 2014Posted by on
I think there was a similar series of pieces to this on RPS or somewhere, where it dressed the author’s favourite game locations up as tourist spots so that they could talk at length about why they’d like to visit them. It was a tribute to the craftsmanship behind the beautiful, otherworldly settings, masterfully woven atmospheres, and fascinating senses of history and lived-in-ness that so many of the best games can project onto their players.
The first place that springs to mind when I think of my favourite and most memorable game environments is just terrible, though, so I shan’t be doing that.
‘The Fields’ in the original Witcher came relatively late in the game, and won’t have been seen by anyone who got bored to death during the repeated slogging back and forth through the swamps and crypts and caves of Vizima which preceded it. After being teleported by a mysterious plot device to a mysterious new lakeside location, you slowly find your feet and wind up in a small farming village with the sun high in the sky. Both the lake and village are wide, bright, open spaces, contrasting sharply the dingy darkness of of your recent nighttime adventures. As is to be expected, you discover that all is not well in the village, the farmers are forced to stay home, and the location that follows is quite unlike anywhere else a game has taken me.
The open fields and rolling meadows surrounding a village on a midsummer day would probably be among the last places to spring to mind if I were challenged to come up with a sinister and unsettling environment, but in their combination of haunting music, harshly over-saturated colours and a pervasive sense of danger, CD Projekt Red created something singular. Running through tall, pale, wheat-like grasses, bright red flowers stand out like stab wounds. Between the dark threads of intrigue woven around the village and the relentless, searing skies, the Witcher’s grim and gritty tone is carried out of the cities, graveyards and marshes and into the rustic countryside. I think this was what struck me most- just how well the prevalent mood of the game was maintained in such a drastically different environment. Finding the Hanged Man’s Tree, meeting the Midday Bride and picking apart the origins of the Noonwraiths, Nightwraiths and hideous Devourers that stalk the Fields form a pretty mundane series of quests, that on their own would be unremarkable. But set against the backdrop of haunted, empty fields in the middle of the day, they make a much stronger impression. Despite beginning as a welcome change of scenery, by the end you can almost feel the oppressive heat getting to you.
It’s been a long time since I last played the original Witcher, but when I finally get around to visiting it again I’ll be keen to see whether the Fields still hold up as I remember them.
Next up: wherever else springs to mind as being worth writing about!