Games with huge worlds aren’t perfect, but some come close.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of those games. Based on the world of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy epic, the game’s unnamed “Continent” is a massive undertaking brought to life, steeped in history and lore.

Previous Witcher games were more limited in scope, but The Witcher 3 showcases an open world like none seen before. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto V were formerly the benchmarks on how to create an open-world game, but The Witcher 3 trumps both and everything that came before. Here’s why.

The Witcher 3 has a huge playground. Touted as 35 percent larger than Skyrim’s and 1.5x larger than Grand Theft Auto V’s San Andreas, The Continent gives players plenty of room to move around. While players will likely spend a huge chunk of time in Velen, or “No Man’s Land,” the areas of White Orchard, Skellige Islands and Novigrad offer plenty of things to do and places to explore. The Witcher 3 showcases a lot of different locales as well, from high-walled cities to run-down marshlands, so dedicated played won’t get bored exploring every nook and cranny.

The major city of Novigrad is huge compared to the cities in comparable open-world games, but size isn’t everything; while GTA’s Los Santos is a feat in terms of how a city is planned and crafted, Novigrad feels as though it truly has been built and improved upon for hundreds of years prior to this point. That’s a pretty good indication of the work that went into making The Witcher 3’s world superior to other games’.

I remember marvelling at the day/night cycle in Pokemon Silver/Gold/Crystal back in the Game Boy Color days, how cool I thought it was when certain radio shows would only be on at specific times of day. Time felt like it actually flowed through Johto. The Witcher 3 has me paying attention to time like Pokemon did so many years ago, and it’s great.

Every major open world game nowadays has a day/night cycle, but few utilize it to the extent that The Witcher 3 does. Monsters grow stronger at night, and certain quests won’t produce rewards until a week later in-game. Heck, Geralt’s beard actually grows longer with each passing day in-game, a visual representation of time’s effect on the world. The fact that we, as players, need to account for this ups the immersion level in The Witcher 3 in a great way.

Even in a game like Skyrim, the bears, wolves and dragons never feel completely organic—more like the game is systematically inserting them wherever you happen to go. But The Witcher 3 takes this concept and turns it completely around.

No foes in Geralt’s path ever feel as though they were “placed” there, and each monster and enemy feels as though it truly inhabits the area where you encountered it. Come across a run-down, abandoned village and wonder how it got that way? The ferocious Alghoul rushing towards you might be the reason. See some fog crop up in the distance and feel like you’re starting to panic? It’s not because you can’t see, but because you know what lurks in the mist. Each enemy you face feels like it belongs there, and that makes for a more believable world.

It’s not just that The Witcher 3’s world is bigger than other games’, or that its inhabitants feel more like they belong there, or that time passes in a more natural, noticeable way. The Witcher 3’s world hits a new level of realism—like it really exists.

The Continent is teeming with individuals who are determined to make the most of their situation. And CD Projekt Red doesn’t shy away from giving us a glimpse into our society’s grim past or our most taboo subjects, from maturely handled depictions of sex to racism and inequality, all portrayed in a more realistic and nuanced way than in most comparable games. The Witcher 3 tackles them head-on, portraying each with a believability that makes you pause and reflect on what that issue means today. It adds to the grandness of what CDPR has accomplished and gives players the ability to forge our own destinies in the game based on our own personal moral codes.

Many games in recent years have been released with the promise that your choices affect the world around you. More often than not, this promise is never really delivered on in a meaningful way. The Witcher 3 is one of the first games where it actually is.

As time passes in the game, you’ll eventually see the long-term impacts of the choices you’ve made—and not in shallow ways. Clear out a village taken over by bandits? Next time you pass through you might find a thriving hamlet thanks to your previous efforts. Decide to take that monster contract and rid a city of a nuisance? You may have helped them tremendously or doomed them to destruction, the randomness and indifference of the real world translated effectively into the virtual.

And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Joseph Bradford is a freelance writer based out of Las Vegas. When not blabbing about video games to anyone who is willing to listen, he can be found spending time with family and enjoying a great jazz record. He also hosts a weekly podcast about the gaming industry, aptly named Gaming the Industry.