Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying Breath of the Wild as much as the next person. I play it daily because I need to find shrines to fulfill a requirement put forth by the events in Korok Forest. I think it’s best to remain vague since the game is still new. Regardless, I’m enjoying my time with Breath of the Wild.
But it’s nowhere close to entrancing me like Geralt’s final quest in Wild Hunt. Yes, the controls are serviceable at best and the open-worldness of the game has nothing on Breath of the Wild’s revolutionary world. But if push came to shove, I’d pick Wild Hunt over Breath of the Wild anytime because it simply has better writing and choices that matter.
I’m about to go into detail about Wild Hunt’s plot, so if you haven’t played it at this point, I’d say this is the point where you bail on this piece. Okay, then. We good to go? Good.
To preface this piece, I should say that I’ve only played the third installment in the Witcher series, so my only knowledge of Geralt prior to Wild Hunt was the white haired dude that banged anything with a pulse. Seriously, go back and watch the marketing media for Witcher 2, and I guarantee there’ll be at least once scene where Geralt is bumping uglies with some red-haired lass. Hmm, now that I think about it, that was probably Triss given the allusions to their relationship in Wild Hunt.
But I digress.
Geralt. Some medieval dudebro shagging his way across the land.
Then you boot up Wild Hunt and discover this intricate backstory about Geralt and his relationships with Yennefer (his lover who may or may not still be in love with him because of what came before in Witcher 2 with Triss, the paramour of that game), Vesemir (the father figure to Geralt and the other members of the School of the Wolf), and Ciri (Geralt’s adopted daughter and the lass on the above image with Geralt to her back).
You don’t realize it if this is your first time in this world, but she’s the true central figure of the game. While you may control Geralt and guide him through the world, it’s mostly a means to an end. Your actions and deeds don’t mean a hell of a lot to the people around you, because everyone’s attention is on Ciri, including yours.
And that’s the thing. Geralt isn’t the main character in this world. Yes, you control him, but his only mission is finding Ciri and keeping her safe from the Wild Hunt (the big bads of the game). Similar to Breath of the Wild’s main quest to “Defeat Calamity Ganon”, Geralt is tasked to find Ciri. But as he continues down this path, he gets pulled in multiple directions, be it a request from a country’s leader, a friend, or just some villager with a Witcher contract. And while this might seem to distract Geralt from his mission to find a missing Ciri, that’s the point. You decide what to do in this world. You can help that villager if you want to. You can decide to aid a ruler or just tell him you can’t because you just don’t have the time. You can completely ignore your friend even though that might mean he or she might be put in a dire situation because you won’t help them.
But it’s your choice how you navigate through this world. Similar to Link in Breath of the Wild. You may choose to mainline it to Hyrule Castle at the very start of the game. You may decide to stray toward finding shrines to improve Link’s life and stamina. Or you may just choose to go to the dungeons and get it out of the way as soon as possible. Again, it’s your choice in Breath of the Wild.
But here’s the main difference between the two games. The plot doesn’t hinge on your decisions in Breath of the Wild, while the narrative may swing wildly to an outcome you may not have accounted for based on the choices you make for Geralt. And that’s the reason why, when push comes to shove, I’ll choose Geralt over Link. Because there’s weight to Geralt’s choices. There are ramifications to how you decide to respond to these external forces pulling you in different directions while you search for Ciri. That might mean a woman placed under a curse might never satiate her hunger. That might mean a nation might choose a ruler due to a murderous plot not being brought to light by your investigation. Or that might simply mean a husband might never be reunited with his missing wife and daughter.
Whereas in Breath of the Wild, the story will remain waiting for you until you’re ready to get back to it. And while I am still working on completing Breath of the Wild, the only major plot that is revealed to the player is either through Memories or tackling a “dungeon”. Other than that, the world is essentially your playground. Not so in Wild Hunt. Yes, you can go exploring and find that rare loot or that quest hidden off the beaten path. But the narrative is changing mostly when you make decisions in this world.
Yes, there are throwaway fetch quests in Wild Hunt, but for the most part, your decisions will affect the people involved in the quest you’re pursuing at that time. And there just isn’t that type of weight in Breath of the Wild. I’m not saying that there should be this type of narrative in Link’s latest adventure, but let’s be honest; the story was never the main draw for a Zelda game. It was always more about gameplay first, story second.
And that’s fine for Nintendo and the Zelda fans. But for those who want an adventure that offers a world that is largely free to explore (albeit in regions instead of one cohesive world like Breath of the Wild) and has a substantial story line that moves and changes as you make your way to your ultimate goal, I suggest you give The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt another look. If your initial impression of the game rubbed you the wrong way, note that CD Projekt Red continued to make improvements to the game to streamline the UI. Also, with two substantial DLC quests in Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, there’s still more for Geralt to do, even after he completes his main mission of attempting to find Ciri.
But, again, it’s your choice. Geralt gets a satisfying ending depending on the choices you make in the main game. But if you want to see his story to its conclusion, you owe it to yourself to complete the two DLC quests which are bigger than some individual game releases. But this is just the icing on the proverbial cake.
Wild Hunt is a stunning achievement in both open world gaming and story telling. The choices you make will come back to haunt you many hours in because you simply didn’t think a video game choice would have any ramifications in the long run. Sacrifices will be made, people will be lost, and choices will be mired in shades of grey instead of good/bad. And that remains thrilling today as it was the first time you play through it. The fact that it pulled me back five times after my first completion, and I’ll most likely revisit Geralt and his companions later this year, speaks volumes to the type of game this is. At least to me. With time a precious commodity nowadays, and my choosing to revisit Geralt when new games are being released, what can possibly be my reasoning?
It’s simple really.
Wild Hunt is just a great video game and Geralt is a great protagonist. Even if the story isn’t about him.
Good luck on the path, Wolf. May your journey continue forever.