I think the headline is pretty self explanatory, really.
I bought The Witcher 3 last year shortly after launch. For various reasons, the game fell by the wayside. The time investment was too big then, and there were a lot of other games that were vying for my attention. I put the game in the dreaded Backlog, and promised I would come back to it.
In the interim, the game and it’s developers, CD Projekt Red, have been showered with praise for doing things The Right Way. And all the while, my friends, both IRL and on the web, were asking me what I thought about it. It was almost embarrassing to admit that it was Backlogged in favor of MGS:V and Batman: Arkham Knight, which were both disappointing in their own way.
I am in a bit of a lull period for games I am super interested in, so about two weeks ago, I decided to give the game another shot. The Witcher 3 has escaped Backlog better than some other games that live there (I WILL play Ninja Gaiden: Black!)
I downloaded the two DLCs Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, deleted my old saves, and started from the very beginning. I haven’t completed the game, and for all I know, it could take a massive dive and become terrible. But for the 30 or so hours I have put into it, The Witcher 3 is everything that it has been made out to be.
It is easy to praise the beautiful graphics, deep gameplay, and the massive, yet still engaging, open world. All of those things are great, and have been praised by just about every person who blogs about games. I want to focus on what keeps bringing me back to The Witcher 3: The excellent writing, quest design. and characterization.
All three of those are tightly tied together. I have described The Witcher 3 to friends as “Game of Thrones if it was actually as smart and mature as it thinks it is”. I am being a bit facetious, but the point remains. The Witcher 3 is a masterclass in knowing how to have adult material without it coming off as being shocking for the sake it.
The Witcher 3 is a violent game that tells a violent story. There is no getting around that. The violence is never portrayed as glorious, and Geralt, for his part, seems to only want to draw his blade against the monsters he is contracted to kill.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. There are little light moments scattered throughout. And if you are into dark humor like myself, you will probably find Geralt’s brand of sarcasm as charming as it is cutting.
Even the most innocuous quests or Witcher contracts have a way of turning into either something completely unexpected, or at least culminating in a challenging encounter. Playing The Witcher 3 is comparable to binging on a really good television show. I am compelled to do quests, because I know that on the other side of it will be a rewarding little story. NPCs in small side quests become memorable characters, and are all presented in a way that is true to life.
It is also to play a game where choices don’t result in a binary “good” or “evil” result. And often, you don’t understand the consequences of your actions until much further down the road. There are a lot of moral quandaries presented in The Witcher 3, and there is no “right” answer for a lot of them. Personally, I try to go about things in a manner that I believe Geralt would approach them, but my own sentimentality gets in the way. Sometimes it comes at the expense of other people’s lives.
But none of this narrative trickery would work without Geralt of Rivia himself. At first glance, he is a gravely voiced, hyper competent sex god that walks around with two swords on his back. Basically, the ultimate male power fantasy. We have tons of those in games, and frankly, I am a bit bored by them.
At first, I was a bit put off by him, but I grew to enjoy walking through the world in his shoes. Now, he might be one of my favorite video game protagonists ever. He is super cynical, a result of both his outsider status and his age. He views politics and war through the lens of someone who has heard every justification and excuse in the book. His interactions with rulers or those who wish to become rulers are some of the best in the game as they highlight his dark sense of humor and his no nonsense demeanor.
NPCs generally try to chalk it up to the supposed stripping of emotions that occurs during the mutations that create Witchers, but the player and Geralt both know better. Underneath the cynicism, he has heart. He cares deeply for the people that he surrounds himself with, and is perfectly willing to align with characters that he would normally detest in order to ensure their protection.
I have a lot more to play. I haven’t even touched the DLC stories, other than accidentally advancing the Heart of Stone quest by reading a notice board outside of Oxenfurt. I am just starting to deal with the most difficult romantic choice in gaming: Yennefer or Triss. There is a long road ahead of me, and I am excited to see where it leads.
When I am not writing about games, I sometimes stream them at twitch.tv/omegaredpanda.