I originally played The Witcher 3 (henceforth: “Witcher”) two years ago, and did not complete it at the time. I had run into many small problems, problems that after thirty hours became large enough that I did not want to go any further. Recently a friend got the game and was talking about it, and showed me things he managed which made me think I must’ve gotten something fundamentally wrong. So I gave it another shot. I always thought that if only the gameplay problems I had were solved I’d enjoy the story.
I’m glad that thought turned out to be the case.
The same cannot be said for the two expansions, Hearts of Stone (HOS) and Blood and Wine (BAW). HOS is fine, but does not fully hold up to the standard made by the original game, for both internal reasons and for reasons beyond its own control, mostly the latter so I don’t blame it too much. BAW on the other hand has been praised everywhere as far as the eye can see since its release; in the modern age, finally, DLC that isn’t just cosmetics and pointless new thingamajiggies. Which is true. A new story and a new map isn’t something these days you see.
But it really would’ve been better if they had just let it be.
If you plan to play The Witcher 3:
- Use a controller.
- Use some color-changing mods. They’ll make things look prettier and your life much easier. The ones I used were “Super Turbo Lighting Mod” and “Absolute Prerelease ReShade”.
- EXP is primarily tied to progressing the story.
- Money is primarily tied to loot.
- All special items you would want or need are found in easy-to-reach chests. This is to contrast with many items which are in bags and barrels that are often stacked on top of each other, and sometimes in hard to reach places. Skipping these may occasionally miss valuables, but never a unique sword or recipe.
- Application of oils is not necessary.
- Application of potions is not necessary, except maybe Killer Whale if you want to go underwater.
- Having fully levelled equipment is not necessary.
- Do not play Blood and Wine.
- Do not play Blood and Wine.
- Do not play Blood and Wine.
This is the first time I’ve seen something fall off from a potential 8 to an absolute 1.
For record-keeping purposes a singular score must exist, and after much consideration 7/8 is my opinion on that matter. But there is a pretty clear gap where it works enough and where it really doesn’t, a border I can summarize in single line:
Do not play Blood and Wine.
Wild Hunt: 7/8 (3~8)
Hearts of Stone: 6/8 (5~7)
Blood and Wine: 1/8 (1~4)
Everyone and their mother says Blood and Wine is the best thing ever, you haven’t had the full Witcher experience until you’ve played Blood and Wine, Blood and Wine Blood and Wine Blood and Wine. And so I played it. But I simply can’t score them combined. Everything about its existence is such an insult I must dissociate it. I like the characters and themes of the main game too much, and the writers clearly were struggling with invading outside forces. It is possible that with Gwent or in currently released information on Cyberpunk 2077 that they have lost to those forces. I don’t know. That’s a different topic.
But I feel compelled here to give at least The Witcher 3 my fairest shot.
I played it on PC with a DS3 controller on Blood and Broken Bones difficulty, Japanese audio (a large chunk of why I got the game was because I heard Sawashiro would be in it), the above mentioned color-changing mods, mods making the main female characters’ boobs larger, mod that improved their faces, mod that allowed me to play as those women, and a mod that allowed me to fast travel from anywhere, which I got because one unique situation in the whole game bugs out with a female character model (climbing a ladder out of the water). I had intended to play as Geralt too but apparently the mod doesn’t allow switching between male and female, so all screenshots in this review showing “Geralt” will show someone else instead.
I played 158 hours: 115 for the main game, 131 (+16) for Hearts of Stone, 158 (+27) for Blood and Wine. I will put more hours into it before completing this review. I liked the end of Witcher. I’d like to feel that again.
Because I don’t like my current final experience with it.
I don’t like it at all.
> USER INTERFACE
> HOW I PLAYED
> MECHANICS, ECONOMY, AND WORLD DESIGN
> — (Illusion of Space)
> — (Gwent)
> — (Skellige and Everything Else, but mostly Skellige)
> — (People and Objectives)
> — (Exceptions)
> — (Flow)
> BLOOD AND WINE AND THE BIOLENINIST MENACE
> — (Unfathomable Errors)
> — (Rise of Routinism)
> — (The Expansion That Killed The Witcher)
> ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
— — — (album of images used in this post) — — —
I play games for their stories. I think games exist for their stories. Once upon a time, namely before the digital age, the argument could have been made that gameplay comes first, but in videogames story invariably comes first. If it has a story, story is king. None of this “gameplay is king and story is queen” nonsense. Story is what matters most; everything else must serve or at least not get in the way of that purpose.
Generally speaking I don’t find the gameplay in games very interesting. There are exceptions, but the mechanics in most games aren’t all that deep. This is good – if they were, I’d have to put hundreds or thousands of hours to get anything out of them, and that’s not the purpose of entertainment. Problem is, in many games, play is not only shallow, but laborious and punishing. Some of them also have little to redeem them from that. Not Witcher. Witcher had a story I wanted to see, I just couldn’t get to it because the combat was bad, uninteresting, and at some point I was unable to pay for my repairs and thus even maintain my equipment.
Several things contributed to this. On this second attempt, I am happy to say I have satisfactorily addressed most of those problems.
The first problem was that I had played on mouse and keyboard. Witcher controls are inherently clunky to begin with; attempting to play this with digital controls makes it basically impossible. Attempts to hit, dodge, and even move are all hindered, simply by a differing input scheme. This is made even worse by the fact that Witcher’s gameplay is not very complicated – save for Gwent, its card minigame, but that doesn’t require any precision. For the rest of the game there’s no chaining abilities or certain key combinations that make other, stronger moves. It is simple. Which is fine, if it works. And using a controller made it work. My understanding had always been “If it’s on PC, then they must have made it work at least to the same quality with MKB”. Keyboard has more buttons and mouse is more accurate than sticks, after all. But some things simply can’t be done, and shouldn’t reasonably be expected. This turns out to be one of those things. Moving from WASD to stick made the clunkiness significantly more tolerable, and spamming dodge and fast attack is much easier when it’s all on my right thumb, rather than LMB and… god knows what the hell the dodge key is.
The second problem was that I had a certain expectation of how the game would flow. I was not aware of this, but I had expected it to play like Skyrim, the most important assumption being that I could go in the world where I wanted, when I wanted. Skyrim automatically changes all enemies so that they are always your level so that this is possible. This is not true of Witcher. I found this out the hard way when doing a certain quest on clearing wraiths from a manor, and saw that rather than go some really long way around on the path I could go through the forest instead. I met something which was either XX or ?? level, and while trying to escape, it 1HKO’d me at long range. This was partially alleviated with the switch to controller, as I was now able to nudge lightly into range to see what level things were and not have to fight them first to find out. But what really solved the issue was simply having more accurate expectations. Good thing too. I’m now of the opinion that Skyrim’s auto-levelling everything is bad and Witcher has the right idea.
The third problem was that I didn’t like how Witcher looked.
Which in turn was two problems.
One, I didn’t really want to play as Geralt. At least, not for a hundred hours straight. I do appreciate the heightened effect of female beauty that comes with their concentration in a few plot-central characters that only appear at certain times, but I needed beautiful women for more time than Witcher actually gave. The mod I used, Geralt Doppler, turned out to be unable to switch between Geralt’s character model and females, as well as causing the majority of female and Geralt animations to bug out. But I considered this a net benefit. I lost the feeling of romance between Geralt and his love interest, and I lost somewhat the importance Witcher placed on the roles people have in the world, but I loved Yennefer anyways, and I think I’m able to appreciate the latter enough on my own.
I also got mods that made boobs bigger for the main females.
I don’t regret that decision either.
I wanted to make all the other womens’ boobs bigger too, but the ones I found that did that also made them nude or like prostitutes, and I didn’t really care to see that.
The other problem is that I really did not like Witcher’s color scheme. A decent chunk of the game, and the first area after the introductory one, takes place in a swamp where it is almost always raining. This made everything dark, blue, and green. At night it was hard to see, and on top of that, a lot of quests in the game rely on “Witcher Senses”, which is the same as detective mode from the Batman games. So not only did the general environment feel dank, moldy, and terrible, I had to follow these obnoxious bright red trails of things from one point to the next. I probably should’ve gotten a mod for that too, it probably exists. But I did get mods that fixed the rest of it. This does break a few things, namely, fights with fiends, and more or less making the Cat Eyes potion obsolete. In retrospect this was also a trade that was worth making.
The final problem was I didn’t care for constantly using healing items. Healing in this game is done over time, with the consumption of food causing some rate of healing for some amount of time – a time that is exceedingly short. I have to press enough buttons to do very little as it is; I’d rather not press more buttons than I have to. I’m not sure why I wasn’t able to figure this out the first time, but there’s something in the skill tree you can get, the first time you level up, that changes the healing time for food from 5s or 8s to 20m. This along with using a controller over keyboard made flow enough that it stopped being counterproductive to the story.
Though short, this section is more important than the rest of the review combined.
If I had not fixed these problems, I would not have returned to the game, and thus would not have had anything more to say on it. At the time I found no helpful pointers on why I was having such troubles while no one else seemed to, pointers that continued to not exist after I wrote up a negative review on steam. This is generally expected, but the shilling around this game for reasons I don’t particularly care to look into is abnormally strong, so there’s a higher rate of people who flood into offpath opinions to call names and wave dicks.
It was only after my friend brought up that using a mouse and keyboard might have been the problem, as well as his screenshots of him overflowing with food and money and screensharing gameplay fighting much higher level enemies, that I had and more importantly believed an idea on where to look.
From there I figured out the rest.
The music was fine. It wasn’t particularly memorable, but it didn’t get in the way. This may simply be the nature of music designed for repeating over a hundred hours, but I’m not educated with music, so I can only relay my feelings. At one point in the story a song is given center stage, but it wasn’t as good as it seemed to want to be. That melody does appear later on as background music for another region. I also liked the first credits song at the end of the game, but I can’t off the top of my head remember how it goes. Upon looking it up, it definitely was used multiple times earlier in the game; unfortunately, I can only say that I associate it with an inconsequential minigame and not the main story.
The women are fucking beautiful. The face models, face textures, clothing design, and most importantly animations of expressions are unparalleled. I would prefer if the boobs were a bit bigger but in the end this is not very important. The rest of it is, and Witcher does it better than anything else I’ve ever seen.
Finally the cinematography was amazing. Like music I don’t know much about it, but I do know a little, and I noticed a lot more because I was trying to snap nice screenshots of faces, expressions, or combinations thereof with lines. CDProjekt knows how to direct. Half my attempts at screenshots were foiled because the a lot of the best expressions would appear in the initial or final frames of a cut. In a game where “half of it is cutscenes”, this is definitely a good attribute to have.
HOW I PLAYED
Side quests were done first, but only if they were close enough to along the way to another quest, and if I was of sufficient level. Main quests were done if no side quests fulfilled previous conditions. Occasionally I’d go out and explore random undiscovered locations, but not often.
Fast travel used liberally except in Novigrad, where I walked everywhere.
Main build was Light armor with Quen and Igni. Points were all in blue and red, except for two in yellow, one for the food thing and the other for light armor bonus. Silver sword was whatever Cat school had available for my level at the time, steel was usually Tir Tochair when the stats were sufficient, otherwise cat school or random sword with good stats and a lot of rune slots. When fighting thugs in Novigrad I decided to use a Wild Hunt Warrior Axe because thugs used axes and maces and I thought it’d be neat to fit in. Also because the axe had +200 armor pen, but more because it looked nice.
MECHANICS, ECONOMY, WORLD DESIGN
The greatest strength of Witcher’s gameplay is its skill in creating the illusion of space.
Witcher has a world that feels like it always has things to discover. Every new cave is a dark mysterious place, every new town has new people with their own unique problems. This isn’t to say that similarities can’t be found between various locations and quests, but they felt distinct enough from each other that I felt like I always had something new to do, both in places I had visited already and those I had yet to explore. There are exceptions to this, notably the scavenger hunts for all the different witcher armors, every damn smugglers’ cache in Skellige, as well as a decent chunk of Skellige as a whole. The former I feel comfortable writing off, since I only really need one set of armor. The latter I can’t, but given how amazing the rest of the game is and how Skellige is the last region and some other things about it, I can forgive it to some degree as an unfortunate result from running out of time or money. Some degree. But we’ll return to that later.
Every cave felt unique. Save for stalactites, mushrooms, and that it’d be dark, I never knew quite what to expect walking into one. Sometimes it’d be from a contract, sometimes it’d turn out to have been part of a contract, and yet still other times it turned out to just be a cave with things in it. I want to say that every single cave had loot with monsters guarding it, but I say that only because it makes sense intuitively. I don’t remember all of the ones I went through and I didn’t keep track of what I found, only that I found that I never really knew what I was going to see next – except for when the quest specifically told me that I was going to find a certain monster or thing. The path was never clear, where fights would start was never clear, the final rewards were never clear. It was something to look forward to each time.
This principle applied to towns and Novigrad brang them to life. Every one you meet has different circumstances, different things they need, different stories they have to tell. A common criticism of Witcher is that a great many quests involve you doing a favor for one person, to run into another person, and then have to do a favor for them, which causes you to run into yet someone else, and so on. This is true. But I don’t mind it. I believe it’s a very good way to give meaning to things.
Why should I care about this random guy who needs help? Well, maybe I really don’t, but I need to to some extent because he can help me with what this other guy wanted, and eventually somewhere down the line it comes back to what I myself desire. The structure of chaining needs is reused, but as far as I could tell while playing the game and as I can remember now writing this review, all instances were unique. Perhaps a few of these started out the same way, most common one that comes to mind is “someone important to me has gone missing, can you help me find them”. But 1) they all diverge after that point and 2) it reinforces the main theme and direction of the story. Witcher is about trying to find someone. It’s a big world with lots of monsters in it – both monsters that look like monsters and ones that look like humans – and lots of things going on at the same time. Even with your superhuman witcher senses, you can only find out so much by yourself. You need help. By giving some, maybe you’ll get some in return.
It’s a very, very different feeling if you always get it in return.
Something unexpected that helps this illusion of space is distribution of loot. In the beginning everything is quite expensive – you have basically no income because you kill monsters, what they drop doesn’t sell for much, but to survive you must have food to heal and money to repair your equipment with. The solution to this is you must loot everything you come across that isn’t watched by guards. This is less necessary as the game progresses, but in any case the game builds that habit, and that habit in turn reveals… what people are really like.
Peasant houses will usually have stuff that isn’t worth anything, but occasionally you’ll find meteorite ingots and perfect gems. Elite houses have stuff that’s generally worth more, but they’re usually just expensive things that don’t really need to be expensive, like silver pantaloons. Things aren’t arranged tidily; with the sole exception of shelves always containing only books, you’ll find food, broken rakes, spoons, and dolls in the same chest, box, or barrel. You never quite know what you’ll find. And what you find colors the place you find it in. Oh, these rich people aren’t actually so rich. These poor people aren’t actually so poor. Wow these poor people are really, really poor. This rich guy has to be hiding his stuff, where that might be? The exception is that bandits will drop weapons, animals will drop hides or meat, and monsters drop whatever it is specifically that they drop. But for those, you never quite know where they might be.
Novigrad is expertly designed and my favorite fictional city of all time. Unlike any other city in any other game I’ve played, I’ve memorized the relationships between all the important locations, and can do it without the compass, the minimap, or a quest market giving me some GPS follow-the-dots guidance to get me there. I only need to look around to find out where I currently am, the name of the place where I wish to go, and the rest I can tell by following landmarks or, if I get lost, look at the sun in the sky, check what time it is, and I will be able to find my way to a place where I can start again. Or if I don’t want to do that, I can just wander until I do find where I want to be, and it’ll be fun and potentially interesting the whole time. It’s a quality of an enjoyable or at least memorable place, one I’ve never seen recreated well outside of real life.
Well, that’s not quite right. It’s hard to find even in real life. But that’s a different topic.
Witcher accomplishes this feat primarily in three ways. Well, four, fourth being that the visuals are great and unique for different spots in the city; fish market only appears in center west, the paths from the fish market to the high end brothel in the north east all have such-and-such unique buildings and arches in such-and-such an order and so on. The third is that some doors are locked. In the swamp countryside you can enter basically every building, sort of makes sense because these places are higher trust, or perhaps simply have no access to a locksmith. In Novigrad maybe half the doors are locked. You never quite know until you walk up to something whether you’ll be able to get inside. And unlike trying to walk into a wall, the game will give you feedback either way. If you can get in, the door will open. If you can’t, the game will tell you explicitly that you can’t get in because it’s locked.
Would’ve been even nicer if the controller vibrated and there was a sound effect, but what it does have does wonders as is. A simple but meaningful touch.
The other two ways are similarly unique, but derive entirely from writing and direction.
When you enter Novigrad for the first time you have at least two quests that introduce you to important characters, and the quests take you along various routes through different places in the city: meeting Triss (and thus also the King of Beggars), and finding Dandelion by visiting several women whose names were listed in his notebook. The locations you visit specifically don’t really matter later, but the routes you follow, with Triss in person and via the GPS for Dandelion, are routes that you’ll tread again on the way to other places, a few of which you will use again, and when you use it again, there’s ever slightly more meaning imbued to it. “Oh yeah, I remember this road and that turn with that little market and these playing kids, that was when I was going [a certain way] toward [a certain place]!“.
You don’t have to remember them to complete things, to be sure. But the game encourages it, both because it makes your life easier and because it makes life more enjoyable. The main income in the game comes from selling weapons and armor found in chests or off enemies, and selling them requires them to be sellable, and to people who have enough money to pay. At first your main customer is the armorer in the city square who claims to sell “Top notch swords!”, there are four blacksmiths but this is the closest one to a fast travel point, in the center of the city, and has the most initial money. But by the time he does sell top notch swords (i.e. the swords you have been selling him), his available money will no longer refill fast enough for you to be able to unload stock just to him. You must visit other blacksmiths, and all the blacksmiths who have money are in Novigrad. Depending on what order you play things in there’s a couple of smiths in Skellige who also have money, but that requires loading in another map. Selling to smiths in Novigrad requires only that you remember where they are; the rest is a leisurely and pleasant stroll. And along the way you might as well visit the bars too, they’ll happily take your other things at the best price.
Some quests you’ll find available on your first stroll through a location. Many though will only appear once other quests have been completed. As it was with the other things mentioned already, this breathes life into the city. You thought you’d seen it all by virtue of simply having walked around, and yet here was this other thing that was happening right under your nose the entire time. Like a real city.
The rest of the gameplay is not so strong. Then again, its illusion of space is hard to top.
Its next strongest point by a fairly large gap is its minigame Gwent. It’s a card game, one which you can obtain cards for by buying them off various merchants and winning against various NPCs, many of which are important in detailed and well-written quests, giving them the previously mentioned breath of life. I’m not very clear on the taxonomy of card games, but it’s not the same kind as Yugioh, Magic, or Hearthstone. There’s four decks, one of which is just bad, another which only has one mechanic, and two of which are neck-and-neck until you collect the main cards the decks revolve around. You don’t know which NPC has which deck until you play them, and where the strong decks are have little relation to what level of quests and monsters the area has. Fortunately, unlike the NPCs, you don’t have to give up any cards when you lose. If you enjoy Gwent, you will come back tens of hours later to these old middle-of-nowhere places just for a little distraction and fun.
And it is fun. I ran with Northern Realms for the longest time, first because that’s the starter deck (you can’t obtain any other starter decks), then because I had yet to obtain enough cards to make the strongest faction viable. Then when I did, I switched to Nilfgaard and didn’t look back. I believe Nilfgaard is the best, and perhaps this argument is two years too late, but I’m going to make it anyways. It only holds some relevance at least within the context of single-player Witcher, since the Gwent PvP standalone game for various reasons I’m unaware of has turned out wildly different.
Nilfgaard is the strongest faction because it has the most draw power and the highest strength cards. Gwent is a game where you don’t draw unless you are allowed to, and there are four things that do: spies, draw two from your deck at the cost of giving the opponent points; medics, draw one from your discard; Northern Realms faction special, draw one from your deck when you win a round, and a Nilfgaard leader special, draw one from your opponent’s discard. Scoia’tael has no spies and their cards are generally weak. Monster has no spies, few medics, and most of their cards are front row, which is where most cards in the game are played anyways, and there’s a few special counters. Northern Realms has spies, but few medics. Nilfgaard has spies, medics, and the ability to draw from the opponent’s discard: which is basically always another spy.
Decoy is a critically strong neutral card that allows you to use the other guy’s spies or reuse medics. As Nilfgaard has the highest number of medics and the highest likelihood of getting spies returned to them (and thus draw more cards), they benefit the most.
In a little more detail, Nilfgaard is better than Northern Realms because their average card power is higher. Northern Realms has the strongest Tight Bond cards, an effect that multiplies card power if there’s another one of them on the field – but these rely on having actually played (and thus also drawn) those cards. They are weaker than regular Nilfgaard cards otherwise. In contrast, as Nilfgaard, when I draw my cards I can be sure they are either 1) strong, 2) a medic that will get me cards that are strong, or 3) a spy that will get me one of the former two types. I can draw hero and special cards too, which aren’t interactable (not in the same sense), but those problems aren’t unique to any particular deck.
In these terms Monster is the weakest deck, and would be the weakest overall, if Scoia’tael didn’t actually just flat out have no power. Monster primarily runs around Muster: when a card of that effect is played allows you to play all cards of the same name from your deck or hand. This inherently conflicts with spies, which can only draw from the top of your deck – that is to say, randomly. If you have one muster card in your hand and play a spy, there is a chance that one or both of the cards you draw will be cards you “could have drawn” had you simply played the card itself. Counting out spies, it also means that you could draw as your initial hand multiple cards with Muster, thus “reducing” your actual hand size. The idea would be that this potential reduced hand size makes up for itself in power summoned from the deck.
The final balancing makes this turn out not to be the case.
The other minigames as well as the rest of the main game don’t have much to talk about.
There are plenty of quests which give you enough things to do, pointing you in ways that you will basically never need to go out of your way to do exploring. You will in the end or partway run into something else to look into, either a quest or a cave or otherwise point of interest, and either do that then or come back later.
The two other minigames are not all that interesting. One of them is fistfights, which is pretty easy. Doing something at one level or another only changes how long it takes to win or how many mistakes you are allowed to make. The other is horseracing, which removes the autopathing of horses and makes all steering manual. Most of the races are nice. Two races are hard, one because it’s very long and you need to block the other riders properly while your stamina recharges, the other because it’s terrible. This one is the final race in Skellige, where you need to turn two acute corners. To win, you basically need to cut both corners – even though every other race in the game automatically fails you if you do such a thing. The second corner has a crowd both on the inside and the outside. You must slow down, otherwise you will run into the crowd and get stuck. The other rider gets to go around both at full speed. The other rider is also a woman who’s taunting and laughing at you the entire time.
Skellige in general is of lower quality than the other two maps – even the beginning one. The main island is somewhat emptier, which is fine; the problems really come up in the outlying islands and the water inbetween.
There is quite a lot of water and there is nothing in it except “Smuggler’s Cache”s. These appear earlier in the game, but they aren’t very common and generally make sense, since you find them under bridges or in the water near a road. In Skellige you find barrels floating chests in the middle of a sea. Am I supposed to believe here smugglers willingly left valuable things? In a pond or slow-flowing stream next to a road I can understand. How are you going to find something you left in the middle of the the ocean? And there really is a lot of them. At least a hundred. The good part is basically all of them have valuables in them. The bad part is they exist instead of fun and interesting boat quests. Or anything really. Here’s a seafaring pirate nation and you see nothing in the sea except barrels. And harpies. Who you 1HKO in one button press with an autoaimed crossbow.
As for the outlying islands they are of a fundamental different quality than the rest of the places in the game by the simple fact that there’s only one thing to do on each of them. Here is the island for Cery’s quest, here is the island for Hjallmar’s quest, here is the island for Yennefer’s quest, here is the island for Lambert’s quest. There’s like maybe one side quest on each of them. Worse, I was able to tell from the paths and towns on the map before or when you get there that this was going to be the case. I hadn’t yet experienced it for myself, but something about it told me that this was how it was going to be. Perhaps this could’ve been solved by not revealing the map of a place until you’ve explored it yourself. Then again, this didn’t occur anywhere else in the game, so it shows that something else was going on. My suspicion at the time was that they had run out of time or money. I now have other suspicions, but we’ll get back to that later.
Power and equipment are tied to levels, and levels are more or less tied to the main story. Other quests give you basically neither experience or money… at least until about 30 or 40 hours in. After that point things change, to the detriment of combat, because you are now overlevelled for everything, and combat in this game is really only even marginally interesting if you are at or lower level than your enemies. It does coincide though with exiting Velen and entering Novigrad, i.e. leaving the poor man’s land swamp countryside into one of the biggest cities in the world. At the same time you get rich and powerful. It’s a nice touch. It would’ve been nice if I was only rich and not more powerful, or the other way around, because that too is a theme among many of the Novigrad sidequests. But it’s not too terrible.
Enemies at the start are the hardest general combat in the whole game. Fighting dogs at level 2 really required me to pay attention. After level 10 or so, general combat wasn’t much here or there. Notable exceptions were when I started Hattori’s level 24 or so quest when I was level 14, and running into a 24? leshen that continuously summoned 22 wolves when I was maybe 17. The hardest opponents after those first ten levels are witch hunters, who for some reason always have me on three hits.
Boss combat wasn’t particularly interesting either. Bosses that were interesting were interesting because of how they were framed. The best three are the first time fighting a golem, first time fighting a gargoyle, and first time fighting a fiend. There was a little bit of commentary, the first two from a lady that happens to be travelling with you and the third from Geralt himself, before each fight, that made it more exciting. Outside of these cases bosses were basically just bigger different-looking monsters with more animations, did more damage, and had bigger health pools.
The final three story bosses ranged wildly in quality. The last one was somewhat interesting, with mechanics you’d expect of a boss out of a fighting or action game. The second to last was a caster that summoned golems, which might’ve been interesting if it was a more enclosed space, if he didn’t always teleport far away after I hit him, and I wasn’t able to just run around the golems entirely. The first was just terrible. Slow guy with heavy armor that teleports around with every swing and you can’t do anything except block/evade until he’s done with his attack sequence. Most bosses are boring; this one was annoyingly boring.
There’s a number of new things which start happening near the end of the game like that final boss. I’ve already mentioned a few things about the final map of Skellige that were terrible, but they were also unique. The idea of having stuff littered everywhere basically up for grabs didn’t exist until Skellige. The idea of having a place exist for the sole purpose of one quest didn’t exist until Skellige.
One of the other things that didn’t exist was reusing dungeons. All dungeons and caves up to that point felt unique. I can’t remember where it was I saw it, but one of the ruins you go into on the main storyline looked like a decent chunk of it was straight up lifted out of another one I’d been into before. Not all of it though, because this story dungeon had things in it that were entirely new, and felt like its design paradigm came from a completely different game. The name that comes to mind is Dead Space, but that’s just the biggest offender in my experience.
The design paradigm that is widespread in videogames and not used in Witcher, or at least not obvious at all in the span of a hundred hours, is: go off the path you’re supposed to and you will find extra stuff. Witcher doesn’t quite reach NieR:Automata‘s skill in hiding things in places you don’t even think of looking, but it puts them in enough kinds of places that you aren’t ever entirely sure where you’ll find the good stuff. Sometimes going off the beaten path will get you neat loot. Other times you will find nothing. Yet other times you’ll see on the minimap that there’s another room behind this wall or door, but you can’t get in because it’s locked. Some of these you’ll come back to later in a quest. A great many of them are just locked, you can’t get to it, that’s just life. But you didn’t know that before you tried. All this beauty away entirely in this one time and I could not help but be put off by it.
As for the things that were new, there was some loot behind that kind of puzzle where you have to walk on the right tiles in the right order or else you get impaled, and one where you have to adjust mirrors so that they point light at a certain point. These new things appeared at basically the very end of the game. I don’t know if there’s an existing name to refer to for this concept, but I think it’s indicative of bad design. The best possible case is introducing the widest range of mechanics the game has to offer as early as possible (ref: again, NieR:Automata), so they can pop up throughout the rest of the game and by the end of it the player will have gotten familiar with the fundamental principles and be confident in their ability to overcome the next challenge. Witcher’s controls are clunky and not suited at all for the impaling puzzle. The mirror adjustment was just odd. Outside of this dungeon also around this time in the game there was also two instances where you needed to put an item in someone and something else’s inventory. And after you defeat the penultimate boss, he teleports you underwater and you have to swim through a puzzle in time to get to the surface.
I don’t like it.
I don’t want to be focusing on figuring out some new thing with my controller, regardless of how simple it is, in the final hours before the conclusion of a grand tale.
If there is one reason why Witcher deserves its fame, it is because of the tone it sets.
In a line:
Witcher assumes the intelligence of its reader.
Everyone has their own positions and circumstances in life, as well as personalities which push them towards acting certain ways and making certain decisions. Characters in Witcher act in reasonable and intelligent ways. In a fight between a man with no scruples and one with, the one with no scruples wins.
And the world of Witcher is clean out of scruples.
A common descriptor one might find in other words would be “realistic”, but I don’t agree that’s the case. One because I really hate praising “realism”, but more importantly, I don’t agree “real” is an accurate descriptor.
“Real” people are boring. “Real” people , while being boring and without being aware, lie out the nose and continue lying to everyone about everything to their dying breaths. Scruples or no scruples, and they often have plenty, they don’t for a moment tell you anything interesting, things that make you think, much less have a conversation with you with the intent of it being a prelude actions that would be of mutual benefit. To say Witcher is “realistic” would be an insult. If we put aside the commoners for a moment, is this how real intelligent people talk when you cut the bull? Perhaps it is, if Lee Kuan Yew and Vladmir Putin are anything to go off of. Some friends and bloggers also exhibit similar characteristics. But that would be an inconsequential coincidence. The primary reason why these people are interesting has little to do with whether or not they are “real”. Witcher characters are interesting because both the way they react and the way the writer restructures the story around my decisions shows they assume my intelligence and start from there.
Witcher – both the structure and the content – says things that are true. People you find everywhere from top to bottom cut the bull, and when they don’t, others rush into the gap and exploit it for themselves. Poor women work as prostitutes, but can double as intelligence agents. Strong men work as knights and guards, but if something up the chain of command goes wrong, they can become highwaymen and bandits. People have things they need or want and certain paths available to them to get it. Paths which they take, and some which they even create. Right or wrong is never the main question. As Geralt, the player can chime in at times to give their sentiments, but almost always the characters in question will brush them off.
The main question is always:
“What is the objective?”
The structure of the story says this too: you have to deal with all these people who have their own ideas on how things go, creating outcomes you might not want, because one thing above all else is the most important to you. You are trying to find Ciri, and then later, defeat the Wild Hunt. Just so happens, the price for these things is helping all these other people with their own objectives.
Or perhaps not. Sometimes at the final moment – after you’ve gotten what you needed from them – you change your mind. It is against your principles too much after all. Likewise, the other guy sometimes changes theirs.
For this reason I like all the main characters in the game.
There are several I disagree with, and some who I have a natural attraction to more than others. But I like all of them, because they’re all intelligent interesting personalities. They don’t bullshit. Those that do turn out to have very good reasons for telling you what they did, so much that you can’t really say that, given what they wanted to do, what they did was wrong, or there was another move they should have played. When you try to bullshit people, and they know well enough about you (if they’re a main character) or the situation (if they’re a supporting character), they’ll call you out and further actions ensue. Otherwise, they don’t, the problem gets resolved in the way which you intend, and you both go on your way.
No right or wrong. Just people and objectives.
I don’t like all the objectives, but I do like all the people.
There are two exceptions to this. One is Triss.
Triss is boring. I can’t find much to say about her. She’s a nice lady, and has noble things she wants to have happen, but she doesn’t pull any tricks or interact with anyone in any way that makes me want to particularly pay attention. I’m not familiar with Witcher lore, but as far as I’m able to tell she’s basically a saint. Saints don’t have to be uninteresting (ref: Setsuna Ogiso, White Album 2), but Triss is. She wants to save mages from burning at the stake… and… that’s it.
Unlike every other major character, the only pressing concerns she runs into are against no-names who appear once and never again, and the background political climate of mages being persecuted in general. This would not be too difficult of a problem to fix; just insert a few more quests where Triss interacts with other characters in some meaningful way. The only character she appears with is Dijkstra, in a way that only unfortunately only reinforced my liking of Dijkstra rather than liking them both. Dijkstra is a former head of intelligence and current crime lord, and always has tricks up his sleeve. Around Triss, he acts like a complete gentleman, so obviously he has something else going on. Triss acts more or less the same regardless. She doesn’t have anything that makes me think she’s not waifu material, but as a character in a cast of such overwhelming charisma it is hard to like her in particular.
The other one I’ll get to in a moment.
I need to finally and briefly mention here that I generally enjoyed the flow of the story with relation to gameplay. Since experience, levels, and thus power is primarily tied to story quests, I was able to do basically all the sidequests first – after a certain point, around 30 hours or so, or around level 12 – before doing only story at the end. Of the 115 hours I played, the final 18 were pure story. This is not to say that there is no stories inbetween, there were quite a few and almost all of them were riveting. But they were not the main plot. What happened the first ~90% of the game was was setting up the tone of the story so that when the plot finally arrived, when after scouring the entire world you finally find Ciri, you had a strong understanding on how things are going to happen and how to frame what you’re going to see next, and what happened next could be seen all in one go.
I generally don’t like open world games because too much clutter gets in the way and things lose their significance, or worse, become tone-deaf. Additionally, if it has a story, story must come first, which also means it must come last, uninterrupted by trivial minigames like “looting” or “combat”. Witcher addressed this problem, with its masterful illusion of space, intelligent tone, and structuring of the story for optimal flow at the end, more or less successfully.
“More or less”.
Time to talk about the “less”.
BLOOD AND WINE AND THE BIOLENINIST MENACE
There are very critical problems with Witcher, a majority of which share the same theme. A few, to be sure, don’t. The three categories are:
We’ll start with the errors, because it’s the shortest, with two items.
The first item is that the end of the final battle is tone-deaf.
Yes. This is the smallest. It’s also why my fairest shot can’t be 8/8.
You summon the Wild Hunt into a trap with some item, you fight them, Ciri like before is told to stay away so the Wild Hunt can’t reach her, also like before she goes in anyways because she has superpowers and does as she pleases; this is all reasonable and precedented so far. What’s not precedented is the moment you finally defeat the head of the Wild Hunt, you find out that one of your friends, and Ciri’s closest friend, appears to have abducted her in the heat of battle and started trying to do what the Wild Hunt wanted all along. So you make your way to Ciri and Avallac’h and it turns out Ciri wanted to be there, and they are summoning this Conjunction of the Spheres thing (how did they do it? why now?) so that Ciri can save the future from an environmental catastrophe called the White Frost. Which she goes and does. You have choices on screen at that point but they don’t affect much, because that’s what the story is now. You spend the whole game trying to find Ciri and then defeat the Wild Hunt, and now, at the very end, Ciri is deciding to sacrifice herself to save the world from something else entirely.
This White Frost is mentioned and shown once before, in a quest with Avallac’h in the final 10% of the game where you go through multiple worlds to get something else done. Avallac’h mentions that this is the fate of all worlds eventually, and one which the Wild Hunt is trying to escape, by using Ciri. This in a sense makes it not a deus ex machina.
But it is not very well done. I’ve played another game where in the final minutes it turns out your character is not the hero of the story, someone else is, it is they who will save the world; that game was The Longest Journey. I don’t have a problem with this kind of story. Ciri has strong, unknowable powers, the White Frost is a strong, unknowable, and inevitable disaster, makes sense that she’d be the one to deal with that and not you.
My problem is that Witcher doesn’t set up this finale. In another final 10% quest, you go with Ciri to the one place Avallac’h has never brought her. You two and Yennefer three go and find that it’s Avallac’h’s personal workshop, library, …and lover’s retreat. Ciri gets mad at both what the elven woman there says and what she finds, thinking that she’s been treated like, and I forget the exact words here, a rat in an experiment or some kind of research subject. She gets mad and wrecks the place. Later, after all the pre-battle quests are complete, you go to a briefing Avallac’h is leading, and Ciri’s in the back with her arms crossed because yet again she’s told to sit back and do nothing. This all fits Ciri’s personality and what happened at Kaer Morhen.
It doesn’t at all fit what she does at the end.
If during the briefing she was not cross and actually very calm and focused, a very obvious change from her impulsive rebellious nature, that would be all that’d be necessary to explain both her and the story’s radical change. Have Ciri do the opposite of what she did at Kaer Morhen, have Geralt be slightly puzzled, have Avallac’h point them back to the topic at hand, voila. Problem solved. More could be done to make it better to be sure, but this would be the minimum path. And it’s not such a hard change to make.
The writers know this.
I don’t happen to have a screencap, but at least at one point after or right before you board the boat as a party to sail to Skellige, in freeroam and not a cutscene, Ciri is standing, one arm horizonal the other vertical, face in hand, looking down, and I forget exactly but when either you or someone else want to talk to her, she says she needs to be focused on the task ahead and doesn’t want to see anyone she cares deeply for.
I had assumed it was something the Lodge of Sorceresses told her, because that’s what just happened. I’m pretty sure though that line didn’t appear after we visited Avallac’h’s secret spot. It definitely didn’t appear after the pre-battle briefing.
What did appear was a conversation between Yen and Avallac’h about what they found. What should’ve appeared was a conversation between Avallac’h and Ciri, with Avallac’h saying something short like “I have more to show you later”, something to indicate that though you just found some secret information, there’s yet more that will occur that won’t be to your privy until you can no longer change the consequences. Finalize with Ciri suddenly looking a lot more mature during the briefing and you’re good to go. Still severely lacking, but at least it wouldn’t be a huge gaping hole.
That didn’t happen. It came out of nowhere instead.
The other unfathomable error was how they killed off Dijkstra.
Your introduction to Dijkstra, former head of Redanian intelligence, is that he is a crime lord running a bathhouse. Intelligence to crime lord is plenty natural, though he will explain to you it’s not so different if you ask, the bathhouse part though is because at some previous time, Geralt broke his ankle and now he needs to put it in hot water six times a day. The first time you meet him he’s in that bathhouse, and says he doesn’t want to fight Geralt, he learned his lesson last time.
The big questline involving him is a plot to assassinate King Radovid, who Dijkstra and a few leaders of Temerian resistance (as well as probably the player) have agreed has gone crazy and needs to be removed, but hasn’t been able to do because he’s permanently aboard a ship. In the happenstance of finding Philippa Eilhart, one of the mages Radovid wants at all costs to kill with his own hands, you are able to lure Radovid off his ship and in following circumstances he is killed.
After escaping the situation your comrades start celebrating a free Temeria, from both Radovid and apparently Nilfgaard as well, because the conspiracy was in peace talks with Nilfgaard, terms being that war will end, peace will come, if only Radovid is assassinated and Temeria becomes a vassal state. The conspiracy… minus Dijkstra, who declares that this is not acceptable.
In front of Geralt.
I doubt, but can entertain, the notion that Dijkstra disagreed with the peace treaty terms drawn up by the rest of the conspiracy, but went ahead with it because it was the best move available to him at the time.
I refuse to believe Dijkstra would declare betrayal in the open. It was simply written poorly. Dijkstra being a patriot and not accepting being a vassal is fine, the other guys being guerilla fighters tiring of constant war is fine, what’s not fine is turning Dijkstra into an idiot. He could’ve shoo-d Geralt away, could’ve said they now have future politics to talk about (multiple characters comment on occasion how Geralt is both allergic to and incompetent with politics), could’ve at least made an effort to remove the strongest possible opposition to his plans, because he of all people would know Geralt doesn’t abandon his friends. Granted, you do have the option to abandon your friends, but that appears as a first option, not as a last option, which is what it should’ve been. Dijkstra doesn’t pick stupid fights. Perhaps he did have to kill the other conspirators that night because otherwise they would’ve been hard to group up again. But Geralt is unrelated. Geralt knows he’s unrelated. He’s basically just there to help friends or because he hated Radovid. Dijkstra had any number of things he could’ve said.
Things that he didn’t say.
These are the things I couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation for. Maybe in testing they found that not enough players got through the conversation trees and ended up with Roche, Ves, and Thaler dead, and being outraged that they missed on changing the outcome of such a betrayal. I find that difficult to believe given some of the other things that happen in the game. As for Ciri and the White Frost… was there some other plot entirely that they rewrote? Or cut out?
I happened to discover that there was a special loading screen right after the final Wild Hunt boss and right before you meet Ciri with the White Frost, so that leads some credence to that idea. These appeared elsewhere in the game, but previously only changed every once in a while, to indicate perhaps where the story was in case the player had gotten lost doing sidequests for a while. This one appeared right after two intense fights, and you don’t have a choice but to go to Ciri anyways.
Why not cut this too? What was the thought and production process that led up to what was actually implemented? They clearly were focused on something else entirely to miss such a critical error and its exceedingly simple fix. But I don’t know what that is.
The second problem is the rise of routine.
I say “rise” because, as stated earlier, the majority of the game by some masterful design escaped this problem. It only started appearing near the end, in plentiful but largely ignorable Skellige smugglers’ caches, single-purpose locations, and a partially reused dungeon.
In Blood and Wine, it is the entire game.
Large, beautiful, with a bunch of things to do that I couldn’t give less of a shit about.
When I finished the main game I was willing to write it off as running out of money and resorting to bad habits, but with BAW I cannot come to any conclusion other than that it was intentional and the Poles at CDProjekt had started hiring Baguettes from Ubisoft. If BAW reduced its pretty woman count to one and added a few more roofs to climb, I’d think I was playing Assassin’s Creed. I’m not about to look into the credits to compare lists of who was the lead designer or whatever on what, but I would be surprised if the leads on the main game and BAW were the same and no staff was exchanged between the two companies in that time.
Toussaint, unlike White Orchard, Velen, or Novigrad, is sterile.
There’s one city, whose doors are basically all locked, so there goes a big chunk of illusion of space. The crates you find anywhere are now basically all themed, so when you go to a barrel or chest you know more or less by context what’s going to be inside, so there goes even more illusion of space. Around the one city are four vineyards, which for some reason also have basically all locked doors, and random monsters roaming around.
Beyond those are towns, every last one of which are occupied by either 1) a big monster, or 2) a large gang of bandits. Every town. In the main game, most towns are occupied by people, with houses you can look into, things they’re doing, and most of them have a few unique quests for you. Some even have bars and fistfight competitions.
And then after every town you clear in BAW a blacksmith will appear who has enough money to buy off all the stuff you just looted. Even places that aren’t towns. There’s just suddenly a blacksmith and various other guys. With no further quests for you.
Invariably, one of them will come up to you and thank you so much for saving them.
It’s all routine. Everything is farming now, only it’s called vineyarding instead. It used to be that when I went up to a cave, it was either because I was called there by a contract with a unique story or stumbled upon it on my own, and what I found inside was different every time. Now there’s basically always a road, always some guy and his crew standing outside, always the motive is to have it cleared out to use as a wine cellar, always things to fight inside, and always you fight them in a big circular arena.
Thankfully, only three quarters of the time is it an obvious looparound because all but one of the paths available at the beginning are impossible.
Those doors which aren’t locked have people in that you don’t want to talk to, because they’re all pompous and take up your time. There’s an excuse here that the people of Toussaint are by lore more pompous, what can’t be excused is that there’s literally more sequences you need to go through to get anything done. If I talk to a merchant in the main game, with a few exceptions, they say one and only line, then you get your menu on what you want to do with them. In BAW, it’s almost always more than one line, then a menu, then another animation. Then when you want to leave, you have to see another animation. Animations animations animations.
Main game your main merchant is the lovable “Top notch swords!” guy. Sometimes you visit the other smiths too (each with their own charm), because there’s not enough money to buy all the exotic things you keep bringing in from the world.
BAW replaces all of them with a guy that has all the money and a grand total of two animations when you talk to him, one of which is pretentious and gets old before you’ve seen it.
His animation when you’re not talking is filing his nails.
I don’t want to do anything in BAW. The people are annoying by structure and the places are uninteresting by structure and oh I forgot to mention two things.
One, the above mentioned problems do not apply to HOS.
Two, which does apply in one instance to one boss in HOS,
is that the new enemies are frustrating. The three new common enemies of BAW – a centipede, a flower, and a vampire – are all super fast, have knockdowns, and move large distances quickly. Half the battle is blocking/dodging, the other half the battle is running to where they moved next. I briefly considered perhaps I needed to change completely my build to be based around Yrden and heavy armor, it’d sort of fit in with the theme of knights errant, which would be bad if true because everything else up to this point didn’t specifically reward or punish particular builds, but even that is not the case. If they moved a lot and would pop up next to you, that’s where such a build would work. That’d make all the fights in BAW like the fight with the third to last Wild Hunt boss.
Alas, it’s worse. All three have long range attacks. And the vampire will literally evade every single swing you make at her except for very short timing windows after specific animations. When they appear in one of the final story fight sequences, your ally will not fight them. He’ll fight everyone else that appears and make short work of them, but for these, he’ll stand at the edge of the area, continually asking, “Geralt? Are you coming?”. All the while this vampire is squeaking, shrieking, and laughing at you failing to hit.
Blood and Wine takes every last thing that is good about Witcher (except for the beautiful environments and women) and chucks them straight out the window.
But as all things inevitably are, things start happening before they happen, and this tumor can be found growing in the main game.
Cerys and everything she’s involved in is the biggest example, the structure as usual being more critical than the content. The sidequest you do with Cerys, a woman making a bid for the kingship of Skellige, involves lifting a curse from the local jarl. The lifting of the curse involves trickery: the cursed one must be present, someone else who has done something that they feel very guilty about must be present, then it must be revealed to both parties that a trick has occurred. Geralt and Cerys realize early on that doing such a thing requires the trick to not be revealed until the last moment, that one of them would have to be the party that gets tricked – whichever one doesn’t think up of an idea first.
And then they discuss it anyways. Cerys literally announces that she’s thought up of something, says she can’t tell Geralt what it is because that’d reveal the trick, and she’d be back later, get inside prepare the oven and be ready.
What IQ did the person who wrote this have?
I really want to fucking know.
It’s so asinine and stupid I refuse to believe anyone taking the story seriously wrote it up. Being tricked, or more generally, misguided, functions on the subject looking in the wrong direction and expecting the wrong thing. The smallest child knows this trick, it’s “look! behind you!”. The way to trick someone, structurally speaking, is to gain their trust so they don’t suspect it. People who excel at this are called “conmen” and the idea in general a “confidence game“. Cerys does the literal exact opposite. She thinks up of a trick, and then tells Geralt that it’s coming, and it will involve an oven.
There’s such a fucking simple solution to this too. It’s getting dark (which it was), we haven’t eaten all day, why don’t you grab some firewood and heat up the oven, I’ll go out and hunt [something] and gather [something else], we’ll make a special Skellige dish, it tastes great, you’ll love it. The longer the conversation goes in unrelated directions, the better, but something like that probably would’ve sufficed. Better yet, let her say she didn’t want to do trickery at all, say to Geralt she didn’t think it’d be possible, fight the evil spirit instead, let’s talk about how to prepare fighting such a thing over dinner.
None of that.
I have a trick! I won’t tell you what it is. Just go warm up the oven and wait for me!
Then she shows up with a baby, jarl and guard in tow, and tells Geralt to throw the baby in the oven. After fighting and killing the king’s men, she reveals the baby wasn’t harmed, tells the spirit it’s been tricked, and now it has to leave.
Literally can’t make this shit up. She fucking announces her victory out loud and tells the spirit it must be pissed off so it must leave! Because that’s how the world works!!!!
Witcher builds its world and fame on assuming the intelligence of its readers.
Cerys’ existence spits on the whole endeavor.
There’s other, more minor times this happens in the main game, like how picking Cerys over Hjallmar gets you access to an exclusive Place of Power, the final horserace of Skellige against the standing champion is obnoxious and a woman, a fistfight in Skellige against a champion is obnoxious and a woman, the primary character in the final Gwent tournament of Novigrad is obnoxious and, yet again, a woman…
There’s also a really strange title for a quest in Skellige, “Here Comes The Groom”, plot of it is a man didn’t trust his sister, sister says her husband was picked up and off by a monster and must be dead by now. Then you go and investigate, and lo and behold… he really is dead. This is a fairly unique case in the main game; all other quests are titled very simply, like “Fencing Lessons” or “The Cave of Dreams”. The fuck is “Here Comes The Groom” supposed to mean? Here comes his dead body? Is the meaning something I’ll find out if I read the SCUM Manifesto? These bloated nondescript nonserious titles take over completely in Blood and Wine, where almost every last one is a joke or a reference. And as such a tone suggests, the content is of low quality and not put together seriously. “Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Granite” and the statue in question is made of fucking bronze. But whatever. Those are minor points.
The major point is that the structure of Cerys grows into the entirety of Blood and Wine.
The main story revolves around a vampire and his human female lover. The vampire is unimaginably stupid, and the lover is the duchess’s sister trying to get revenge and stage a coup d’etat. And is also unimaginably stupid.
Vampire gets mad because he was being blackmailed into doing all these murders for the sake of freeing his lover, and it turns out he was being blackmailed by – his lover. When we ask why this vampire couldn’t find out where his lover had disappeared to, we get the answer that “she knows him”. Nevermind that we are working with another vampire (who is friends of both you and the mad vampire) and earlier used the power of ravens to scour the area for “miles around” overnight to look for a specific monster and found nothing; we’re supposed to believe that these ravens and vampires didn’t pick up anything for the at least week before you arive. So whatever, vampire gets mad, and he says meet me at such and such a location in three days or I’ll burn the city to the ground. You can’t go after him because “if he doesn’t want to be found, he won’t be found”. Not even at the meeting place. Just so happens the duchess also decides to imprison her sister, tells you to bring back the mad vampire’s head in three days.
Cutscene, three days pass, city is now being razed to the ground.
Sister was originally thrown out because she had the curse of being born under a solar eclipse, which means such-and-such things (that never end up mattering), and so she’s been out for revenge ever since. The four knights she killed were the ones that escorted her out of the country. Fifth planned is the duchess, who never pardoned her after her rise to power. This is fine. A bit sloppily and all-at-once revealed, but whatever. Revenge is nothing new in Witcher.
What is new is
- bitches not shutting their whore mouths, and
- the writer punishing you for slapping bitches and shutting their whore mouths.
Interactions with Syanna were so baffling to me I lost composure and ability to react coherently. I have no problem declaring myself as misogynist or whatever in opposition to the bioleninist menace, but conversations with her were so fucking stupid my intuition short-circuited. Even now I’m only able to tell it’s a feminist narrative because 1) it has a rebellious woman as its main character, 2) other things (Cerys et. all) have shown up previously, and 3) there’s a bunch of discussion about how Blood and Wine is feminist (in feminist circles), and how it’s not feminist it’s just strong characters who happen to be women (in public circles).
It’s enough evidence. But I prefer intution. Which I can’t use because it got fried.
Cerys, character and story structure, was stupid, but not that stupid. Feminist stupid. Syanna, character and story structure, is really, really stupid. So stupid she’s the new benchmark. I have never seen something so bad in my life.
No, that’s not true. I’ve seen worse. What I haven’t seen is something so smart become so stupid. It’s like I watched Flowers for Algernon happen to a story I loved except I refused to believe it was happening until it was too late.
The fact that someone has such simple revenge motivations is not the problem.
The problem is that BAW does everything it can to make me hate it and not care. I don’t care if it’s “realistic”, she’s a fucking obnoxious cunt, and there are no circumstances where you can craft interesting stories by sticking in unrelatable snotty i-don’t-need-you-you-need-me characters in the spotlight.
Literally no one else in the game does this. The rudest people always have something to talk about and always have something they want. Emhyr, Radovid, Philippa, Dijkstra, and perhaps many others can be said to look down on you, but they’re talking to you for a reason. You are having a conversation because both parties are, implicitly or explicitly, negotiating terms on something which both parties stand to gain. Emhyr offers you large amounts of gold for finding Ciri, Radovid tells you the location of Whoreson Junior and expects you to find him the location of Philippa Eilhart, and so on and so on. If neither of you had anything to gain, or more specifically, had any hope of something to gain, there simply wouldn’t be a conversation. That’s the structural nature of what a conversation is.
You tell Syanna the whole city is literally on fire and yet she still finds the need to flap her jaws about herself; why don’t you ask me about why I did what I did even though I told you the basics already. Like a child desperately wanting to tell you her sob story.
I didn’t want to hear it anymore.
So I failed. I got the bad end.
Because I didn’t give in to the desires of an overgrown child.
Is this “realistic”? Sure. I don’t know how someone like this would ever be able to build up a criminal empire, fine whatever, I’ll hand over the small details. It still makes her fucking full of shit. Do you read stories because they’re interesting and fun and can teach you something about the world? Or because they’re “realistic”?
Have you ever noticed that those touting “realism” always, always make things shittier and less interesting? Uglier women, blacker men, obnoxious characters, stupid fucking plots with stupid fucking ideas, and they always fucking win?
There are only five other people you interact with in the whole game where, in a phrase, “being an asshole” changes outcomes. They are: Ciri, Yennefer, Triss, Keira, and Shani. One is effectively your daughter, the other four are lovers. It makes sense to be sensitive with them when they’re feeling down, figure out what they want and how they see things, because with those people, the relationship is more important than the goals.
With everyone else who gives a flying fuck? Who are you to me? Who am I to you? Why would I make a decision based on you? We’re here to get something done.
Are we going to get it done or not?
This shit also applies to the vampire who gets mad, but you basically never interact with him and he’s always offscreen, so it’s more tolerable. Until he’s not offscreen and appears as a boss, and that was the first time in my life I’ve ever pulled out the console to turn on godmode. Take all the things I said about the new BAW enemies, and add instagibs to it. I’m not fucking dealing with that trash when all I have to look forward to is shit.
BAW is a tragic love story about two obnoxious brats. One has the excuse of being a vampire so no one else has ever been able to teach him a lesson. The other has the excuse of being a woman so no writers will ever correct her to a be a better character, because no one will correct the writers on stronk independynt wymyns or other leftist agitation, otherwise they get blacklisted and @’d on Twitter and probably a lot of other actual dangerous things.
That’s the real problem with BAW. No one is correcting the writers.
So they churn out stupid fucking shit.
You find this guy as the only guy left in some LARP club, everyone else there is dead. They were re-enacting some scene. He is aware of all these things that are coming out of his mouth, you didn’t bring him a new book or tell him anything he didn’t already know.
He knew these things, yet bought those statues and re-enacted that scene.
And yet was conveniently clueless about everything until you finish the quest.
You and the duchess are at a fancy mask party trying to get into a room behind a guard. Guard recognizes duchess’s voice, says he’d recognize it anywhere, he worked for her for 15 years, says he will do anything, duchess says quiet we’re here on state business, Yes, Your Grace! How may I serve?
Do I have to explain this one? No?
Left is the friend vampire, right is the mad vampire. This is at the mask party.
We had previously left friend vampire at mad vampire’s place to wait for him to show up, and agreed that they’d wait until Geralt comes back. They’re on the clock looking for the blackmailer because who knows when the next murder note will show up, Geralt hasn’t told them where he’s going. And so they happen to show up at the right place without notice instead. Lorewise, probably something about how the mad vampire is very emotional or some other idiocy.
What this really is is a glamour shot with the implication that the woman in the center is also a powerful vampire. Which she is. Apparently. And she feels the need to spell it out with “literally”. Later in some other location, the friend vampire also has to say ‘you know she’s a vampire too right’.
She’s also uglier than every other woman in the game.
She whoever wrote this pathetic excuse for a tale.
You go into fairytaleland to retrieve Syanna and part of getting out of fairytaleland requires asking The Boy Who Cried Wolf some questions. I could go into a whole nother spiel about how this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the tale, both the motivations of the villagers and the shepherd boy, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of the structure of lying and misdirection, but I won’t. Because it’d miss the point. Because there is no point. There is no message here, it doesn’t exist; all that exists is the motivations of the writer, and it’s clear enough with the contrast to The Little Match Girl what the motivations are.
I wish I never touched Blood and Wine.
I wish I hadn’t touched Hearts of Stone either, but for a completely different reason.
I didn’t consider this beforehand, but after these 158 hours, I don’t think stories should have DLC. Strong dramas should get either a complete sequel, a comedic slice of life spinoff, or nothing at all. Both HOS and BAW, all-in-all, attempt to be serious stories, but involving none of the characters you spent all that time with (except for Geralt).
But, at this flawed endeavor, HOS succeeded.
It succeeded so spectacularly I believed that what I saw in Skellige were just errors.
They were not errors. They were not errors at all.
For the love of all you find holy and hold dear: Do not play Blood and Wine.
If you want to enjoy The Witcher 3:
Do not play Blood and Wine.
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
Witcher’s saving grace is that it cuts from its final climax to an epilogue.
Depending on various things you’ve done, you will get one of three endings. In this time after Ciri abruptly ups and offs herself to save the world, you have time to contemplate what you did, what you could have done…
A solemn fifteen minutes to think about what the story in the end had to say.
As it turns out, basically all decisions that are counted to determine which epilogue you get are your decisions in your relationship with Ciri. This isn’t strictly true, but that’s the mindset I used, and judging by the music used in the other two endings as shown on youtube and how everyone else has labelled them, I got the “happy” end.
At the time I started this second attempt at playing through Witcher, I was aware of the three possible endings – at least, with respect to Ciri’s status. Ciri dies? Obviously bad. Ciri as a witcher or Ciri as an empress? From what I had remembered at the time I wasn’t opposed to Ciri becoming Empress of Nilfgaard. Emperor Emhyr seemed like a reasonable enough guy. Perhaps a bit high-brow, but that’s to be expected. Becoming a witcher on the other hand is terrible. What’s so great about living forever having to be constantly on the road putting your life on the line hunting monsters? Or even becoming a witcher. Your body may just reject mutations. You could just die and that’d be that.
At the climax I was convinced I got the bad ending.
Ciri went through the portal to save the world. The portal closed. She didn’t come back. Cut to black, loading screen, and I’m suddenly in Vizima, being taken to see Emhyr. Probably to get executed. I… don’t get executed, but Emhyr says he wants me out and to never see my face again. And that was exactly how I was feeling about what I had done. How am I supposed to live with myself from now on?
After a short scene with some looters in “Temeria” with Geralt saying little other than offering to help random people, “Change is coming”, and that he’s off to meet someone at the nearby inn, you’re given control again, I found myself in the first region of White Orchard. First place I’m told to go is to the old Nilfgaard camp, a camp in a castle now derelict and empty, the second place you go to in the game. Meet a master smith, who presents a sword, inscribed “Zirael”, or “Swallow”, after Ciri. All this time, it’s the same old White Orchard music from before anything had happened at all.
Then it’s time to go to the inn – the first building in the game. I had expected to meet Yen. Or perhaps an unimportant character, taking on a next contract, maybe time to leave this sadness behind, go somewhere far away. Instead, I meet…
The new sword is hers.
The story of Witcher is a message about making decisions.
The world is large and complex. There’s twisting paths which connect various people and things, paths many of which you’ll never see, and even those you follow never quite know where they’ll lead, paths you can only, when all things are really considered, decide on impulsively. Sometimes things turn out how you want. Other times something you couldn’t possibly have known about arrives, takes its chances, and takes the day.
Here is what you see.
Ciri is initially introduced as an immature character, acting out doing whatever she wants however she wants, often to the detriment of everyone else. Perhaps even in the end this is true. But the endings you get as a player are the decisions you make as Geralt. Here’s finally your adoptive daughter you’ve found, after in-game two years time, you’ve been searching for her and she’s been on the run from what is certain death and the end of the world. Here’s how she acts and what she wants. What do you do?
I had wanted to see her safe and alive. But there was no way to tell what would have done that. Not without looking into the future with magic. Not without pausing the game and looking up guides on what to do when. So I just took things as they came. When the game asked me a question on what to do, I asked myself what did I want?
And I thought: I want to see her happy.
Is becoming a witcher a happy life? Maybe not. But that doesn’t matter, not the least of reasons being none of the decisions you make have anything to do with suggesting or deciding Ciri become one. It just turns out that way. Similarly, the promise of a happy life, if such a thing can even be envisioned, bears little relation to what you can choose now. In a sense “what you want” is short-term, short-sighted thinking. But it’s much more true that it’s the only view you’ll ever have, and thus the longest possible view of them all.
What lasts longer than all else is your own view of you.
So when in doubt, follow your instincts.
Time and time again this idea is revisited. Keira is in hiding from persecution until she can’t stand it anymore and has to leave because… bedbugs. Eibhar is a world-class smith that is making dumplings because… he doesn’t want to end up dead or crippled.
Ciri has been successfully running for her life… but what she really wants is to be useful.
There’s a bunch of people who emphasize the long term too of course, and they make up a majority of the cast. What they do is called “playing politics”. And basically all of them are not happy. They’ve secured some of what they want, and are by all possible calculations on a path towards getting more of what they want. But at what cost? Is it one that, if they asked themselves, prices they’d be willing to pay?
A few will answer yes.
But most won’t.
In the end, if they could get out, if they could find a way to not play this ever-increasingly complicated game of gaining long-term happiness anymore, that’s what they would do.
Witcher’s content is a story about Geralt’s relationship with Ciri.
With all you’ve learned in interactions with a hundred characters throughout a hundred hours of story, what do you think would bring her happiness? Defeating the Wild Hunt, yes. That one’s not a choice, the game makes it for you. But what afterwards? You embarked on this endeavor because, potentially, Emhyr said he’d pay you a lot of money for finding his biological and your adoptive daughter. Did you do it for that money? You’re aware that Emhyr has plans for ceding the throne to her. On all you know about the world in specific, and of the nature of people in positions of power in general, what would you want to see?
It may potentially be for the good of all people everywhere that Ciri become empress. Ciri doesn’t know of these plans, but she does say that it’d be nice if after being on the run for so long and being desired for her special powers, if only she could just stop and live a normal, carefree life.
She looks to Geralt for help. She wants to know what kind of future she can have.
Witcher’s structure, through Geralt’s decisions with Ciri, poses to you a question:
Here is the world. Here is how it works. These are the kinds of things that can happen, this is how intelligent, powerful, and potentially dangerous people act. Sometimes things go according to plan. Other times, it doesn’t. Certainly here we have monsters, but as we remind you time and again, not all monsters are monsters, and not all people are people. Sometimes, even if they are people… that’s just the way things have to be.
You can take all that into consideration, calculate out a plan of action to get the best chance at the best possible life. Or, you can follow your own path, and let it take you, wherever it may lead. Which one do you choose as your way of life?
The Witcher 3 says one answer is better.
I believe the answer it chose is right.