A look at a really good game: “The Witcher 3”

“Let me tell you where things stand. I’m looking for this woman ’cause she’s like a daughter to me … and that’s why I just can’t let this go.”
Geralt, before killing someone in cold blood, in “Witcher 3”

Yesterday’s posting mentioned the downsides of a standing desk (your ankles get really swollen after you play for 24+ hours without interruption) and it reminded me to give a shout out to “Witcher 3”. It’s the game responsible for said swollen ankles.

“Witcher 3” is in the same league as other games which just make you lose track of time, like “Neverwinter Nights” or “X-Com”. The immersion and flow are so powerful that a weekend passes without even noticing it.

What is “Witcher 3” for a game, or rather, what is a witcher?

Well, Geralt, the protagonist, is a witcher. Witchers are — essentially — monster-hunters. He is genetically altered to be faster and stronger, and he uses potions and magic to further increase his abilities (and oils, and bombs). All needed to be on equal or better footing than the monsters in the game. Which are impressive. He carries two swords — one steel, one silver, because monsters are affected by silver, but silver is not good for fighting humans.

It’s an open world game (you can go and explore … a lot), but it is also story driven. He’s looking for his former ward/adopted daughter, Ciri, who has vanished. She’s also the daughter of the emperor who currently wages a war against the north.

But before I go into details, here’s a good trailer:

here’s another one:

and here’s an honest trailer:

And yeah, it really is a great game, for many reasons.

First off, there is a lot of lore and inside jokes in the game, yet it’s accessible to a novice player. While it’s called “Witcher 3” and (obviously), there are two previous games, it’s not necessary to have played them. “Witcher 3” is pretty much self-contained. Still, you might want to play the previous games. While somewhat dated they are both really, really good. And given that the series is based on the books of Andrzej Sapkowski, you might want to read those as well. They are excellent as well. Oh, and “Witcher 3” includes a ton of real-world (and other fictional world) references.

You’re in a war-torn land — that actually looks like a war is going on.

Second, it takes the player seriously — this is a game for adults, and the players are treated like adults. From what it shows and how it shows it, to the decisions and the consequences. This is a hard world and the game shows it. You see it probably most strongly in the choices you have … to make. It has some of the hardest decisions I’ve ever seen in games, even beating the “genocide or not” decision in “Fallout 2”. Sometimes there are not “good” decisions, each option hurts or even kills innocents — but you still have to make a choice. And a couple of these decisions … very hard to go through and live with them (I’m avoiding spoilers here, but when you’re drinking from a silver goblet while something is going on next door, you’ll know what I mean). And these decisions have consequences.

How much are these lives worth?

Third, it really makes you care about the characters. Even without knowing the back-story, I quickly grew attached to a few of the characters — and strongly disliked others. The characters show emotions, even if only to act like a cold bitch, or like a kindred soul. Also, the characters really have depth. They are complex people with a back-story that explains much of their behavior. And makes even make some things understandable, after all … well, let’s just say some people try to be good, but things happen. And oh, your player character also shows emotions — sometimes.

A fan favorite, but really not my type. Despite the complex personality behind it. But I see why some people go for her. Actually, she’s a somewhat tragic person.
A very sympathetic character (at least in my opinion). Humor, brains, and heart. What else would you want?
Probably the most romantic scene in the game … in a warehouse full of rats.
The daughter of a friend with high ambitions.
Another complex character — the “Bloody Baron”. A man really trying to do his best, but completely out of his depth when it comes to the strained relationship with his wife and his child (NOT shown here! Sorry, didn’t have another picture of him available.).

Fourth, it pulls no punches, even if it’s about what happened before you got involved. Seriously, if you thought Romeo and Juliet was tragic, wait until you encounter the “Witcher 3” version. Two words: “potion” and “rats” (no, not the warehouse). This story “Witcher 3” tells in a side quest is … ahh, yeah. And dang, that was one hell of a kiss. Or how about throwing a child into the oven? It’s for a good cause, after all …

“Take him. You must put him in the oven. Trust me.” […] “In the oven. Throw him in the oven!”
Fifth, it’s not all action. Witcher 3 has a lot of quiet moments. It allows emotions to unfold. Whether it’s a quiet moment with your former ward after a hard battle, or burying an outcast, it has those moments that just make you … feel.

A much needed break.
Even characters you hardly knew can affect you.
A father and his son. All is well(ish).

Sixth, it’s an engaging open world which merges almost perfectly with an overall story. You have a story that leads you through the game, but you can also do a lot of side-quests and exploring. You’ll encounter enemies who are way out of your league, and that’s okay (yes, you can and sometimes should run). And you find a lot of interesting quests along the way.

A lighthouse covered in mist — what could go wrong?

Seventh, graphics and game-play are superb. I’m not very good with a PS4 controller (having grown up with a C64 joystick and later playing first person shooters and RPGs with keyboard and mouse), but it’s really easy to get engaged. The fights, esp. against harder opponents, are engaging and fun. And it features some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen in a game.

Beautiful vistas (yep, not a cutscene, it’s what you see in the game).
House on an island.

Eight, there’s a game within the game. And it’s becoming it’s own standalone game (finger’s crossed). Witcher 1 and 2 had dice poker, Witcher 3 has Gwent. A card game. Once you get some sense of the strategies you can use (and improve your deck), it’s fun, and there’s even a great quest based on it.

Gwent. Love it or hate it.

And yup, I’m leaving a couple of the highlights out of this description. No need to spoil a brilliant game. But did I mention that it has extremely beautiful background music, not to mention a beautiful lute piece by an extremely talented bard that comes completely by surprise? And how about having sex on an unicorn? Or how about first punching someone into a bloody pulp and then killing him in cold blood — and it totally feels right (within a game, obviously)? Or how about that romantic scene on a mountain? Or when a father has a moment to make peace with his second child … which died before it was born?

This game gets so much so right that it’s a pleasure to play. So far I’ve completed it twice and I’ll likely play it a third time once the last DLC’s are out. If you wonder what games can do — what they can make you feel … “Witcher 3” is an inspiration.

Highly recommended.

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