Geralt doesn’t have to solve people’s problems. It’s a stigma that’s present in so many modern RPgs – you go here, solve this problem, kill this many enemies and return for a reward. It doesn’t matter if you’re a proclaimed messiah, an omnipotent ruler or a common villager on the path to heroism. Along the way, you’re going to have to do things that seem beneath you. Geralt doesn’t do that.
I’m only around 20 hours into what’s gearing up to be a massive play through of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and no other facet of the game has stood out more than this. Geralt, the cold, calculating Witcher of Rivia, is on the hunt for a long-lost love from the two previous games, Yennefer of Vengerberg – who acts as a McGuffin for what the true tale of this concluding chapter really is. You soon however, end up trading one hunt for another as you pursue a former student of Geralt, Ciri. She’s, coincidentally also being hunted by the same spectral force that kidnapped Yennefer in the first place – a nice, neat way of bringing everything full circle.
While that’s the tale that is currently being laid out in front of me, it’s more the way that I chose to pursue it that has made these opening hours so engrossing. The Witcher franchise has never shied away from massive decisions that alter the course of your journey. The Witcher 2 did this through climatic, chapter ending moments that would would, completely alter the rest of the game. They were unsubtle but effective – an area where The Witcher 3 so far excels in, in every way possible.
Story quests may begin in a familiar and predictable fashion, but the beauty is in the way that they branch out, which is exquisite to behold. For example, an early lead gives Geralt two approaches to figure out where Ciri might have headed to in No Man’s Land – the first really big area you’re going to sink your teeth into – both of which can be pursued in any order. The order, however, changes how certain events occur and are perceived through Geralt – and it made me wonder how different things would’ve panned out if they’d been done in reverse. It also emphasised how crucial every single dialogue choice has, as an irreparable impact not only on the story, but on the world around you.
And in traditional Witcher fashion, there isn’t a right answer. Ever. Choose to save a bunch of orphans, and you rob the life from the mother of another, possibly purer daughter. Choose the lesser of two evils, and watch it grow into a force that completely changes the landscape of the area you were trying to improve. Villagers will speak of your actions in hushed tones, applauding or downright chastising your actions. Geralt isn’t the only force able to move cogs in the Northern Realms – but he certainly carries a lot more weight than ever before.
These world-changing consequences aren’t reserved for the main narrative either. As I experienced in short supply during my time with the game last month, The Witcher 3 employs micro-narratives that engross you in the daily struggles of villagers you’d otherwise casually ride by. Clearing a Ghoul nest near a small settlement frees the inhabitants up for rebuilding, giving you more merchants to trade with, more missions to undertake and hearty smiles of gratitude from those around you. It’s entirely organic too – with small markers pointing you in the direction of possibilities should you get near them. This isn’t a black and white, binary world that is oppressed or freed based on your involvement. It’s a living, breathing landscape of misfortune and opportunity, waiting for you to decide which is which.
This misfortune is more often than not a product of The Convergence – which left a nasty handful of creatures stuck in the realm of men. It also means the Witching business is still thriving, and monster contracts are a particularly rewarding way to pace yourself. Each village will have a notice board that usually has a new contract up for offer. Speak to the issuer, learn some history about the settlement you’re in, and you’re off hunting werewolves, noon-wraiths, griffons and more.
These contracts are meatier than simply exploring an area and killing anything that moves. As you’d expect, there’s a keen amount of preparation Geralt needs to get through, which involves identifying the threat, determining where it resides and, more importantly, how to effectively dispatch them. This, again, is left up to you – and it’s not uncommon for some contracts to resolve using non-violent means. On the other hand, these encounters also provide the toughest combat scenarios for you to deal with – and an ill-prepared Witcher without the right oils, potions and muteness is quick work for these boss-like foes.
Right now, the most difficult thing to get right in The Witcher 3 is staying on a set path – which is the perfect scenario for an RPG of this size. It’s incredible to see the small, personal stories of peasants interweave into a larger picture, and even more impressive still that it manages to maintain this allure so many hours in. The main story is trotting along at a respectable pace for now, but extremely well written characters are holding my attention more than anything now. And if it stays that way for the next 60 or so hours, this may turn out to be one of the most impressive RPGs I’ve played yet.
Look out for a full, proper verdict in the near future.
Last Updated: May 18, 2015