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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review P2 - Can’t Say Goodbye

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This is the second and final part of my review of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (reviewed on PS4, Version 1.03). Find the first part here.

*mild spoilers for optional side-quests*

The most remarkable thing about The Witcher 3 is that I’m still playing it. I’m still thinking about and still excited every time I drop in.

I’ve never played a game this long in my first playthrough. Sure, I’ve spent more hours in total with other games, repeatedly starting them from scratch - Gabriel Knight 2 comes to mind. But The Witcher 3 is the first game I’ve played for close to 200 hours, in my first playthrough, and finding no signs of stagnation. Indeed, I’ve only just arrived at the game’s final big map, known as Skellige - comprised of small islands but still a huge landmass in total.

I didn’t think I could repeatedly have my breath taken away, but these screenshots show just why I was.

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New stories arise in unexpected ways: A Witcher contract to discover what happened to a lighthouse on a misty island turned into a murder trial and assisting a young man’s foolhardy dungeon crawling; aiding a friend in a performance led to uncovering a serial killer who was not what he appeared to be. The stories in Witcher 3 aren’t just memorable: They’re well told, surprising and range between dark and joyful.

This actually ties into why I’ve been playing so long and it’s a reason I never expected: I adore Geralt.

Usually, I’m bored of grim, dark, brooding heroes, who growl and kill. Geralt, however, acts out of genuine care for his friends - not for some world-saving perspective. And if it’s not genuine care for friends, it’s genuine care for gold. He makes bad dad jokes, accidentally is forced to recite rhymed verse badly, conveys care to those who need help, and banters with sorceresses - with whom he has unique relationships with. These are women, by the way, who can take out armies with a flick of the wrist, and he often fumbles in trying to help (and is frequently told off by said sorceresses). Indeed, the entire game is a father looking for his obviously more powerful, more capable daughter.  

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Consider: There are points where you can refuse gold for Witcher contracts - for example, a man contracted me to kill the monster that had eaten a village boy’s father. This man had taken the boy in when the father died. After I slayed the beast, I returned and Geralt said to the poor villager: “Keep it. For the boy.” A simple gesture, but it felt right: This was a man with few possessions and little riches, taking in an orphan. The game didn’t praise me for this gesture - but, more importantly, the game allowed it.

But let me rather tell you my favourite Witcher 3 moment.

In another mission, an old woman who yelled at chickens told me she was having wolf trouble. Following the tracks, I discovered some orphan kids who were using wolf paws to disguise their theft. I returned to the woman and informed her. She snarled. Before leaving, I chose to say: “Why not take the kids in? That way, they won’t steal from you.” The old, angry woman laughed in my face, muttered about silly kids. Then she went quiet, thought for a while, before shushing me off.

A few in-world days later, I happened to pass her little house on an unrelated quest. As I came over the hill, I heard the laughter of children and nagging voices: There were the same kids, in her chicken pen, questioning the old lady about chickens’ names and personalities. Again: there was no reward for my dialogue choice, but there were consequences I could see and experience.

There are no “morality points”, there are merely consequences. What I love is that we have a game with books’ worth of lore, incredible graphics, remarkable combat, fascinating characters, brilliant voice-performance - to tell the story about a woman with chickens. All of these powerful systems are in place so that I can help a friend put on a theatre performance. Everything is big and open and intense, judging from screenshots - but what makes the game is its heart and adoration for the people who inhabit it.

The game’s flaws are also infuriating in that they need not exist at all. It is a pity there are no people of colour and every human is a white person: simple colour shaders and differing features in a game with such variety could’ve solved it. Why allow various creatures, but not simple human races? It is a huge problem that requires it’s own article.

Further, women all seem to have the same body-type and are frequently in states of needless undress (men vary in size and shape: very really are they seen naked, though Geralt is and you do see male sex workers). I’d rather leave any arguments for whether the sorceresses can or should do this for women colleagues. Indeed, I’d rather not comment too much on gender issues, except to indicate an uncomfortable mansplainy, shaming moment.

There was a mission where a commander yelled at his subordinate, a woman. He commented on her wearing almost no clothes to charge into combat and kept yelling about how wrong she was in her actions. She isn’t allowed to defend her insubordination (which, to me, felt justified). It was needless and just a man yelling at a woman, while commenting on her wardrobe - wardrobe the game’s designers had decided on. Like so many women in the game, her wardrobe is revealing - even though she’s a highly qualified soldier, during a war. It made so little sense - even her commanding officer mentions this.

I can’t think why the designers consistently show women in this way, even while creating fascinating, powerful women around Geralt - but it was unnecessary when men were in full combat gear as well as shown naked or partially naked. I might be wrong, but that was my own impression. I’d wait for more women to write on this issue and see what they say - rather than take my word for it as any kind of fact rather than my impression. After all, the franchise isn’t exactly renowned for treating women well.  

Speaking of women, the game let’s you occasionally play as Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri. She is… well, all I can say is wow. She’s funny, smart, incredibly powerful, snarky and stubborn. She’s a better sword wielder than Geralt and has powers from the most powerful beings in the universe. Playing as her made me hope we’d have an entire game in the future with Ciri as lead: clearly women aren’t hard to animate for CD Projekt Red.

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This is a special game. I had moments of utter joy, utter horror and frequent tears. For example, the tale of the Bloody Baron and his missing family is long and hard and incredible: sidequests I took suddenly influenced its outcome in a way I didn’t expect. James Clyde, the performer of the Baron, is remarkable - even if his character is an awful abuser, but one who has genuine moments of care for Ciri. His tale went to places I didn’t expect and there were moments that cut to the core of family, love and loss. Again: This is a sidequest, altered by other sidequests, made powerful not from magic but human relationships.

I love this game. It is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. It’s special and beautiful. It’s massively problematic: It suffers framerate problems, tiny text and other patchable offenses. Worse, it’s complete absence of people of colour and troubling portrayal of women are pointless inclusions that could’ve been easily avoided. One hopes that CD Projekt Red understands these issues going forward, since they have clearly created a gem of a game and know how to listen.

CD Projekt Red has raised the bar for open world games, for male protagonists, for storytelling and for fantasy games. I envy no one who will be tapping into any of those aspects for their game, since this is now the champion and giant, whose shadow it must work under. And what a shadow it casts.

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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