It took me nearly seven months, but over this last weekend I finally finished The Witcher 3’s main quest. During those 110 hours I experienced, in my opinion, the best that the open-world RPG genre has to offer… has ever offered.
A while back I wrote about how The Witcher 3 was teaching me to stop giving a s**t. The game’s narrative and predefined character were constantly coaxing me away from playing the “selfless RPG hero” role, instead favouring a more involved character in a personal quest line devoid of world-ending plot devices. When I wrote that initial piece I was barely 30 hours into the game; “The Bloody Baron” quest line had sunk its teeth into me and I was being completely engulfed by what was unfolding before me.
Now that Geralt’s story is complete, I have this overwhelming need to gush about narrative and just how subtly manipulative this game can be. Needless to say, there are some enormous spoilers after the jump.
When the game informed me that travelling to the Isle of Mists would result in being unable to return to previous questlines, I figured that I was nearing the end of the game. If only I’d known, right? Up to this point the game had thrown so many curve-balls in my direction, and so much hardship had been rubbed in my face as my doing that I was preparing myself for the worst when I eventually found Ciri. (Seriously though, I released a plague maiden? How was I supposed to know that Anabelle’s ghost would go on to spread Catriona so widely that it’d cause the downfall of an entire coastal kingdom?) But when Geralt finally (finally!) laid eyes on Ciri’s lifeless body lying on the bed in that god-forsaken, forgotten hut, my heart sank. Geralt’s heart sank as well, and I felt his loss. Here was Geralt, a Witcher and therefore one with no capacity for emotion, reduced to a silent, reeling mess of loss and heartache. His inability to outwardly express his emotions made that scene oddly impactful; his stunned disbelief that she was gone was more potent within the context of Witcher lore than any amount of tears and shouting would have been. Of course, she wasn’t dead, but that little scene was incredible. It showed a side of Geralt (the loving father figure) that we’d never seen, and our already more relatable RPG character became even more relatable on the most basic human levels of loss and sadness.
That scene set me up for all future interactions with Ciri; it showed me how deeply Geralt cared for her, and by that stage I cared deeply for Geralt. So I made it (or did the game make me make it?) my mission to ensure her safety throughout the remainder of the story. That meant dialogue options that would purposefully put her out of harm’s way and as far away from Eredin and the Wild Hunt as possible. It wasn’t until Ciri lost her cool with everyone trying to protect her, and my realisation that I was being worse than Avallac’h insofar as controlling her went, that I changed my outlook towards her and Geralt’s relationship. After the Battle of Kaer Morhen I went from Ciri Protector Role, to Ciri Enabler Role. You want to sneak out of the castle, set off and go and kill Imlerith without telling anyone else? Great, Cirilla, let’s do it.
It was just after Ciri and I had taken out Imlerith that I realised just how much CD Projekt’s narrative and the characters were manipulating my decisions. I’ve always found it rather easy to stick to a character type in RPGs, but The Witcher 3 kept making me change the way I was engaging with it.
Arguably the best part of this game was how it deliberately shattered the tired old “end of the world” RPG trope. I mentioned in my last Witcher 3 article that I was enjoying the more personal tale of Geralt looking for his loved ones, and that I was “hoping (praying) that The Wild Hunt [didn’t] suddenly pose a world-ending threat to The Continent.” It turned out that there was a world-ending threat to The Continent: the White Frost.
At the end of the game, Ciri and Avallac’h open a portal so that Ciri can enter it in order to stop the White Frost. There is a world-threatening event bearing down on us, but it’s not you, the player, that has to stop it: it’s Ciri. All this time Geralt and I were moving mountains to protect her, but she was the one who would end up protecting us and the rest of the world. The White Frost was kept deliberately low-key throughout much of the main story, with a brief example of what it does when Avallac’h and Geralt travel to Tedd Deireadh. There are mentions of a White Frost, but it’s never really, explicitly indicated that its arrival at The Continent is due to happen any day now. That information is kept from us until it’s too late, and Geralt is left to watch the woman he’s raised, searched for, and protected disappear through a portal to certain death. It’s the end of the world, and Geralt and I were unable to stop it.
And just in case our inability to stop this catastrophe was any less clear, Ciri says before disappearing through the portal: “What can you know about saving the world, silly. You’re but a Witcher.”