Playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the First Time

Like most of the world, I have been limiting my outdoor activities because of the entire pandemic thing. I do have to go out once in a while but only to get supplies to survive. But, like I said, I’m staying at home. So, what’s a geek like me supposed to do with all this time?

Why, play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, one of the biggest games that will engulf most of your free time, of course!

As big as the series has gotten (it even now has it’s own Netflix series now starring Henry Cavill), I have never played a game in the Witcher franchise until now. I can’t really say why I never took the plunge before but there were several factors why I decided to take the chance on it now. First, I needed a game to play. Not just any game, mind you. I needed something new and, more importantly, long. I needed a game that would tide me over until the lockdown is done with. Second, they were offering The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on sale on the PlayStation Store with all of the DLC bundled with it. Who am I to say no to a deal like that?

So, the instant I did download and booted up The Witcher 3, there was a feeling of trepidation. This is the third game of a series of games and books, after all. And I’m coming right in the middle of everything. Would I understand what the heck was happening? To be honest, no. Not really. It took me a while to grasp the general basics of the story as the game references events, allies, enemies and people that have happened in the previous games and the books.

Right at the start, I’m told that Geralt, the main character, is out searching for a sorceress named Yennifer. There’s also a huge war brewing between the kingdoms of Nifgaard with the other kingdoms called the Northern War. Oh, and Geralt apparently has an adopted daughter who the Wild Hunt as searching for. Who? What? The Witcher 3 doesn’t really bother explaining any of this with new players so, for most of the early part of the game, I had to play catch up and just nod my head and pretend I know what’s going on whenever Geralt would come across someone he says he knows from his previous travels.

Even though I did start out really lost regarding the story, I did eventually catch up with the events but that’s because the story in The Witcher 3 is actually really simple as it’s just a guy who’s looking for someone and, when he does, gets to the next plot point. The story can be very long thanks to the numerous side quests but since the main story is very straightforward, I never got lost when it came to following it.

It also helps that the story itself is presented in a really beautiful way. A lot of the story is told via exposition dump, with characters you meet talking to Geralt and saying “Hey, remember that time when you…” or something along those lines. But it’s the way these exposition dumps are delivered is what sold it to me. The dialogue between the characters always felt organic and does sound like two people reminiscing about the past.

Like the story, controlling Geralt as he goes on his quests took me some time to get accustomed to. I had no real problem with casting of the Signs or the combat. Rather, it’s the normal stuff that I had some difficultly wrapping my head around. Riding Roach, Geralt’s horse, was a big problem for me. Frankly speaking, it still is even after playing the game for so long. Roach is supposed to automatically follow paths on the map but there are these times when she would veer off the road for no reason or slow down even though the road is clear. Talking to people can also be weird because, and maybe this is because I’m using the default control setup, you have to stop before you can start a conversation with characters, even though the icon is already over their head.

Combat, however, is super fun in The Witcher 3. While there is still a bit laggy, the delay does feel more appropriate during battles. You still can’t just cast Signs at any time thanks to to the cooldown as well as during the middle of an attack or a dodge. But that kind of thing did make sense to me. Honestly, combat was the thing that really got me hooked at the start because it felt really good. Then again, I don’t remember using his powerful attack all that much. I just mashed the quick attack button most of the time because it would interrupt most incoming attacks. Best defense is a good offense, am I right?

The thing that did keep me playing The Witcher 3 was the story. Rather, it’s the choices Geralt makes that influences the story. I love the writing here because there are definitely some storyline divergence and some of them can be really obvious and not so obvious. The “right choice” can often not be so clear cut in The Witcher 3.

One of the best examples that comes to mind is the side quest A Towerful of Mice. This has Geralt attempting to lift a curse from a tower. It turns out the tower was being haunted by a woman named Annabelle, who drank a paralysis potion and rats ate her alive. One of the ways to lift the curse was to take her bones to her former lover to be buried. Thinking this was the best choice, I did just that. It turns out Annabelle has become a plague maiden and killed her lover and escaped to spread a plague throughout the countryside. Well, that didn’t work out so well for me, did it?

There are some quests where you’ll be left with a dilemma because any choice that you make will still be considered bad. The storyline involving the Ladies of the Wood is a prime example of this. At one point, you’ll have to choose between saving a group of orphans from being sacrificed to the Ladies of the Wood or save them, which will lead to the orphan’s nanny to be cursed. Either way, someone is going to be screwed over.

Sometimes, the results of one quest will intertwine with another, meaning that there are going to be unforeseen consequences for your actions down the line. This is true as the decision you made with the Ladies of the Wood will also affect what will happen with The Bloody Baron. My choice did lead to the Baron committing suicide, which was a bummer. I really liked him, even though he was a wife beater. Spoiler alert?

It’s these kinds of side quests and storytelling that kept me playing The Witcher 3 for the better part of the month. In retrospect, it seems rather silly that Geralt, even though he has this main quest to track down someone special to him, initially Yennifer and then Ciri, that Geralt would get sidetracked by even the most superficial of side quests. At one point, he even drops everything to help a lady retrieve a frying pan! How dumb is that!

It may seem dumb but these quests do really generally different from one another. Sure, there are a lot of “find the key for the treasure chest” or “destroy the monster nest” missions out there. But the real side quests you encounter always have some meat to their stories. In fact, there were more than just a couple of instances when I would simply abandon my quest to find Yennifer and Ciri just to dick around with the side quests. That’s how good they are!

I also have to comment on the romance options as, like with many of the story branches you have control over, the choice isn’t clear cut, especially to someone like me who hasn’t played any of the previous Witcher games. Basically, Geralt has two main love interests. On one hand, you have the aforementioned Yennifer. On the other, you have another powerful sorceress in Triss. He has a lot of history with both of them and he’s even had close relationships with both.

Yennifer is fiery and headstrong. She’s got a temper and doesn’t take guff from anyone. She’s still very caring but she’s also very passionate in the bedroom. However, she also has a head for politics so she knows her way around all the intrigue and uses it to get what she wants. Basically she’s a take charge kind of gal and willing to do what is necessary to get what she wants, consequences or ethics be damned. On the other side of the coin, there’s Triss. Triss is the more compassionate sorceress. She’s still very intelligent but in a more academic way. She is definitely more kind and deeply cares for the people around her, which means she’s more willing to sacrifice her own well-being and happiness in service of others.

Honestly, this choice was difficult to make in The Witcher 3 during my playthough but, at the same time, I didn’t even realize that you had a choice in the matter. You do encounter Yennifer very early in the game and you can tell that she and Geralt have strong feelings for each other. But you can’t really act on them because the game doesn’t give you the option to do so. Well, that’s because her romance options happen on another land and I wanted to complete every possible side quest in the first location.

Later on, you meet up with Triss and you’re given the option to open a romance with her right then and there, which I pursued. After some time, we moved to Skellige and it was there we were given an option to woo Yennifer. And, like an idiot, I did. I didn’t learn my lesson with the Bloody Baron. I basically tried to woo both of them. In the end, my Geralt wound up with none of them.

I actually thought that I would be trying to romance both of them and then make my decision near the end of the game. I had no way of knowing romancing both of them would result in this! I mean, this is how most other games with romance options work! Then again, it does serve Geralt right for two timing Yennifer and Triss.

Now, to be honest, if I knew I was making a choice between the two, I’m unsure who I would’ve picked. Based on my personality and, well, because she’s a red-head, I would be more inclined to go with Triss. However, if I were to base my choice on who Geralt would actually pick, which is how I generally pick my romance options, I would have gone with Yennifer. It’s a moot point but it’s still something I would’ve thought about. Maybe in my second playthrough?

But a second playthrough is still far off. I’ve gone through everything in the first area but I still have to explore all of the areas in Skellige. It’s tough because it’s mostly exploring the seas and using a boat and diving in water is just so boring! Even so, I still have to finish the entire Blood and Wine expansion pack that came with my purchase. I guess this will last me for another week or so. By that time, other games like Resident Evil 3 Remake should be out. That doesn’t mean I won’t return to playing The Witcher 3 once in a while. I still have to get a good ending for the Bloody Baron and get an appropriate romance for Geralt. I still have a lot to do.

What’s your experience with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? Better question: what games are you playing during the lockdown? Let me know in the comments section below!

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