"Witcher" is a weird word.
It's a testament to the success of this series that you might
disagree with the very first sentence of this video. It's easy to forget the humble beginnings
that are now so distant from the pristine presentation of Witcher 3 and how greatly
its presence has penetrated the landscape of gaming. Yet it's still true: "Witcher"
is a weird word. The problem is that right now you may not
even be listening to me. Instead your eyes may have fixated on the numbers at the bottom
left of your video player. Even for those familiar with my videos, that is a large number
and this is only the first of three videos—so imagine what the sum of all of them will be.
So even though it ruins the punch of this video's opening, I feel it's necessary to
justify the length of this video series. It is not quite as absurd as it first appears
because this is about three games, which is really four games because, all by itself,
the Blood and Wine DLC expansion for Witcher 3 is longer than either Witcher 1 or 2.
I played these games multiple times making different decisions and importing saves as I went.
I read the entirety of the original five-part Witcher Saga written by Andrzej Sapkowski,
and also the first two collections of short stories The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny.
I played through the standalone Gwent game Thronebreaker. I learned Polish to reread
the books in their native language to truly understand their beauty. I also played ten
other games, including finishing the entire Mass Effect Trilogy plus another game that
I'll reveal as a surprise later. I felt they were necessary to draw experience from and
use for comparisons to fully explore how these Witcher games succeed and fail. I also didn't
shave or cut my hair for two years and started wearing it in a topknot like Geralt does.
Only one of those was a lie, by the way. And it's not the hair one.
Look I know to some of you seeing a video this long from me is the visual equivalent
of hearing: ...
But to others it's best to look at this video as a TV mini-series becoming
available at once, with the start of each episode linked in the pinned comment below.
And the same for the other videos that I've already finished on Witcher 2 and 3 that will
soon be released. And as scummy as this may sound and as scummy as I'm going to feel doing
it—these videos took over five thousand hours for me to make so I'm going to plug
my patreon and paypal. If you'd like to support more videos, toss a coin to your bitcher oh
valley of plenty. After all of that I don't think the monstrous
lengths of these videos are unjustified. In fact there are a few topics that I think could
still be explored in more depth. We're going to get to that in just a few seconds but there's
one other thing that I think is worth mentioning now right at the start. Each of these three
games do things better than the others. There is no clear "best in every way" Witcher game,
even though the third one is my favorite overall. However, and this was the most surprising
thing I encountered while making this video, the books were even better than that. I spent
100 hours with Witcher 1. Another 100 hours with Witcher 2. 500 hours with Witcher 3 and
its expansions. A few hundred hours with other games, and over a hundred reading these seven
books. And it was that time that I enjoyed more than anything else. It was a delight
to discover what is now my favorite fantasy book series, and I consider it a privilege
to be able to devote so much time to analyzing these games and its world. Thank you so much
for allowing me to do so, and I hope the following videos were worth the wait.
In 2007 the first Witcher game was released. It was revealed in trailers before this and
I, like most people, had never heard the word "witcher" before. While it was a phenomenon
in Poland, mostly everywhere else the word sounds like someone trying to cheat at Scrabble.
There are witches. You can be a witch. You can bewitch. You can be bewitched. There's
the witching hour. Something that has a witch-like quality could be described as witch-y. At
an extreme stretch a group of witches could argue over who is witchier or, god forbid,
the witchiest. But Witcher sounded like nonsense back then. I don't know if people still have
that visceral reaction to it now or if the success of the series is so prominent that
most people have become slowly aware of it and don't find it ridiculous. I'd be really
interested to know how a lot of people on Netflix reacted to seeing the name when it
popped on their list before and had no knowledge of the games prior to that.
A witcher is the male counterpart to a witch. The best way for it to click is to think of
the female widow to the male widower. But there's also a deep connection on both sides
to the hunter gatherer roles of our primitive history. Witches tend to make a home in one
place. They are outcasts but still prefer to be permanent residents. They gather herbs,
brew potions, cast spells, occasionally help with curses and minor monsters in their one
sole area that they call home. Witchers also do much of this same work including casting
some simple spells, but they don't put down roots. They do less mundane problem solving
with alchemy than a traditional witch, and instead hunt monsters plaguing communities
so that people can return to something close to normalcy while the witcher moves on to
the next place and the next monster. Both witches and witchers deal with similar
supernatural problems, and they are both similarly maligned because of it. This is something
that can be traced through our own history: when some real life women were truly persecuted
as witches. One theory as to why, is that they were often women that had gained some
amount of notoriety as being effective healers, even though—of course—there was never
any real magic. They could give advice, offer solutions to problems, and then be met with
incredibly sharp disdain if they ever failed, or so happened to be a perfect scapegoat when
too great a tragedy befell a settlement—so tragic that it must have either been the dark
magic of a witch that was responsible, or punishment for allowing something inhuman
to exist and prosper among them. There's also the more understandable reason:
that those who provide a service to dispose of a problem—at a cost of course—can quickly
become associated with being that problem, or even responsible for it. In the case of
a witcher, their freakish appearance and mutations play less of a role in making them hated than
the fact that they refuse to work for free. A detail that is brought up time and time
again throughout all of the games. They risk their lives for what often ends up being a
pittance, but it's still a pittance that is profiting from misery. Witchers and witches
sometimes deal in despair, and that can be impossible to shake even as they perform miracles
on a budget that are worthy of ballads, not blame.
It's an interesting premise for a character, especially in a video game. But upon first
encounter, “witcher” is just a weird word. And it's a word the games have reveled in.
The world of The Witcher is just as interesting as this concept and character—for one it
has more in common with Shrek than it does Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. A Shrek
that takes itself mostly seriously—often deathly so. Unfortunately the video game series
fails miserably to make this clear in its introduction. In fact the opening of Witcher
1 is such a staggering stumble that I'm often stunned that this series got the opportunity
to grow. And it's a harsh failing in more ways than
one. I think it will surprise most of you watching that I played Witcher 1 at release.
If you play it today, your only choice on Steam and GOG is the Enhanced Edition that
was first released in 2008, a year after the original. I played that original version back
in 2007 and I gave up after about six hours. The introduction of its story and characters
were—quite bluntly—so cringey that I was forcing myself to keep going because I had
a friend who promised me the game got better. Ultimately it was the game's long load times
that made me move on. Any load screen, whether it was traveling from one major area to another
or entering a tiny house and then back out of it again, would take between 30 to 90 seconds.
And you are constantly going through these transitions in every chapter.
Thankfully the Enhanced Edition addressed this problem, and I went back and finished
the game more than ten years ago. Unfortunately though none of the other updates smooth out how
bad this introduction is in Kaer Morhen.
And yet despite all of that I feel like now I've become that friend I mentioned just a
second ago. This game gets so much better after its first few hours and you adapt, like
your eyes in the dark, to the flaws that mar one of the most ambitious games I've ever
played. CD Projekt Red were insane to try to pull off a game with a scope this large
on their first release. You could make the same argument for Witcher 2 really, and that
it wasn't until the third game that they finally matched reality with their imaginations.
Yet this is nowhere near a total failure. I always got the sense from Witcher 1 and 2 that the
devs were trying their damnedest despite the budgetary restrictions they faced, and they
refused to phone anything in. There's passion in this game, and this attempt for greatness
with Witcher 1 is admirable and I think they succeeded more than they failed.
Just not with this opening. The first narrated speech here relates to
events that happen in the books. Everyone seems to think that Geralt should be dead
and is shocked that he's back and alive, even though he never stops looking like a corpse.
There was a war that has passed and these kingdoms are licking their wounds. There's
a plague. Monster populations have risen. Things are looking pretty bad. It's all wonderful
nonsense if you haven't read the books but it makes perfect sense if you have—shockingly
this is a trend that continues with many of the big story moments throughout the entire
series, especially Witcher 2. However, in the case of Witcher 1, it might be better
if you haven't read anything. I played all the games first, then read the
books, and then played the games again. I've structured these videos in a similar way and
will only interject some book details here and there until a larger book discussion and
comparison later in the Witcher 3 video. Right now I just want to say that the first Witcher
game is unique in my experience since it is both an adaptation and a continuation of a
large book series. I do not envy the task that CD Projekt's writers had since overloading
the player with book details could be alienating, but ignoring so much of Sapkowski's works
would do the same to book readers. I don't think they were that successful for those
who read the books, but also that those who only played the games suffer similarly in
the sequels. Essentially, Witcher 1 became a rotten foundation for the next two games
and the story and characters never recover from it, especially in Witcher 3.
I'll go into too much detail on that later. For now, we're introduced to a bunch of other
witchers and their castle home of Kaer Morhen. We also meet The Professor in a quick flash
of dramatic irony since none of the witchers are aware that they're about to be attacked
by this guy who comes across as a Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain. How evil is the despicably
evil man with his evil plans of evil laughing so evilly!
He's also an example of that awkwardness
from adapting the books since there is also a character named The Professor in Sapkowski's
stories who is also a mercenary, also tries to kill Geralt, even looks similar to this
person in the game, but it's not the same character.
This part of the game is the Prologue. There are five chapters after this and an Epilogue
that finishes the game but it's more like the true end of Chapter Five; whereas the
Prologue is much more clearly separate from Chapter 1. The rough introduction continues here
with some stilted dialogue, awkward breast physics, and your first taste of combat which
can be politely described as less than ideal. And instead of moving on quickly to new systems
and ideas, this entire section is a slog of awkward dialogue into fight after fight with
this bandit group called Salamandra. By the end of this tutorial you will have
seen the vast majority of what combat has to offer in this game. Enemies are weak to
a specific stance that changes the animations Geralt uses when attacking and also the timing
required to keep your attack combo going. On normal mode this is your cursor flashing
with a blade on fire. On hard mode you have to look for the sword model itself streaking
orange in the middle of the attack animations—which is also present on normal mode—and left
click on the enemy you want to attack when it happens. I found the hard mode indicator
to strangely be more reliable once I had gotten used to it and I'd feel out the rhythm more
than when I was waiting for the cursor change to show up. Some enemies are weak to strong
style. Others to quick. Whereas every enemy except for shield-bearers are susceptible
to group style when there's enough of them to give Geralt an “outnumbered” damage
modifier. When these conditions are met group style is so powerful that it can kill
individuals in a group in fewer hits than they would need in another style, even if
the fight was one-on-one. It's not just more efficient as an AOE, it's higher single target
damage too as long as there are enough enemies around to give you this buff.
This combat system is simply a rhythm game test of timing, and only has a few ways for
decision making to matter: sometimes changing targets with each timing press to continue
combos more efficiently in groups, changing from quick style to strong style after weakening
some enemies for extra damage, moving yourself away from an enemy that explodes upon death,
and the occasional use of a magical witcher sign to gain an advantage. But none of these
are ever required, even on hard mode. Instead the “challenge” is making sure Geralt
has been leveled up enough and deciding if you need to use a Swallow potion to gain some
passive life regeneration. Combat in this game was never fun but I have
to admit it succeeds in the way that is important for me in RPGs: it adds context without getting
in the way... much. In other RPGs, like Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, or Neverwinter
Nights—which having mentioned, it's worth pointing out that it was built with the same
engine that CD Projekt used for Witcher 1—combat is a time-consuming chore of fiddling with
positioning, spells, and special moves. I have never enjoyed combat in these games but
I do appreciate the context that these battles give to the stories that I love and the character's
capabilities. Witcher 1's combat system provides this without taking up too much time, and
this simple timing challenge is a quick way to dive into a fight and feel like a monster
slayer carving through enemies. It's a part of the Fantasy of being a Witcher.
The impressive combat animations also help (like seriously look at this stuff it looks
like it belongs in another game entirely) but, coupled with the over-the-shoulder camera
angle, may give the wrong impression—that Witcher 1 is an action game. The best comparison
here is surprisingly Mass Effect 1—which also came out in 2007. Mass Effect also looks
like an action game, with the same camera angle, direct movement control, and aiming
and attacking with your mouse. But just like The Witcher series, it's not until the second
entry that the gameplay truly moves from an RPG to an authentic action experience, where
the player's inputs determine the outcome of a battle far more than dice rolls and stat
checks. Both of these sequels still have some leftover hitches from their first games though.
In this regard the top down camera perspective in Witcher 1 is a better match to the gameplay,
but the over-the-shoulder view is by far the superior way to play. You get a much better
sense of being and belonging in this world as you run around directly controlling Geralt
instead of using clicks to move like you're an invisible Sky God detached from it all.
I know this point may be contentious but I think Witcher 1 is quite good visually. The
character models are by far the most dated thing about it and I even remember disliking
them at release, but the environments have a tremendous amount of love and attention
to detail. One of the things that most impressed me about Witcher 3 were the acres of swaying
trees in the wind swept lands of Velen and Skellige. Witcher 1 already had trees reacting
to the weather like this way back in 2007. Its faithful recreation of Kaer Morhen from
the books, a place that is only briefly used in Witcher 1, was such a wonderful framework
that the updated version in Witcher 3 still shares so much in common with it. These beautiful
murals are included in the castle's interior. Someone cared enough to have these birds flock
off when you get close and they carefully fly away through this stream of light from
a crack in the ceiling instead of clipping through a wall and out of bounds. And in an
official adventure module—sort of like small free DLC packs added after the release of
the original—you can see how much work went into creating the land surrounding Kaer Morhen
as well. The models are certainly bad but there's something visually cohesive about
this game that makes me unable to dislike its presentation—something we'll see more
of in the city sections later. For now though, Kaer Morhen doesn't get a chance
to impress since the reality of the lackluster combat will be setting in for most players.
Like Geralt, you have no idea what's really going on and have little context for why this
attack by The Professor and sorcerer Azar Javed is happening. Geralt lost his memory
when he returned from the dead and it's an amnesia that also effects people that read
the books. He has no recollection of any of the events in Sapkowski's stories but there's
also the mystery of the five year gap between his supposed death and resurrection that even
book readers are kept in the dark about. But it's not a total mind wipe. Geralt remembers
some of his combat abilities although it comes across as an automatic process not unlike
how you can write your signature without thinking about it. He feels very little for his fellow
witchers but senses an emotional bond with sorceress Triss Merigold. Amnesia is an effective,
if overdone, method of allowing an audience to connect to a character that already has
an established place in a world, although I think by now audiences are more than capable
of making sense of foreign worlds and exotic situations even if they're just dropped right into
it—especially considering the runaway success of Witcher 3 in which Geralt has recovered
all of his memories, which was the first game in this series for the majority of people
that played it. Geralt's amnesia is actually more successful in allowing this character
to have a video game story without the baggage of the books' events—and the expectation
to have to deal with unraveling all the possibilities that come from continuing that story. Having
said that it's funny to be able to point out once again that Witcher 3 did exactly that
and was still successful in engaging a large new audience. I think this freedom for the
first game was more a benefit for CD Projekt to tell a more focused story than what's in
the big Witcher 3 continuation that they weren't prepared to tackle yet. Probably both creatively
and monetarily. Because of this it's Triss Merigold, not Yennefer
of Vengerberg, that's involved in the first choice you make in the game. The group attacking
Kaer Morhen have brought a large monster called a Frightener along with them, because they
apparently thought including a monster in their assault against famous professional
monster slayers would help. Turns out it does and you have to choose whether you go with
Leo and Triss to stop The Professor and Azar Javed from stealing the witchers' secret mutation
scrolls, or help the other witchers fight off the Frightener. No matter what you do
the Frightener is defeated, Leo is killed, Triss is left injured, and the witcher secrets are stolen.
Unexpectedly this is the only time a Frightener is seen in the entire series.
And you can skip this boss fight, and never see it in combat.
This sets up the main goal of the game—to retrieve these secrets and be pushed through
many different places and characters as you do so, even though neither you nor Geralt
fully understand why they're so important. First the tutorial prologue enters its second
half which is a miniaturized version of how the game works from this point onward: you
have a central task (brew a potion to heal Triss), a location with multiple areas to
explore with enemies to fight and containers to loot, and some NPCs to speak to with a
lot of optional dialogue paths to exhaust if you want to know more about them and what's
going on. This is precisely how the entire game works from now on but on a much larger
scale—get a task, fight some enemies while exploring areas, and speak to a legion of
NPCs for more tasks and more dialogue options. It can be quite overwhelming later on but
here in the prologue things are kept simple and enclosed. You just have to make this thing
to heal Triss. Alchemy is an important part of that “Witcher
Fantasy” and it's here that you have your first taste of monster harvesting and potion
brewing. Like most things in this game there are stringent rules—every potion needs strong
alcohol as a base. Raw materials become stripped down to vital essences during the brewing
process and you arrange them in specific amounts to create specific effects. Potion brewing
takes time that must be spent at a resting location—often at a campfire—where time
can safely pass. You can see more of the Prologue's awkwardness here as Triss is sprawled out
in agony throughout the potion process, meanwhile the other witchers are sitting around eating
and drinking oblivious to it all. And wait for a really long time before carrying her
upstairs to a bed. Healing Triss marks the end of the tutorial
and, depending on how you react to her dialogue here, you can accidentally have sex with her
on “the best bed in Kaer Morhen” which acts as the perfect punctuated ending point
of this bewildering Prologue. This is far from the only time Geralt can have sex with
someone in Witcher 1, and I think its status has settled as being a mini-game along with
playing dice and fist-fighting. Although, like this time with Triss, it's often important
to the story whereas dice and brawling are not.
Many people consider these illustrations to be collectible cards but I'm not really comfortable
with that description. They are marked as “cards” of course but Geralt keeps an
extensive journal throughout the games. In Witcher 2 and 3 this is told from the bard
Dandelion's perspective. In Witcher 1 it's all Geralt, from his point of view, and saturated
with his thoughts. I prefer to think of these illustrations as being made by him for his
journal, since they're also accessed in that menu, or they're something like a memento
or note that he's made and these cards are representations of the memory he has of these
encounters when he sees them. The final scene here is the group of witchers,
plus sorceress Triss, agreeing to fan out through the surrounding realms in search of
the secrets that have been stolen from them. This is the last time that the player will
see Vesemir, Lambert, or Eskel for the rest of the game. In fact, unless you play the
extra adventure module The Price of Neutrality, which is a story that takes place years before
Witcher 1, you will not see these witchers again until Witcher 3.
Triss, however, goes to the city of Vizima in the Kingdom of Temeria. Conveniently where
Geralt is also going. It's also where the thieves have their main hideout. Which turns
out to be a lucky coincidence that is never commented on.
I would love to say that this is the end of the awkwardness in Witcher 1's opening. Unfortunately
it gets much worse before it gets much, much better.
Chapter One begins with a sequence so poor it's like a sensory assault. We're abruptly
with this kid and a woman who might be his mother but turns out it isn't. They're attacked
by dogs, eeeeevil dogs! The woman dies outside the gate surrounding an inn. And then suddenly
someone named Shani is talking to Geralt. Shani knows who he is, and the woman isn't
dead after all! Here she is yelling for help. Help! The evil dogs need to be taken care
of and you're just immediately put right to it. The gates open. The woman is now back
to being dead. Guards instantly die. And after all of this, Shani shouts “THE BEAST!”
before the boy Alvin goes super saiyan and starts floating in the air possessed and chanting
some prophetic verses about the end of the world while Geralt looks on solemnly like
“yeah, this is fine.” This is the exact moment where the introduction
peaks in absurdity. You can stick a pin in the game when Alvin collapses after this and
congratulate yourself on getting through it. Except it's not exactly smooth sailing from here on out.
Chapter One of this game is one of my favorite
sections in the entire series and is high on the list among all RPGs that I've played.
The thing is you have to finish the chapter to realize that. The Prologue is always bad
no matter what but the ending of Chapter One contextualizes the whole thing in a wonderfully
twisted way. But I'd be a liar if I didn't say another big reason why I think Chapter
One subverts expectations so strongly is because I was expecting it to be shit. After that
introduction can you really blame me?
Geralt has traveled from Kaer Morhen to the
outskirts of Vizima, where he is now stuck because the city is under quarantine—to
prevent the spreading of what's called the Catriona plague, which is actually the Bubonic
Plague. The literal, actual Bubonic Plague. Witchers are immune to diseases but Geralt
still requires a pass to get into the city and that, along with gathering information
about Salamandra, becomes the goal of the chapter.
Throughout this ordeal you will be sent running back and forth all over the outskirts. Talk
to people here. Talk to people there. Go and kill some monsters. Another settlement is
asking for help. Once you've done this chapter you can remember how to do it more efficiently
on later playthroughs, but for your first time I propose that the Outskirts is where
Witcher 1 drags the most in terms of gameplay because of this relentless marching around
and around. Looking at the map reveals the issue immediately.
This is the walkable parts of the outskirts highlighted in red. As you can see Chapter
One has the layout of a Mario Kart track. Every step you make in the direction of one
important landmark, due to the circuit nature of the map, necessitates that you are equally
farther from another—which is much easier to see if you imagine the path as a straight
line that warps you to the other side when you reach either end. It takes more than five
minutes to do a full circuit on this path. The quests keep sending you to each of these
locations and you don't know yet how to efficiently combine quests into one trip. Suddenly you're
doing so much backtracking that it makes Death Stranding look like it doesn't have enough
walking. A couple of relief lines in the middle of
the map would have made this area much more tolerable to learn, or the main circuit could
have been made much tighter with the important locations jutting off of it instead of being
placed along the circuit itself. Of course Liberal Arts Majors among you will no doubt
point out that all of this walking is meant to reinforce the feeling that Geralt is stuck
in a state of frustrating limbo as he is stranded outside of Vizima walking in circles. Meanwhile
me, ya basic boy, will just point out that this repeated exposure to these characters
and areas gives you chances to notice some of the less obvious details and provides time
for them to marinate in your head—if only subconsciously.
This is a good time to speak about how most of the side quests in Witcher 1 aren't really
side quests. Now that can initially sound like a huge compliment! The side quests are
so well integrated in the game's story that it's difficult to tell them apart—this is
a true statement that applies to the majority of side quests in this game and it's one of
the best things it does. But it's also a destructive flaw if you decide to skip most of it. Witcher
1 is a game that you have to meet on its own terms. If you rush through it only doing the
main quest, then the awkwardness of the Prologue never goes away.
Here's an example. In a quest bluntly called “Racists” you will see a dwarf called
Zoltan Chivay. He is being accosted by—you guessed it—racists. Whether you help him
out or stand aside and watch him take care of the assholes himself, Geralt has the opportunity
to have a chat with Zoltan during which he learns that they're old friends. Zoltan, like
everyone else from his past, doesn't understand how Geralt is back from the dead. He wants
to take him right to the nearby inn and have a drink to mull it over.
But the keyword here is opportunity. You can run right by this encounter and not bother
with it. You can leave Zoltan to fight off the racists and then walk off without speaking
to him, or watch him waddle off into the sunset and then finish Chapter One without ever interacting
with him at all. Then if you speak to him in a later chapter—for the first time ever—Zoltan
will not remark on how Geralt should be dead. No comments about how shocked he is to see
Geralt living and breathing. The game skips over all of it and even references conversations
that should have happened in Chapter One but didn't. The game can break and leave you deeply
confused if you don't approach its side content in the correct way, and this is after the
game directly says to you “To help or not to help. That's the witcher's question”.
The worst character this can happen with is with Dandelion. I need to be fair and point
out that most people aren't going to ignore Zoltan. But the first “canon” meeting
with Dandelion in Chapter Two is much easier to miss. Shani throws a party near the end
of the main quest line. It's entirely optional and, considering the events that happen right
before she proposes this party, many players may treat it as a superfluous waste of time
and keep on trucking to the end of Chapter Two. Which means they miss Dandelion's scripted
reaction, drenched in disbelief, that Geralt is alive at Shani's party. Your first interaction
with him will instead be a bewildering appearance in The New Narakort Inn where he acts as if
everything is business as usual. Or he'll just show up when you're looking for a kidnapped
child for a quest as the game makes no adjustments whatsoever for you skipping this party scene.
He never comments on how Geralt shouldn't be alive and you'll be wondering who the hell
he even is when in reality he's Geralt's best friend in the whole world. Someone out there
has had this experience with Witcher 1 and I feel so sorry for them.
There are quite a few of these continuity errors throughout the game and some of them
were really entertaining to find on my third playthrough. I don't consider it a fatal problem
because RPGs encourage you to explore their side content—it's often where the true meat
of these games can be found and this game in particular ties most of it seamlessly to
the main story. But it's worth pointing out because Witcher 2 doesn't have this problem
and Witcher 3 even accounts for players possibly skipping stuff like this and has prepared
alternate outcomes in the event that they do.
Zoltan surprisingly has little to do with the story in Chapter One and doesn't really
offer you any help or is involved in any major way. Most of the other characters you meet
are linked to the Reverend of the Outskirts, who has one of the worst models in the game
because of his mouth. I don't know if this is a poor masking of
the Reverend's beard over most of the mouth or if they just shrank the full-sized mouth
down to fit in this small space under his mustache. I prefer to believe the latter because
it is endlessly funny to me. It's distractingly funny, actually—it's all I can see whenever
I speak to an NPC that uses this model. The Reverend has a pass to enter the city and
he alludes that he may be willing to part with it if Geralt does a series of tasks for
him, and ultimately rids the community of The Beast that is hounding them.
A few quick interesting details about The Beast: it is a large supernatural dog that
both summons smaller magical dogs into existence and causes ordinary dogs to transform into
them—both called Barghests. It's not clear from the in-game models if the ordinary dogs
die and then their spirits become the Barghests or if their original form is morphing into
the new one. It would appear like the poor dogs die but that could also be a technical
limitation. Barghests also seem to be able to exist without A Beast as a progenitor since
they are in a location in the Witcher 3 without any Beast. Maybe it's the case that you are
able to have Barghests without A Beast but you can't have A Beast without Barghests.
The people that live in the Outskirts are more important than this monster. The big
three that the Reverend sends you to are the guard Mikul, the smuggler Haren Brogg, and
the merchant Odo. This begins a trend that all three of these games have in giving you
multiple objective points at once so that you can get pushed into seeing other quests
and other characters but also have some agency in how you choose the order that you do it
all in. The Reverend also eventually sends you to see the local witch Abigail who has
adopted the prophet child Alvin that we saw in this chapter's opening. Other important
characters are Declan Leuvaarden, Vesna Hood, and Kalkstein. But out of those three that
last one is the only person you have to interact with to finish the main quest.
Haren Brogg wants you to kill some drowners outside his house at night. Odo wants you
to kill two echinopsae in his garden. And Mikul wants you to clear the local crypt of
ghouls since he's too afraid to do it himself. Whether you speak to Kalkstein at the inn
or not, he will show up on the bridge after you clear the crypt for Mikul. And this is
where the game delivers its first judgement on you for one of your past decisions.
Back in the Prologue, if you chose to go with Leo and Triss then your presence will have
made it so The Professor and Azar Javed had less time to ransack Kaer Morhen's laboratory.
So now in the Outskirts, they are harassing Kalkstein because he is an alchemist and they
want his supplies and assistance in order to further research the few secrets that they
managed to steal. Salamandra is already on this bridge when you show up and they attack
you with a small force of bandits and a mage. Meanwhile, if you chose to stay with the witchers
and fight the Frightener, The Professor and Azar Javed had more time to plunder the laboratory.
So Kalkstein isn't being harassed on this bridge—instead this is an ambush for Geralt
from the same group of bandits and a mage plus an additional new mutant hound since
Salamandra has progressed further into unlocking the witcher secrets since they were able to
take many more of them. They've been able to transform this hound into a half-monster
already. This is only a minor difference that the accompanying
cutscenes make appear to be a much bigger deal than it actually is; after this there
are no other changes that result from this decision and I think that's for the best since
most players won't have known their choices matter in this way. So this serves as a forgiving
learning experience. In fact even among games today, never mind way back in 2007, this sort
of reaction is rare. It's a really good thing that so much attention is drawn to this difference—and
the fact that you “MADE A CHOICE” is made excruciatingly clear to you. Because now you
know your choices matter going forward.
Let's talk about Mass Effect for a second.
This series gets unfairly criticized for broadcasting “Decision Time” to its players. I say
unfairly because I often see the choices in these games being boiled down to Blue Paragon
Choice vs Red Renegade Choice. The Blue is supposedly meant to be the uncompromisingly
idealistic morally good decision, and the Red is supposedly meant to be the uncompromisingly
pragmatic ends-justify-the-means-but-still-bad decision. This is fair criticism for some
of the choices in Mass Effect but not all of them are this way. I was actually disturbed
by how faulty my memory is when I played the games again and saw that some choices that
I could have sworn had Blue vs Red options when I first played actually did not. But
most of the decisions in this series do have immediate or at least foreseeable consequences.
Much is said about the Witcher games taking place in a morally ambiguous world. I don't
think this can be denied, but I do want to argue that this isn't really anything special.
Many RPGs have settings like this. Many games have settings like this. Dragon Age Origins
even has the main character become an eerily similar mutated monster fighter when you join
the Grey Wardens, a group that twists people into dark spawn fighting tools complete with
their own horrific initiation trial that kills more of its recruits than it improves—just
like the Witchers with their Trial of the Grasses. There are decisions in Dragon Age,
Mass Effect, Fallout, Sonic the Hedgehog, Deus Ex, and many other RPGs that can be difficult
to parse morally. Not all of the decisions are like this of course but neither are most
of the ones you make in the Witcher series. However what is special about the decisions
in Witcher 1 is that so many of them have delayed unforeseen outcomes and that those
outcomes actually matter. And this is so important in two distinct ways. The first is that because
Decision Time isn't often shoved in your face and that you won't know until much later if
something even was an important decision, you begin to consider every option more carefully.
You can't just see what happens and then reload a save to pick again if you don't like the
outcome—which by the way this made dissecting these games a nightmare. Not every decision
can or should have severe consequences but now you can't be sure. In fact by the time
you reach this bridge with the Kalkstein and Salamandra scene, you may have already made
another big choice like this without fully realizing it when you helped Haren Brogg with
his drowner problem. In a slightly perverted way the game does something similar with women
throughout the whole series. Because there are sex scenes and because you can get them
by acting in a certain way with women in the games you may begin to treat encounters with
any woman differently if you're feeling horny between monster hunting. Most of the women
in these games cannot be seduced—just like most of the decisions you make do not lead
to big events—but the fact that some can means all of them are elevated to a higher
status of importance. And this is why you shouldn't use a guide when you play these
games on your first time through so that's not spoiled for you.
I'd like to draw a distinction between different types of decisions which I am going to call
Flavorful and Impactful. Flavorful Decisions are by far the most common in video games.
If there's two ways to get to a destination and the two paths are only different visually.
Or changing the outfit that your character is wearing, or picking a different sword that
has roughly the same stats but a different model. Choosing party members in many RPGs
are also usually in this category: they might change a few dialogue lines and you have access
to some varied abilities during a sequence but they don't really matter. Most games are
full of these types of Flavorful Decisions and I usually appreciate them. I don't want
to downplay them as lesser in any way. They're a good part of games.
That's not to say that these kinds of decisions can't turn into an Impactful Decision later.
Mass Effect has moments where you have to choose a party member to do a task and there
can be permanent, long-felt consequences from your choice. In Mass Effect 2 particularly
there are many Impactful Decisions that do not present themselves as such, whereas in
Mass Effect 1 it's usually made more clear to you.
I want to point out that not every Impactful Decision is equal. Many of them in Mass Effect
and The Witcher series can end up being quite minor. But there's still an important distinction
between them and “Flavorful Decisions”. Especially since Witcher 1 and 2 have so many
of them. There are many problems with Impactful Decisions in video games and this series is
a prime candidate for exploring why games might not be ready for this type of decision
making just yet. For now though I want to look at the other quests in the Outskirts
which are thankfully more straightforward. There's only one major secondary area in the
Outskirts—the crypt that Mikul sends you to that's full of ghouls and a woman that
has tragically poisoned herself. There's also a small cave to explore and many houses—most
of which have interiors that are woefully mismatched with how they appear on the outside.
This is a common flaw throughout the first game. You will be seeing the same interiors
over and over again, especially for Crypts and Caves which have the same basic layout,
just certain pathways are blocked to make them appear more varied. This first room in
the crypt, with the huge grating in the floor, will show up many times throughout the game.
Dragon Age 2 had a similar problem but I am far more willing to forgive Witcher 1 for
it considering the much tighter budget they had and how ambitious the rest of the game
is. But it still is something that has to be forgiven, so it's a good thing that there's
no way that Witcher 3 has the same problem right?
Some side quests involve doing favors for people—such as recovering the corpse of
a man for Declan Leuvaarden and then finding a place to bury him. While other quests are
routine witcher work. I feel like Witcher 1 put the most effort into making these feel
authentic. Most of the kill quests felt like I was doing a job for someone that truly needed
these materials, like the ghoul blood for Kalkstein or the Barghest skulls for the witch
Abigail. Ironically it was the bigger kill contracts on unique enemies that felt the
most like filler. These enemies simply aren't unique and so they're just another drowner
or another ghoul with a larger healthbar. Which is probably a flaw on the combat system
more than anything else. Occasionally these witcher contracts can feed
into story moments during chapters. Meanwhile, it's the quests that don't specifically need
a witcher to complete them that end up being more important. Sometimes seemingly out of
nowhere. For example, after burying that corpse for Leuvaarden, something called The King
of the Wild Hunt appears next to you and suddenly you're thrust into an incredibly important
Main Story conversation that you can easily miss if you didn't bother to help Leuvaarden
at the inn. The ghost of Leo appears to taunt you here and this exchange between Geralt
and The King of the Wild Hunt has implications not just for Witcher 1 but for the entire
series, especially Witcher 3 and the books included.
By now I'm hoping that this video is starting to communicate how good this game is in one
particular way: atmosphere. There's a tremendous amount of things happening in this world and
it was so wonderfully refreshing that the majority of them don't revolve around Geralt—it
doesn't revolve around you, the player. You are lost in it all and, sure, sometimes something
specific will snap out of that gyre and make it all about you but for the most part you
wander and soak it in. The Witcher world has rules. Nighttime is
dangerous—that's when most of the monsters come out. But the monsters don't just appear.
They're around for a reason—whether that's the haunting of a Beastly ghost or because
the locals didn't seal their dead carefully enough so corpse eating necrophages have been
lured in to chow down. Those drowners we killed earlier? They were once people. It's not clear
if everyone that dies via drowning becomes a Drowner although it certainly feels like
it, or if it's just those who committed crimes in their lives or killed themselves with a
permanent plunge. This is the standard the game's world upholds. Those killer plants
we saw? They most commonly grow from curses, or atrocities that were never atoned for,
or sprout from corpses of people unjustly killed.
This is all wonderfully messy too with in-game folklore being confused for true facts about
monsters. Geralt has his broken memory and so he needs to read books on creatures to
recall all of this information—including how to harvest plants and parts of monsters
for alchemical ingredients. These books can be quite expensive. Knowledge is worth a considerable
amount in this world. But you can also regain some of Geralt's expertise by simply talking
to people. In the Outskirts, old women are a particularly strong fount of knowledge and
they'll give much of it away for a crumb of food. And considering how curses are a real
thing in this world—emotional damnation and targeted willful rage are dangerous forces
that can invoke true magical repercussions even if the one spewing the curse has no magical
ability—it's not always clear if much of the information you get is accurate because
this is what people have learned from study, or if these beliefs of the people at large can
become a twisted reflection in the monsters and magic if only because they believe it.
Justice and true emotions, or a lack of either, have power in this world and can cause terrible,
tangible change. It's the dreaded job of a witcher to make
sense of it all. But that's only the fantastical part of this
world. The more mundane parts of it are still given development but also within context
of the supernatural. Just in Chapter One you are introduced to racial tensions between
humans, elves, and dwarves. In fact this is the state of relations the first time you
see either of these fantasy races—Zoltan or the dwarf outside the inn being harassed.
And the elves of the Scoia'tael—which is elvish for squirrels, named so after the tails
they wear—sneaking into the Outskirts for supplies they purchase from smuggler Haren
Brogg. And this isn't just a “ha ha the different races sure do like to bicker but
they always come together in the end with the power of friendship.” No. The witcher
world has no evil overlord nation that forces the squabbling but otherwise good-natured
races to work together—if anything qualifies for that it'd actually be the humans. The
world of the witcher is one that has been built on genocide. Multiple genocides. In
more ways than one. An additional but also subtle twist is that the humans in
this series are actually human. These aren't quasi-humans of a purely fictional alternate
reality “isn't it funny that humans evolved into the exact same form here, please don't
think about it” way like they are in Star Wars or Game of Thrones or most other fantasy
worlds. They are from capital-E Earth—well their ancestors are at least. Geralt, like
all of us, is probably related to King Charlemagne. But what about the Kings of this witcher world?
Politics are also heavily influenced by the supernatural soup that permeates this planet.
Magic is like nuclear weapon technology. If one kingdom has it then so must all of the
others or they will be conquered by the sheer unstoppable power of those that do. But magic
is so common enough and so relatively easy to use that all ruling kings and queens need
protection from any stray sorcerer or sorceress. And so high society has to be built around
this sort of marriage between mages and monarchs. Without the protection of a personal magic-user
it would simply be too easy for another mage to assassinate a ruler. And without the support
of said rulers, magic-users no matter how powerful would be overwhelmed by the commoners
that fear them. Just as they fear witchers. This is what makes this series so fascinating.
It's low fantasy and high fantasy at the same time. Its magic system has strict rules and
so can be considered Hard Magic—that which can be understood like a science. But then
there are curses and wild forays from barely understood forces, which would be a Soft Magic
system—where the rules are seemingly made up as the story goes along. Some spells may
just require expertise and a power source and some magic words like it's a mathematical
equation being expressed. Whereas others require adaptation to superstition, the embracing
of pagan-like rituals, and giving yourself over to the dominance of a power before you
can fight it. This is one of the most brutally cruel fantasy
worlds I have ever seen, and yet the power of love still exists here and can purge curses.
The stories stay grounded despite having some larger than life characters. Kings and Queens
and Emperors are clearly important, but the plight of the average worker isn't ignored
either. In fact their stories can be the far more interesting ones. It's simply a beautiful
mess of contradictory concepts and goals, like a heap of incompatible ideas that have
been burned to a pile of ash then reborn like a phoenix of cognitive dissonance—and it
works! Somehow it works! From Chapter One onward this game is dripping in that atmosphere.
But as always, we have to ask ourselves, what about Shrek?
For those unfamiliar with Shrek—all two of you—it's about an ogre's quest to reclaim
his swamp when there's a huge upheaval of society in a kingdom where hundreds of characters
from fairytales live together. Sapkowski's witcher books lean much harder into fairytale
references than the first two games but he also did it with an admirable amount of restraint.
There are many stories that can provide a gentle building to a revelatory moment when
you say “huh, this is kind of like Beauty and the Beast” or “Rapunzel” or “Snow
White” and then you move on. Not every short story in the first two books is built around
a fairytale as a core—at least, not that I can tell anyway but I don't know every fairytale
from my own home country, never mind Poland and the rest of Europe.
The one about the Striga sounds like a twisted fairytale even if there isn't an original
version that doesn't have the same amount of horror. A Princess is a prisoner of an
abandoned castle and a knight is hired to saved her. Sounds familiar right? Except the
Princess isn't a prisoner: she was the victim of a curse when she was still in the womb.
The princess's mother died and her corrupted fetus continued to grow into an abomination
that now hunts the kingdom's subjects for food. And instead of a noble knight it's mutant
warrior Geralt that has to thrash the princess enough so that he has the chance to lift the
curse. This story has a happy ending but it comes at a cost when the princess is the opposite
of grateful for being spared. This kind of feeling is present in much of the witcher
short stories. Like the world of Shrek, the witcher's planet
(or Sphere as its people would call it) is an amalgamation of fairytales, legends, and
even different religions. It's a melting pot of our real life cultures both past and present
that, in many cases, have been brought to real life in this imaginary world. As if in
response to that, just like Shrek is a warped protagonist to match the warped reality of
his world, Geralt is just as mutated as those fairytales and beliefs have become. The key
difference is Shrek is played for laughs. The witcher, while sometimes funny as well,
takes this seriously. What would a human society have to turn into in order to survive in a
world like this? What would a man capable of going head-to-head against our own worst
imagined nightmares, now brought fiendishly to life, have to evolve into in order to stand
a chance? And is it any wonder that common people would be terrified of the man that
is the monster to the monsters? The lone fairytale reference I found in the
Outskirts was Vesna. She's a waitress at the inn and after speaking to her there you have
the chance to escort her home at night if you happen to notice her. She's trying to
get to her grandmother's house. She's attacked by men at first but then the problem becomes
the wolf-like Barghests. And her last name is Hood. You can also have sex with her in
a haunted mill after this if you bring her some wine. The sound of you both going at
it reinforces the idea that the mill is haunted to some people across the river.
This Red Riding Hood reference doesn't really have a point to it like I feel the ones in
Sapkowski's books do—where the original tale being twisted calls into question the
meaning and intentions of the original. In the Beauty and the Beast story, the would-be
beast claims he's happy in his cursed-state. That many women surprisingly enjoy the novelty
of... ...it. Book-Geralt, who tries to only kill mindless monsters, decides to move on
without attacking this Beast. And while that isn't the ending of that story, it's one of
many that feeds into the theme that you can't judge from appearances alone. Just because
something is expected to be a monster doesn't mean it has to be one, even if it looks like
one or is suffering from a curse that is meant to turn it into one.
The conclusion of Chapter One proves that the game is willing to embrace this idea,
but it also includes another fundamental part of the witcher and especially Geralt himself.
Choosing the Lesser Evil.
One of The Witcher 3 cinematics uses a shortened
version of Geralt's speech about choosing evil in the books but the meaning is mostly
the same. What didn't sit right with me at first is that Geralt is choosing to do evil
as his voice over is saying he doesn't want to do that. Upon first watching it may be
easy to dismiss these Nilfgaardian executioners as evil for “tormenting” this woman accused
of multiple crimes. We know the guards are guilty of overly cruel punishment right before
Geralt turns around and dishes out his own cruel punishment and leaves one guard to suffer
presumably even more. Just like we don't know if the woman is guilty of what sounds like
some truly wicked deeds, another person coming along at this moment wouldn't know if the
guards deserve what Geralt is doing to them either.
Geralt is, at least a little, choosing evil in this scene. And I hope that hypocrisy is
intentional because it's true to Book-Geralt's character, which in this cinematic Geralt
now is because this takes place after he's regained his memories. This witcher is constantly
finding himself in the middle of a problem and having to act when he's eventually convinced
that even inaction becomes another form of evil—and a greater one than choosing what
he believes is the better of two bad choices. The issue I have with this being the intended
meaning of this cinematic—even though I can just ignore that and go along with my
own interpretation—is that CD Projekt has a lot of trouble keeping the continuity straight
between their own games, never mind with the books. So even though it may seem obvious
that this is the deliberate message of this cinematic, I can't be sure. In Witcher 1's
case they contradict this very point within just a few chapters—whether Abigail the
witch is guilty of committing evil or not. The true reason why The Beast has come to
the Outskirts is never confirmed. You are instead given two options and you must choose
which you think is more likely. The people of the Outskirts have committed
many crimes. Most of which happened before you arrived. The Reverend has recently led
a revolution among the people in which they cleansed themselves and their families of
all sin. This information is presented to you in a side conversation with the innkeeper
and the way he only alludes to what happened with families being culled of sin makes me
very uncomfortable. It makes me imagine quite a bloody cleansing which, as the Reverend
claims, will appease the religious force known as The Eternal Fire for it to protect the
Outskirts from the plague. Presumably many innocents were killed in this
cleansing. It's important to point out that it appears the Reverend is no con-artist.
One of the first tasks he gives you is to light the altars of the Eternal Fire in one
night to drive away The Beast—it's a good idea to do this while also escorting Vesna
Hood home. The Reverend believes this will work. It doesn't, but it's important to know
that he believes it. Even though he is revealed to be a horrible man his faith in the Eternal
Fire isn't a deception—unless this task is only given by him to make Geralt believe
that he's honest but I think that's reading too much into it. Although characters do lie
all the time in this game so it's not that unreasonable.
Isn't talking about The Witcher fun? The more recent crimes involve the death of
Odo's brother, the rape and then suicide of a woman named Ilsa, and the illegal trading
of goods to both the Scoia'tael and Salamandra—including, as you discover at the very end of the chapter,
the funneling of unwanted children so they can be used in Salamandra's witcher mutation
experiment. It seems that all of these crimes have caused
The Beast to appear as karmic punishment. Alternatively, it could have nothing to do
with the forces of the universe seeking justice and instead the witch Abigail may have summoned
The Beast to terrorize the Outskirts as an act of revenge. Even if you do decide that
she's responsible, you may think that she was justified in doing so. I think that would
be a hard thing to defend seeing as in the opening we can see The Beast attacking even
newcomers to the village and a child but hey. Maybe you can understand where she's coming
from at least. The last stretch of Chapter One begins when
Abigail induces another prophetic episode in Alvin via a potion. The sins of the village
are revealed through this rant and Geralt reports to the Reverend that they can be rid
of The Beast if the guilty among them repent for their crimes. In exchange the Reverend
reveals that Salamandra has attacked the inn and that the Innkeeper has a key to a nearby
house where Geralt can find more of Salamandra's goons. When you get to the inn the keeper
is already dead and Shani is under attack. This is something every game in this series
does that annoys me: sometimes changes happen for no real reason. Geralt has not caused
Salamandra to attack the inn. It's just... happened because the developers needed it
to in order to move the story along. This is different than the attack on the bridge
earlier because that can be understood as an ambush that has been planned out and is
happening now that Geralt is at the right place. It's also different to the conclusion
of the Flotsam section in Witcher 2, when Flotsam's streets will change after a certain
stage in a quest directly because of a decision that the player makes at that stage. Events
like this, however, where the inn has just changed now because of an entirely unrelated
conversation with the Reverend who somehow magically knows about it, are frustrating.
Witcher 3 in particular is full of moments like these in quests.
After saving Shani you take a key from the Innkeeper and use it to enter a house near
a cave system in the southern part of the village. There you get to interrogate an officer
in Salamandra before slaughtering them all and freeing a bunch of children that the Outskirts
offered in tribute or trade. Surprisingly Alvin is among them and, in the next section
of the cave, you also find Abigail hiding from the angry mob that the Reverend has spurred
into action. Apparently he's taken Geralt's advice of “repent for your crimes” to
mean that Abigail is the source of all of it and needs to be killed.
The pacing here suffers a bit. As I said earlier Chapter One in this game is probably where
you will do the most backtracking in what turns out to be by far the smallest chapter
in terms of play area. After all of that repeated running around so much happens so quickly
that you can be left wondering when all of it occurred: Alvin was kidnapped, the Reverend
has mobilized the entire village, and Abigail has coincidentally taken refuge in the same
cave that Salamandra was using as a hideout—with only a weak wall separating them. To make
it worse you can once again accidentally have sex here since Abigail offers herself to you
in exchange for your support in the upcoming conflict with the Reverend's pitchfork party.
She presents this offer as “My sins are not as great as they say. Learn for yourself,
if you like. We're alone, we have some time...” which apparently means sex. Maybe I'm being
a big dumb doo-doo head man for not reading this as Abigail being a pick-up artist but
my view on romancing Triss, Shani, and Abigail is that if I'm to choose between one redhead
and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.
The next scene brings the whole chapter together. My first time through I was firmly in the
camp of Abigail. The type of religious exploitation that the Reverend does is abhorrent to me
and it felt like Abigail was the classic witch scapegoat to blame for all the Outskirt's
problems. But there were a few details that were brought up that stuck in my mind and
gnawed away at me throughout the rest of my playthrough. Then, when Abigail showed up
again in Chapter Four having seemingly not learned any lessons from Chapter One, I decided
to take a closer look at all of this in my next playthrough.
Abigail is guilty of something but it's not clear what. You don't get to ask enough questions
to solve this mystery and sometimes I find that aggravating. Othertimes I accept that
Geralt is speaking to a literal mob and the time for polite investigation has long passed.
It's not just that Abigail might be responsible for summoning The Beast, she may also be responsible
for many of the crimes committed by the people in the Outskirts that The Beast has apparently
come to punish. There are details in the quests before this
that you may not have given much attention to—if you're like me that will be because
of the game's weak opening. Here, as Geralt confronts the Reverend, you're basically slapped
into realizing that this game is worth paying attention to. Ilsa isn't just a random corpse
in the crypt—she killed herself with a vial of poison bought from Abigail after being
raped by Mikul. The monster plants in Odo's garden aren't just a random outbreak to give
you a monster to kill, they've grown there because Odo murdered his own brother—a warrior whose
armor you can inspect in Odo's house—and the strange unavoidable interruptions by the
dog when you're around here are because the animal is in mourning.
In Abigail's house you can find a doll that is quite hilariously just a shrunken version
of Odo's character model, which she presumably used for her spells to have Odo kill his brother.
It appears that Odo has been keeping himself constantly drunk since this murder too. Abigail
also went out of her way to adopt Alvin even though there have been plenty of other orphans
in the Outskirts long before he showed up—and it just so happens that he's a powerful Source of magic.
The boy's trance-state roaring revelations are also directly caused by whatever concoction
Abigail herself decided on using—and who knows what she might have been telling the
boy when they're alone all this time, privacy she insists on having while she prepares the
potion without any help from Geralt. Not to mention how irresponsible it is to force that
heavy of a psychedelic episode on a child with uncontrollable powers. After feigning
some ignorance she also already knows quite a bit about The Beast under its other name
“Alzur's Demon” and one of the witcher contracts you get here is a request from her
for ten skulls from dead Barghests. To study them.
Look none of this is conclusive—in a different light some of it could even be used as evidence
that she's a good person that's trying to help. I'm guessing that's the point. You're
not meant to be sure. But after passing judgement there are some bigger clues. If you let Abigail
live you can speak to her again and tell her that choosing her was “The Lesser Evil”.
She also abandons Alvin immediately. When you meet her again in Chapter Four she is
already learning the dark secrets of people in her new home, is willing to use them for
trade, and is brewing love potions. Not exactly exemplary behaviour considering it's the ultimate
date rape drug. Additionally—and I do have to preface this by saying this is the weakest
point I have against her—her romance card is disturbing. It's very out of character
and screams “hey I'm evil”. This goes against the message of many stories in the
games and books though since appearances aren't meant to be the best sign of a monster, but
I mean she's smearing blood over herself while she squats next to her sex toy skull to entice
Geralt. This wouldn't be the only mismatched romance card in the game but I still think
this is weird. If you choose to side with the villagers then
Geralt demands that there be a fair trial which of course never happens. The villagers
kill her immediately and, after the final battle with The Beast, you can then choose
to punish the Reverend and his team for not giving Abigail that trial. However the most
interesting thing that happens here is Abigail's curse. She invokes dark power and damns Geralt
in the name of something called The Lionheaded Spider, which is quite the image. There's
very little information about this cult but any worship in the name of this deity is banned
in most countries. The glossary entry in the game states that bloody sacrifices are expected
by practitioners of this faith and that any captured cultists are tried as murderers.
For Abigail to say this and suddenly be a believer of this faith, after all of her calm
and careful maneuvering throughout the chapter, feels to me like she finally dropped the facade
for a final attempt at revenge before she's put to death.
I'm still not sure if she's entirely responsible for The Beast. Many people in the Outskirts
are guilty too. I have no doubts about that. It could be that Salamandra is forcing them
to cooperate but even then, stealing children for them has nothing to do with Abigail and
that's worthy of condemnation all on its own. But there are many places full of horrible
people like this in the witcher's world. You even visit some that have worse criminals
than this. And yet the Outskirts is special in having a Beast—and in having a witch
that knew enough about it to perhaps summon one. The answer that feels right to me is
that both sides deserve punishment—although leaving Abigail to this mob has never been
something I've been comfortable doing. This is why I love Chapter One so much. It
gave me so many details to think about and a conclusion that I'm still questioning. It
also looped my preconceptions. You're meant to suspect Abigail a little at first and then
it becomes obvious that the villagers are the real monsters here—what could be more
fitting in a game with a protagonist as unusual as Geralt for the witch to be undeservedly
hated and worthy of being saved? But then it loops back to the witch not being innocent
after all, but neither are all of the villagers. Just like on Twitter, everyone is awful here.
Even remaining inactive is an immoral choice and I feel more than ever that I agree with
Geralt's speech—I'd rather let the two evils take care of each other. I'd rather not choose
at all. But you have to.
There's one wrinkle here though. And it's a big one. The game ruins all of this in Chapter
Four by directly telling you that Abigail is innocent. One of the solutions to a problem
in Chapter Four is suggested to you by a literal goddess—The Lady of the Lake. When her solution
doesn't work she explains it's because Geralt has the blood of an innocent on his hands
and it's directly stated that it's Abigail's.
So all of these hints about Abigail's guilt
are apparently red-herrings, and her selling love potions and poison to people that she knows are going
to use it for misdeeds is morally just fine. This doll of Odo must just be for fun. Maybe
she uses it with the sex toy skull. But even this wrinkle has a wrinkle. Three
actually. The first is that if Abigail survives Chapter One this solution offered by the goddess
still doesn't work. It doesn't matter whether Geralt has “innocent blood” on his hands
or not—it's not brought up as a reason for the failure unless Abigail is dead. The second
is that this “innocent blood” problem might not be about innocence at all and is
instead how Abigail's curse is presenting itself to foil your attempt at doing something
later in the game—in the same place she would have gone on to inhabit if she hadn't
died. The third wrinkle is a much bigger problem in the series: sometimes making a choice changes
more than just what's related to that choice. That was kind of wordy. Here's an example
to better explain. Let's say when you wake up one morning you have a glass of orange juice.
You then look out the window and it starts to rain. Now we rewind the morning and instead
of orange juice you decide to have milk. You then look out the window and it's a bright
sunny day. Your choice has nothing to do with the weather but it still made it change. This
is how some choices work in this series. I know it sounds dumb but it's true. Geralt
is slipped into another dimension where different things happen now because of a choice that
had nothing to do with them. Is that what happened here? I'm not sure.
To me Abigail is absolutely guilty of many things but maybe not enough to warrant death,
and that's why the goddess views it as a stain on Geralt. But then Geralt isn't the one that
kills her so should he truly be responsible? He wanted her to have a fair trial and it's
the villagers that decided to ignore that and go for blood. Geralt was the one cursed
though. And away we go again. Like I said, there's a lot to think about here.
Isn't talking about The Witcher fun? The fight against The Beast is noteworthy
in that it's one of the toughest battles in the game and it's this early on. The only
fight that I found more difficult than this on Hard Mode was trying to kill the Striga
in Chapter Five instead of lifting the curse on it. Randomness is a big part of the fight
against the Beast since it can inflict Pain which is a status effect that stuns Geralt
but it's different than a stun according to the game because of the spelling. A single
Swallow regeneration potion is usually enough to get through this fight although it's not
always required if you get lucky with avoiding pain.
Curiously according to the notes you recover on The Beast there's meant to be a question
that it asks you before you fight it. If you answer correctly then The Beast is weakened
and can be more easily defeated. This Beast asks no question but the fight does come directly
after the choice you make between Abigail and the villagers. The boss fight is much
easier if you side with the villagers but gameplay is so unpolished and janky in this
game that it's impossible to know if that's intended. Abigail's magic should, in theory,
be much more useful but she usually gets knocked out seconds into the fight. It would have
been cool if this decision between Abigial and the villagers was The Beast's “question”
all along but we'll never know. We do find out about the ultimate fate of the Outskirts
in Witcher 3 though—it's burned to the ground by an invading army. Swept away.
After all of this you get a pass to enter the city. You meet up with Shani and you both
head to the city gate together. Mikul is there and, depending on your choices, he may be
the only survivor of the main Outskirts characters that you interacted with in this Chapter.
It's here that he betrays you and, after Shani conveniently vanishes into thin air after
you get here, you're arrested and thrown into the city jail as your warm welcome back to Vizima.
So after spending days being trapped outside the city, Geralt finally gets past the quarantine
blockade only to be imprisoned and now stuck inside the city. The witcher series is not
without a generous application of irony, especially in Witcher 2. This opening scene is one of
the more memorable ones from this game—with the thief bemoaning that he's been lumped
in with the “politicals” because there's a witcher and an elf in this large cell. This
is one of many speeches and phrases that are ripped right from the books. I believe this
dialogue is from The Last Wish, the story where Geralt first meets Yennefer—the second
most important person in Geralt's life and one whose name is never spoken in this game.
Not even once. (Except for an adventure module) The other memorable part of this scene is
the shot when the camera slides between these bars. The Professor has also been imprisoned
here but he's being released just after Geralt has been brought in. Again I feel compelled
to point out that the character models are pretty bad but I still think this shot is
cool, and it shows how even back then CD Projekt still cared deeply about the presentation
of their games. It's not just the standard “we want our games to look as good as possible”
it's a desire to push presentation forward and have it be a focus. The fully realized
city streets of Vizima that we'll be seeing soon also support this commitment.
But as Leonardo DiCaprio is fond of saying, let's get back to the models. Witcher 1 doesn't
have much variety in its NPCs. It uses the same models for dozens of characters and the
reason we're bringing this up now is because this jail cell has nine people in it and six
of them are the same person. Same model, same voice. I'm going to catch a lot of shit for
saying this but I kind of like this about the game. It adds to that cohesive weirdness
of the presentation. In this example it's like a Super Nintendo RPG—the same model
pasted to fill up space and dispense dialogue. Whereas on a case-by-case basis, with the
same model coming back individually in different sections of the game, it makes it feel like
a stage play performance where the same actor is rushing backstage to change into a different
colored outfit for the next time he goes on stage as a different character. This definitely
only works because of the strained low budget charm CD Projekt was working with, and I don't
think I'd accept it in a full AAA game. Which means it's a good thing there's no way Witcher
3 has the same problem, right?
My favorite of these NPC archetypes is the
fat Jason Statham. He's usually paired with this voice that sounds like his lungs have
been tied together in a bow. Yoohoo.
Whitey. We foight for money.
I crack up every time this guy is around and I wish he had been included in the next games.
He's in this prison scene too.
The Captain of the Guard,
Vincent Meis, comes to the jail
with an offer—anyone who can slay the cockatrice rampaging in the sewer can go free. Fat Jason
Statham volunteers as well as Geralt and the game misses the incredible opportunity to
have this be a buddy-monster-slayer quest with the best placeholder NPC. Instead you
beat him up and win the right to go kill the monster. This whole scenario feels like the
guards wanted to get some free work out of a witcher that they heard was coming into
the city because honestly no thief or drunk in here could ever hope to pluck a single
feather off a cockatrice and live. But then after you kill the monster they still pay
you on top of the pardon—although maybe that's just paying a much lower amount for
the trophy that you bring in. Already the game is expertly setting up the
story of Chapter Two. This isn't just filler and fun. You've quietly been introduced to
two important new characters along with a refresher about The Professor and, when you're
given a silver witcher sword that the guard garrison mysteriously has in their possession,
you're given a lead to follow about a man named Thaler. There was another witcher in
Vizima recently named Berengar. You can read some of his notes on The Beast in Chapter
One and, upon receiving this sword, Geralt suspects that it originally belonged to him
and that it's likely Berengar is dead. When you drop into the sewers you watch Geralt
adeptly wield his new silver weapon before you get to try it out yourself and, as is
standard for this series, you are met with another interruption immediately instead of
these scenes being linked together. There's this awkward moment of control like the eye
of a storm between cutscenes that abruptly stops just like how I jump from topic to topic.
Unrelated, let's pause here at meeting Siegfried and talk about something else. Let's talk
about the Witcher Fantasy some more. Witcher 1 does an excellent job at gamifying
the witcher experience even if the combat is less than stellar. Geralt wears his arsenal
in a way that makes him an embodiment of his profession. Sometimes the weapons on your
hip slot can look too bulky but even with that gone you have the potions on the shoulder,
the crossed steel and silver swords on the back, and a small weapon slot. It's a small
thing to have these present all the time but, added with how you can't carry any other weapons
in your inventory, it makes them feel much more real. Switching swords is also more meaningful
than switching fighting styles. It starts to feel like these weapons are extensions
of yourself—which is something Witcher 2 and 3 do even better. You also have a trophy
slot to show off your most recent big kill. Then there's meditating, preparing, and alchemy.
If you'll forgive the pun, this is where things are much more mixed. Across all three games,
not just this first one. Meditating is the most successful since it adds calm periods
between all the noise and monster fighting. Time is way more important in Witcher 1 than
it is in the sequels and so you have to think not just about what you're doing but also
when you're doing it. Admittedly this can become tedious when you want to do something
specific and the time isn't right, but I think this occasional tedium is worth the fantasy
weight of the day and night cycle. Potions and preparation are pushed in the
opening cinematic. I'm sorry for the indulgence here but I want to gush about this opening.
I've always liked it but it wasn't until I read the books that I began to admire this
intro. For one it's quite long at over seven minutes. It perfectly sums up the witcher
fantasy and the type of world this is. Geralt has his ritual down to an almost fetish level
of precision. He uses human bait without remorse. He meditates. Drinks potions. Readies his
weapons. And picks the perfect time to fight. He's always in control of this battle. He
doesn't draw his sword until five minutes in and then the Striga runs away instead of
continuing the fight. Playing the game is nothing like this but
with the limited budget of the first game and its focus on being more of an RPG than
an action game I think it's understandable. It's the later action-focused games that are
more disappointing even if the combat is... … better... right? It is better, right?
What I can't understand is how alchemy is entirely useless outside of the occasional
use of Swallow—and even then it's just used to save time. Health regeneration is a part
of this game, you just have to “pay” for it with some basic ingredients to make a potion
for the regeneration to be faster. Outside of that I did not have to brew a potion in
any of these three games. Even on the highest difficulties—Hard in Witcher 1, Dark in
Witcher 2, and Death March in Witcher 3. I still did brew some to see how they functioned
and to explore that part of the system but even as optional gameplay tools they were
underwhelming. I don't care about this much in the first
game because again it's all about stats and leveling. At best a potion would grant a short
level boost or a temporary talent's worth of bonus stats. But I feel like the opening
cinematic of this game was the target—in all three games considering how in-depth the
alchemy system is in all of them—and yet it's a waste of time. That takes away a large
part of the hunting preparation phase and the Witcher Fantasy. And we can see that here
with the cockatrice. This is communicated to you as being a much bigger deal than a
basic drowner and you just run at it and hit it with your sword a bunch of times. Then
it dies. Just like a drowner. Turns out it can be a buddy-monster-hunt after all though
since this is where you meet Siegfried, who is one of the nicest characters in the game
and wants more than anything else to be your Siegfriend.
Siegfried is a Knight in the Order of the Flaming Rose. They're a monastic military
mass mouthful that acts as the forceful arm of the Eternal Fire's interests. They're meant
to keep the peace and help the less fortunate—which some of them like Siegfried actually do—but
there's also that pesky tendency that many orders like this have with setting heretics
on fire as an example to others. Siegfried and knights like him hunt monsters for free,
which is something Geralt finds offensive. Of course it's not really “for free” since
the Order is funded through political pressure as they gain power but that's what Siegfried
says—and maybe believes. I'm quite fond of Siegfried and I think the game handles
him well. It's also interesting to note that, if this game was made by anyone else, Siegfried
would have been the player character. A noble knight that seeks to fight evil, defending
the downtrodden, who eventually uncovers the corruption in the Order he swore an oath to
and then redeems them from within. Instead you're mutant Geralt. I like that
better. The cockatrice poses no real threat whether
you team up with Siegfried or not. Regardless you still go to the exit of the sewers together
and are attacked by Salamandra. Siegfried defends you and then poses the question: how
did Salamandra know that Geralt was in the sewers? Then you leave and you're finally
free to wander the streets of Vizima. The game opens up substantially and you'll probably
feel a great relief to finally be somewhere new after so much time in the Outskirts.
Surprisingly, accepting Siegfried's help in the sewers or turning him away is a minor
Impactful Decision. It will make it easier to get through certain guarded doors in the
city later. But the real reason I think this happens is to push you toward seeing Siegfried
as an ally. If you accept his help he'll be present at the gate to the dock and insist
that the guards grant you passage—otherwise you'd need to bribe your way through. If you
don't accept his help then he has decided he needs to punish himself for failing in
his monster hunt by taking extra guard duty in front of the hospital. He replaces the
usual guard there and, once again, you are allowed to go inside unhindered whereas the
original guard would require a bribe. The Order of the Flaming Rose, which is usually
just shortened to The Order when you're discussing this game, is one of two major factions that
will be vying for your support and Siegfried is your point of contact with the organization.
The other is the elf Yaevinn of the Scoia'tael and not nearly as much effort is made by the
game for you see him as a friend as with Siegfried. I think there are a few reasons for that.
The first is that you just dealt with corruption within the religion of the Eternal Fire when
you met the Reverend so you may be wary of another faction with the same beliefs. A big
monolithic group like this also isn't going to garner much sympathy and so they're made
a more viable option by having Siegfried as the friendly face. And by that I mean the
developers are using Siegfried in this way, not that the organization is putting Siegfried
up to this in some way to lure Geralt to their side or anything. Yaevinn and the Scoia'tael
don't need a front man to ease you in since I believe it's everyone's natural tendency
to be repulsed by the type of prejudice we see on display in Vizima. The dwarves and
elves are treated horribly and so they will get that sympathy automatically. Reading Sapkowski's
books made me hate the elves in this universe. And I vehemently mean that. Here's a sentence
you don't hear everyday: reading books made me elf-racist. I strongly think that co-habitation
between humans and elves is a lost cause and that they should give up. The other races
and humans are much more likely to succeed in living in peace but the elves have got
to go. Yet I still loathe the conditions I see the elves living in here, and I can't
help but feel sorry for them. It's important that every player feels some
amount of affinity for either of these groups—or preferably both of them—because much of
the main story going forward involves helping either side. Or struggling to stay truly neutral
which is possible to do except for one quest in Chapter Three. I'm going to guess that
most players would reject the Order outright on their first playthrough if it weren't for
Siegfried, and that's why I think he's so important and that he's handled so well. Your
interaction in the sewers appears like just another choice you made with a minor consequence
but it smoothly opens you up to parts of the story. Any time a game or a story gets more
than one use out of something—that's just fantastic. The more the better.
Initially this conflict has nothing to do with the main goal of retrieving the stolen
Witcher secrets. But, like most of the side quests feeding into the main quest, almost
everything in Witcher 1 collapses into being relevant before the end of the game. Chapter
2 is where a lot of those seeds are sown, or it's like the story has exhaled a gigantic
breath of details which it will now draw back in over the rest of the game.
It's not all good though. Chapter Two's main quest is the most complicated quest that I
have ever seen in a game. It can start immediately after you leave the sewer and decide to hire
a detective to help you uncover who in the city is secretly working for Salamandra—with
the heated question “who told them Geralt would be in the sewers?” being the spark
that sets it all off. While I appreciate how dense this quest is—and it definitely has
some great moments—there's a fair helping of stupid bullshit that comes with it. Case
in point: you never find out who told Salamandra you were in the sewers. It's so important
at the beginning and is why you start the investigation off at all and is then dropped.
You're left to assume it was The Professor himself who hung around the prison after being
released and overheard that Geralt was going cockatrice hunting. And instead of thinking
that that's the answer we had to go hire a detective and go on this big fucking Agatha
Christie mystery. The detective lives right next to the sewer
entrance in this part of the city and you're encouraged to see him right away. But you
can wander around doing literally every other quest you can find before this instead and
the main quest will wait for you—which is fine, there's nothing wrong with it, it's
a nice option. Raymond Maarloeve is the name of the detective and he has a vested interest
in finding Salamandra too—since they were responsible for killing his wife and son.
Apparently Salamandra was trying to mutate people long before they stole the witcher's
secrets and Raymond's boy was one of those victims. His horribly transformed corpse was
found a while after the boy was kidnapped, and no one else made the connection that it
was his missing son except for him.
Over the course of their partnered investigation,
Raymond and Geralt will have six suspects. These are:
Lucky Leuvaarden. Loosely leisuring lakeside. We've already met this key player of the region's
economy, but is all about him as it seems? A true merchant, or a cunning schemer hiding
behind the facade of his plain ass NPC model that five hundred other men have in this game?
Could he have ties to Salamandra, or perhaps be the mastermind that's funding the whole operation?
Toothy Thaler. Tinker, Tailor, Talker, Trader.
Tutting Thaler trots through the Temerian town to two tunes. Turning tricks. Taking
trades. He claims he's just a simple fence that knows how to bribe the guards well enough
to leave him alone. But he was in possession of a witcher's sword—one that presumably
belonged to an enemy of Salamandra. He cheats at dice and has the tongue of a serpent sailor.
Could he be a fence that deals in Salamandra's secrets as well as stolen goods?
Cackling Kalkstein. Charming cordial craftsman? Or cruel coldblooded killer? A seemingly innocuous
alchemist in need of your help more than your suspicion—but is this beastly brewer's latest
concoction... crime? Was his run in with Salamandra in the Outskirts all it seemed to be, or did
Geralt just arrive at the wrong time and sacrifices were made to keep this madman's cover?
Randy Ramsmeat. Roaring renegade running rackets round the region. Self-confessed drug boss.
Should be a rival of Salamandra and resisting them encroaching on his territory, but can
love bloom between a Ram and a Salamander? Has this King of the Underworld turned Prince
under the might of Azar Javed and the Professor?
Golan Vivaldi. Greedy golem gold grubber.
Vicious Vizima vault viper. A banker with many fingers and even more pies. Is he dealing
with humans, the Order, the Scoia'tael, or all three? Zoltan claims that Vivaldi is a
friend, but has this dwarf's latest deals been made with the Salamandra devil?
Captain of the Guard, Vincent “Dick Wolf” Meis. It's nooooot hiiiiim.
Throughout this quest you will interrogate multiple characters, try to meet with a witness
who ends up being killed before you can get any solid information out of him, stalk people
through the streets, track the history of your silver sword, perform an autopsy without
knowing how to do one, maybe break into a crypt, and that's just some of the stuff that
happens in the streets of Vizima. You can go back into the sewers and wade through a
swamp too. What you can't do is get to the rest of the
city. For now this Temple Quarter is all you have to explore. If we check out the map we
can see a big improvement from the circuit style we were forced into in the previous
chapter. There are many more ways to get around and even in the swamp, although it's much
larger than the Outskirts, it's much more enjoyable to explore because you have more
freedom to choose a direct route from most noteworthy locations.
My only gripe is how the slum is sectioned off with only one way in or out. The Hairy
Bear Inn is at the end of this path and taverns in this game act as your base of operations.
This is where your item storage can be located in each chapter, and it carries over from
tavern to tavern. It's also where you can reliably find a resting spot for a small fee
and, combined with your stash, makes it the perfect place to brew some potions if you
decide to engage with that system. I think a door in the back of the tavern leading up
here to where the second floor meets this high street would have worked wonders for
cutting down the repetition of running through these slums just to get back here and then
running through it again when you want to leave. The game largely gets better about
not inconveniencing the player via its streets as the game goes on but I'm surprised these
problems in the first chapters weren't addressed. Especially in the Enhanced Edition. Same goes
for having to repeatedly select the confirmation that yes, you do indeed want to cross the
river via the ferry, whenever you want to go the Swamp. Although this one might be a
joke—one that wears out its welcome.
What I really like about Vizima is that it
feels like a small part of a much larger city. This is something I'm enjoying more and more
in video games—when a condensed slice of a place gives the credible impression that
the sprawling world around it is actually real—and fully realized if only you could
get out of bounds—even though the developers only created this tiny part of it. This feeling
in Vizima is also helped by how you do get to explore different parts of it later but,
even with the cemetery and Trade Quarter unlocked in Chapter 3, it's still only a fraction of
Vizima's true size. Novigrad in Witcher 3 is the most impressive city I have ever seen
in a fantasy game or maybe any game at all and I will gush about that when we finally
get to it, but Vizima manages to be just as real to me by feeling like it belongs in a
larger place that truly exists. There are so many people to speak to. So many buildings
you can enter. There are two markets and people coming and going from other areas in the world.
It feels like there are enough homes for the amount of people you see walking around. The
streets have gutters that fill with rain—people also run for cover whenever a downpour comes
along. NPCs have schedules. They eat and sleep. Considering how rough and rushed this first
game clearly is I find all of this so amazing. The main quest is the same way. I have many
complaints about it—the biggest of which we haven't even gotten to yet—but I can't
hate it because it's like nothing else I've seen in an RPG. There's just so many layers
and options and so much of it can be rendered obsolete by those decisions. The game responds
to your choices and how successful you are at pushing against the boundaries of what
you're being told to do. This is how the game springboards off the
success of the previous chapter. Now you know that details in this game actually matter
and that NPCs are more complex than in most games. They have fully realized lives, back
stories, and secrets. Some of these you don't learn until later. For example Carmen, the
mistress of the local brothel, appears like a throwaway character at first who is there
to simply dispense a side quest that has you kill Salamandra goons that are harassing her
girls at night. But she's also the banished, estranged daughter of the Reverend from Chapter
One, and is currently in a secret relationship with Vincent. These are two details that don't
even come up in Chapter Two. You can take Carmen as your guest to Shani's party and
never learn about either of these things about her and, even when you do find out she's the
daughter of the Reverend, it's just a low-key revelation. It's not important at all.
But it is important to me because it shows so much damn effort in making NPCs more than
robotic entities that exist only to serve the player. NPCs with green names usually
have more interactions than others but some of them have way more than others. A homeless
shoe shiner and a gardener at the hospital have pages between them. But sometimes blue
unnamed NPCs can open dialogue trees as well. The world feels real even though it looks fake.
Characters lie to you because why wouldn't
they? They can also get pissed off if you say the wrong thing to them and they won't
talk to you until you've been gone for a while. They don't abide by the