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[Spoilers] The Witcher 3 and the Trilogy Discussion.

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[Spoilers] For Witcher 1, 2, and 3.. duh...

Before starting off any sort of discussion, I was taught by my Anthropology professor so many years ago that "a discussion should start with stating the bias of the writer," and I am firm believer of this idea. To state my bias, I am someone who try very hard to like a game instead of hating it; as long as game doesn't actively piss me off by its laziness and problems, I tend to enjoy the most. I am very lukewarm about most issues, yet I lean slightly toward progressive in political leaning. Also, this will be long text, so TL;DR version is "the Witcher 3 is great. The series as whole is great, too. sort of."

To start it off, I was didn't fully enjoy The Witcher. The first game of the series was clunky at best, at worst broken. I bore through the combat system that never worked well as it was intended, and bug ridden quest chains that pissed me off from time to time. I still remember when Azar Javed revealed that he had been assuming Raymond's identity. The supposed crucial and surprised plot reveal was spoiled to me by the game itself because it mistakenly identified me having to finish a quest chain previous to the final reveal. I was in the middle of the investigation, then finished up some side quest. All of a sudden Geralt confronts Raymond for being an imposter, and the fight happens, then the main quest chain became unable to finish, forcing me to restart the game from the previous saved point before I did any of the side quest. It was fixable, but the damage was already done. The anecdotal story is the example of poor optimization of CDPR's previous games, which a tradition that continued in the other games. In terms of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, the game's play was improved significantly due to its abandonment of stupid combat system and Aurora engine, which is why I liked the game so much better than the first.

In the story front, I wasn't fan of The Witcher mostly because I never felt I truly had an agency in the world. This isn't, however, the condemnation of the game; it is an expression of preference. I appreciated its storytelling method in objective level, but I didn't fully enjoy what it is telling me. Unlike Tamriel or Thedas, this unnamed Continent wasn't a place I wanted to revisit. The world Witcher series depict is bleak. The game is embodiment of the mantra: "the life is struggle." The petty lives of people never grew out of their pettiness, and their eventual accomplishment was unstable at best. At any moment, political wind could change and everything you've achieved could crumble down in matter of days. The irony was that this condition was true for pretty much everyone except for king maybe. Not only nonhumans and peasants, but also wealthy merchants, even some nobles couldn't escape the fact that they could die and lose everything at any moment at any time. Only way to survive is to keep trying to stay on top of everything and everyone. Continual scheming and power grabbing wasn't just act of ambition but also that of desperation. It made perfect sense why the Lodge was founded, and why they try to manipulate every kingdom behind the scene, and even that wasn't truly enough in the end. One wrong move, even the mighty Lodge crumbles in an instant. When those in power focus all of their attention on scheming each other, their subjects inevitably suffers. The monsters and bandits raid villagers, soldiers rapes and kills women, cursed ones eat people, and so on. Meaningless deaths and sorrow are just a part of life.

In this world, you are playing as a Witcher, essentially a janitor who cleans other's mess for profit. The Witcher never has any real power to change anything. They were brought in when problem has happened and asked to fix it, knowing well some other problems will arise soon after they leave. This was even true for Geralt. Throughout the first two games, Geralt had some illusion of choices, but in the end the choice didn't truly mattered. Even with his indirect influence through his association with Triss, Geralt was powerless to change anything. This was due to so called "honeycomb quest design" to maintain the story progression for the trilogy, but it also reflected the life of the Witcher; the Witcher can't change anything.

I had a friend of mine argued that this was how life "should be." That in the end you can't really make a difference, and the world will continue without you in it. This should be true for the game because that's how it is in real life. Despite the fact that I vehemently disagree with the sentiment "this is how it is in real life, so game world should be," I agree that the world Witcher series present is believable and feels authentic in its disparagingly bleak way. I made a statement once "The Witcher [as series] is Game of Thrones version of Dragon Age [as series]" and in more ways than one, I think that statement is true. And I disliked that world for the same reason why I dislike Game of Thrones. Again, this isn't the condemnation of the games (or the books); it's just statement of preference.

This brings to The Witcher 3: the Wild Hunt, which made me change a lot about my previously stated opinion about the series. To say the conclusion first, this was the best Witcher game to date. It's been awhile since Dragon Age: Origin that I wanted to replay the game this long immediately again. When you consider, how badly this could have been, its even more impressive. First off, I was extremely cautious of the fact that CDPR was making Witcher 3 as open world game. As person who hates Ubisoft "open world" games from its very core, I was suspicious of this idea. As of late, game developers like to make more and more "open world" games where they falls on their face flat because they just created a sandbox and litter them with collectibles and meaningless quests without consideration of how cohesive as whole they were. Pretty much every single Ubisoft open world game and even Skyrim (despite the fact that I love this game even more than Oblivion) fell to this trap of thinking "if you just scatter more stuff in the world, then it would feel more alive," regardless it actually made the world feel more shallow. For how good CDPR's track record was, it never really done any open world game. So far, they showed their chops on telling cohesive and convincing story within carefully controlled environment.

Regardless of my skepticism, I was blown away by the size of the world and depth of its side quests. There were overwhelming amount of side quests to take part in, and yet all of them had touch of "humanity" in them. Somehow despite the number and shear volume of the side quests, most if not all made me feel more attached to the world. In those side quests, I saw the glimpse of the lives of the people in different way. Sure, the world was still terrible and nothing good was coming for them, yet I saw the hope and joy within them. The world as whole may be bleak, but there is still beauty to be found, lives worth living, people worth protecting, and place worth visiting. As I played the game, it started to put colors into previously beak world where everything was painted in different shades of grey. I grew attached to this unnamed Continent, and side quests were the ones who really got the job done for me.

The decisions had made significant impact in the end this time. I'm not saying that previous game's choices didn't have impact just because its ending conclusions were essentially the same. However, I am of a person who thinks "ending matters." I believe ending matters quite significantly. To me, any story can have good premise, good lead up, and follow through, but only a few has good endings. (When I say, good. I mean the quality). In my opinion, so many books, movies, TV shows, etc. don't know when to finish and how to finish. That's why I value the ending of a story as about 20% of the whole. (The whole includes everything: characterization, environment, plot, theme, tonality, etc.)

This time around Geralt played major parts in several political matters. From deciding who gets the throne of Skellige to influencing fate of Radovid (and Redania, the war, and the Empire by extension), Geralt played significant roles in this chapter of his adventure despite his aversion to politics. The agency to influence the ending made the game feel less restrictive and powerless than its previous ones, and I enjoyed great deal of it. I even get to see the result of the choices I've made in Witcher 2, which negated some of my dislikes for the 2nd game.

This leads to the endings. In my opinion, CDPR really nailed the endings for this game perfectly. From the start, the game was very clear that the story was about both Ciri and Geralt. In smaller scale, Geralt's story was about a father in search of his adopted daughter. In larger scale, Ciri's story was about her fulfilling her destiny.

Despite grandness of the stakes at hand and players involved, Geralt's story was personal, and this personal involvement made Geralt actively participate in things he wouldn't usually get himself involved. I've always saw and played Geralt as someone who were detached from what is going on in the world. Because of his fame and his close relationship with Yennefer and Triss, he got to see and interact with high class nobles and kings than most Witchers do, and yet this made him more acutely aware that he could never really change anything. He does what he does best and fix problems, but not really think about the whole picture. In the game, Ciri asks him how he can easily move on from tragedy and to next job at hand. Simple answer is the detachment. It's not the emotionless response, but the professional detachment, like a surgeon who knows his patient is dying, but all they can do is to ease the suffering. However, he gets attached to people. In Witcher 2 (if I recall this correctly), Lorveth accuses Geralt for being bribed (if you didnt side with him) and Geralt doesn't get bribed by coins but by "friendship, camaraderie, and acceptance" since that's what he craves the most. Even in the Witcher 3, Geralt says, "It's true I do not get attached to places, just people." When Ciri - only person Geralt truly feels as kin - was in danger, and he couldn't just stand aside and do as he was told this time. He ends up doing things that he wouldn't normally do, and even actively involved in the politics because this was about his daughter. This interpretation, of course, is vastly different depends on how you play the game.

My natural ending was that Ciri lives and becomes a Witcher. This ending was fitting to my version of Geralt who was ready to move the world for his daughter, and Ciri who accepted that she had fulfilled her destiny as born of Elder Blood and stopping the White Frost. Ciri will live without the weight of destiny on her shoulder, and being a Witcher is what her heart wants.

The second ending I received was "Ciri becomes Empress" ending. Despite the tone of the ending, I wasn't particularly sad about the ending in general. In this ending, Geralt accepts that his daughter has fully grown up and he needs to let her go despite what he wants for her. They both know that their relationship will never be the same again. Ciri accepts that she now needs to fulfill other part of her destiny, and by doing so, she could make a different. In the end, a Witcher can't change anything, but an Empress might.

My friend's natural ending was the third, "Ciri dies" ending. He told me that he played Geralt as a detached professional who has problem expressing his feelings properly. Although he loves his daughter, he doesn't show his love proper. This version of game play was especially sad for me because Geralt was absolutely powerless in the end. Despite his effort to save Ciri, she dies without even knowing how much he loved her, and Geralt truly suffers.

In the end, the game let me played Geralt in the way I wanted. Like most good RPG games do, it asked my personal interpretation and projection into the game. I was truly attached to the world and its characters. Even though it had its minor problems (constant crashing for me), overall the game felt complete. Just like after reading a good book and watching a great movie, all I want to do now is to go play again.

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