Disclaimer: this article is intended as a medium to exchange thoughts and ideas on the current state of CD Projekt RED’s Witcher trilogy. The information included in this article is in no way factual.
In May, CD Projekt RED gave us The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. It was beautiful. It was dynamic. It was a complete reimagining of what fantasy RPGs should be like. But above all, it was a setup for a sequel. The game featured sixteen endings, and all of them left fans with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth: this was the bitter taste of the unknowing future.
In all honesty, the game was rather difficult, especially in the initial chapters. However, once it picked up momentum, it blossomed into a beautiful balance of aesthetic and gameplay elements that was hard to surpass. What was more difficult though, was trying to understand the political and social ramifications of the choices that you made throughout the story. Players knew that they had to choose between two individuals to accompany you through the gameplay: Roche and Iorveth. What they might not have known were all of the affiliations, alliances, and histories involved with Andrzej Sapjowski’s epic Blood of the Elves Saga. This is the series that serves as a precursor to all of the events that occurred in the two games thus far.
Let’s take a crash course: in the second game, a kingkiller named Letho was secretly hired by the Southern kingdom of Nilfgaard to assassinate the kings of the North. To do this, Letho uses the secret council of advisor sorceresses known as the Lodge, and Iorveth’s Scoia’tael elf units to assassinate the kings of Temeria and Aedirn (two of the Northern kingdoms). What ensues is a political scramble for control of the Pontar Valley—the Aedernian-owned center of the Northern Kingdoms—by all of the other political spheres. Geralt, trying to hunt Letho down for framing him for the assassination of the Temerian King Foltest, must uncover all of these secrets by himself, while still trying to regain his memory that was missing from the beginning of the first game. Through his experiences and Letho’s eventual help, he discovers that he was looking for his lost love, Yennefer, by looking for the Wild Hunt—the elven spectres from a parallel world that had kidnapped her.
See? Now, apart from a neckbeard or a serious fanboy, who would bother learning all of that? It’s a ridiculous amount of information to process. This is only worsened by the fact that the Witcher novels have not entirely been translated into English. As of right now, there is only one available from the Blood of the Elves saga, and there are five in all in the original Polish.
However, all of this strangely ends up being to CD Projekt RED’s credit. By presenting fans with a dense and layered story with multiple avenues of exploration, they’ve created an expansive narrative that outdoes many of the nonlinear RPGS we have today. In the 2011 year, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings stands out as the best storytelling experience from any RPG publisher, Bethesda Softworks included.
Now, will CD Projekt’s titles beat out Skyrim? I’m guessing that in many cases it will. As it stands, Skyrim is one of the most hyped games of the year. Bethesda has reworked most of their engine, their environments, their gameplay, and the narrative to create a compelling case for RPG GOTY. They will undoubtedly win that award this year.
The Witcher 3, however, will win in the long run. In terms of story, fans will have to address many unsolved plot elements, including: whether Yennefer is an antagonist working for the Nilfgaardian empire, whether Geralt will choose Yennefer or Triss to be his love, how the Northern Kingdoms will stand against the Nilfgaard in their third war thus far, the fate of Iorveth and the remaining members of the Lodge of Sorceresses, and many more. Combined with the Polish devs’ approach to morally-ambiguous decision-based gameplay, the story could be the most satisfying and emotionally-riveting thing gamers have seen since Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic.
This isn’t even including the combat and other gameplay RPG mechanics. In the first Witcher game, players were given a very strict and rigid development and leveling system matched with a very bizarre timing-based combat system. Both were still loved by fans, but it prompted RED to adapt these two systems to be more streamlined and synchronized. The Witcher 2 featured more practical skill trees and some elaborate hack-and-slash combat. The Witcher 3 is the perfect opportunity to blend both of those together, to bring back the advanced leveling of the old game while incorporating the combat of the second.
What’s best to consider is that players won’t ever be lost within the depth of their own open world. Bethesda titles are known to create gamers that don’t complete their main quests, and instead spend endless hours exploring. CD Projekt RED knew their limitations well—they created a vast world without ever making it too vast. With the Witcher 3, everyone should expect to see the same balance of focused drive and exploration elements. Furthermore, with the established tendency to import saves to help impact the decision engine, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the weapons and armor you spent hours collecting, and the character abilities you took the time to plan out, made an appearance again.
It’s the most promising set up I’ve seen in years, and there hasn’t even been any information leaked so far. Speculation will only serve to increase the game’s popularity with time.