The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, The Witching Hour

 For many, The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt is the final part of a sweeping trilogy. For PS4 owners, it’s the  only game in the series. Here’s what you’ve missed…
There’s an awful lot of backstory in The Witcher, partly because the game is based on a series of adult fairy-tale-like short stories (plus five novels) by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher videogame narratives continue to pile on both the lore and the confusion, and it doesn’t help that the polygonal Geralt as opposed to the literary incarnation is an amnesiac.

He’s the ultimate unreliable narrator; his confusion is our confusion. So as the Wild Hunt draws ever closer, we played the heck out of the first two games to bring you the definitive and intensely SPOILER HEAVY story so far. Just don’t fret too much if you don’t take it all in the first (or even the fifth) time round…

Monster hunter
The Witcher gaming trilogy takes place in a machinations-and-intrigue-riddled universe known simply as ‘The Continent’. The  star of the adventure is Geralt Of Rivia. He’s a renowned Witcher, a human-turned-mutant trained in the arts of combat and alchemy to slay monsters. It’s worth mentioning that although Witchers were heroes of yore  (they live for centuries), they’re now more likely to be shunned and mistrusted as freaks rather than welcomed as protectors.

Known as the White Wolf (owing to various alchemical processes that have left his hair, yep… white), he’s suffering from amnesia that it’s latterly revealed has been induced by: a) his ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ by Ciri,  his adoptive daughter. And b) spending a period of time (possibly in an alternate dimension) with the Wild Hunt (spectres) after offering himself up as a hostage of sorts in return for the King Of The Hunt sparing his (still mysteriously absent) lover, the sorceress Yennefer Of Vengerberg. 

Not the simplest of origins but, before we plough on, it’s also worth noting that while both The Witcher and its sequel possess canon ‘tops and tails’ that frame their narratives, the sheer scope of the meaty decision-making means that the in-between bits vary extensively depending upon players’ choices. This is especially true in the sequel; for instance, the entire second Act’s location (and supporting characters) will largely differ subject to a decision made at the end of the first. That makes summarising events rather tricky without transforming this feature into a wannabe Fighting Fantasy novella. Suffice to say, both games have key events and characters that will affect The Wild Hunt.

Lovers Triss
The original Witcher commences with a brain-addled Geralt holed up in the former Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen, recovering from his wounds and mourning Yennefer. Ever the dirty old man, there’s still some time for a bit of sexy time with hot magic-wielder and former friend-with-benefits Triss Merigold. After a mysterious sect of whoreson bandits known as Salamandra led by the mysterious ‘Professor’ and the powerful mage Azar Javed raids the citadel and pilfers a bunch of Witcher-making mutagens, Geralt and his brothers are dispatched by father figure Vesemir to sally forth and investigate the theft.
“The order of the flaming rose don’t like the squirrels.”
Heading towards the stinking conurbation of Vizima the capital of King Foltest’s kingdom of Temeria Geralt rapidly runs into trouble. Not only is the capital itself under strict quarantine and Foltest nowhere to be seen, but the outskirts are being plagued by The Beast, a gigantic flaming hellhound. Once the canine has been bested, Geralt enters the city to learn of a more troubling conflict: knights belonging to the Order Of The Flaming Rose are locked in bloody battle with the ghetto-confined Scoia’tael (also known as the Squirrels), a gang of guerrilla freedom-fighting elves including the charismatic Yaevinn, dwarves and other non-humans. Somehow, Geralt gets arrested.

Earning his freedom by delving to Vizima’s rank sewers and besting a Cockatrice, Geralt bumps into kindly Flaming Rose knight Siegfried. With his help, the White Wolf continues to gather intelligence on Salamandra and their nefarious plans which brings him into ever-stickier territory concerning the human/non-human struggle. Meanwhile, Geralt unsuccessfully confronts Azar Javed in nearby swamplands, only to be saved by Triss.

As the two rekindle their romance (assuming the White Wolf hasn’t yet got it on with yet another old flame, Shani we told you this was complicated), Geralt is ushered into Vizima’s high society with Salamandra connections abound. He then meets (and beds, naturally) Princess Adda, Foltest’s daughter and former Striga (a hideous monster) cured of her curse by the pre-amnesiac Geralt.

Aided by a mysterious boy with powerful visions, Alvin, our hero begins to systematically destroy Salamandra strongholds in the city including a fisstech (a drug similar to cocaine) factory.  In a climactic confrontation at Salamandra HQ, aided by either a party of knights or Scoia’tael (depending on whom you buddied up with) Geralt finally bests the nefarious Professor, who meets a sticky end at the hands of the imprisoned queen of the arachnid-like Kikimores.

After the day has been won, Geralt’s life is threatened by Adda’s royal guards the princess not being overly keen on her treachery being revealed. Saved by Triss (again), he’s teleported out of danger to another village outside of Vizima where Geralt and foppish bard pal Dandelion battle aquatic Lovecraftian rip-off entity Dagon, vampires, alghouls and even have a run-in with the Wild Hunt. To make things worse, the hatred between the Order Of The Flaming Rose and the Squirrels is spilling out of control, once again forcing the unfortunate Geralt Of Rivia to pick a side and fight.

Death Adda
Back in Vizima, King Foltest has finally returned but too late to prevent a full civil war from breaking out within the city walls. After eviscerating a legion of humans/non-humans (delete as appropriate) and killing/curing (delete as appropriate) Princess Adda after she re-transforms into her hideous Striga guise, a grateful Foltest directs Geralt to Azar Javed’s hidden underground laboratory. Overcoming the evil mage, The White Wolf learns that Flaming Rose Grandmaster Jacques de Aldersberg is not only in league with Salamandra, but he’s actually the head honcho behind the theft of the mutation juice from Kaer Morhen and is using it to create evil super knights.

All of the various moral threads now lead to a form of conclusion. Depending on the stances Geralt has taken thus far, he can either choose to convince Foltest that the Order under his pal Siegfried’s more judicious rule will henceforth be loyal, argue the cause of the oppressed Scoia’tael or (if he’s a stirrer) condemn both factions. Consequently, Geralt either partners up with Siegfried, Yaevinn or Triss for the final confrontation with de Aldersberg in Foltest’s castle.

After a rather bizarre conversation in which the Grandmaster warns of a Game Of Thrones-like future in which the world is claimed by ice, Geralt offs his foe. As the King Of The Wild Hunt (them again) arrives to claim de Aldersberg’s soul, our hero beats a hasty retreat. There’s one final twist though; as Geralt leaves the castle, an assassin attempts to murder the king. Defeated by The White Wolf, the would-be king slayer is revealed to have cat-like eyes the eyes of a  fellow Witcher…

Murder Most Foul
The sequel opens with Geralt once again in a pickle; he’s being charged with the regicide of King Foltest. Vernon Roche, the commander of a Temerian Special Forces outfit known as the Blue Stripes, is leading the interrogation but it soon becomes clear our White Wolf is guiltless. Roche helps Geralt escape his manacles, and our hero meets up with sorceress squeeze Triss Merigold and journeys to Flotsam, situated on the border between Temeria and Aedirn, to track down the real kingslayer, a hulking Witcher who’d been posing as a monk.

After being ambushed by a Scoia’tael outfit led by the elf Iorveth, Geralt uncovers a plot to assassinate further kingly types; indeed, King Demavend of Aedirn has only recently also been offed. A complex narrative involving double-and even triple-crossing not to mention the taking down of a titanic river-dwelling beastie known as The Kayran ends with said kingslayer being unmasked as the hulking Letho. Letho, though, is only using the Scoia’tael and intends to murder Iorveth, and after a decision to throw in with either the humans or non-humans (sound familiar?) Geralt and his gigantic foe duel the latter prevailing after unleashing a brutal Aard sign attack. Letho spares Geralt (luckily he’d saved Letho’s life in his pre-amnesiac days), before kidnapping Triss.
“The first game’s hype was smothered by the elder scrolls IV”
Geralt journeys to Upper Aedirn to observe a kingly parley. On the one side sits King Henselt (of neighbouring kingdom Kaedwen), his mage Dethmold and the sorceress Síle de Tansarville; on the other, a rebel army led by the deceased King Demavend’s son, Prince Stennis, and his commander, Saskia The Dragonslayer. The meeting is interrupted by… an army of spectral soldiers. Depending on whether players buddied up with either Roche or Iorveth in Flotsam, what follows is an almost totally disparate second Act.

If you sided with Roche you’re tasked with helping Henselt lift a bunch of curses, primarily so his forces can bypass the recently-manifested spectral battlefield and march on the dwarven conclave of Vergen. This involves spending much of the act within a massive military camp. If you sided with Iorveth, you’re tasked with uniting Prince Stennis’ loyalist forces, Vergen’s dwarven forces and the Scoia’tael into a single army to defeat King Henselt. Saskia intends to become queen, but argh she’s then poisoned. To fashion her antidote, you’ll spend most of this Act around Vergen.

To cut several long stories short (and sadly skip over some memorable encounters with trolls, harpies, wraiths and a gigantic Draug), Geralt lifts the curse on the spectral battlefield, and latterly survives another scrap with Letho.

He learns that Síle de Tansarville and her consort Philippa Eilhart were the brains behind Demavend’s assassination,  and discovers that the ever-unfortunate Triss has been re-abducted this time by spies from the kingdom of Nilfgaard.

Before the final act can occur, there’s a lot of killing to be done, which if you sided with Roche either results in the murder of evil King Henselt by Roche (who it’s revealed has turned traitor) and ensuing civil war, or the sparing of the aforementioned regent. If you sided with Iorveth, Saskia who’s really a dragon in human form (!) and her united army defeat Henselt… until she’s abducted by Síle and Philippa and whisked away to Loc Muinne.

Loc Commotion
Loc Muinne plays host to a meeting of mages to establish a new magical ruling body known as The Conclave… and anybody who’s anybody is attending. Síle de Tansarville and Philippa Eilhart, with Saskia in thrall, have been attempting to undermine the region to reign supreme. It’s here where things get unbelievably confusing depending on the choices you’ve made; suffice to say any of the supporting characters mentioned thus far are in danger of snuffing it, and entire kingdoms destabilised. Yikes.

The meeting is interrupted when Nilfgaardian troops turn up with kingslayer Letho… and Geralt gets the chance to fight (and kill… or spare!) Saskia’s massive dragon form, and either watch the Conclave prosper or see it disintegrate in a bloody pogrom.

Finally confronting Letho who actually saves Triss from her Nilfgaardian captors if Geralt had previously blown his chance by chasing after the traitorous, not  to mention paedophilic, Dethmold our hero learns that the kingslayer has been working for Emperor Emhyr var Emreis to weaken the Northern Kingdoms in return for the creation of his own Witcher academy. After killing (or sparing) his fellow mutant, the White Wolf then reunites with Triss (and either Iorveth or Roche) and sets off to Nilfgaard to find Yennefer. Meanwhile, on the banks of the river Yaruga, a Nilfgaardian invasion force begins marching into the Northern Kingdoms… and it’s here the events of PS4 entry Wild Hunt begin. Phew.

As an addendum, it’s worth touching upon the tale of The Witcher’s reception within the gaming community, since the series’ transformation from chauvinistic bargain-bin filler to triple-A system-seller is almost as epic as Geralt’s itself. The first was a classic under-the-radar jobbie, any potential hype smothered out of existence by the juggernaut that was Bethesda’s TES IV: Oblivion.

Initially at least, The Witcher was pilloried rather than lauded in the gaming media. Mainstream reviews, blinded by faux-moral outrage over the (admittedly idiotic) ‘sexy Top Trumps’ bagged with each fresh strumpet conquest, appeared to overlook the groundbreaking moral muddiness. It didn’t help that the opening chapter dragged something chronic, or that the clicky-clicky mouse-based combat was bland.

The Witcher 2 made no such mistake, opening with a dazzling prison-escape prologue that got the blood pumping and spurting. Sure, the swearing and shagging was as overt as ever, but the bleakness of its quasi-medieval universe was tempered by state-of-the-art visuals and kinetic Arkham Asylum-with-scimitars combat. Both games are huge relatively linear rather than Skyrim-open but nevertheless boasting solid 50 hour-plus stories, vast landscapes, gigantic conversation trees and, especially in the case of the sequel, an almost bewildering array of outcomes. It’s easy to see why many find the series obtuse and intimidating. Invest the time, however, and it’s totally worth it.

In truth, Witcher purists believe the original to be the superior title, at least in terms of pure storytelling, if not mechanics. Both, though, are uncommonly good titles. Flawed, certainly, but the nearest thing to a worthy videogaming Game Of Thrones we’ve ever likely to experience short of CD Projekt bringing The Seven Kingdoms themselves to life, that is. If The Witcher 3 can marry the above qualities to a genuine open-world, we’re conceivably talking about the premier action-RPG of all time.

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