Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt enchanted the worldwide gaming audience via a magic spell with surgical precision. CD Projekt Red’s 2015 groundbreaking single-player fantasy action RPG is often revered as the best game of this console generation. The scope of the game’s story is epic, featuring incredibly well-written lifelike characters, a sprawling world filled with evil spirits, Game of Thrones-style political intrigue, and intense palm-gripping perspiration-inducing sword and witchcraft combat.
The Witcher 3 and its supernatural monster hunting protagonist Geralt remain fondly remembered. Players wistfully reminisce over The Witcher 3 as if it were a high school best friend or the scene at the beginning Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo joyously hugs Gandalf after playfully busting his balls. When The Witcher 3 organically comes up gaming conversations, even the most jaded gamer sprouts a grin like Frodo had when reuniting with Gandalf.
Almost everyone loves their experience with The Witcher 3, almost everyone except me. While The Witcher 3 is easily among the best games of this decade, it traumatized me. Where most players recollect their escapades in The Witcher 3 with childish giddiness, I don’t think of my high school friends or Gandalf. The Lord of the Rings metaphor only works if Gandalf is pretending to be my friend so he can laugh frivolously before plunging a dagger into my lembas bread basket, his face transforming from the delightful pot-infused smile of Gandalf the Grey into the brooding scold of Geralt the White while I quivered on the ground as blood and second breakfast flowed from my gut.
The Witcher 3 hurt me with its terrific yet devastating branching storyline. Many RPGs like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout 3, and Skyrim are designed with a moral choice system, but The Witcher 3 sets itself above those more streamlined titles by removing the moral variable from the equation. Where games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins use simplistic dialogue trees emphasizing whether or not a choice will have good or evil consequences, The Witcher 3 forces players to contemplate incredibly complicated morally ambiguous issues. Even worse, the game purposefully obscures clues alerting players to the potential outcomes of their choices. It’s a brilliant style of game design that delivered me the once in a lifetime experience of being a royal fuckup.
Prior to 2015, I had never finished a game with a branching storyline as narratively unpredictable as The Witcher 3. Heroic power fantasies like Mass Effect were more appealing to me than thought-provoking artistic statements regarding the nature of morality. If a choice-based RPG didn’t allow me to live my fascist space jesus fantasy, then it was an inherently flawed game, and one I didn’t want to participate in. I quit Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas not because it had a tendency to crash like Ferris Bueller on a joyride, but because the main quest eventually forces players into picking a specific faction as part of a morally irksome predicament.
I knew The Witcher 3 was morally perilous, but the extent of my atrocious decision making skills didn’t fully manifest until the very end. I spent most of my 100-hour playthrough thoroughly enjoying the game, believing that I was a great monster-tracking detective and a good father figure to Ciri, Geralt’s powerful young protege. Even though many of my early choices resulted in dead allies and massacred civilians, I truly thought I was doing a bang up job overall, and was excited at the prospect of buying the inevitable DLC after completing the final battle.
Then I reached my horrible ending. My beloved Ciri died in the final battle, and many side characters branded me as a colossal failure. As a result, Geralt was anguished and departed on a suicidal quest to murder a horde of monstrous creatures until the jaws of death viciously snatched his final breath. It was a brutal ending, tainting an otherwise sublime gaming experience. Shedding tears, I removed the game from my PlayStation 4. I wanted it out of my room, my house, and my life.
Until now. With the newly announced Nintendo Switch port of The Witcher 3, I’m plotting my revenge on this brutal backstabbing bastard of a game. By replaying it, maybe I can finally have some peace of mind and release my negative feelings towards this otherwise excellent game. Maybe, just maybe, I too can finally associate The Witcher 3 with nostalgic happiness.