By Alex Wakeford
Like all the rest of you, I spent much of my time over the holidays watching The Witcher.
I have since arrived at the conclusion that, after almost five years, it is finally time for me to finish The Witcher 3 and talk about how – through its incredible transmedia success – this series is living its best life.The Witcher 3 released May 19th, 2015.
Doesn’t seem like too long ago, but it’s actually somehow been half-a-decade since then.
In retrospect, it would’ve been really great if CD Projekt RED could have ensured that literally no other game released that year…
I say this because, like the White Wolf himself, many other games have come along like side quests and I can’t seem to stop running into and accepting them.
Why, yes, I’ll sink a few hundred hours into Destiny 2, of course!
Playing through Life is Strange: Before the Storm about half-a-dozen times? Obviously!
What do you mean “There are robot dinosaurs in Horizon: Zero Dawn”?! Replay Halo 4, you say? I’m in! Single player Star Wars game? The Doom Slayer is back?
WHY DON’T I HAVE TIME TO FINISH THIS GAME?I know I’m not alone in this. You’ve all been taking ‘Toss A Coin To Your Witcher’ quite literally because The Witcher 3 recently broke 100,000 concurrent players on Steam – the highest it’s been since 2016.
Considering that The Witcher as a franchise does not really intersect – the games, books, and television shows all being entirely separate entities – it’s really quite incredible to see how there’s been this holistic reinvigoration across the series’ media.
Where A Song of Ice and Fire sat as the top fantasy series in online and physical stores, it’s now been usurped by Andrzej Sapkowski’s eight-book series.
It’s quite a contrast to Sapkowski’s previous statements in 2016 that the games “harmed” his books due to their rebranding, yet we’ve more recently seen am amicable settlement between Sapkowski and CD Projekt RED over royalties disputes and the strength of their relationship has been described as “reinforced.”
Now, it’s been reported that physical copies of Sapkowski’s books have literally sold out on Amazon! Two of them have become New York Times bestsellers, while The Last Wish, Blood of Elves, and Sword of Destiny are the #1, #3, and #12 most sold books right now with physical copies completely out of stock.
There’s a cataclysmic event in the series known as ‘The Conjunction of the Spheres,’ which resulted in ‘our’ dimension playing host to the magic and monstrous creatures we see in the series.
This is a good parallel summary for the success of The Witcher, which has been holistic across the franchise, bringing new life to a series that is going on thirty years.The great appeal of this world, I think, is that it’s one of those settings that plays with the aesthetic of being Dark™ and Gritty™ (which it absolutely is, at times), but it is offset by a keen awareness of the necessity of having those centred around fun, uplifting, ridiculous moments of joy and compassion as well.
If there’s anything fantasy media can take from the show, it’s that a fictional world can be built around a sexist, patriarchal framework, but that doesn’t mean the stories told within it have to themselves be sexist – this coming at the intersection of having these stories told and directed largely by women.
Dark fantasy can, in fact, be full of warmth, wit, and grace. The show does indeed feature strong violence, gore, and occasional nudity, but it never feels gratuitous or emotionally exploitative. It’s cruel and bleak, but there’s kindness and compassion that notably doesn’t get sneered at as naive and temporary.
Perhaps the single best description I’ve ever seen of this series is that it’s far closer to being Shrek than it is Game of Thrones.
Returning to the game’s interpretation of this, there’s a great big battle at the end of the second act where A Sad Thing happens – a major character dies.
The downbeat emotional tone of that defeat is followed by a moment of earnest humanity as Geralt has the option of cheering Ciri up with a playable snowball fight. Indeed, the outcome of the story rests on the kindness and compassion you show as Geralt.
I am unfortunately lacking a screenshot of that moment, so let’s just take a moment to appreciate Wide Geralt instead…And let’s talk about the design of that battle as well!
You are presented with various gameplay-affecting choices for how to prepare your fortress. For instance, you must choose between plugging a hole in your walls or clearing out the armoury.
Choosing the first option means you will fight one less wave of enemies (who are pretty tough at this level); choosing the latter results in obtaining a neat sword and all your allies do increased damage.
There are various ‘stages’ with different kinds of gameplay. A stealth section, where the stealth is totally optional; you have to close three portals and agency is given to the player to choose how they want to do it. There’s a horseback chase, a section where you play as Ciri and steamroll through hordes of enemies…
The people present at the battle entirely depends on your choices with various characters and quests earlier in the game, and they all contribute in various ways to the battle.
On top of all that, there are several major fight cutscenes where the cinematography and animation is just incredible.The Witcher 3 is an entry in what we might call the Dad Genre™, an approach to storytelling that has become increasingly popular over the years with titles like Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored 2, Fallout 4, The Last of Us, God of War, Heavy Rain, and so on.
Where The Witcher 3 differs is in being a story that you see all sides of.
“This is my story, not yours,” Ciri tells Geralt. “You must let me finish telling it.”
The Dad Genre™ can be fairly characterised as struggling with how gendered it is, favouring the male perspective – the dad, who is often set on some sort of quest for revenge to rescue their child after the murder of the mother.
The Witcher 3 may have you primarily in Geralt’s boots, but it covers all perspectives in service of telling a story where you – as a parent – are ancillary to the heroism and journey of Ciri (who you also play as), the adopted daughter of Geralt and Yennefer.
Yennefer, too, is afforded a great deal of attention by the narrative which culminates in a family story that’s actually about the whole family, not just one part of it.It’s genuinely no exaggeration to say that The Witcher 3 is one of the best fantasy RPGs of all time and one of the defining games of this generation.
This game is loaded with content – proper, substantial, well-crafted content which will keep you busy for hundreds of hours. There are sixteen pieces of free DLC (new armour, quests, outfits, weapons, etc)…
And the expansions – ‘Heart of Stone’ and ‘Blood and Wine’ – overtook the likes of ‘Shivering Isles’ as the model for what great add-on content looks like.
Part of why this game has taken me five years to complete is because I don’t really want this journey to end.
That journey began for me with The Witcher 2, but it was an ill-timed introduction as I picked up the game about a month or two before I went to university. Two years later, I’d obtained an Xbox One and was keen to dive back into the series with its third instalment.
Ending a trilogy with a game that is purportedly “the best place for newcomers” is often a controversial move, but given how dense and detailed these games are it’s an approach that absolutely pays dividends for approachability and emotional investment.The Witcher isn’t the only series looking to launch into live action television. After seven long years, Halo is currently filming its ten-episode run for Showtime, set for release in 2021.
The success of The Witcher seems like the definitive success story the gaming industry was looking for, following many years of failed attempts at launching into films.
We have seen that a series of games, based on a book series, with a deep mythology and recognisable characters, can be carefully condensed and reinterpreted for a broader audience in a new media format.
The Witcher is living its best life right now and there’s never been a better time to be part of it.
Watch it. Play it. Read it.
Toss a coin to your Witcher.
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