Tag Archives: The Witcher 3

Player vs. Character

This is my 6th post for Blaugust.

I was playing The Witcher 3 the other day (yes, still). Geralt and a fellow witcher were trekking out to a cave to do witcher things and  all of a sudden, a child’s voice calls out. Someone may need help, Geralt thinks, while his companion chides him – they’re in the middle of nowhere, there are no children here. I know it’s not a child calling for help. The voice is odd and echoey, it’s clearly a monster pretending to be a child. Geralt, seasoned monster hunter, should know this as well. From an RP and common sense standpoint, I should ignore the voice, and continue on. But, from a player of video games with completionist tendencies standpoint, I can’t. It could lead to a quest, experience, items, some kind of content I may not see otherwise. I guess you could call this a choice, but it’s not much of one for me. I follow the voice. Surprise, it’s a foglet. I kill it and get back to my quest.

The Witcher 3 - Geralt shrugging

There’s a disconnect between what I’d choose as my character vs. what I’d choose as a player. As a player, I’m always going to go for the option that may give me more content even if it means taking an action my character would never do.

I find this kind of “optional” quest comes up a lot in RPGs and I don’t think it’s something that’s handled very well. I could be playing an evil wizard, but if I come upon a little girl whose kitten is stuck in a tree, goddamn it I will get that kitten out of the tree. There are NPCs who I’d really like to slap for treating me like an errand girl (or boy) but rather than give them sass, which is what I or likely any character I make would like to do, I run and get their dry cleaning for a few slivers of XP and a nominal reward.

Do you ever  find your choices as a player in games don’t line up with the character you play in games?

The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.

The Witcher 3 – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (part 3)

I’ve talked about the more negative aspects of The Witcher 3, and now it’s time to move on to what makes it great.

Side quests

The Witcher 3 features hundreds of side quests – secondary quests, contracts, treasure hunts. What sets them apart from so many other RPGs is that they’re almost all interesting. There are no grindy, MMO-style kill or collection quests to be found here. Dragon Age: Inquisition (which I loved, but also has its share of problems) offered a ton of side quests too, but I often found myself asking – why am I doing this (other than for XP)? And I often couldn’t really find an answer. If it wasn’t collecting objects, it was a dozen quests that came from dead bodies. Meaningless filler.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt crone side quest

With The Witcher, I know why I’m doing the quests. Each one has a story, has a believable NPC that asks for your help. The information unravels as you progress, rather than dumping a bunch of exposition on you and sending you on your way. I see relationships develop between characters I probably won’t ever see again, experiences the foibles of the locals, get glimpses into the lives and deceptions of the people in Velen. It makes the world come alive, and even more importantly, makes me enjoy doing side quests rather than just going through the motions.

Even monster contracts, which could have been a simple matter of killing and returning to the quest giver, have a fair amount of depth. You much research the beast, track it, and use its weaknesses against it in order to defeat it. Many often feature an interesting, and usually sad, story.

Conversations and Decisions

The world of The Witcher is a morally grey one. There are a lot of decisions to be made, big and small, and often there’s no explicitly right or wrong answer. You may think you’re doing the good thing but it backfires, hurting people in the process. You usually end up choosing the lesser of two evils. I like that the game skips the twee icons or colour coding used by Bioware. The game doesn’t feel the need to explicitly say: “this is the sassy response, here’s the angry one, this is the romantic conversation option,” or tell you what it thinks is the pragmatic vs. sympathetic option. The dialogue options in The Witcher seem much more natural, and usually don’t put the burden of worrying what your companions will think on you.

Unlike many RPGs, The Witcher isn’t about saving the world. Geralt is a character who ultimately wields no political power, commands no armies. Witchers are supposed to be neutral. They kill monsters, take jobs for money. There’s no underlying pressure to do the “right thing” (aside from what the player’s own moral code may dictate). Being immersed in a world full of politics and intrigue without being the one in charge is actually quite a freeing gameplay experience.

Sex

The Witcher’s handling of sex gets better and better. As I mentioned in my first post, I like that The Witcher series features sex, and I like how it’s portrayed as a fun thing to do, rather than the path to everlasting love and devotion.

Here’s an experience I had with the game that I really enjoyed (minor spoilers for one side quest follow). In Novigrad we meet Rosa van Attre, one of the daughters of a Nilfgaardian diplomat. Through not totally honest means, I (Geralt) become her fencing instructor. She’s eager to learn, I’m good with swords, maybe something will come of this. Throughout the interactions with her, she’s a bit flirty. I teach her some things, and don’t go easy on her when she wants to have a real dual. She keeps talking about her corset pinching, and I’m thinking: wow, she totally wants me. As the quest winds down, I’m thinking I’m about to score and one final dialogue option appears. I say something which runs totally contrary to her political ideals, and she drops me like a bad habit. And it’s awesome. Maybe I should have said something else. Maybe sex was never on the table at all, and I was misreading the situation. If this was The Witcher 1, I would have given her what she wanted and she would have had sex with me. For sure. It seems CDPR has been learning some restraint over the years.

Character Design

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt NPCs

You meet hundreds of characters throughout the game, and their facial designs are impeccable. They’re all so different. Some have lined and world weary faces. Some are conventionally attractive, many are far from it. With so many characters it would be easy for all but the major ones to blend together, but it’s obvious that CDPR put a lot of time and effort into making even minor characters look unique and realistic to the situation they’re in. Many games reuse the same few faces, the same flawless complexions, the same handful of hair styles, but not The Witcher 3. Characters are much more memorable when they don’t all look the same.


 

Have you been playing Witcher 3? What do you think?

The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (part 2)

Creating a game with a huge open world like The Witcher leaves a lot of room for error. When the world is so big, the systems are numerous and complex, and there is so much to do and see, it’s not easy to capture every issue in QA nor please everyone with the decisions made. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of issues.

The Bad

Saves

Let’s start with the big one. I’m playing on XBox One and there’s an issue where the game will just stop saving your progress. Autosave won’t trigger, trying to manually save will return a message saying you can’t save at this time. If you die during this time, the game hangs indefinitely on the load screen. I’ve run into this 3 times and each time ended up losing a couple hours of gameplay. The cause seems to be allowing your game to get suspended, either by leaving it running with no activity or using another game/application without quitting the game. A hard reset is required to fix it. Now that I know the cause I can avoid it, and the developers have said they’re working on a patch, but still – this is really bad.

Accessibility

There are a number of easily fixable accessibility issues. For such a big world, a lot of things are really small.  The font size for text is tiny. It’s likely okay on PC, but as someone who plays on console and sitting 8 feet away from the TV, I really have to strain to read things. The subtitles for speech aren’t so bad, but it’s very difficult to read anything in the menus. Thankfully, this is something that will be patched soon. There’s also a bit of an issue with the symbols on the map. Areas you haven’t completed are indicated by a white symbol, while places you’ve finished are indicated by a slightly darker kind of grey, but really still looks white, because it’s so small symbol.

The Witcher 3 - map

I’m also a bit annoyed that the zone maps are so large that there are (many) times when you can’t zoom out far enough to see both your current location and your objective at the same time. The above image shows the zone map fully zoomed out, and it only shows about a quarter of the zone. Plus, if you zoom out any further, you end up on the world map and annoyingly have to reselect the zone to go back.

Combat

Combat is clunky. I know this isn’t necessarily an opinion shared by all, but I find the animations for each sword swing overly long and you need to wait until they’re completed before you can do anything else. This results in me furiously spamming my Sign button as I’m fighting, trying to finish off a sword strike with some fire to the face, and the game just not responding. It gets worse when you fight multiple enemies as they often come up and hit from behind while you’re still finishing your swing on another opponent and there’s nothing you can do about it. When things are going smoothly it’s not so noticeable but when you’re surrounded or against a tougher enemy, it seems like there’s a frustrating delay between each action.

One thing they did in this game is have Geralt automatically draw the correct sword for the opponent he’s fighting, which is great. When it works. About 5% of the time I find Geralt won’t draw any sword (especially if combat starts after a cutscene) and he’ll just start punching things. The clunky combat is really noticeable here, as if you instinctively do an attack when combat starts, you need to wait for the animation to complete before the game will respond to your command to draw a sword.

UI

The Witcher 3 - inventory screen

Most games, but huge open world RPGs in particular, really need better UI design. The Witcher 3 is no exception. Let’s start with the inventory screen. What a mess. First, there are just way too many items. I just counted and I have 183 items in my Alchemy and Crafting tab. There’s no custom sorting. There’s no search. It’s just a page full of stuff I know very little about.The huge amount of items in The Witcher doesn’t benefit the game in any way. I don’t need to pick up broken rakes or empty vials to be immersed in the world, they really just add clutter. Likewise, it would be easy enough to have fewer herbs and magical ingredients and just use the remaining in more recipes. At the moment I have 16 green mutagens in my inventory. Why? And why aren’t they all at least grouped together in my inventory? Do we really need both leather scraps and leather straps? You can craft or disassemble one into the other, so it makes me question why the need for that extra step.

When it comes to vendors one of my biggest complaints, that I’ve have for the whole series, is that the game gives you no indication if you already have a recipe or a book when you see it for sale. Reading books will often add entries to your bestiary or markers to the map, but only the first time you read it. Since there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of books in the game, it’s hard to keep track of what you’ve already read and what is worth buying. I probably waste a lot of money because of this.

A few other things

It’s nice to have an equine companion in game, but Roach sure is fussy. He listens to your commands when he feels like it, but bridges or changes in terrain will often make him come to a standstill. Also, Geralt’s verbal commands (slower, faster) often don’t even remotely correspond to my inputs.

Repairs. What a chore and a gold sink, especially at the start of the game when gold is hard to come by. Give me convenience over realism any day.

The Witcher 3 - lighting candles

And then there are the candles. So many candles and you can light, or extinguish, all of them! Sometimes the candles are right beside an object you’d like to pick up, or a person you’d like to talk to. It’s no fun having to re-position your camera until you can finally interact with the right thing, rather than playing with a stupid candle over and over again. In the above picture, the candle is laying across a book. Why would I want to light that?! Unless there’s a ‘burn the house down’ objective, don’t let me interact with this. This is going to be patched soon – “Geralt will not longer interact with candles near chests and other interactive elements.” Really, I don’t see a need to be able to interact with candles at all. Light a brazier or torch in a dark dungeon – sure. Candles in houses? No thanks.


Most of these issues aren’t huge, but put together they result in a lot of frustration. Hopefully upcoming patches will resolve a few of these but I have to say, when I buy a game on release day I expect a finished product.

All is not lost, next time I’ll talk about all the things I love about The Witcher 3.

The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (pt. 1)

The Witcher 3 was one of the games I was most excited for this year. I really enjoyed both of the previous installments, and looked forward to seeing what they would do on the latest generation of consoles. The game has managed to both exceed my expectations and disappoint me. In theory, it’s a fantastic game. But in practice, there are a thousand small annoyances that add up an at times deplete any enjoyment.

Let’s start at the bottom.

The Ugly

It’s hard to mention The Witcher without bringing up the topic of sexism. Now, when I talk about sexism, I’m not talking about the sex. Witcher 1 had some problematic things and liked to hand out sex as a reward for quests as well as having those weird sex cards every time you slept with a woman, while its portrayal in Witcher 2 was immensely improved. I have no problem with sex in games, in fact, I like it. I also enjoy that The Witcher treats sex as a pastime rather than the path to, or goal of, everlasting love. Though I’d prefer if kissing was left offscreen until it can be animated in such a way that it doesn’t look like someone is jamming together the faces of a Barbie and Ken doll.

But I digress.

The Witcher features a lot of violence against women. True, it features a lot of violence against everyone, but the question that needs to be asked is: Could this violence be happening to anyone? Or is this violence happening to a woman because she’s a woman? In a number of cases, the violence we see and hear about would not likely be perpetrated against a man. One of the early quests in the game has you searching for a Baron’s missing wife and daughter. As it turns out, the Baron is a violent drunk who abused his wife which is why they ran off. The game then tries to turn things around and make him into a sympathetic character. I personally didn’t see much of this as any time he tried to explain himself to me, I told him I didn’t care, but the end of the quest line definitely seems to push the idea that he’s now a changed man and should be forgiven.

There’s also the fact that so many of the monsters in the world are twisted representations of women. Noonwraiths are women killed before their wedding days. Strigas are women transformed into monsters by a curse. Hags (water, grave, take your pick) and harpies are also specifically female monsters with obviously female forms. Many of these are women who are in their present form because of some violence against them, and now we are killing them. Again. “But, source material!” many say. Yes, The Witcher is based on a series of books and short stories, which themselves draw from Slavic and other European myths. But no one adapts material 1-to-1. Making updates and selective editing of a work that originally debuted in the 1980s is definitely not unheard of. The game’s developers have artistic licence and make deliberate decisions on what gets included or emphasized and what does not.

The Witcher 3 cinematic screencap

You barely even have to play the game to see where priorities lie. One of the game’s cinematic trailers features a woman being beaten and about to be executed by a group of 3 men, out in the wilderness. Her clothes are torn, her size is diminutive in comparison. Geralt comes along and saves her. The point is the men are monsters, but it sends a pretty clear message about who their victims are. In the launch trailer Geralt approaches an attractive young woman who quickly disrobes, in a very sexual way, then turns into a wraith and flies away. Geralt stalks her into a building, where a battle takes place and he kills her. As she dies she returns to her naked human form, the camera lingering on her pretty face as the light extinguishes from her eyes. I think it’s especially damning that these are the scenarios chosen for the purpose of marketing the game. The Witcher 3 has some great storytelling, fantastic questlines, and a dedication to showing that the world is a place of moral grey areas where there often is no right answer. But there are so many other ways to show this. Why does it have to be women being abused, sexualized, and killed that is used to get this point across?

I don’t consider the character Geralt to be sexist, but the world of The Witcher definitely is. It’s unfortunate and at times, it’s bad enough to impact my enjoyment of the game.


I went on about that for a bit longer than I planned, so I’m going to make this a 3 parter. Next post I’ll talk a bit about the gameplay annoyances, and conclude it all with the aspects of The Witcher 3 that make it great.

Tips for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The long awaited Witcher 3 was just released. This third and final installment introduces open world gameplay, and though some aspects of the game have been streamlined, there’s still a lot to learn as you’re playing. Here are a few tips I’ve learned as I’ve been playing. I’ve played on normal, on XB1. This post is spoiler free.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

General

  • The Bestiary is important. Unlike most games, it doesn’t just give history but actual useful information. Before fighting monsters, check the bestiary for its weaknesses to certain items, bombs, or signs.
  • When you pick up books, make sure to give them a read before you ditch them, they may add something to your Bestiary.
  • Meditate. You can do it pretty much anywhere out of combat. It will refill your health (on most difficulties), and restock your potions.
  • You can usually find armor and weapon enhancers in towns or outposts, use them when you see them for a temporary upgrade.
  • If you’re short on money, keep an eye out for treasures and caches on the map.
  • If you come across a monster nest you need to destroy, walk up to it and you should get a button prompt. Don’t just toss bombs at it.

Travel

  • You can fast travel at signposts, but do it too often and you’ll risk missing things out in the world.
  • If you’re mounted you can hold down A and your horse will follow the path without having to be steered.
  • You can fight while mounted.

Items

  • Pick up everything (but don’t spend hours picking flowers, unless that’s what you’re into). The inventory UI isn’t great, but you can generally use items to craft things, or disassemble them into crafting mats.
  • You only need to make things like potions once. After this, they are replenished during meditation using alcohol.
  • An item called Potion of Clearance will let you reassign your skill points, but costs 1000g. The first place I found one of these was Keira’s hut.
  • Repair your equipment when you can, but don’t waste money repairing the junk you plan to sell or disassemble. Repair kits are also sold and come in handy in dungeons.

Leveling and Quests

  • In this game, you have to ‘equip’ skills, and in the beginning you only get 3. So it’s best to pick a couple favourite abilities (I like to focus on fast attacks and Igni) and put many points into them rather than spreading them out over many abilities.
  • Equip a mutagen that will buff your most important equipped skills (they’ll be the same colour).
  • Do all the available side quests before you face your first big enemy. Experience and gold were a bit hard to come by at the start of the game.
  • Check the bounty board in each new town.
  • Secondary quests can vary wildly in level. Make sure you check the level of the quest before tackling it, you generally want to be within 2 levels of it.

Combat

  • This is the first Witcher game where you have a ranged weapon, so don’t forget about it. While it doesnt do a lot against armored enemies, it’s good when things are out of range or in the air.
  • Dodge a lot. Parry enemies with swords. Attack from the back.
  • You’ll sometimes have a companion with you in combat – let them serve as a distraction so you can attack from the back.
  • If your offensive signs aren’t proving effective against certain enemy types, Quen is always a good choice.
  • You can only assign 2 potions or foods to hotkeys, but you can also consume them from the inventory screen.
  • You can eat and drink in combat.

When in doubt…

  • Use your Witcher sense (L2). It’s necessary for many quests. Quest-related items and locations will glow red, while objects you can loot will glow orange.
  • Use Aard. If you’re stuck, there may be a door you can knock down or rubble that can be cleared with your telekinetic burst.
  • Check your quest log.

Have fun!