Today, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt gets a Game of the Year edition. It comes with all the updates, patches, DLC and expansions released over the last year. It’s also the rare “Game of the Year” edition that is appropriately named.
Here at Kotaku, many of us loooooove The Witcher 3. Love it like, “have played it through multiple times despite having other life obligations.” Love it like, “still regularly post art and cosplay articles about it more than a year later.” Love it like, “the merest mention of the game in our work chat inevitably leads to a 15-minute Slackstorm of gifs and screenshots and reminiscing.”
Needless to say, we’ve published a lot of articles about The Witcher 3. Given that the game is finally complete, I thought I’d round up some of that writing here. We’ll start with my review from 2015 and carry through our coverage of 2016's Blood & Wine expansion.
Wild Hunt is a grand adventure that feels distinctly of its time. It manages to set new standards for video game technology while accentuating the fleeting nature of technological achievement as an end unto itself. It is a worthy exploration of friendship and family, mixing scenes of great sorrow with scenes of ridiculous lustiness, tempering its melancholy with bright splashes of joy and merry monster guts. Come for the epic showdown between good and evil; stay for the unicorn sex.
There’s this feeling among gamers that we’re constantly being screwed over, lied to, taken advantage of, ripped off. I’m increasingly convinced that this mentality is largely a byproduct of what my colleagues and I have come to call Preorder Culture. Preorder Culture isn’t just defined by preorders—it’s defined by hype, by the way that AAA video game publishers promote their games months or even years in advance.
This hype-centric, pre-release culture encapsulates so much of what is wrong with the mainstream video game industry, so much of what is aggravating and toxic and dull about how we talk about and consume video games. It’s why so many of the most charged conversations in gaming center around controversial trailers, or just-announced collector’s edition tchotchkes, or box art. (Box art! For fuck’s sake.) I don’t mean to say that those conversations aren’t worth having, but the fact that they so often revolve around games that don’t actually exist yet says a lot.
Sorceresses are all… really hot, right?
I’m glad you’re glad. The hotness thing isn’t a coincidence, either: In the course of their training, Sorceresses learn how to remake themselves using glamours so that they’re unnaturally good-looking. They live a super long time, like Witchers, and they’re sterile, also like Witchers. Sorcerers and Sorceresses differ from Witchers in that they often concern themselves with the politics and power struggles going on across The Continent. They frequently serve as advisors to kings and other great leaders. Most of the major political events in the Witcher games are guided by the hands of sorcerers and sorceresses, usually working behind the scenes.
After a while, you’ll develop an ear for Geralt’s husky speech patterns. Start talking like he does in real life. Charmingly grunt your way through your orders at the cafe down the street. Grumble at your roommates like a big, scary cat. Sink into the role. Love it, live it.
Even in serious scenes, I couldn’t stop wondering, “OK, when is the cheesy saxophone music gonna start playing? When is Geralt gonna be like, ‘Let me help you out of that silly thing. And here are my sexy friends Roach and The Wild Hunt for a foursom— [TURN BACK, TURN BACK, THIS HAS GONE TOO FAR].” It works fine when The Witcher 3 is embracing its lovingly schlocky, romance-novel-cover vibe, but when things get serious or dramatic, it can be a distraction.
“At first I had a skeleton framework in mind,” said Stachrya, “which helped me to block out his main actions and words. Then I started to add some new aspects to the character. Paweł and I thought it would be interesting if a man who asks you to find his family turns out to be someone who actually ruined this family—but now realizes his mistakes and wants to atone for his sins. That leaves the player in a very interesting and complicated situation—and gives him/her a wide range of different feelings and emotions. And that is what Wild Hunt is about, at core.”
Partway through The Witcher 3, two characters had a conversation that got my head spinning.
I finished The Witcher 3 over the weekend, and I’m currently feeling a little...well, empty. But also reflective, on how it was such a remarkable game, not just for its writing, but for more superficial things.
Luke: It’s absurd. It’s all absurd. But because the world as it’s presented is so real, and dense, and lived-in, you actually take all these turns in stride. Sure, OK, there’s an aborted baby demon we’ve got to play nice with, why not, let’s roll with it, everyone else seems cool about it.
This is the kind of thing that happens in The Witcher 3, because the characters and world make me believe it’s actually “normal”.
Kirk: “It’s absurd. It’s all absurd.” - Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com. Now that’s a box quote for ya.
Next, there’s “Skellige’s Most Wanted,” a level 29 contract that will turn up on your map as a yellow notice board in the town of Fyresdal in Skellige. Like the other new DLC contract, it’s of the “Contract With A Twist!” variety, and I don’t want to spoil the twist, so I’ll just say it’s a neat little quest with a fun ending, depending on the conversational choices you make.
Lastly there’s “Where The Cat And Wolf Play,” another mission that starts as a contract you can get on notice boards in Crow’s Perch or at the village of Oreton to the south, near Crookback Bog. It’s a level 25 quest that features yet another twist, and another interesting decision to make. I liked it, and I’ll leave it at that.
Dead Man’s Party does everything The Witcher 3 did well—some monsters, some mysticism, some romance, some surprises. By inserting a different personality into Geralt’s body, it creatively twists the game’s formula around and offers new insight into our hero and the people who surround him. It advances the story of Hearts of Stone, but it also advances the story of Geralt of Rivia, which ultimately helps it feel just as relevant as anything in the base game.
Given that this DLC is technically our goodbye to Geralt of Rivia, there’s something pretty heartfelt about being able to see the people who brought such a wonderful game to life. But also: what the fuck? Finding this was just random luck, really. You’re definitely not supposed to be there.
It should go without saying that no matter which DLC “wins,” everyone wins. I’ve been spoiled by The Witcher 3’s drip-feed of cool new stuff, and it’s made this game a pleasure to continually revisit for months after I first completed it. If you want something more in-depth, I’ve already written about first batch of DLC, the second batch, and the final (tough!) New Game+ mode.
Blood and Wine is equal parts triumphant and somber, a reminder of all the great times we’ve had with Geralt and some of the shitty things we’ve done in his shoes. It’s about facing down the totality of Geralt’s in-game legacy and—instead of regretting or redoing it—coming to terms with it. Toussaint in all its colorful silliness might seem like an odd place to end Geralt’s grim tale, but looking back on it all, I think I get it. He’s a lone hunter, an outcast who drifts in and out of people’s lives. He’s spent the past year drifting in and out of mine, there when I need him, forgotten when something new and shiny comes out. You’d think that the only real end awaiting him would be a lonely one—fearful people ganging up on him, a fatal mistake in battle, or a monster that’s a bit too fast or powerful—and maybe it still is. But after all the time we’ve spent coming to know and love this guy, why end on that?
Thanks, CD Projekt Red, for not just doing such a fantastic job telling Geralt’s story over the last decade, but giving us such a perfect way to say goodbye to him.
I’m just starting my first full New Game+ playthrough and I’m still going strong. (Also, I’m finally playing Gwent. You all were right, Gwent is good!)
If you played Wild Hunt and came along with us for the ride, thanks for reading and commenting. And if you haven’t played Wild Hunt until now and are considering getting the GOTY edition, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I also envy you a bit. You’re in for a good time.