It has taken me a long, long time to figure out how I, personally, can enjoy The Witcher 3. It got recommended to me loads because it’s a big flouncy fantasy RPG, which is my type of thing. But playing it was like running into a brick wall. Or a wattle and daub wall. Or maybe the planks of a grim, windowless wooden hut? Basically, I find it really difficult to inhabit Geralt. Rather than being a John Q. Everyman type, he is a strongly characterised man whose history I do not know – and which I’m not prepared to read an entire library worth of books or play two previous very long games to uncover, thank you very much.
Neither do I feel like I am a protector helping Geralt along, because he is clearly much better at his job without me, given all his expertise in monsters and the seven different types of weeds that’ll kill them and such. I ran into trouble playing it last night, for example, because I could not figure out how to brew more of the Swallow potion. The Witcher 3 would go more smoothly without me, the equivalent of an unqualified middle-manager, forcing my involvement on Geralt. But I have come up with a solution, and that is to ignore almost all of The Witcher 3.
It’s taken me so long to realise my problem, that The Witcher 3 is now old enough that we should be having discussions about whether it was too young to start school this year, and whether maybe we should have waited. But I ‘ve figured out that I was trying too hard to force myself to care about the main plot, which is a thing I do not care about at all. I’m sure it’s great if you’re an avowed fan, but I have no idea who any of the women involved are, or indeed, why almost all of them want to rub their nipples over Geralt. I have no investment in the big skeletal winter warriors who can turn entire villages into an iced-up freezer shelf. My revelation was: I do not have to care.
The Witcher 3 is such a big game that I can avoid the story almost entirely. My Geralt rides from town to town, taking on commissions and helping the locals, as he is supposed to. The land is filled with so much stuff that I only need to engage with the main plot when I want to open up a new area. Either that or I run into it accidentally. Because, to its credit, lots of The Witcher 3’s little stories unexpectedly turn into big stories, like tributaries feeding into the Amazon. Only, if the Amazon were made of local self-declared noblemen, engaging in prolonged domestic violence but being, like, kind of sad about it so that it’s powerful storytelling.
But if that happens I usually turn around and ride off in a different direction. I find a new town, full of new peasants with terrible bowl cuts, English regional accents, and occult problems that need solvin’. I avoid the big towns, because they kind of seem like they don’t really need me. I stick to the fringes: the superstitious villages who’d be fucked if I hadn’t slow-walked my horse down their one street.
My favourite kinds of contracts involve the wraiths – nightwraiths and noonwraiths – because their stories always start out as like “Ooooh, me ma warned me about Mickel Mary o’ the Corn! She been haunting these parts for a hundred years, so she be!”, but then the most cursory search uncovers that the wraith was a 17 year old called Ruth who got murdered by a jealous ex boyfriend literally a week ago, and when she disappeared everyone just shrugged and carried on milking their goats. Sorting out wraiths feels like a civic duty, and every third village seems to have one.
The Witcher 3 has such a massive world, with all those question marks and notice boards, that it now seems incredible to me that hanging out in it, timing your arrivals in a new town for when it is extremely windy and dramatic, is not the entire point of it anyway.
If a Witcher is just a magic mercenary who kills various flavours of zombie, the ghosts of murdered women, and eagles that have a snake for a face, then… that’s what I’m going to be.