Yesterday evening I finally finished the entirety of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. If you’re a regular listener of the show, you no doubt have heard me rave about it before. I started playing the game when it was released back in May of 2015, finished the main story sometime late last year, and just now completed the final expansion pack, Blood and Wine. As you can see from the screenshot below, I’ve devoted 402 hours of my life to being Geralt of Rivia, and those hours are some of the most meaningful I’ve ever experienced playing a video game.
If you plan on playing this at some point, you probably won’t be investing quite that much time. The main plot and major side quests, including the DLC, account for 200 hours or so. I’m just a perfectionist. I finished every contract, side quest, treasure hunt, optional dialogue choice and monster/bandit killing adventure there was available. I examined every corner of every map in great detail, uncovering the sum total of undiscovered locations and fast travel points, and studiously read all the in-game books I came across. I felt compelled to do everything, because what would normally be the most mundane experience in other roleplaying games is a constant joy in this title.
But even after all that time spent playing Gwent and traversing the beautiful landscapes (did I mention this game is gorgeous?), I’m immensely somber now that it’s over.
Though, not in the same way as when I finished the Mass Effect series for the first time. Those games were truly about the relationships formed with your crew members as you rode through the galaxy being Awesome Space Commander™. And the end of Mass Effect 3 was absolutely soul-crushing – I was depressed for weeks. Why? Because I knew I would come to dearly miss my in-game friends I formed a bond with over many years. They weren’t real, but they were real to me.
Getting over Witcher 3 feels quite different, but in many ways the loss is similar. The game is just so incredibly deep and immersive. Whenever I booted it up and put on my headset it provided this unparalleled escape from the world, as really all good games should. CD Projekt Red are masters at their craft, and while I won’t long for my companions as I did with Mass Effect, I will wholeheartedly just miss being Geralt and a part of that world.
Not to say there isn’t a cavalcade of characters that join you along the way, all interesting and fun in their own right. But Geralt, being a Witcher on the path, is in many ways the ultimate loner. He forms relationships, even falls in love, but in the end he has this strong stoic nature that I am completely drawn to. He’s always on the move to the next contract and the coin to get him by, not knowing what lies ahead and being quite content with that fact.
The best moments of the game are spent on your horse, Roach, in the middle of a vast wilderness against the backdrop of a surreal sunset. I lost track of the times I would just sit, look around, and take everything in. And while interacting with the denizens of the land on a regular basis was inevitable, spending time alone on a mountain became my own little introvert paradise.
Some of that meandering stems from the fact that there are a plethora of tough decisions that lie before Geralt, and emotional weight that comes with them. I came to quickly understand how far-reaching and impactful my actions were. There’s no morality system to speak of, but the narrative has this sneaky way of making you feel things you don’t want to feel – but in a good way. There were so many times when I doubted my decision, cried like a baby, felt guilty for my actions, laughed until it hurt, and jumped for joy when I was a total badass. The range of feelings brought out in me were vast and complex. It’s something I can’t quite put into words, and like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
That said, the truly amazing thing is that I didn’t play the first game in the Witcher series. And I invested a handful of hours into the second game before I gave up on it. However, Wild Hunt is so well done, so meticulously crafted that it didn’t matter. And the more I played, the more I wanted to know about the history of characters who were familiar to the protagonist, but foreign to me. If you didn’t already know, the games are based on novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski, so there’s a very rich tapestry of history and lore that ties in beautifully to the world building experience.
As I sit here wishing I could cry over a pint of Häagen-Dazs (I can’t because it’s convention season), I want to tell you all, from the bottom of my heart, that you should do yourself a favor and try this game. It’s massive, even dauntingly so at times, but so damn rewarding and an unforgettable experience.
Plus, you know, you can have sex on a unicorn.