After my recent finish of the Blood and Wine expansion, I figured it was time for me to post a small review on what I think of The Witcher series as of now. Why? Because I can't really tell anyone in my family about it, my friends are all too distant from me during quarantine, and I just need to get this out of my system. I would post this more as an appreciation thread but I also have to bring up some issues with what I've experience so I can't bring myself to that. Side note: this went on a lot longer than I anticipated to write so be warned of a long read.
Before beginning, a few things: Never have read the books before. Only got introduced to the name around Witcher 2 was out (was in a magazine or commercial I think). I first picked up all three games roughly 4 years ago now. Tried playing the first one but got very confused so I dropped it. Moved onto the second game because I remembered playing the demo of it on my Xbox back in the day. Dropped that one fairly quick too. Didn't really want to jump into the third game at that time without understanding the first two so I just held off. Heard about the series Netflix was making, along with some troubling news about it and had doubts. When I came home for this past winter break I decided to watch it since it had come out at this time. And that's where my true experience began.
After some debate over whether to watch it or not, I decided to give it a shot since I had already binged the Mandalorian. One of the best things I decided on. Overall, a very good show. I like that it goes more in-depth to the actual books and stories that were originally created than just rehashing the games, it gives fans of both the games and books more, along with trying to grab a new audience in a new format. Henry Cavill is does an amazing part at playing Geralt, the stories overall are very entertaining and memorable, and overall feels like something you would experience in the game. Did kind of take me for a loop as to who Jaskier was until I realized it was suppose to be Dandelion (apparently a mix of translation from original Polish to English from what I've come to understand).
HOWEVER, I don't think it's absolutely perfect. There are small things in the show, like effects or tiny details that kind of make me question how something happened or just don't look right. But above all, and this has probably been discussed here before, was the choice of cast. Now, don't get me wrong, I think all the actors did fine and I don't mind seeing diversity when it comes to shows/movies. But if you're specifically changing characters skin tones/ethnicities for the sake of adding diversity instead of keeping as close to the source material, then I'm going to take issues.
So you have to understand my reaction when a number of characters appear to be black, yet when playing the games and looking up info on how these characters are suppose to be described in the books are having be more white, I'm going to have a somewhat perplexed or annoyed outlook on the situation. Especially when afterwards I learned that there are places in this world that can make people say there's diversity, mainly the region of Ofir and Zerrikania (as I come to understand, correct me if I'm wrong). The main setting in The Witcher series, as I come to understand, is set in very old medieval times, in a very old European style for this part of the created world. And I don't know about the rest of you, but when I think old medieval Europe, I do tend to think of a lot, if not all, white people wandering about. This basically boils down to the same situation with J.K. Rowling and turning Hermione black. Whatever, I've delved on this too long.
In short, it's still a good show. I just have some gripes with it.
Picked this back up shortly after finished the Netflix series and after a bit of trouble shooting help from the subreddit here. In short, it definitely shows its age and is not the most well made game in the series but was still entertaining for what it was.
Story is simple. You, the Witcher who doesn't remember anything, have to track down and stop an evil organization who has wronged you and your friends and stop them from whatever plans they have with your stolen secrets. Putting it like that makes it sound stupid and cliche but I actually found it to be a pretty OK story for the most part with a twist I didn't really see coming. Only problem with it was that it felt a bit too black and white with Salamandra. With the Order of the Flaming Rose and Scoia'tael on the other hand it was a lot harder to decide (though to be fair I though the Flaming Rose and Eternal Fire in general were just too fanatical). Even then, decided to remain neutral as best I could.
Voice acting, not the best. Fighting, works but I can see the complaints. I probably only ever used Aard or Igni in my playthrough. Themes of fantasy though, that was interesting. I liked the whole sub-plot with the Vodyanoi and the Lovecraftian inspired Dagon. Though, I did take issue with other things, like not really interacting with Foltest, how toxicity didn't drain unless you found a campfire and meditated, and the overall pacing of the game. Still, it was interesting to play through none the less and set the basis of many references that I would recall later on in the other two games. Not an essential game to play or even the best in terms of engine/quality in general, but still a nice play.
Second game that immediately shows improvement in technical terms but almost suffers in terms of story. After some in-story time, you are working for Foltest, but he dies to another witcher, leaving you framed. Now it's up to you to clear your name while going down two possible paths and bring the kingslayer to justice, while inadvertently discovering another secret altogether (the lodge of sorceress for those who couldn't guess).
Already this is a technical improvement from the first game from its look and how it plays, which overall I enjoyed but also seemed to suffer in other aspects. First, it went from this flip on fantasy tales, mainly from Polish fokelore (as I understand) to a more political stance and story view. Nothing wrong with that but I just wasn't invested as I was with the first game. The game also felt shorter with how it only had three chapters + epilogue compared to the previous game's 5 chapters + ep. Through my initial play though, I ended up siding with Iorveth simply because I felt more pity towards them in the previous game and I wanted to see what his path was like. Needless to say in chapter two when I found out Saskia was a dragon, I was happy with the choice I made. Might play through it again on Roche's path to see how things are different (and see if Hensalt isn't a full piece of shit or not). Also, Letho. God DAMN is Letho a cool dude. I only ever killed him once just to get the achievement before reloading and sparing him because his story is very similar to yours in some way. Getting captured and being forced to help a faction that you don't really have any affiliations to. Only main difference is that your more the aggressor to Letho afterwards to try and clear your name. Also, Letho just is cool.
Radovid and Foltest might have been the weakest part of this though. I only ever saw Foltest like three times in the last game, meet twice overall so I didn't really feel a connection when he died. And Radovid doesn't really show up until the end and just ends up becoming this unlikable asshole by the end of it all since I didn't choose the default option and spare Triss who would of prevented the purge an Loc Muinne.
I also found the combat in this to be a bit more annoying/frustrating. First time I tried playing on Normal since the first game I played on easy and wanted to test my skill. Got up to the Endrega contract and SO many times I wanted to break my controller. Tried switching to easy and actually got ganged up on by so many warriors/drones that I was just on the ground getting repeatly hit for what felt like 10 minutes (was probably like a minute or half that) but then died again and set me back to normal difficulty and JUST FUCK!
Combat. in general. was. frustrating! I hated the whole notion of having backstab damage to you. It felt unfair considering how many enemies you might be facing at a time. True you could use it against enemies as well, but I felt that rarely opened up to me during my playthrough, so it felt onesided. Traps were horrid, the leveling tree felt like meh considering you only ever finish one path (alchemy just felt useless) and overall felt more like a prototype of what CDPR wanted to do. It did make me use more than Aard and Igni from the first game, which I did think was an improvement.
I do want to continue on about this but I'd just be writing all night, so I'll wrap it up a bit. I like the idea of different paths, I like the attempt of new combat but found it frustrating, the story was OK but not great, and I feel it's more like the black sheep of the three games. Not terrible, but not my favorite.
GOD DAMN WAS IT GOOD WHEN I FINALLY GOT TO THIS GAME!!! Nearly every issue I had with the first two games were fixed in this one. Got back to its roots on a twist on fairytales and fantasy stories, is more refined from the second game in terms of combat and mechanics, removal of the near useless traps, and any more issues I could try and list (but I won't since that would drag this on and I can't remember them all right now). In addition, it made some changes that I absolutely loved: addition of fast travel throughout this whole open world now, potion usage in combat was added in, unique armor sets (I love the bear personally due to my playstyle).
Not to mention the quests and story. Overall, they're great. Lots of variation in quests with interesting monsters to fight, like the first time I hunted a chort, thinking it was a fiend, or getting lured to a trap by monsters and either deciding to kill them or reason with them that I only kill those that threaten the balance between both worlds living together. And the story itself was amazing. Finally getting your memory back, finding Yennifer and Ciri, fighting the Wild Hunt, the impact from your decisions, all of it just felt great.
HOWEVER, I did take some issues with the writing in some cases. As an example, the tavern owner you save from having her head caved in the beginning calls you out later in Novigrad when meeting Priscilla as a "murderer of Temarians" even though they were beating the shit out of her. Or how one monster contract leads to the employer dead, with nothing you say or do to keep him alive, in order to chain to three new quests. Inventive, but that lack of feeling that I can do anything to prevent it (outside of advancing a subplot to not trigger that, which is dumb) gives me the feeling of helplessness to force me down this path, rather than letting me find it or fail in my goal and then leading me down it. That kind of design I hate and were some of the moments that did kind of make the game feel less amazing.
Still, there is a lot of other stuff that's just fun. Lots of rememberable characters and moments, an absolutely lovely soundtrack, funny jabs at certain cliches or stories (even one at the initial trailer for the game), a few references that I caught from my past games which made it feel rewarding to play through those, and just a lot to explore. Oh and gwent. FUCK YEAH GWENT! I absolutely love this game mode and can see why it was later expanded onto its own thing. Kind of got annoying later on, especially during High Stakes when the first two decks you play against are heavy on spies and you have to know how to play against it.
Only other issues I had were that while it is open world, it almost felt at times it didn't want you to explore certain areas until you were properly leveled or if you were really skilled enough. More of a peeve though. I also felt like the pacing was a bit off, though that might just have been me running around all of Velen for the first 20+ hours trying to discover everything I could and the Wild Hunt didn't really feel that intimidating. I mean, they only show up around what I can say is the middle-end of the second act and then you kind of just kill them off all by the end. You don't really have that much of a connection to them outside of the seige of Kaer Morhen, unlike say Letho in the Prologue and CH1 of W2 or even the Professor and Azir in W1 where you meet them multiple times. Granted though, I actually did feel more emotion to Vesemir's death than Foltest, simply because you did get to know him a lot more throughout the game. And that's not even going into the DLC this game had…
HEARTS OF STONE
Yup! I'm reviewing the DLC separately. Overall, a short but very well done DLC. You get more areas to explore, a new kind of upgrade system, new interesting quests like a vault break in, and very memorable characters. Got to see the lovely Shani again, along with getting a hilarious one night stand sequence after a quest to entertain a ghost, Olgierd was a very grey character of sorts, doing horrible things in the past but also getting to know him to feel how he's regretted these actions, and Gaunter O'Dimm. Fucking. Hell. This guy is scary. You don't even know what he's suppose to be, he even tells you that you don't want to know. The closest you get to what describes him is that he's evil incarnate. And that's pretty damn accurate! Kind of took some issue with the boss fights in this though. Frog boss was kind of easy to figure out with the poison but not so much for tactics, the one Jafar mage looking dude was kind of dumb to fight (even though it was optional), Olgierd I didn't really know what I could parry or dodge, every boss in this just felt like a mystery to fight for the first time and not something that I could figure out while fighting them. Regardless, it's a nice and quick DLC to play through.
BLOOD AND WINE
And last, the expansion I have just finished quite recently. Honestly, this was overall better than Hearts of Stone. A whole brand new area to actually explore, far more unique quests to take part in, a gripping story about murders and ultimately deciding who is the true monster. Seriously, I thought every part of the main story of this was fantastic. The Duchess is a fairly sincere but stern and sometimes stubborn character, I like how the guard captain wasn't fully biased against you the whole time, I like the addition of Regis coming back and just this whole vampire theme overall. A lot of it just feels like, if they wanted, a whole new game on it's own or even a short story that could fit right in with all the others.
I actually felt sorry for Dettlaff in the end and with my decisions since he was, in the end, manipulated. That's not saying sending a vampire army against the city was still the right call but the Duchess also should of taken the demand a bit more seriously as to what would happen. And of course there is some pity for the Syanna considering her backstory and motives but in the end, if you just plain don't like her or made the same decisions I made, she is essentially the true monster…and unfortunately got what she wanted even with her death shortly after. It's a very sad, end to the story with everyone dying but it almost feels appropriate considering how the Witcher handles these kind of tales.
Still haven't done everything in the DLC either though, at most I just finished up the gwent side of things (because…gwent). Might go back and do some of the other quests. I think there's one about a girl who's also a bird? Don't spoil the whole thing for me, I've only heard bits of that quest.
I really love this series so far. I like how it's getting more and more attention and more variations of formats, from books to video games and now a streaming series. It's a fascinating world that's a unique blend of Game of Thrones style and feel but more of a breakdown of various fables and fairytales. Though it is a shame that the original author doesn't love the games bringing the series more fame (I don't know how popular the books were back then), because I really think the games helped expand it to what it is now than if it was just kept to books. Either way, I can't wait for more, be it the second season on Netflix or the possible Witcher 4. I'm happy I gave the series another try and plan to stick with it (Might take a break from plaything 3 though since I've played through it once. Have other things I want to do/try).
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