MS. POPPY Tester has been playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Here are her thoughts on the matter:
Geralt of Rivia’s swan song is a triumph in open-world storytelling. CD Projekt Red took a lesson from the master of marrying an overwhelming open world with an underwhelming storyline (Skyrim), modestly predicting that Wild Hunt would be “[the] perfect RPG”, the perfect yin-yang of Skyrim‘s world with a main quest that players actually give a shit about.
Disclaimer: Skyrim is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. Come on, it’s Skyrim.
In Skyrim, creating your own MPC from scratch results in generic interactions with the world and there’s little room for personal incentive in the storyline. Geralt’s character building has already been done. His relationships are established so the plot has urgency: there’s a lot at stake. Obviously, you can completely ignore this and spend hours finding stolen pans for villagers, winning horse races and flaying arse at Gwent, the collectible card game, but does gritty realism really matter in a game where you can shove a packed lunch down your gullet mid-sword swing to heal your wounds? Quite possibly not.
As a snarky Witcher, Geralt is impartial in times of war. He still riles up the authorities by being General Maverick Badass; he’s the kind of impartial who thinks that everyone in charge is an idiot and, to be fair, they are. He’s also the kind of man that could rock a man bun without looking like an utter turd. Even his hair, made of moonbeams and the tears of disgraced unicorns, doesn’t give a fuck. It’s always flowing in a breath of invisible wind, especially indoors. Physics? Geralt’s hair is so glorious it doesn’t care for such trivialities.
Wild Hunt sees Geralt running/galloping/sailing/frowning his way through vast and hostile lands – all rendered in PC-crippling high definition – searching for his ward, Ciri. With the combination of brooding landscapes and the magic of real-time beard growth, you could call this a wild… hunt? Though the title more likely refers to the Lordi tribute act who, incidentally, are also after Ciri, for obviously nefarious purposes. (They probably have skulls for faces; therefore, they must be irredeemably nasty.)
The world is buckling under the pressure of these dark forces. Look into the eyes of a pox-ridden child, and you can almost see the shadow of spectral harbingers of death in rocking Medieval biker gear looming behind him. Ask a merchant if he fancies a game of Gwent, and prepare for an exchange of soul-piercing looks which says, “I’m going to roast your balls at this game and feed them to my starving family.” A feeling of distrust, despair and impending doom plagues all, from the derelict rural villages to the Gritty Brit Flick that is the city of Novingrad. Keeping the ominous tone consistent throughout every element of the game was key to creating something that is not only immensely playable, but liveable too.
Truly, though, Wild Hunt‘s magic lies in the quest structure. The quests interlink to an impressive degree. A decision you make can have a resounding effect later in the game. Sometimes, a character whose life you spared earlier may show up later, for better or for worse. You often decide the course of action in a scenario, but you don’t know what the outcome of that action will be.
Sometimes you’re torn between two equally idiotic actions, then you’re left shocked when the one you thought would be less idiotic turns out to be even worse than expected. Even simple run-and-fetch quests have a twist, and some outcomes are horribly depressing. Do you remember, in The Never Ending Story, when that snotty-nosed kid gets so invested in his book that he wets his pants and screams into his book? It has that exact effect, just with more sex and decapitation.
When it comes down to the fighting, Geralt flawlessly pirouettes between enemies, slicing and dicing as he goes, but walking through a door is sometimes like trying to drive a car through a Hula Hoop. A real-time battle system is significantly undermined when Geralt moves at a snail’s pace, if you ignore that it’s very fun to play. As well as being able to have armour and weaponry crafted for you (Geralt’s arsenal of skills unfortunately doesn’t include being a kickass blacksmith), you can also brew special potionsand oils for your sword and bombs. Enemies are all weak to certain concoctions. Treating each species individually rather than a homogeneous mass adds tons of variety to combat.
Feminist Frequency have criticised Geralt’s hard-faced stoicism, calling him a “toxic” representation of masculinity, who shows no emotion except rage and “never smiles”. This must have been a glitch, then:
In a game where you stand among the corpses of slaughtered villagers because of some decision you made, the closest Geralt really gets to crying is when he sees a man in a dress – being a bloke’s bloke, and all that. Even in other emotional scenes, Geralt’s face is hidden from view. It’s literally censored out, because a man’s face, strained with emotion, would be more obscene than… 16 hours of pre-programmed sex.
That aside, the rest of this critique is balls. Geralt never flies off into a rage, he just quietly beheads people. Despite being a Witcher, whose mutations should prevent him from feeling emotion, he is risking life and limb for a quest fuelled by paternal love. In one of the trailers, the game is advertised as a quest where you need to follow your “heart”. How much more sap do you want? Sans mutations, Geralt would probably be an emotional wreck, all of the time.
Geralt rescues a lot of women. He also rescues a lot of men, too. Women don’t suck because they’re women. Everybody sucks because they’re not Geralt. Ciri subverts the “damsel in distress” trope; she isn’t chained up in a castle clad in a fur bikini. As Geralt gradually gathers intelligence of her whereabouts, you don’t simply watch Geralt listen to the story, thereby filtering it through a male perspective. You play it as Ciri. And she can hold her own, frequently saving male characters from certain death.
The women are actually well-written. They have their own motives, agendas and causes which, at times, they lead, with the right amount of emotion and humanity. This turns them into more than walking tits or generic “strong female characters”.
They are also portrayed as sexually desirable. Triss Merigold’s breasts even flubulate on their own, kind of undermining her as a character to be taken seriously. The male-female “sexy peasant” ratio (actual scientific term!) isn’t balanced. For a large part of the game, Geralt is not only the most attractive man in the kingdom, he’s the only attractive man in the kingdom. Where there are plenty of busty peasant ladies, those of us who like men have to settle with A LOT of bowl hair cuts.
But you can’t say that Geralt isn’t sexualised:
When Geralt is good enough to grace a brothel, the prostitutes beg him to stay. He is doing them a favour by sleeping with them. Male prostitutes are a rarity in the game – and they tell Geralt to “fuck off” if he approaches them. He is sexually heckled by Welsh crones, can’t have a haircut without taking his shirt off and even has a fight wearing nothing but a strategically-placed towel. Though, whereas the game is more liberal with female nudity, Geralt’s bum is conspicuously absent. He always quickly covers up with a towel, or something, which is a more feminine, burlesque type titillation, if I’m honest. The developers clung to the feeble hope that you have a foot fetish. In terms of nudity equality, it doesn’t look like we’re there yet.
I could discuss the intricate sexual politics of Geralt’s bum placement all day. I love it almost as much as I love in-game alchemy. I’ll spare you that and simply say I couldn’t recommend this game enough.