I'm on record as wholeheartedly adoring CD Projekt RED's action role-player of this year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I don't think that another game of 2015 will touch it, personally. I've spent well over 100 hours in its company, more likely getting on for 150, and I've not sunk that deeply into any video game since… Actually, I'm not sure. I think I lost my 20/20 vision in front of Sensible World of Soccer, but aside from that? I've played a lot of The Witcher 3, is what I'm saying.
And here is your one and only spoiler warning because I'm about to get into some details.
I was pleased, satisfied, at the way my story in The Witcher 3 ended, in a montage of happy scenarios. While it's not a game that enables the player to create a character, be that in their own image or something entirely wild (or, in Destiny, Just Some Blue Dude), I became attached enough to Geralt of Rivia, to my version of him, based on the decisions I made through the game's main quest and its multitude of side-missions and monster hunts, to feel wholly invested in the fantasy fiction. My shoes were his shoes; his successes mine to bask in the glory of.
I began my completion playthrough—actually my second, as I never finished the first (50 hours clocked, no conclusion)—as a heartless bastard, screwing peasants over for as much coin as I could to rid their villages of beastly infestations; but it didn't take long for a more honorable streak to run through my game. Keep the coin, I'd say; you need it more than I do. And when it came to courting, I was exclusively loyal to Geralt's not quite one true love, Yennefer. Come the credits, every main character seemed content. Apart from Radovid—king of Redania and just a total fucking headache whenever he was on the screen. He died, horribly, deservedly. (Not by my hand, you understand. I was just passing, honestly officer.)
So I couldn't wait to play more, which I'm doing right now, making my way through the compact but compelling expansion pack, Hearts of Stone. This inexpensive slice of DLC offers some ten hours of content, including a new story where Geralt meets the enigmatic and ever-so-slightly immortal Olgierd von Everec, who gets you running around the northern parts of Velen to deliver him some wishes, and appears to be modeled on David Beckham after a car accident.
I'm getting close to the end of Hearts of Stone, I can feel it in my bones, but there's been one chapter, if you will, of this tale that's really not sitting right with me after the way I played the main game. Olgierd has a brother, Vlodomir, who he wants Geralt to take out for a roaring good time of drinking and whoring and throwing up his guts-ing. Only, actually, he had a brother—Vlodomir's in the family crypt, and has been for long enough for his corpse to be in the sort of state that no amount of necromancy should reanimate. His ghost is a right lippy prick, too.
Long-ish story dramatically shortened: Vlodomir possesses Geralt's body as he attends a wedding at the invitation of an old friend, Shani, who appeared in the first Witcher game. Vlodomir uses our cat-eyed protagonist to make merry with the other guests, sticking a pair of ass ears on his noggin, indulging in some filthy pig wrangling, and making inappropriate comments about the bride and groom to their faces. There's a pissed fire-eater to save from a yapping dog, shoes to fish out of a stinking pond, and a slightly sweet part where Vlodomir-as-Geralt and Shani share a dance. It's quite unlike any wedding I've attended IRL, but a welcome change of tone, I suppose, from the bleak depression of Wild Hunt's many deaths.
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But at the end of the festivities, the game goes and smashes my Geralt to pieces. Vlod gets his marching orders: back to death's embrace, you wicked-tongued perv, you. Shani's upset about something. My Geralt picks some flowers from her favorite tree. Cheers her right up. She doesn't want to leave right away; she wants to spend some time catching up, since the previous few hours have been spent in the company of Geralt-but-not-Geralt. Seems reasonable. Sure, let's hang out for a bit. The Witcher 3 never hurries its main narrative; players can drop in and out of it as they wish, so I'm certain that the demands of Olgierd can wait a while. Hang on. What's this? Shani, please, I'm happy to linger a while, but, no, wait, get your hands off… Oh fucking hell, okay, fine. I'll go and break my commitment to my favorite sorceress, who, by the by, will have my silver locks for frolicking in this pitiful excuse of a boat. Splinters in my ass, guilt on my shoulders, cheers.
My Geralt was no womanizer. The option's there, right through Wild Hunt. But I stayed true. Yet Hearts of Stone makes it hard for Geralt not to sleep with Shani—you can choose to leave the morning after the night before and crack on with planning a heist (which is great, by the way), but I figured that these two deserved some time together. I guess I selected the wrong dialogue options and inadvertently triggered a romance I never wanted, when all my Geralt was after was good conversation and some tolerable wine.
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It's incredibly weird to feel you've wronged someone who isn't real, while playing a character who, equally, is entirely made-up. But such is the strength of CD Projekt's storytelling in The Witcher 3 that I can honestly say that my own stomach sank after cheating on a partner who, for so many hours, my Geralt was only ever faithful to. It's obvious that the writers on Hearts of Stone wanted Geralt to reconnect with Shani—they'd shared intimate moments in the distant past—and, of course, not everyone will have played Wild Hunt in the same way as me. (I mean, Triss was in Playboy, so her appeal is clear to see.) I suppose I could load an earlier save and steer clear of the sexy shenanigans, but since I've never gone back once across all those hours, I'll be damned if I'm doing so now.
So it's on I trudge. My Geralt, not quite the Geralt he was before. Off to see a man who can't be killed about an auction house that isn't quite what it seems. Away to kill a monster or ten, though no amount of coin can repay the debt now owed to his beloved. Destined to never properly learn Gwent. My Geralt, burdened with entirely unexpected shame, still nothing more than a helpless pawn in the bigger game of swords and sorcery surrounding him, following his dick towards a whole new kind of danger.
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