Blood and Wine is all but upon us. The second story expansion to 2015's outstanding role-playing game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (as close to a genuinely good Game of Thrones: The Video Game as you're ever going to get), released on May the 31st, brings with it an expansive new region for exploration, the southern-France-of-feels Toussaint, as well as new foes for its player-protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, to stick holes into with his twin swords. We're promised vampires and a murder-mystery-style storyline, set within as many as 30 more hours of gameplay. We're also promised that this is it for Geralt's adventures – he's hanging up his Viper gauntlets, putting all those potions away at the back of the larder, and living out the rest of his long days without a solitary concern about drowners or draconids.
In early 2016, a representative from the game's developers, Polish studio CD Projekt RED, stated: "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will wrap up the saga of Geralt of Rivia, but we do leave open the possibility of returning to the Witcher world." Geralt has been the star of three consecutive games now, dating back to 2007, but he's far from the only witcher (a genetically mutated monster-slayer for hire, effectively) in the stories by Andrzej Sapkowski that inspire CDPR's series. Where his story ends, another could well begin.
We know for certain that CDPR is keen to continue working on experiences and stories drawn from Sapkowski's deep well of fantasy fiction. Company CEO Adam Kicinski has said that the "franchise will be continued". And CDPR co-founder Marcin Iwiński told Kotaku that The Witcher 3's commercial success – it'd shipped close to ten million copies as of March 2016 – "allows us to have even more freedom with our development plans and take more creative risks, which hopefully will result in better and more immersive experiences for gamers".
"Creative risks", you say? See, I read something like that, and immediately I'm thinking about Witcher-y releases that don't sit within its traditional action-RPG genre. We've seen the Fallout franchise break into a new market with the release of the free-to-play Vault management mobile game Fallout Shelter, which had grossed over five million dollars in microtransaction sales within two weeks. This, despite it turning users into miserable pricks.
Hyrule Warriors took Nintendo's famous Zelda series and repurposed Link's adventuring for hack-and-slash admirers via a crossover with Koei Tecmo's Dynasty Warriors, and was generally well received for its fan service. More recently, we've seen Bethesda's Elder Scrolls expand into the collectible card crowd with Legends currently in its beta phase, aiming to appeal to Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering players. The results are disappointing so far, according to some sections of the games press, but its makers stress that they're "looking forward to hearing [player] feedback and having them help us shape the future of the game".
So why can't we do the same sort of thing(s) with The Witcher's world? Here are three ideas for furthering the franchise without producing another hundreds-of-hours-deep RPG epic. Although, another one of those would be very nice, a little way down the line, if you don't mind. Thanks. (Minor spoilers follow for the story of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. But come on, it is a year old now.)
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Competitive Gwent on your mobile phones and tablets
I've poured countless evenings into The Witcher 3 since its release in May 2015, but the one area of the game that's always left me cold is Gwent. It's Wild Hunt's in-game card game that Geralt can settle down for a session of with barflies, barons and busty maids alike. There are quests directly tied to being a badass with the decks, quests that I will maybe never see through to completion on account of simply not giving a shit about Gwent. (Or at least, I don't while I've still other, more murderous tasks to see to. I suspect I'll get there eventually.)
But a lot of people love Gwent, which is, I suppose, essentially a game about positioning troops (both monsters and men) and equipment on a battlefield and overpowering your opponent, while considering all manner of magical buffs and weather-related setbacks. It gets complicated. There are several guides to getting the best out of it available online – here's one on VG247 – and the retail edition of Blood and Wine includes physical cards to complement Geralt's virtual collection, much like previous story DLC Hearts of Stone did. This is a significant part of the wider Witcher world, and I don't see how taking Gwent outside of its parent game and presenting it as a standalone mobile experience wouldn't be a profitable one.
Using WiFi, or Bluetooth, or simply by passing a device between players, competitive PvP Gwent on the go makes perfect sense in my head. Reddit wants it, too. This is a no-brainer, surely, and a guaranteed crowns-spinner for CDPR.
A twin-stick co-operative sorceresses shooter
I've dipped a toe – just the one, for now, because who has the time to play everything as soon as it comes out – into Housemarque's new Alienation, a twin-stick shooter that pits players against multiple waves of ready-to-be-shredded alien scum. It's a fairly shallow experience, by most critical accounts, but a stylish one and altogether better when played co-operatively with pals. Gauntlet, too, has come back on my radar via the Midway Arcade level pack for LEGO Dimensions, which lets you play an emulated version of the 1985 dungeon-crawler, recognised as one of the world's first successful multiplayer experiences as you teamed Warrior with Wizard, and Elf with Valkyrie.
In The Witcher 3, Geralt's most powerful allies are inarguably those from the Lodge of Sorceresses. They're not as united as they were in previous games, but even individually these magical women can be incredibly dangerous, once freed from any shackles. One, Philippa Eilhart, is trapped in the form of an owl when Geralt first meets her (well, when he meets her again), while Keira Metz, a skilled maker of aphrodisiacs, is keeping a low profile to avoid the attentions of Velen's witch hunters. Both are capable of devastating destruction, given the chance: Metz will use lightning against enemies, and alter the gravity around them, and Philippa's ability to change her form makes her quite the master assassin, as she can hide in tiny nooks, awaiting the perfect opportunity to puncture a lung.
You're seeing where I'm going here, aren't you. Imagine a top-down twin-stick game featuring the members of the Lodge facing off against all who oppose them, all who dare to even attempt to oppress them. The Witcher 3's most prominent sorceresses, Triss Merigold and Yennefer of Vengerberg, would naturally be amongst the player-selectable roster of protagonists, the former using fireballs to obliterate all before her, and Yennefer could bring both defensive barriers (as seen in Wild Hunt's Battle of Kaer Morhen) and teleportation options to the party. But there'd be space for many more, lesser-known spell-casters: Fringilla Vigo can get inside the minds of the enemy and turn their own swords against them, and Sheala de Tancarville could lure unsuspecting loners amongst the opposition ranks to spots where they can be taken down quietly. All could have basic offensive spells: ice, wind, earth, you get the idea.
This is just me riffing on some of what I've seen, through both The Witcher 3 and its predecessor, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and I'm sure that a deeper analysis of the source material, of Sapkowski's original stories, will produce a wider range of characters and abilities. Four-player co-op sorceress-power scenes, though? In a kind of Alienation-goes-Gauntlet style? Consider me well up for it.
Ciri gameplay from 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt'
The 'Metal Gear Rising'-style Ciri-gone-wild game that we all want, surely
Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon – we'll just call her Ciri, like everyone else – is at the very heart of Wild Hunt's story, tracked as she is by both her adoptive father Geralt and the Wild Hunt themselves, a group of wraith-like warriors seen to be one bad fucking omen for all who witness them. They're after Ciri because Elder blood flows through her veins: long story short, this gives her the ability to travel through time and space, and in The Witcher 3 we see her trying to control this ability, and frequently failing. Once harnessed, though, she becomes an exceptional sorceress. She also trained beside Geralt, at the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen, which has resulted in her being a supremely skilled swordswoman. Basically, she is one almighty badass.
And yet, The Witcher 3 doesn't make the most of her potential as a playable character. We're handed control a few times, during which we unleash her lethal blade skills and enemy-decimating magic. She doesn't have the health that Geralt does, but her attacks are just as deadly, and delivered at lightning speed. But it's a tease, and nothing more. So what I want to see, and I've been thinking about this for a whole year now, is the Ciri game where she's the star, and these smaller sequences seen in Wild Hunt become a full-blown "action-adventure" title – less RPG, more Uncharted 3, albeit with a precision slice-and-dice mode.
If you ever played the Platinum-developed Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, you'll know what I'm on about, here. In that game, the player could activate "blade mode", allowing for 360-degree cuts across and through almost any enemy, angles controlled by the analogue stick. This leads to stock cutscenes that also replenish health, each one over in a flash, a little like the new DOOM's up-in-them-guts glory kills – cool enough that you'll want to see them often, but brief enough that they never get tired. Combat in Revengeance is electric, and the whole time I was in control of Ciri in Wild Hunt, sometimes lining up multiple enemies for single-move takedowns, I had half a mind on how brilliant a mash up of the two titles could be. Very.
Related, on Motherboard: War Is Hell, and 'The Witcher 3' Gets It
Platinum is a busy studio, with Nier: Automata for the PS4 and Xbox One exclusive Scalebound currently in development. But the company's stellar reputation for action titles has taken a hit of late, with licensed affairs like The Legend of Korra and this month's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan attracting mostly negative reviews. Might a collaborative project with CDPR be beneficial for both teams? Obviously, yes.
Marcin Iwiński, if you're reading this, get on the phone to Osaka, because if only one of these three ideas was possible, I'd so wish for it to be this one. A nice, eight-or-so hours campaign; no need for competitive multiplayer modes, but perhaps a local co-op partner could play as another, newly introduced witcher; and you can tie its story into CDPR's upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, since it's strongly suggested during Wild Hunt that Ciri visits said futuristic world. A white-haired girl kicking ass across the rooftops of mile-high skyscrapers, sword in hand and android guts splattered across her blouse? Come on, that would be so awesome.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine is released on May the 31st and leave me the hell alone next week, as that's all I'm doing. Find more information on The Witcher 3 at the game's official website.
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