In the 1990′s, Andrzej Sapkowski published short stories and novels set in an original fantasy setting. These center on Geralt of Rivia, a witcher who wields magic and hunts monsters.
But I played The Witcher video games — well, the second one, anyway — before I ever read Sapkowski’s books. It’s only in recent months that I’ve picked up two of the books, and I’m glad I did. Like the games based on them, they feature some riveting adventures with one of the greatest fantasy heroes I’ve ever encountered in fiction.
It’s exciting to play The Witcher games as Geralt. He’s a badass character, and the world from his perspective is vivid and fraught with danger — just as it should be in an action story or video game. But one of my favorite aspects of role-playing games is the character development, and if that can roll all the way back to character creation in the very beginning, so much the better.
As I talk about quite a bit here, I enjoy creating characters from scratch. Sometimes I make them in my own likeness, but I also have fun role-playing as someone who looks, thinks, and makes decisions differently than I would. Often my characters are bolder than I am. Geralt certainly is… but I didn’t conjure him from my imagination, so it doesn’t quite feel like it counts.
So what about this prospect of the upcoming The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt being the last in the trilogy but not the last in the series? It sounds to me like future Witcher games may depart from Geralt’s story in a way that invites more player involvement from the beginning.
After all, we already know that The Witcher 3 is going to be open-world and non-linear, meaning there’s already more freedom and exploration being built into it. It’s not a leap to say that freedom in an open-world game means more customization — or, to put it another way, more room for individuality. Those are great role-playing features. (I say that even though I’m on the fence about how much open-world exploration I can take, not being the biggest fan of riding a horse anywhere in real life or game life.) Perhaps — I hope, I hope! — all of this freedom means that future games will allow players to navigate “Witcherland” with their own characters. (And I’m not the only one.)
It comes down to the difference between books and games. In the Witcher books that I have read so far, I’m invested in Geralt as the protagonist. I want to see how his story plays out. I want to know what happens to him in the end. I see world — or specifically his corner of it — through his adventures, watching his story as a bystander. And it’s a thrilling read.
In the video games, I also follow Geralt’s story and experience his adventures. But in the games, I’m actually making choices for him. I’m fighting with his silver sword and downing his potions before battle and engaging in conversations… as him, that is. What so many gamers love about video games is being able to jump into a fictional world and interact with it, and in The Witcher trilogy, I take on the role of Geralt to explore. It’s a fun role, but it has its limitations as far as games go.
I say all of this not to complain about The Witcher games at all. The Witcher 2 is one of my all-time favorite games, and I would not change the series to insert my own character in Geralt’s stead. Already, CD Projekt RED has departed from the books to allow for in-game decisions, which is just one great way to make the most of what video games can do that books (sort of) can’t.
However, as an RPG fan, I want to interact with the in-game world from more than just one angle. Sure, The Witcher 2 lets you choose between two story paths, but even if I follow Iorveth (an elf), I don’t have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be one of the Scoia’tael.
In future Witcher games — I’m talking later this decade — I would love to experience the Witcher universe from new perspectives. And once I play as one character, I want to be able to go back and play as someone entirely different, addressed differently by NPCs and living out a different life or story from the start. Personalizing the Witcher series in that way would really harness all that video games have to offer as a medium.