The Witcher 3 is One of the Best War Games There’s Ever Been

Eurogamer’s Nathan Ditum argues that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s portrayal of war is extremely effective in a new editorial that also takes a detour into what the author feels are the visuals and thematic inspirations for the game’s own take on Sapkowski’s fantasy universe. A couple of snippets:

The Witcher 3 is more like a collection of stories, a chorus of fables and morality plays. So much of the character of the game resides in the weary, accumulated wisdom of the side quests and incidental plotlines that Geralt stumbles into. Here decisive ethical strokes are invariably parried, while a combination of duty, hunger, fear and idealism asserts over and over again the impossibility of neat and total fixes. One of the game’s first quests, Missing In Action, has Geralt searching through corpses on a fresh battlefield looking for the brother of a nervous villager. He finds the man nearby, hiding with a deserter from the enemy army – the two wounded soldiers had helped each other from the field, and now the found brother would shelter his unlikely friend. It falls to Geralt to make the imperfect choice – to murder the Nilfgaardian, or convince a man to put his family at risk for a stranger.

The pattern is repeated over and over. In White Orchard Geralt helps a dwarven blacksmith whose forge has been burnt in retaliation for helping the invading Nilfgaardians. Track down the culprit and refuse his bribe – the “good” choice, we unswervable detectives think – and the dwarf summons the Nilfgaardians to hang the drunk and desperate peasant while Geralt looks on, uneasily. Sure – the guy was sort of racist and definitely an arsonist, but, man, that dwarf is a dick. Perhaps most telling of all, a little later, Geralt meets a Nilfgaardian captain demonstrating his everyman qualities to a trembling farmer by showing off the calluses on his hands, addressing him “peasant to peasant” as he negotiates a requisition of grain. The next time we see the captain he’s ordering the farmer to be flogged, because the grain was rotten. “What would you do in my stead?” he asks Geralt, who gets to reply, truthfully and unfairly, “Wouldn’t ever be in your stead.”

Magic in The Witcher is a manifest part of the game’s moral make-up – monsters are occasionally simple remnants of a wild world, but more often than not the supernatural represents a wound or a wronging. There are wraiths staked to the land by misdeeds, parasitic shadow spirits called Hymns which feed on guilt, and above all various species of necrophage – ghouls and nekkers and drowners – feeding on the fallen, digging up corpses, dragging our transgressions back into the light. Geralt’s bestiary is thick and thriving, a compendium of how the faults and failures of the living are remembered by the dead, and otherwise transfigured into the monstrous and inhuman.

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