Spoiler Warning: These diaries will contain spoilers for The Witcher, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt Red, possibly the books upon which they are based by Andrzej Sapkowski, and the comics from Dark Horse, depending on just how ambitious/obsessive I’m feeling.
Previously on The Witcher Diaries: Well, technically, there was no previously for you, but some time last year, I did attempt to play The Witcher. I want to act like I’m a badass, elite gamer with the mad skillz, but after struggling to finally defeat that horrible devil beast hound, I decided to call it quits with the first game.
A witcher is a monster hunter, but how much of a monster is the man who was taken as a child, genetically enhanced, and taught to kill without remorse? The first game introduces Geralt of Rivia, a scarred warrior with a reputation, but no memory of it. Since I didn’t finish the first game, I’ll just fill in those memories with the handy Wiki. Besides, I’ve already read The Last Wish upon which the first game was loosely based, I’ve read the comic, and more importantly, my good friend Tiara has already played both The Witcher and The Witcher 2 and told me alllll about Geralt. I completely trust Tiara, even when she tells me that Geralt functions best when he’s drunk and gains his magical powers from sleeping with all the womenz.
Ah yes. Let us talk about the women for a minute, shall we? Geralt’s main love interest is a sorceress named Triss, but throughout the game, you have the opportunity to not only bed several other women, but collect trading cards for doing so (check this handy “romance” guide for further details). The special edition of the first game even comes with a very NSFW calendar. As far as the objectification of women goes, this game could easily be written off as pretty gross. Apparently, Andrzej Sapkowski, creator of The Witcher, was displeased with the portrayal of his character in the game. Perhaps his displeasure had something to do with game Geralt’s lascivious ways. I quite enjoyed Geralt’s sexual encounters in The Last Wish. They are tasteful, fun, and not at all frivolous or demeaning. Sapkowski gives me a character who very much appreciates the female form as I do, but doesn’t simply insert penis into vagina at every opportunity. So why would I want to play a game that reduces women to trading cards? Because there’s more to the game than that, and I can appreciate the enjoyable parts, even as I criticize the unpleasant ones. As Twitter user “Jill Valentine” recently said: “Honestly, if we boycotted every game that didn’t consider us as players, we’d have very few games to play. If you boycott something, you remove yourself from being a part of that market altogether, so they have no reason to consider your wants or needs.”
For the record, in my brief time playing The Witcher, I vowed that Geralt would stay true to Triss. Okay, okay. I did sleep with Abigail the witch, but only because I wanted to see if this whole card collecting business was true. For science. Or because I have a bad habit of trying to sleep with all the things, because this is what BioWare gaming has taught me to do. But for the sake of headcanon, let’s say that I made choices in The Witcher that reflected a Geralt who doesn’t sleep around, enjoys playing dice, likes orens (the currency of the game), and sides with the downtrodden elves and dwarves who have banded together under the banner of the Scoia’tael (a.k.a. Squirrels) to violently fight the discrimination heaped upon them by humans. My other options would have been neutrality or allying with the Order of Flaming Roses, which I’m pretty sure is commanded by Prince (at least, I’m sure that’s what Tiara said).
The Witcher 2 begins with a stunning cinematic that sets the tone for the whole assassins of kings business:
The Witcher ended with Geralt foiling the assassination attempt against King Foltest, but the assassin succeeds in the sequel, placing Geralt under suspicion because, like the assassin, he is a witcher. This suspicion is in spite of Geralt’s relationship with the king, having first saved the kingdom of Temeria from a striga, a monster who is actually the daughter of Foltest and his sister, whom he had wanted to marry until she died. In the prologue, Geralt is imprisoned and questioned by Vernon Roche, who wants to know exactly what happened on the day of the king’s murder, which is funny, because for the most part, Roche was actually there. But for the sake of filling in the narrative blanks, the game walks me through Geralt’s involvement in the king’s civil war, which seems to mostly be about his next sordid love affair, this time with a baroness who refuses to hand over his bastard children. Triss, advisor to the king, and Geralt discuss the many problems they face at the moment, not the least of which is the witcher assassin, oh and a dragon. Foltest considers Geralt to be a good luck charm, and trusts him with all sorts of covert ops, including sneaking in the back door of the baroness’ fortress while the militia try to hammer down the front. Geralt pauses to rescue a few villagers, like the good hero he is, but also demands payment for doing so. We’re poor, they whine. Pfft. Witcher’s gotta witch.
Between major events during the assault, Roche’s questioning continues, and I have my first opportunity to see that the dialogue options I choose might not actually be what Geralt says. For example, when I choose the option that I assume will result in Geralt sarcastically pointing out how funny something is, Geralt actually just says “Fuck you.” So subtle, Geralt. Later, when I am given the option to slap someone, Geralt assumes that I actually mean to punch the guy in the stomach.
After finally sneaking into enemy territory, Geralt gets to get his sword on, and I am pleased to find that combat in this second game is waaaaay easier than the first. To be clear, I am playing on easy mode, because I want to focus on the story so that I can get through this in time to play the third game, which I accidentally pre-ordered through Steam last year. Even on normal or harder, I would say the same about the combat. The Witcher’s combat processes were challenging, but not in the enjoyable way. Now, I can get away with button mashing, which isn’t necessarily an improvement, but for the sake of getting through the game faster, I’ll take it. I also like that all the abilities learned in the first game remain with Geralt now, including his signs, the minor magic that witchers are able to use against their foes. Geralt has also developed some very fancy footwork and enjoys showing off with finishing moves.
I open the gate for the king and his men and we battle and ballista our way to the fortress where the young lord, Aryan, is defending the tower. Geralt climbs to the top and kills the prince rather than negotiating his surrender. Geralt ain’t got time for mercy. He also has no time for dragons, especially when one attacks shortly after they breach the fortress. Triss attempts to hold it off with a magical shield, but may have been lost before she could teleport away. Geralt and Roche are left to defend the king. And by defend, that actually means run for their lives, because monster hunter or not, Geralt is not about to face down a dragon if he doesn’t have to.
The dragon eventually departs without the boss battle I expected. The men stay behind as Geralt and Foltest go off to find the king’s bastard children. I was very pleased to discover that, despite all the bluster and Foltest’s ruthless disregard for the La Valette soldiers, the king actually does love his children, and when he finds them, he has a tender moment with the young girl and boy who were in the keeping of a blind monk.
Buuut that blind monk turns out to be Letho, the kingslayer we met in the opening cinematic. Geralt realizes too late that the king is in danger, and before he can stop the assassin, Letho slits Foltest’s throat while his daughter looks on. He leaps from the window and escapes in the Scoia’tael boat that Geralt saw earlier. (Note: I am used to BioWare games where, even if I do not play the previous game, I can make the necessary choices from it that will affect the sequel. Without a saved game from The Witcher, the sequel seems to have defaulted to a state where Geralt did not side with the Scoia’tael as I had hoped. Oh well.)
Left standing over the body of a dead king, Geralt is accused of murder and taken into custody. But thankfully, Roche believes his story and leaves him a key, telling him to sneak out. What? You mean stealth? This is my number one non-skill in video games, but at least I try, okay? I douse all the torches and try to sneak up on the guards, but the necessary prompts never appear when I need them to and so I beat the crap out of them instead. I find this to be much more productive and fulfilling. Eventually, I come upon the Baroness La Valette, who is in talks with some guy. She’s a prisoner as well, but she still carries herself with nobility, despite the lash marks on her back. She knows about the confrontation between her eldest son and Geralt, but she does not hold his death against the witcher. Instead, she is pleased to learn that her son fought well (he didn’t actually—easy mode, remember) and held his ground.
Baroness La Valette convinces the emissary from Nilfgaard to help Geralt escape. What becomes of the baroness, uh … oops. Was I supposed to rescue her?
Outside, Roche and Triss are waiting. Roche reprimands Geralt for his stealth problems. Then we hop on a boat to follow the trail of the kingslayer that leads into Scoia’tael territory. A cutscene confirms that Iorveth, their leader, is in cahoots with the kingslayer, and when Iorveth himself appears, he does not deny it and sets his minions on the trio. But Triss is ready for them, casting a warding spell that turns their pesky arrows into butterflies and leaving the elves really, really distraught:
The magic proves too strong for Triss, and she passes out. (Whut? didn’t she just shield everyone from a dragon earlier? I seem to recall her using a whole lot of magic and passing out in the first game, too. Is this a thing?) Roche tosses her over his shoulder, and while she makes comments about his hand on her ass, Geralt fights off the attacking Scoia’tael. Somewhere during this process, Tiara and I discovered Steam’s new streaming function that allows other Steam users to watch each other play. I couldn’t handle the pressure of being watched and quickly died. (Actually, I wasn’t paying attention to the whole concept of “stay inside Triss’ shield or you will die.”)
Next stop, the town of Flotsam, where Geralt finds his friends Zoltan the dwarf and Dandy the bard about to be hanged. He points out that debauchery isn’t a crime worthy of hanging, and the townsfolk agree, though the guard puts up a brief fight. Triss and Geralt join their friends at the pub for some catch up, but soon they are interrupted. Tentacles, you say?