The Witcher 3: White Orchard, Part One

By Bob Case Posted Thursday Mar 8, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 53 comments

I’m going to start by listing the initial ground rules of the playthrough.

  1. No equipment, meaning no weapons or armor. Geralt will be wearing his classy white boxer shorts the whole way.
  2. The only thing Geralt can keep on his person is booze. Since Witcher potions are made with alcohol as a base, I consider potions to be a type of booze, so they’re acceptable. This will obviously require us to occasionally have alchemy ingredients in our inventory as well (I think of them as being something like cocktail mixers), so those are acceptable. Gwent cards are not actually stored in your inventory itself, so they’re all right too.
  3. No HUD. I actually recommend making very limited use of the HUD even for a non-crazy person playthrough, as I and others have found that it causes you play the game in a very different – and arguably more immersive – way.
  4. Geralt must never turn down an offer of either alcohol or gwent.
  5. Combat should be as punching-oriented as possible, meaning minimize the use of signs. Rule 5 is, of necessity, going to be one of the more flexible ones, since there are some enemies that you simply can’t defeat with punches alone (that, or it would be painfully boring to do so).

I may add more rules as we go on, but those are the basics. This is obviously going to make the game more difficult, but based on my experimentation so far I believe it’ll still be doable. I have a relationship with game difficulty that’s kind of the opposite of the usual. Usually it’s the young whippersnappers, with their mongoose-on-adderal reaction times, who like the hard stuff. But for me, I always used to play games on normal (or the equivalent) and it wasn’t until later that I started routinely cranking up the difficulty.

No. No, I admit you do not.
No. No, I admit you do not.

To me a higher difficulty is a way of savoring a game. Of necessity you play it a bit slower, and it also makes you really learn the mechanics. I play fewer games than I used to, so I want to savor the ones that I do play. In the Witcher 3, the highest difficulty (death march) is not really that hard, at least not compared to, say, a Fromsoft game, or even earlier entries in the series. Plus, I always enjoy playing what I call “punchmages.” Hence, the five rules.

First up is the tutorial. I had to break the rules here, as there’s several things the game doesn’t let you do yet (like access the inventory screen). My only complaints about the tutorial are that it’s too long and it’s not skippable. If you’re like me, and you start way more playthroughs than you finish, you’re probably a bit sick of it by now. That said, it does its job. It introduces you to the major players (Yennefer, Vesemir, Ciri, the Wild Hunt), teaches the basics of combat succinctly, and then dumps you into the game.

Geralt and Vesemir have a short conversation that covers the plot’s initial setup: you were supposed to meet Yennefer at a village named Willoughby. Problem is, Willoughby’s in a war zone and was razed before you arrived. There’s a nice clear early goal: find Yen. After the cutscene you’re immediately attacked by ghouls. Here is where I have to reveal a disappointing truth: punches do almost no damage to monsters, probably because Geralt’s hands aren’t made of silver. This means that Igni is basically your only source of damage against them – hence the flexibility of rule five above.

I died a lot in this fight before finding a workable way of cheesing it. Basically, you go far away from Vesemir and draw one ghoul away at a time. Then you Igni it and kite it with dodges and positioning until you can Igni it again. At this point I’m already having doubts about this whole no-equipment thing, but the secret to being an obnoxious contrarian is persistence, so I persist. Vesemir, fortunately, is a good sport and cheerfully does most of the work in this fight. He doesn’t do much damage but he does draw a lot of aggro and periodically knocks enemies down with Aard.

We proceed to the village and witness a traveling merchant being attacked by a Griffin. The game does something clever in this cutscene: Vesemir gets hurt. Not badly, but it does introduce a note of vulnerability to his character, and probably draws a note of concern out of most players, which pays dividends later. You could say that CD Projekt does the small things well – you could also say that every thing, taken individually, is a small thing. Saying a developer does the small things well is kind of like saying they do everything well.

On to the first town. The first stop is obviously the tavern, where another short but well-done cutscene plays. We learn that the village of White Orchard, once part of Temeria, has recently been annexed by the Empire of Nilfgaard, and the locals are none too happy about it. This conflict is the setting hook for this first part of the game. I’ll cover this a bit more later, but suffice it to say that TW3’s nuanced take on war and its various unpleasant realities is a strong point.

Geralt, it turns out, is a lightweight. This is what ONE Redanian Lager does to him. I know it's on an empty stomach, but still. The blurry thing next to his feet is a lv1 wild dog, which is an opponent that must be treated with respect in these conditions.
Geralt, it turns out, is a lightweight. This is what ONE Redanian Lager does to him. I know it's on an empty stomach, but still. The blurry thing next to his feet is a lv1 wild dog, which is an opponent that must be treated with respect in these conditions.

After all this, you’re finally detached from Vesemir’s hip and allowed to play the game proper. First order of business: find some hooch. This proves surprisingly difficult! Apparently, the good citizens of White Orchard prefer the hard stuff, and the only alcohol for sale in the tavern is the likes of alcohest and dwarven spirit. Problem is, the game considers these things to be alchemy ingredients, not food, meaning you can’t drink them (unless you make them into a potion first, which I don’t have the ingredients to do yet) and they don’t restore health. Since we’re playing on death march, my health doesn’t regenerate unless I eat, and it’s already low after occasionally getting hit while watching Vesemir solo a group of ghouls earlier.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: good old fashioned RPG-style home invasion. Geralt, still humiliatingly sober after almost two hours of total gameplay, methodically enters and ransacks every house in White Orchard, often while their owners look on just a few feet away. Of course, this isn’t unusual in RPGs, and people often complain that it’s unrealistic. In this case, however, I find it perfectly plausible. I can tell you that if a nearly naked stranger entered my apartment in broad daylight and started rummaging around for alcohol, I would probably just let him. “Nothing good will come of getting involved in this,” I would say to myself. “Just don’t make eye contact and wait for him to leave on his own.”

Seven or eight burgled houses later, I’m beginning to doubt the patriotism of White Orchard’s inhabitants. Their houses are chock-full of Redanian Lager and Erveluce (which I believe is a type of snooty elven wine), but there’s not a single Temerian Stout to be found. This is why you lost the war, fellas.

I punched this drowner so hard his brain came out - you can see it lying there next to the path. Which is fortunate, because you need a drowner brain to make your first HP-regenerating swallow potion.
I punched this drowner so hard his brain came out - you can see it lying there next to the path. Which is fortunate, because you need a drowner brain to make your first HP-regenerating swallow potion.

At this point I should cover a few mechanical things about playing with no equipment or HUD. One is that fights are longer. I did in fact kill the drowner above by punching it, but not before I whittled its health down with Igni first, and even then it took forever. If I’ve learned nothing else from this experience, it’s that Witchers don’t get paid enough. Drowners are tough. This guy took as many clean hits to the jaw as Ali did in all three Frazier fights put together, and that was after I set him on fire multiple times.

Another is something that’s true of many aspects of HUD-less play: you’re immersed more. Since you can’t see your own health bar, you have to gauge Geralt’s chances by how much blood is on his character model, and you never quite know if the next hit is going to kill you or not. It makes things tense, if nothing else.

One obstacle is that I’m still level one, and recovering from just one fight requires me to drink several beers – this is unsustainable, as I’m drinking them faster than I can steal them. I’ve decided to use a tried-and-true RPG cheese method: do as many quests as possible that don’t require combat, to build up my XP a bit. We’ll cover that in next week’s installment of The Puncher 3. Stay tuned.

 


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53 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: White Orchard, Part One

  1. Droid says:

    Oh god, I wish you the best of luck on your path! This game with the house rules present would probably literally kill me, from sheer high blood pressure.

  2. Abnaxis says:

    I also only started raising the difficulty bar on myself later in life as a gamer, though I still haven’t gotten to the point where I can tolerate self-imposed challenges. I find the temptation too unpleasant–one round of watching Vesemir solo ghouls and I would have tapped out.

    1. PPX14 says:

      Same, it was only a few years ago I started trying out the hardest difficulties really. Changes the game so much in certain ones, in terms of approach, end up spending much longer and with much sweatier palms! Alice Madness Returns on Nightmare, Hard Reset on Insane, Dark Forces on Hard. Far Cry 1 on Normal…

      Only self imposed restriction was in Deus Ex when I realised I wanted to go non-lethal. I do like the game-imposed restrictions of Thief higher difficulties, lends a nice authenticity to the limitations.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Difficulty setting like in thief is one of the few I actually like.Making enemies beefier,Im not a fan of that.It just makes fights longer and more tedious,while you can still use most(all) of the strategies as before.

        1. PPX14 says:

          I haven’t decided yet whether I enjoy the challenge of the numerical higher difficulty. I do wonder if I just wasted a lot of time re-doing things or if it added to the fun. In Hard Reset it was cool because it was accompanied by the range of weapons and made me consider their use in a frantic way. In Alice perhaps it was just infuriating. Made it much more about evasion and timed hits.

          But really, like you say, I like the Thief way. It removes the immersion-breaking (and nigh impossible) question of which of these arbitrary settings will be the most fun – I would like the developers to have optimised that, not me! – and gives specific in-world options where you still feel like you’re playing ‘the real game’.

          I’m pretty sure going non-lethal stealth in Deus Ex made the game a (very impressive) chore.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Depends.If you want just non-lethal,you can always knock out everyone and be on your merry way.Its tough at first because you dont have many charges for your tranq crossbow and your stun baton,but later it becomes easier.But if you want to really ghost it,so that no one knows youre there,that was a challenge.

            1. PPX14 says:

              Ghosting it would have been painful! I spent my time waiting for people to stop running about after being hit by the tranq dart haha. And also just stun batonning them of course.

          2. GargamelLeNoir says:

            It was OK, I became a champion of the baton, knowing exactly when to strike to incapacitate most enemies. It was pretty cool.

    2. Daimbert says:

      I’ve gone completely the other way, deciding that I don’t want my limited game playing time taken up with difficult fights and reloading and so always going on the easiest setting where the combat doesn’t completely bore me … and, sometimes, even sticking with that (in general with sports games, where I play on the lowest level because I’ve been burned by a hockey game where it was boring as heck on the lowest level but if I moved one up then I couldn’t score at all, leading to a lot of frustrating losses). For Persona 5, I started on and keep playing it on the second lowest level, but was tempted to take the “Safe” level just in case.

      1. Joshua says:

        Same. As I get older (40 now), I have less time that I want to devote to gaming. Having to bang my head up against a wall seems like a waste of gaming time.

        Right now, I’m playing D:OS 2 and am at the last fight. I’ve done most of the game on Classic (even the Doctor fight which I cheesed a little bit), but there have been a few parts where I dropped down to Explorer just to keep things moving. Tried the last fight a couple of times now, and am hoping to finish it at Classic but I may drop the difficulty again so I can move on from playing this game.

        That said, there are certainly games where I’ll raise the difficulty just so that certain game options make sense. For example, playing Civilization on Settler would make a good portion of your military/diplomatic/whatever tools pointless because you’ll never need them.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          This is where I am, too. Especially as I am often playing the game for the plot, I don’t want to mess with difficulties -so I will happily put it on easy mode if I’m having difficulty getting past a point.

          I’m playing Witcher on whatever the default is, and sometimes think “you know, I could turn the difficulty up…” but then I fight some level 36 drowner (Heart of Stone) and it takes 5 minutes and I’m like “nah, I’m cool.”

        2. Mistwraithe says:

          So true. I can appreciate people who are willing to spend hours and hours getting ‘gud’ at a game so that they can master it on the top difficulty level, but I can’t help thinking most of these people are either young or un-employed/retired and hence have rather more spare time than I do.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Same, I tend to play between easy and normal because of this. I usually want to see the game rather than overcome it. On the other hand there is something to be said for the whole overcoming thing since I was genuinely surprised how much I’ve enjoyed the Dark Souls series once I finally got around to it, though I was going in with the mindset that this is A Very Hard Game and this awareness I think helped a lot.

        Another exception is when I replay the Bethesda open world games I tend to crank the difficulty up, but then again I play them so heavily modded it’s hard to tell what’s left of the original settings.

        1. Droid says:

          Yes, I think this is generally a healthy approach to managing game time. You don’t waste a lot of time on a game that wouldn’t be fun even if you played it on the optimal difficulty for you, and if it’s good enough (/the mechanics interesting enough) to warrant a second playthrough, you turn the thing on hard mode to keep the challenge up.

          EDIT: That said, the Dark Souls games are really fun for me only once I’m done with my first playthrough. Learning those boss patterns in such an inefficient way is just barely sufferable because exploring the world for the first time is soooo gooood! Then, afterwards, you can start optimizing your build, your consumables, etc. and the game becomes a really great mastery-of-skill-based game

          1. Droid says:

            *mastery-of-mechanics

            1. Powergrout says:

              “BOOOOO!”

              …but yeah, you’re right though.

        2. Shenanigans says:

          Like many of us, I’m in the same situation that there’s not as much time for gaming as before, so I don’t want to get bogged down with never-ending battles at higher difficulties. But in some games you can have the best of both worlds; the excitement of greater difficulty and less grinding, like in the Bethesda RPG’s you mention. I’m quite fond of the “hardcore” mods that increase combat lethality in general. I wish more games had this sort of difficulty slider instead of simply increasing enemy health bars.

      3. Bubble181 says:

        Ditto.

    3. Henson says:

      I think one of my favorite self-imposed challenges was beating Zelda: Ocarina of Time with only three hearts. Really made things tense in an otherwise easy game, but I appreciated how much more careful I was approaching normal combat encounters. It hit that sweet spot of every battle being important, but also not (usually) so frustrating you give up.

      I’m also currently doing a Dragon Age: Origins run without any mages. Now this is the real difficulty setting of that game.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Combat should be as punching-oriented as possible, meaning minimize the use of signs.

    Thats no fun.If the goal is ultimate shenanigans,then improved axii should be the focus.One drunk guy brawling monsters is silly,but monsters drunkenly brawling with each other,thats a real spectacle.

  4. Ravens Cry says:

    Pauses reading to write comment
    For this DILF-aged* beefcake, we do give thanks.
    *Yes, I know Witchers are sterile.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Which just makes sex with them that much safer.Hence why all the women want to hump a witcher.

      One disappointing aspect of this game is that you can never see geralts naked butt*.Also,he is literally dickless(NSFW).

      *I think expanding the field of view can do it in some cutscenes.Maybe.

      1. Ravens Cry says:

        Heh, I’m getting flashbacks to that old looping flash, “Look at my horse, my horse is amazing.” But, yes, smooth as a Ken Doll.

    2. BespectacledGentleman says:

      And, incidentally, immune to STDs. About as low-risk as one can get at that technology level.

  5. Zaxares says:

    Only one entry in and I’m already liking this series. :) Looking forward to the next one!

  6. kdansky says:

    > Punchmage

    Shamus. Please. The meme is Muscle Wizard:

    https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Muscle_Wizard

    I CAST FIST.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Shamus. Please.

      Bob,not Shamus.

    2. Droid says:

      This series is written by Bob Case, aka MrBTongue, as can be seen at the top and bottom of both articles.

      I was fooled once, too, though. Their writing styles are similar enough that anything that might tip you off that something’s amiss, is not strange enough to make you stop reading and check what’s wrong.

      1. kdansky says:

        Me missing that explains a lot, actually, because I found it weird that Shamus suddenly liked The Witcher series or high difficulty.

        1. Eric says:

          Although he didn’t like the previous entries, Shamus loved W3; it was his 2015 GOTY.

    3. Felblood says:

      Whose English is that?

      It’s not my English.

  7. Echo Tango says:

    punches do almost no damage to monsters, probably because Geralt’s hands aren’t made of silver

    If you equipped some silver rings, would that do extra damage? I don’t have a computer capable of playing this game, so I have no idea of the mechanics. If it’s a true RPG, it would give you bonus damage for punching with silver rings or silver gauntlets. (See also: Nethack. :)

    1. King Marth says:

      > Put potion in potion

      That’s a potion bottle, not a Klein bottle!

  8. Mr Compassionate says:

    ‘Geralt must never turn down an offer of either alcohol or gwent.’

    In this sense making it much like any other playthrough

  9. Bloodsquirrel says:

    No HUD. I actually recommend making very limited use of the HUD even for a non-crazy person playthrough, as I and others have found that it causes you play the game in a very different – and arguably more immersive – way.

    I tried this when I started the game, but the problem is that too many modern games just aren’t built for it. I could find anything because I just could keep directionally oriented well enough to get through the woods.

    I wish more games would start relying on well-designed terrain and landmarks that let a player navigate without a minimap, because I really do hate the “minimap disease” that happens when you wind up staring at hud displays the entire time and never take in your surroundings.

    1. Henson says:

      Well, I would say that getting lost is part of the process of learning the terrain. Sure, check your full map to find trails and terrain and quest map markers, but personally, for this type of game, I think getting lost is preferable to having a constant minimap on your screen.

      But yeah, Witcher 3 is built around the minimap at times. Horse races can by abysmal without it. Quest directions are frequently impossible to follow unless you check your map, too, but at least then you can just access the map menu.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I havent played the game for a while,but doesnt witcher sense highlight quests?

  10. Ahhhhhhhhhh, drunk game characters! I’m reminded of when I played Deus Ex (possibly the first time, actually) and got Denton fairly badly mauled but with no available medpaks. Instead, I hoovered the whole area for as much booze as I could find, then locked him in a loo and got him drunker than any non-augmented human could tolerate. Then I sat there for several mins watching the “drunk JC” wobbly screen. Happy days!

  11. Simplex says:

    I will repeat my suggestion here, to play with Polish dubbing.

  12. Eric says:

    While I commend the effort, I don’t think you stand a chance against the last boss of B&W without a good silver sword. I’m not even sure if you could reasonably kill a single golem in under 20 minutes–those things are tanky even with weapons.

    That said, I hope you record your attempts and put them on a second YouTube channel or something.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I second the motion to record some of these fights for youtube.

    2. Len says:

      > last boss of B&W

      He doesn’t even need to get that far. I predict that he’ll have to break that rule for most of the base game bosses. Heck, there’s no way he’ll get pass Nithral’s hounds in that pre-boss fight battle with Kiera in any reasonable amount of time.

      Facing Imlerith, Karanthir and Eredin naked isn’t “savoring the game”, it’s straight up masochism. And that’s just the main quest. Lot of side quests will be near impossible or a complete exercise in frustration. Locking yourself out of side quests in a Let’s Play really misses the point.

      Also the Caretaker of HoS is literally impossible to beat with fists and signs, due to his healing, no matter how skilled you are. Even pure sign build, even with Gryphon school armor, can’t beat that guy.

  13. Ilseroth says:

    As someone who wasn’t a fan of Gwent, Rule 4 is too strong for me. It honestly feels like the game is absolutely desperate for me to play cards anywhere I go. Like, I get excited because I see a quest is available… Gwent. Goddamnit, well another quest over there… Gwent.

    I can appreciate the worldbuilding that this is just what folks do in their free time, but seriously feels sometimes like they want em to become a full time Gwent pro more then a monster hunter.

  14. Smoznoggin says:

    I always listen to hiphop when reading Bob’s articles. It wouldn’t feel right otherwise.

    1. Droid says:

      I … heard some people would instead listen to dubstep in this case. Definitely third-hand accounts! Very … removed from me personally.

  15. Richard says:

    Kaselehlie Mr Case,

    My respect to you, your family, and your work. I am humbled and honored that you will never refuse any games of GWENT.

    I look forward, with sincerity, how you progress and develop through this playthrough of The Witcher 3.

    Ni wahu,

    -Richard

  16. Philadelphus says:

    I punched this drowner so hard his brain came out

    Oh, so that’s what Dwarf Fortress would look like with graphics.

    1. Droid says:

      “Geralt stands up.”

      1. Philadelphus says:

        “It was inevitable.”

  17. Jabberwok says:

    I’ve started turning off the HUD more and more in AAA games. I played a lot of the second half of Sleeping Dogs that way after I realized I was spending 70% of my time looking at the minimap. It was pretty interesting trying to navigate the city based on the in-game signage and landmarks, though some of the actual missions were impossibly irritating without the map on.

  18. Smejki says:

    So basically, it’s a True Slav playthrough.

  19. slipshod says:

    Just last night, I finished the main game for the 3rd (or 4th?) time after 119.19 hours. Still was moved to gushing tears in all of the same cutscenes. To say that CDPR knows how to make you invested in the characters would be an understatement. I feel like I owe these guys my soul, or at least a kidney.

    God, this game.

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