The bad part is over. Now it’s time for the good part!
Two of my favorite quests in the game are in the second half of the Novigrad storyline, and they’re both ones I’d like to cover in at least some detail, because I personally consider them to be examples of how to do it right. I skip over a lot of things in these posts, mostly because The Witcher 3 is a very long game and to cover everything in detail would take forever. But I’m not going to skip over these two quests, because (in my opinion) they’re instructive. They’re examples of two types of quest that you don’t often see anymore. I’ve named them the “nailbiter” and the “soother” (I’ll explain the names).
First up, the nailbiter. Caleb Menge, high-ranking thug in the employ of the Church of the Eternal Fire, is in possession of two pieces of information crucial to us: Dandelion’s location, and the location of the treasure looted from Dijkstra’s vault. Triss comes up with a plan for Geralt to “capture” her and deliver her to Menge, in hopes that Geralt can wheedle out the information he needs as payment. This requires Geralt to pay a part: he has to make the Witch Hunters believe that he doesn’t care about Triss, or even actively dislikes her. Triss, for her part, knows she’s likely to be tortured once she’s in Menge’s clutches.
This leads to a situation that is unfortunately relatively rare in modern RPGs: one where there’s meaningful gameplay to be had through dialogue. Geralt has to be careful what he says, what he admits to, how he reacts to provocation, and what information he presses for, because being careless will give the hustle away. And keeping Menge’s con won’t be easy – at a glance he looks like a dumb goon, but by now we know that, in his own way, he’s a canny operator.
I say that this is rare because too often in RPGs (or any kind of story-driven game) dialogue and gameplay are kept at arm’s length. Generally speaking, nowadays you can’t fail a dialogue section – the player can either exhaust all the various options or skip them, and their decision to do either the one or the other doesn’t affect anything else. But when talking to Menge and the Witch Hunters there are a variety of different ways to screw the pooch.
The game lays deliberate traps for the player, most of which tempt them to pull a sword out and start swinging out of an excess of gentlemanly sentiment towards Triss. Triss knows she’ll be mistreated at the very least, and likely tortured, but insists to Geralt that he keep his cool. This leads to us trying to poker face our way through a conversation in Menge’s office while we can hear the sounds of Triss having her fingernails torn outGeez next door. It’s impressively tense, which is why I’ve nicknamed this type of quest the “nailbiter.”The pun is unintentional.
It also does something clever: it asks us to trust Triss past the point where many of us are comfortable. In a bit of scene-setting that probably could’ve been better explained to the player, Triss is wearing fake Dimeritium shackles. Dimeritium is a metal that can render spellcasters helpless, so during most of the sceneTowards the end a guard tries to put real shackles on., Triss is capable of escaping at any time but endures for the sake of the charade.
CD Projekt’s overall posture towards female characters can be unpredictable – too often, they settle back into a familiar juvenility, but in The Witcher 3 they frequently reward the player for trusting in their competence and/or punish them for being protective past of the point of respect. This is a pattern that will return later, and in my opinion is crucial to the emotional core of the game.
This whole sequence is not long, and nor is it a big-ticket setpiece quest like some others, but it is an example of a well-constructed roleplaying situation. A roleplaying situation: something that’s surprisingly difficult to pull of in a CRPG. For all the debt the genre owes to tabletop gaming, the discouraging truth is that situations like this (playing an elaborate bluff on an NPC), which are (mechanically speaking) a snap with a live DM, are fraught with practical challenges when they move from the tabletop to the keyboard/controller.
This conversation with Menge can take several branching paths which can lead to several different outcomes. That means that CDP had to invest limited resources into making content that it’s likely a large percentage of players will never seeI played through the entire game twice without ever seeing one of the major outcomes of this quest, where you meet Menge’s spy.. I can understand why developers hesitate to do this sort of thing, but I encourage them to do it anyway. I believe that some of the unique magic to be found in well-done CRPGs can be found in their imperfect recreations of the tabletop experience.
This is one of the reasons I find myself getting unreasonably hyped for Cyberpunk 2077. The Witcher universe, as an intellectual property, had its origins in Sapkowski’s novels and short stories, rather than in pen-and-paper roleplaying. The Cyberpunk universe, on the other hand, does have its origins there, and the fact that Mike Pondsmith appears to have some level of hands-on involvement gives me hope that actual roleplaying will feature, as opposed to the too-usual segregation of story and gameplay. Or maybe I’m just setting myself up for disappointment – I guess we’ll know soon enough.Hopefully. I think a 2019 release is likely.
At the end of the quest, Menge is dead and Dandelion is still a captive. Our heroes have to convince the Church of the Eternal Fire to move him to Oxenfurt, where he’s scheduled to be executed, in the hopes that they can spring him en route. For this they require the services of a doppler, a creature that can take the shape of other people. A doppler friend of Dandelion’s named Dudu featured in his original heist of Dijkstra’s fault, but has since gone into hiding, and could be disguised as anyone. So, Geralt does the obvious thing and stages a play he hopes Dudu will show up to watch.
This is the “soother” – the quest that’s lighter in tone than the game surrounding it, giving some relief to the player and a pleasant contrast to everything else. Instead of growling threats at people and chopping up monsters with a swordOr in our case, punching them and setting them on fire., Geralt spends his time collaborating on a script, recruiting jugglers, and finally playing himself onstage.
Soothers can vary in tone. I consider the opera house sequence in Final Fantasy VI to be one, as well as Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC. In fact, Bioware romances in general could be grouped into the category. They’re particularly useful in a game like The Witcher 3, whose relentless grimness threatens to become overpowering without them. Excessive self-importance is, in my opinion, one of the most frequently committed sins in AAA gaming
With Dudu successfully recruited, Geralt and Zoltan ambush the prisoner convoy taking Dandelion to Oxenfurt. A guard takes off on horseback with him captive, and Geralt chases them to a house inhabited by a pair of dwarven painters.After the quest, the painters reward him with a portrait of Heierarch Himmelfart, the Church of the Eternal Fire’s equivalent of the Pope, and a character we never interact with in the game. It’s one of many strange details that only reinforce my suspicion that Novigrad must have had a bunch of last-minute cuts. By the time you actually rescue Dandelion, I’d guess that many players have lost track of why they were even after him in the first place. But he dutifully gives his piece of the “where is Ciri and what is she up to” puzzle: she was in possession of a phylactery, and had memorized a mysterious incantation with an unknown purpose, which Dandelion fortunately remembers.
And so ends the Novigrad section of the main quest. It started off weak but ended strong, which is better than the other way round if you ask me. My next entry will cover various types of side content, which is a big – and in my opinion, spotty – part of the game. See you then.
 The pun is unintentional.
 Towards the end a guard tries to put real shackles on.
 I played through the entire game twice without ever seeing one of the major outcomes of this quest, where you meet Menge’s spy.
 Hopefully. I think a 2019 release is likely.
 Or in our case, punching them and setting them on fire.
 After the quest, the painters reward him with a portrait of Heierarch Himmelfart, the Church of the Eternal Fire’s equivalent of the Pope, and a character we never interact with in the game. It’s one of many strange details that only reinforce my suspicion that Novigrad must have had a bunch of last-minute cuts.
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