The Witcher 3: The Good Ladies and Keira Metz

By Bob Case Posted Wednesday May 23, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 106 comments

This week I want to cover a few different topics, with my comments on each.


The Crones of Crookback Bog

The Bloody Baron got more press, but to me personally, Geralt’s interactions with the Crones (and the even more mysterious being they deposed, so mysterious that fans usually refer to it as just “the thing in the tree”) are the highlight of Velen.

For those that don’t know, the Crones are the beings Anna Strenger went to for help when she was pregnant with the Baron’s child. They’re three… things. Witches? (Demi)gods? Former Druids? It’s not clear, but whatever they are, they’re powerful and extremely unsettling.

Left to right: Whispess, Brewess, and Weavess.
Left to right: Whispess, Brewess, and Weavess.

This, to me, is top-notch character design. Even after having seen this scene before, playing it this time creeped me out all over again – the wicker cage thing over Brewess’ face, the twitchy, almost insect-like movements of Weavess, the profoundly obscene way that she strokes the severed legs she has strapped to her belt, Whispess’ necklace of severed ears… and the music, too. Even going back to the orphanage after the quest is over, hearing the music makes me nervous. (Here’s a link if you feel like listening.) The game’s composer is a man named Marcin Przybylowicz, and as Nobuo Uematsu (composer for the Final Fantasy series) is celebrated for his work, so should Przybylowicz be if you ask me. Eastern European folk music is rich ore to mine, and he mines it well. I think more of this game’s unique mood comes from its music than people realize.

The Crones were also the first thing I encountered in the game that made me feel like I was in danger. Generally speaking, Geralt is a cool guy who kills monsters and doesn’t afraid of anything, but in this scene I was saying to myself “Now Geralt, be polite. You don’t know what these things even are.” The player doesn’t know much more. Some of Velen’s inhabitants worship the Crones (they refer to them as “The Ladies of the Wood” or the “Good Ladies”), and there are two in-game books you can read (called the “Ladies of the Wood” and “She Who Knows”) which will tell you a bit more, but neither book can be considered a reliable source of information. Still, here’s the text of “She Who Knows”:

Folk say they were four at first. The Mother, She-Who-Knows, the Lady of the Wood, came here from a faraway land and, since she suffered terribly from loneliness, she made three daughters out of dirt and water.

A long, long time ago the Mother was sole ruler of all of Velen. Her daughters brought her the people’s requests and served as her voice. Each spring, sacrifices of grain, animals, and men were made to the Lady of the Wood on her special night. Yet as the years passed, the Lady of the Wood slipped deeper and deeper into madness. Her madness eventually spread over the land – men took to abandoning their homes and setting out into the bog, where they became food for beasts. Before long, Velen was drowning in blood.

The daughters saw their land nearing destruction and took it upon themselves to save it. When spring came once more, and with it the night sacrifices, they killed their mother and buried her in the bog. Her blood watered the oak atop Ard Cerbin, and from then on the tree grew wholesome and hearty fruit for the people. As for the Lady’s immortal soul, it refused to leave its beloved land, and so the sisters imprisoned it. To this day it lies trapped beneath the Whispering Hillock, where it thrashes about in powerless rage.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for fictional folklore. I’m a sucker for lore in general, of course, but folklore in particular scratches me right where I itch. Many writers never quite master the trick of how much to reveal and how much to leave murky and evocative, but CD Projekt’s writers do.

The Crones send Geralt to destroy She-Who-Knows (aka the thing under the tree), who takes the form of a creepy bramble-covered thumping heart thing. At this point the player can either destroy it or free it, via a ritual that puts its soul into a black horse, each with a different outcome for the orphans in the bog and the nearby village of Downwarren. Many games have had similar choice-and-consequence mechanics defeated by players simply quicksaving and trying out all options before deciding. The Witcher 3 works around the save scumming problem via a straightforward method: they delay the consequences until well after the choice is made.

So basically, I liked this part of the game. Let’s get to another part of the game I liked.

Keira Metz and the Towerful of Mice

King Radovid of Redania is hunting down magic users, so many of them have gone into hiding wherever they can. One is a Sorceress named Keira Metz, who has information on Ciri. She sends Geralt first into a cavern inhabited by a mysterious Elf she was seen with, and later to a gloomy haunted tower.

We explore the tower and, with the help of a spirit-locating lantern Keira gave us, piece together what happened: a Lord and his family lived there, his daughter fell in love with a local fisherman beneath her station, the Lord’s mistreated subjects rose up and stormed the castle, and the daughter was (through a mishap involving a potion that mimicks death) left for dead by the man she loved. Oh, and a mage researching the Catriona plague was there too, who was experimenting on mice, which is actually not directly related to everything else, but accounts for all the mice scurrying around as you ascend the tower.

This being the Witcher universe, this tragic story has produced a curse, and the Lord’s daughter is now a dangerous creature called a “pesta” or “plague maiden.” (It’s about as inviting as it sounds). Geralt can break the curse by either taking the daughter’s bones off the isle (thereby releasing her on the wider world) or by telling her former lover what happened, and returning him to the tower, where the curse is broken when he kisses her.

Her elbows are too pointy. 7/10 would not bang.
Her elbows are too pointy. 7/10 would not bang.

This whole sequence is not a big deal in the larger scheme of things. It’s just one of dozens of optional sidequests. And yet its quality speaks to the quality of the entire game. Both the Towerful of Mice quest and the interactions with the Crones demonstrate CD Projekt’s mastery of mood.

To me, mood may be the single most important thing a game can have – and also the hardest to produce. It’s the result of doing everything else well. There are certain through lines in the series’ narrative habits: supernatural events are nearly always connected to some kind of human foible, there’s a persistent sense of the present being tethered to the regrets of the past, and even when we mechanically understand what happened there’s always a dimension of understanding that’s withheld from us.

It all adds us to a sense of solidity – a game world that’s credible, for lack of a better word. They nailed it once. Can they do it again? Cyberpunk, both as a genre and a specific Mike Pondsmith-designed setting, doesn’t share the same mood. And creative workers that show talent and inspiration in one context may not show as much in another. I don’t have any insight into this question at the moment other than to say we’ll have to wait and see.

But that’s enough of the floofy lore-and-talky/read-y stuff. Let’s discuss some game mechanics.

The Reverse Difficulty Curve

I’ve played through this game three full times now (plus all the playthroughs aborted by my severe restartitis), using conventional builds in addition to my current naked punchmage build. And every time, the hardest fights have always been in the first third of the game. Specifically, two sequences: the one in the cave, where you have to defend Keira Metz from wild hunt dogs while she closes portals, and the one at Crow’s Perch where you have to defend the Baron from wraiths as he takes the botchling to the threshold of his castle.

Both have been hard, but even in this playthrough’s overleveled state, the fight with the wraiths took many tries to win. Wraiths have two main attacks: a normal one, and a teleporting double attack. If you fight one at a time, you just stay close to them so as to trigger the normal attack and not the teleporting one, a trick that should be familiar veterans of FromSoft games. However, if you have to fight 3-4 of them at once, you can’t keep them all at the same range, you get chains of them teleporting into you, and things get hairy fast.

This is probably what my own personal hell will look like.
This is probably what my own personal hell will look like.

This was also the case in the first game. For me personally, the hardest fight in the Witcher 2 was the one where you have to defeat the guards to raise the gate in La Valette Castle – in the prologue. And it wasn’t just beginner’s fumblings either (though it was partly that). That fight remained hard even on subsequent playthroughs.

This isn’t even just a CD Projekt problem, but an RPG problem. I’m currently struggling to think of a major RPG I’ve played that didn’t have a reverse difficulty curve. Right now I’m playing Deadfire (the sequel to Obsidian’s crowdfunded isometric throwback Pillars of Eternity), and it’s the case there too. Bioware games generally aren’t that hard, but to the extent they are, it’s usually in the first half. In every major RPG I remember playing, this is the case: struggle in the first third, things get easier in the second, and by the endgame you have some variety of OP build that just steamrolls everything.

Mechanically speaking the culprit is mostly the multiplicative effect of advantages the player gains over the course of the game. As they level, players stats go up, but they also earn new abilities and bonuses, and they also get more adept with the mechanics. The combination of these things leads the player to quickly outpace the enemies in terms of power level growth. This is now happening in my current Witcher 3 (now post-Keira and the Baron) playthrough. Igni and Axii are OP thanks to upgrades; not only that, but putting so many points into signs has sent my stamina regeneration through the roof, meaning I can now nearly spam these now super-powerful abilities.

(There is a mod that pretty much completely rebalances the game’s combat, if its descriptions are to be believed: The Witcher 3 Enhanced Edition. I haven’t tried it yet and kind of wish I had known about it before I started this playthrough. I am going to try it and will report back if there’s anything interesting there. It changes the way attacks are targeted and removed all enemy scaling(!), both of which sound too good to be true. I’ll guess I’ll find out soon.)

I don’t have some clever way to fix this problem except “make the early parts of the game easier and the later parts harder,” which is the sort of thing that’s probably trickier than it sounds. But I thought I’d discuss here since this particular part of the playthrough is generally the hardest. Contrast it with “big” boss fights later (like Eredin), which you can, by that point, generally just cruise through.

We’ve now wrapped up most of the major stuff in Velen. Next week we head to Skellige. See you then.


From The Archives:

106 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: The Good Ladies and Keira Metz

  1. Inwoods says:

    I disagree on power creep. I think it’s the result of not knowing how much of the game the player will see, and how much they will skip. If you blitz the main story, the devs want you to still be able to finish. However, if you finish all the sidequests, you need rewards that make you stronger.

    Xenoblade 2 had an interesting solution to this, recently. Side quests put XP into a pool. You can take any amount of xp out of this pool that you want to when you rest in an Inn and apply it to your character. So at the end game you can be an OP killing machine or be seriously challenged the way the devs imagined the fight. It’s an interesting design decision.

    Apparently a patch allows plays to buy end game gear using this pool as well giving you an alternate leveling system, but I haven’t tried it yet.

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      New Game + also lets you level down and put XP back into the pool.

      Inverse difficulty curves aren’t just a product of open world design though. I’m playing Persona 5 at the moment and the first couple of palaces were considerably harder than the later ones, due to having less SP and fewer options for abilities.

  2. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I think the “reverse difficulty” curve comes from the potential variability in player builds. At the beginning of the game, the players have more or less the same capabilities at their hands, and it’s easier to balance around them. Late game, players who are good at building their character will be much more powerful than players who were less discriminating in what upgrades they took. The result is that, in order for the combat to be winnable for the later group, it has to be pretty easy for the former group.

    1. Viktor says:

      Considering a lot of the truly difficult fights I can remember are late-game optional boss fights, that makes sense. No need to make them winnable for the casuals, so might as well dial the damage, mook spawns, and stunlocks up to 11.

      I wish games would get rid of the damn level scaling. Let me run into a fight that’s just too much for me, retreat, power up, and come at it again. Where’s the fun in curb-stomping everything the second you manage to progress slightly beyond the expected power curve?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The witcher 3 is good about its level scaling.While some monsters do scale(usually in the main quest),its only a slight scale.You can still overlevel far beyond them,and you can still fight stuff while underleveled.I loved exploring,and constantly running into stuff WAAY stronger than me was part of the fun.”So this is the place with a high level griffon?Time to haul ass and come back later.Hope I can outrun it”.Also,one of the more memorable encounters was when I accidentally stumbled upon a couple of skulled wyverns and gotten myself curb stomped hard.

        1. Redingold says:

          Unfortunately, Witcher 3 suffers from having its “more difficult” monsters just be the same as its less difficult ones, but with more health and damage. So long as you can dodge consistently, you can whittle down even a monster well above your level. This is a huge problem that many RPGs have. The only RPGs I’ve seen to not have this problem are the Souls games and Bloodborne, where the more difficult enemies are more difficult because they have more varied, unpredictable, or hard to dodge attack patterns and they attack more aggressively. Unfortunately, it’s a lot to ask that every game put as much effort and attention into their enemy design as a Souls game.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Undertale pulls that off as well.

            1. Redingold says:

              Ah, yeah, you’re right, good point.

          2. Michael says:

            Also, when it does come time to ramp up the difficulty, Fromsoft often simply adds old bosses/minibosses as regular enemies, or it does go for stat inflation.

            For example, if you summon in a buddy to most fights in any Souls game (including Bloodborne), the boss gets a massive health increase, based on the number of players in the instance.

          3. Will says:

            Morrowind, as well. There is technically some scaling, but it mostly accounts to limiting the presence of more-dangerous wildlife in starting areas so low-level characters can just get around without dying. NPCs and set monsters are pretty much all static, and will utterly destroy you or be utterly destroyed by you depending on your level.

            One particularly infamous NPC, Godrod Hairy-Breeks, is level twelve (and heavily optimized for combat) in a cave players are likely to first walk past at level one or two.

        2. Zekiel says:

          I understood (from multiple sources) that monsters more than 5 levels higher than you were artifically buffed by the game (I think by reducing the damage you do to them). They’re supposedly still beatable, it just takes forever to do it. Which seems like crappy design to me.

          1. Redrock says:

            The new God of War, which is supposedly the best thing since sliced bread, does something like that as well. Interestingly, the difference in levels between you and the enemies also affects attack interruption and stagger, status effect probability and whether or not you can block attacks, I think? It’s not necessarily a bad system, but meeting a same-looking common enemy that’s suddenly almost ubeatable is always weird.

          2. Guest says:

            This is true. Not only that, but they likely can one shot you or close, which means to hit that content sooner, you’ll end up abusing Quen and bombs and doing chip damage.

  3. MarsLineman says:

    Agree to disagree on the music. I actually had to turn off the music altogether in the White Orchard and Vellen sections of the game- I found the consistent droning to be absolutely maddening. I understand that the composer was going for a medieval vibe, but the utter lack of harmonic progression (the Vellen music is literally I-I-I-I-I-I…) drives me batshit crazy. There are some beautiful tracks in the game (I enjoyed Priscilla’s song and the Skellige music), but overall the music felt far too oppressively samey, particularly in the early portions of the game where the player is trapped in the same area listening to the same music over and over, without any harmonic motion whatsoever.

  4. AzzyGaiden says:

    the profoundly obscene way that [Weavess] strokes the severed legs she has strapped to her belt

    Bob, you might want to sit down. Those legs aren’t severed, and they aren’t “strapped” to anything…

    1. Christopher says:

      Oh dear

    2. Inwoods says:

      I was going to say…

    3. 4th Dimension says:

      Each spring, sacrifices of grain, animals, and men

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        At least bilquis does it in a pleasurable fashion.

  5. Dev Null says:

    Are you sure the reverse difficulty curve is a bad thing?

    I’ve always just counted that in the way RPGs work. Initially, we get a bit of story. Then we get a bit where the player has a chance to fail or succeed. Then, gradually, we lose difficulty and agency while the plotspace narrows, until we’re led to the point where the story inevitably concludes with us as the victor – essentially no matter what we do. Difficulty curve and plot tension curve don’t match and were never going to; the games I’ve played where the final battle is brutal and you have to save-skim it 16 times to succeed end up with no plot tension at all. By the time the plot concludes, you’re so sick of the final fight that you don’t care anymore, and it’s been hammered home to you that no matter what you can just load a save and try again. So conversely, it feels _less_ consequential than if you fight a fight once that you were realistically never going to lose.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      A lot of people give up games early because of bad difficulty curves.

      Playing Pillars of Eternity, new players would be dying repeatedly because they are:
      Unable to fill out their group yet, because they don’t know where to find new recruits.
      Playing with a lead PC who was badly built for combat because they don’t understand the system well enough to make a good character.
      Using bad combat tactics, again because they don’t really understand the system.

      That’s not fun for most people. Unless you’ve captivated someone with the story really quickly, they’re unlikely to keep trying. (Only 9% of players are recorded as completing Pillars of Eternity.)

      Though I agree that a super-hard final boss battle isn’t much fun either. Sometimes I just wish games like that would be easier throughout by default, with an optional hard mode for people who understand the mechanics. It’s the conversation trees that are the fun part, not the combat. Dying and reloading takes me out of the story.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But cant you just fill your squad with randos in an inn?

        As for final bosses,I like tough ones that can be either severely crippled or better completely bypassed by doing some clever side thing.Like talking the transcendent one to merge with you,or forcing mephistopheles to be your slave,or getting the master to kill himself.

        1. Geebs says:

          The original God of War trilogy does reverse difficulty on a per-boss fight basis. Each boss starts out difficult, but eventually reaches a tipping point where you start getting showered with healing items and holding your own suddenly becomes a lot easier.

          Admittedly it’s probably to balance out the silly QTE finishers which seem to be predicated on the idea that players know the layout of the PlayStation face buttons completely by heart, but the sense of overpowering the boss in the final third of the fight isn’t really matched by many other games.

        2. Matt Downie says:

          During the early stages of PoE, I didn’t know that it was possible to go to an inn and just create new party members out of thin air.

          Also, I didn’t really want to. I hate the way in these games I can lovingly create a PC, and then later on I meet another PC who’s really similar but who has actual dialogue and storylines relating to their background.

          1. Daimbert says:

            It will never happen, but something that I’ve wanted from the old Icewind Dale days is to be able to create a party with my own characters but assign things like personalities and relationships to them so that they interact with each other like the pre-created and plot characters in games like Baldur’s Gate do.

            The closest I’ve seen is Wizardry 8, where you can give them all personalities for their voices and that can trigger them reacting to things in a way that’s consistent with that personality. But they are still inferior to the pre-created characters that can join your party afterwards.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Arent divinity original sin games like that?You create two characters,and then during your adventuring develop a relationship between them.

              1. Daimbert says:

                I’ve never played it, but in referring to the IWD games I’m talking about a party of six characters, and starting them with pre-existing personalities and relationships that play out during the game without you having to explicitly choose every option. In short, starting with a character who is a rival of another character in the party, and another two characters that are in love with each other — or are at least romantic interests — and so on and so forth, without there being a “main”character in the game driving all of that.

                Yeah, like I said, it’ll never happen, but I’d really like it.

                EDIT: Looking at the game description, it looks like the Divinity games are not what I’m looking for, as that’s more about social consequences to decisions, and I want to create personalities and have them act according to those personalities and relationships. The social system is part of it — personalities clashing because they don’t think the same way — but there’s more to it than that.

            2. Xander77 says:

              A bunch of the Dark Eye games (particularly, Realms of Arkania) try to do that. Not the deepest system, but it does work to simulate some basic personality traits.

          2. Zekiel says:

            Also, you can’t just create extra party members at an inn in PoE (unless you cheat) because they cost money which you don’t have at the beginning.

            PoE actually has an odd difficulty curve – it gets steadily easier until you hit Act 3, then it suddenly becomes super-difficult again for a while (and then starts getting easier again). At least that’s how it worked for me.

            Also its final boss fight is much too hard unless you’re approaching max level (you can easily have just about hit level 9 at the end, if you haven’t been doing most of the sidequests). The bad guys are either immune or highly resistent to lots of tactics, which (at least for me in both playthroughs I’ve done) turned it into a horribly grindy slog. Yuck.

            (Still love the game though!)

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Ugh. Such a blow for the storytelling. I was absolutely loving the story, had my strategies worked out and was strolling my way through the combat – and then that final boss fight ground the game to an utter halt.

              Even worse, it seemed like it could have ended with a dramatic conversation/revelation and no combat, or even an easy fight: the antagonist had been build up into more than what he was. Both would have fit really well.
              But no, he had to pull a pair of extra-tough minions out of his ass, didn’t he.
              (Not literally. But that could have been amusing…)

              To adapt an analogy I’ve used before: it’s like getting to the last 50 pages of LOTR, and then having a boxing glove on a spring burst out of the page and punch you in the nose.
              Sure, I can learn to dodge the glove in time. But why did it have to be there in the first place?

              1. Water Rabbit says:

                As one of the people that have completed “The Ultimate”, I would say that the game really has a wide range of self-challenges. Once you have a feel for the system, the final boss fight isn’t that bad. The fight with the Adra dragon was probably the most difficult, overall.

                However, the game had a definite bottleneck for all players — you could not progress through the game unless the wraiths at Caed Nua were dealt with. There wasn’t any really any good way around them either. In solo play, you just had to abuse the AI to get past them.

                It is these types of bottlenecks that are annoying in the early game.

                1. Zekiel says:

                  Yeah – having read lots about the game (I was slightly obsessed with it in 2015-16) I gather that for really good players the final combat wouldn’t be much of a problem. Even for a relatively mediocre player like myself, it wasn’t a big deal when I did it with my level 11 or 12 character in my second playthrough. But it is really annoying that you can perfectly reasonably play through the game and hit the final battle at level 9 (even with doing plenty of sidequests, just not all of them) and get curb-stomped since a lot of your tried-and-tested tactics don’t work on Thaos and his stupid statues. It was alright on Easy difficulty (though still a long slog) but it really messed up the pacing of the final stretch of the game.

                  BlueHorus’ boxing glove analogy is apt, in my opinion!

    2. Guest says:

      Why should people be pulling that save scum at the start then? Especially since that means people are more likely to bounce off it.

      If the game is harder when it’s supposedly trying to teach you and you’re doing relatively easy things, what’s the achievement in completing the later things. I’m not saying they’re not more dangerous enemies, but most RPGs have a problem where you end up having all of these extra tools and all of this extra power, but you don’t have to put extra thought into it as you go along.

  6. toadicus says:

    I feel like the “reverse difficulty” phenomenon is actually an intentional variation in kind. Game systems are about learning, and if the game continually gets harder along the same axis then you won’t feel like you have learned anything. In the first third of the game fights are hard because you don’t know how to play the game. The primary challenge is in learning what mechanics are available and training your body to execute them in the right order. The mid game gets easier to reward you for learning.

    Now, I’ve never played any of the Witcher games, but my feeling is that the end-game “easy” is actually harder than it seems — if the challenges at the end game were posed in the early game, they’d be impossible (and probably not just because of leveling). The goal in this sort of game is often to reward the players with a sort of “god mode” where once you’ve learned how to use all of your buttons, and once you’ve learned how to execute your combat ideally, it rewards you with the ability to mow down mooks by the dozen to show you that you’ve mastered the system.

    Ideally, in a system like this the game would maintain the interest curve by substituting the challenge of learning a new system with a different challenge, e.g. in an adventure game you can up the challenge on the puzzles to keep your player learning while still acknowledging the mastery he’s gained in the combat system by maintaining a (hopefully subtle) godmode status.

    1. Guest says:

      Not really. The systems don’t really change. There are some enemies like the wraiths mentioned, which will take learning to fight, but you learn to fight those in the first areas.

      If you try to progress past your level, you find that enemies one shot you, and you only do chip damage, but you can still beat them by just dodging incessantly and using the shield. The tactic doesn’t actually change, and they’re not unbeatable, but the difficulty is essentially scaled to add in one shots and reduce damage.

      Some potion and sign builds are ridiculous, and there was one spinning melee attack that once you got it up and going, just went through enemies like a lawnmower (The damage scaling being so broken by games end, that even when fighting guards who were levelled far above you, and had the same scaling mentioned earlier, you could still kill quite quickly). You do learn some things, and you get better at dodging etc, but the combat system, while enjoyable, lacks the depth. You’ll be as good as you need to fairly early, and everything else is mostly just level based. I like the combat, I have fun playing it, but it could use a rebalance. It’s fun roleplaying as the mutant lawnmower, but not really satisfying.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    While I was mostly just irritated by geralt at first,the tower of mice is where I first started loathing him.You see,one of the resolutions is the monster pesta tricking you into setting her free to spread plague and death on the world.Which would be fine,she is a monster created by tragic circumstances,and if you learn her back story you get to feel sympathy for her.Of course youd want to help such a tragic spirit to find peace.But you cant,because she is so warped now that she is a spirit that there is no helping her,she wants only to spread her disease wherever she can.

    EXCEPT geralt already knows all of this.He identifies the monster rather quickly,and shows that he has dealt with this type of spirit(as well as many others)before.So while you,the player,can easily get duped by her,geralt really has no such excuse.So he is just playing dumb for the sake of the player.

    But thats not what made me loathe him.It was just disappointing to have the quest resolved like that.Its understandable though.The developers can really account for everything.

    No,its the second resolution that is worse.You trick the guy into coming with you to be killed by the pesta in order to destroy her.And geralt tells him only “It can be dangerous”.EXCEPT,once again,geralt knows this type of monster well.He knows that its very likely the guy is going to die.Thats more than just mere dangerous.Ok,if geralt told him the truth,the guy would most likely not come,so lying to him may be the only option.Its a reasonable,if a (more than a)bit heartless,thing to do.

    HOWEVER,once you deal with the monster,and keira asks you about the poor schlub,how does geralt respond?”He knew the risks”.Sorry,WHAT?Not “It had to be done”,not “It was regretable”,not “She was too dangerous”, not “Part of my job”,no his explanation for blatantly lying to the guy is more blatant lying.Fucking douchebag!

    I was so glad that keira tricked him afterwards.He deserved all of it.And hey,keira does not try to weasel out afterwards,she flat out tells you that she lied to you because she thought you wouldnt have helped her otherwise(which is probably true).She is a far more likable person for owning up to her treachery.

    1. Redrock says:

      From what I remember from the books, you’re overestimating Geralt’s exact knowledge of this particular curse. Many monsters are similar, true, and there’re similar mechanics to many, but many curses come with a twist. There’s often a fairy-tale motif to many Witcher stories. One time, true love will actually work in some way, saving the cursed person. Another time, it will end the curse, killing both lovers. It’s finicky by design. Geralt’s previous experience could lead him to believe that there very well is a chance that the guy will survive. The rules of those curses, unlike sorcerer magic, aren’t completely iron-clad. Which you can see in the way some of the same type of monster can be conscious and willing to talk, while others are essentially animalistic.

      It’s not like Geralt is above sacrificing someone to lift a curse, as you can see in the very first book or the Witcher 1 opening cinematic. Although by the Witcher 3 he is supposed to be at least a bit more mellowed out.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Geralt’s previous experience could lead him to believe that there very well is a chance that the guy will survive.

        Theres also a chance that he wouldnt.But the problem isnt that geralt did not know beforehand whether the guy would live or die,but that he just told him “Its dangerous,but thats how you can redeem yourself”,and then later went on to say “He knew the risks”.Yet its only geralt who knew the risks,and deliberately did not tell the guy what they are.

        1. Redrock says:

          Erm. What part of “it’s dangerous” isn’t warning enough? He did say that the girl is a monster now, and the guy seemed suitably horrified, yet determined. And, again, Geralt had no reason to expect that the guy will die. Not really. “Dangerous” sounds about right. So the guy understood the risks about as well as Geralt: the girl is a cursed monster that wants to meet him and thinks that he might be the reason for her curse. Again, there’s no reason to believe that Geralt really knew all the possible outcomes. Curses in The Witcher don’t work like that.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            What part of “it’s dangerous” isn’t warning enough?

            Because dangerous can mean a lot of things.It can mean “You can get a cut,or a bruise”,or “there are lots of restless spirits who can kill us on the way”,but it can also mean(as is the case here) “You can get your life sucked out of you by an angry ghost of the woman you love”.

            His knowledge of the ghost does indicate that he dealt with pestas before.And no,he did not tell the guy any specifics that he knew.Heres how th dialogue went:

            – One thing you should know though.In death anabelle turned into a pesta.
            – A pester?Whats that?
            – More than a restless ghost.A plague maiden.A powerful wraith filled with grief and hatred that drive her.Give her the power to sow disease and death.
            – She suffers?I might help her!God knows Im willing.
            – Anabelle thinks you abandoned her.
            – Gods!She hates me!And all this time she thinks I abandoned her?
            – Yes.Go to the tower.Talk to her.Maybe you can convince her thats not how it was.
            – I thought she died!I never wouldve left her otherwise.
            – A curse has imprisoned anabelle,and the other spirits on the island.Love can shatter its power,free her.And them.
            – Just like in the legends!
            – If you know the legends,you know one kiss is enough to break the spell.On one condition.That its a kiss from someone whose love is true.
            – I told you.I said I loved her with all my heart.Take me to her,please!
            – Its dangerous.There are risks involved.You understand that,dont you?
            – Course!Im no coward,I wont run this time.

            He deliberately lead the guy to believe that his kiss would free the woman he loved from a curse,and that she would then just vanish.He never told him that curses dont always work like in the legends,that happy endings are rare,that anabelle might just kill him anyway(as she does),even when the curse is lifted.

            Heck,just in this game alone,you find another restless spirit that you cant harm until you find an item tied to her curse and lift it,making her just as dangerous as before,only vulnerable to attacks.So yeah,even without any knowledge prior to this game,geralt already knew that lifting a curse may mean only “make the ghost vulnerable,but still willing to kill”.That poor guy knew none of that.

            And again,I dont mind that geralt is leading the guy on in order to get the job done.I mind that he does not own up to his manipulative behavior.Keira does,and thats why I like her.

            1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              What would “owning up” to his behavior look like exactly? I think that allowing a guy to go to his death is completely fair so long as Geralt doesn’t know for SURE that will happen and didn’t promise the guy it would be safe. You act like the curse is a prescription bottle and Geralt didn’t read the label for side effects, which is ridiculous.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                What would “owning up” to his behavior look like exactly?

                Ive already answered that in the first post.An acknowledgement of his actions.Basically,doing the thing keira does.A simple “It had to be done” wouldve been enough.

                didn’t promise the guy it would be safe

                Thats exactly what geralt does.Thats precisely what “If you know the legends,you know one kiss is enough to break the spell.On one condition.That its a kiss from someone whose love is true.” is.The guys obviously knows only the romanticized version of the legends,and geralt does not dispel that misconception.And to repeat for a hundreth time:Im fine with geralt deceiving the guy like that,as long as he does not later lie about that deception.

                1. Water Rabbit says:

                  One of the conversation threads does have Geralt warning the guy that he won’t survive the encounter and the guy goes along with it anyways. So I think your analysis is a bit thin here.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Heres the entire transcript of the game.I cant find what you are reffering to,so tell me what line do you mean?

                2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                  Okay so Geralt should, at some point, say that he got that guy killed sort of. To who should he say this? Are there any other characters in the game who give a crap about that guy? And your quote says that Geralt tells him true love’s kiss will break the spell. That is accurate. He ALSO promises that there could be danger from trying this. None of this is inaccurate or misleading!

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Are there any other characters in the game who give a crap about that guy?

                    Keira does:

                    Keira: Able to persuade Graham to go to the tower with you? Did you mention
                    there was a pesta involved?
                    Geralt: He knew the risks, but he’d also heard lots of stories about true love,
                    whose kiss can break any spell. Can’t help thinking that gave him

                    How is it not misleading?Right there,geralt admits that graham believed some nonsense that geralt knew was not true and he simply let him believe it.And yet,there are places where you get to tell people that fairy tales arent always true.Giving information only when it is convenient is the definition of misleading.

                    Also,that danger that was promised?There are a bunch of wraiths on the island trying to kill you two.Graham was aware of the danger from them,but not from the one he loved.

                    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      True love DOES break the curse though. He’d heard about that and Geralt has seen it happen, so he doesn’t dissuade him. It wasn’t nonsense. Geralt didn’t say “There will be danger, but I guarantee I will keep you safe and everything will work out fine, trust me.” He instead said “I think this is worth trying, you could help her, but it’s dangerous. Understanding that, do you want to still do it?” And the guy said yes. This is some wack complaints you have here dude.

                    2. Shamus says:

                      I don’t know that they’re “wack”. He’s interpreting Geralt’s behavior differently than you are, and to be fair to both of you I think the ambiguity on the part of the game is intentional. Was Geralt using a dumb-ass disposable peasant to solve a problem, or was he trying to balance risks for the least-bad outcome? Based on the dialog people have posted, either of these could be true. Certain dialog choices lean one way or the other. The “he knew the risks” line can take on different meaning based on how much you warned him in dialog.

                      I remember playing through this and thinking I’d botched it. I assumed there was a way to get rid of the pesta without sacrificing Dennis the Peasant. (Yes, I know that’s not how Witcher games work, but in the moment it’s easy to carry over your traditional RPG expectations.) I figured I should have consulted the monster guide for extra hints or whatever.

            2. Guest says:

              “It’s dangerous, there are risks involved”. And he’s talking about going to an island filled with murderous spirits. The guy knows what he’s in for.

              And if you think it’s wrong to risk his life, set her free. Oh, he’d be a jerk there too?

              You’ve literally made up your mind mate.

            3. newplan says:

              He deliberately lead the guy to believe that his kiss would free the woman he loved from a curse,and that she would then just vanish.He never told him that curses dont always work like in the legends,that happy endings are rare

              Geralt doesn’t need to explain the nature of the world that he lives in to a character who lives in that same world. This guy accepts that his beloved turned into an unholy abomination because that’s the world he lives in. When Geralt says that it’s “dangerous” that’s not him talking to a person who won’t ride a bike without a helmet – he’s talking to someone who lives in the same world he does.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                And we live in a world of cars and electricity,and practically everyone knows that cars can break.But tell an average person “Hey,this car has some problems with its battery sometimes,so be careful”,do you think they will ever think that it might mean theyll suddenly lose the ability to steer in the middle of driving and end up wrapped around a pole?

      2. Guest says:

        So, he’s a dick if he does either?

        It sounds like you just wanna hate him.

        And you’re glad Kiera tricked him? If you let Kiera get away, she tries to sell what are essentially biological weapons, to win favor with a royal who would use them. That’s what you’re in favor of.

    2. slipshod says:

      HOWEVER,once you deal with the monster,and keira asks you about the poor schlub,how does geralt respond?”He knew the risks”.Sorry,WHAT?Not “It had to be done”,not “It was regretable”,not “She was too dangerous”, not “Part of my job”,no his explanation for blatantly lying to the guy is more blatant lying.Fucking douchebag!

      Stunning, open-minded, and conversation-inducing commentary.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    the Lord’s mistreated subjects rose up and stormed the castle

    I find it really interesting how the witcher 3 often manages to portray the oppressed people as worse than their oppressors.One of the ghost memories you ca listen to shows you that those people who rose against the lord who oppressed them gleefully discuss how they are going to rape the lords daughter once they get their hands on her.Classy.

    1. Redrock says:

      How dare they. Obviously, the opressed are always cultured and gentle souls only interested in justice and fairness for all, without a vengeful bone in their bodies. Especially in a dark as hell fantasy setting portrayed by The Witcher 3.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Im not complaining,just pointing out an interesting thing from the game.

        1. Redrock says:

          I just don’t think the game means to portray the oppressed as “worse”. A different kind of bad, more like.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            But usually they are worse.The peasants in the beginning behave worse than nilfgaardians,and these guys are definitely worse than the lord of the tower.Bloody baron and the mad king balance it out though.

  9. ElementalAlchemist says:

    Bioware games generally aren’t that hard

    That’s because despite all the different teams and individual developers that have worked on their games over the years, they have pretty much all had the same basic fault. Namely that “difficulty” in Bioware games = HP bloat. By and large this just becomes a case of tedium rather than challenge.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yup.And the end game stretch usually is just a plethora of mooks that just take time to defeat and no effort at all.

  10. Mephane says:

    I agree with the observation of a reverse difficulty curve in RPGs, but I disagree with the judgement about this. I like it just the way it is.

    However, I generally don’t play games for the challenge, but for the feeling, the mood, the story, and some amount of power fantasy. Oh and dressing up. I love to dress up my characters in any game.

    One thing that is annoying to me in games that ramp up the difficulty, is that I may eventually hit an insurmountable wall and never finish the game. Insurmountable as in, me not willing to dedicate sufficient time and effort to “git gud”. When a game with difficulty that ramps up reaches that point, it is usually over soon anyway, and any effort spent to practise feels sort of wasted afterwards.

    So the reverse difficulty curve of RPGs means that if I can beat the first third of the game, I can rest comfortable in the knowledge that I will be able to actually complete it.

    1. Zekiel says:

      I understand the concept. But I don’t think there’s any excuse for making a game stupidly hard at the beginning. (Witcher 2 I am very firmly looking at you here!) While players are still learning your 101 different systems you should make it very easy for them. Witcher 2 (a wonderful game on the whole) was rightly dinged all over the place for not introducing its combat mechanics very well – as I recall, your first experience of combat was stuck you in a melee with lots of allies, through which you could just hack and slash and win. This was then immediately followed by pitting you against 2 opponents, then 3 opponents including one with a shield, then another 2-3 melee opponents plus a crossbow. If you didn’t know what you were doing, you’d die very quickly while being attacked from behind or shot.

    2. StuHacking says:

      I agree with this, though I guess it depends on the type of game. If the difficulty falls off towards the end it mechanically reinforces the narrative idea that you’re character is becoming more powerful. This is great if done right, though the risk is that the endgame is either boring, or a bit anticlimactic.

      A game I think handled difficulty reasonably well was Dragon Age: Inquisition. By giving each quest a level range, it basically said “You can do this mission early, and it will be challenging; or you can do it later and the difficulty will be more manageable.” When I played through it on the nightmare difficulty I was surprised how effectively I was able to use to the level range to judge when I should attempt each quest. The endgame was still a challenge, but it felt like an acceptable challenge: Not an impossible slog, and not a walk in the park.

  11. Kincajou says:

    Persnonally, not having finished the game yet (only just got to kaer morhen), the most difficult fight to date has been the werewolf side quest in velen. The thing regenerated health like there was no tomorrow! It must have taken me a good ten tries to kill it.

    The quest itself was quite cool although i hated that the choice of “walk away and let everyone be” comes well before i understood what was actually going on … By the time i had pieced the story together i wouldn’t have minded being able to leave things as they were (though after playing much more of the game,my feelings have changed slightly) but that wasn’t an option anymore! For me in this instance the game had punished me for my curiosity and locked me out of an option that was still perfectly viable just because i wanted to get the whole picture and not base my judgement on three dead carcasses in the woods!

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yeah,you dont always have access to full information or optimal outcomes.

      As for werewolves,I think moon dust stops their regeneration for a bit.Also,you can use poisons,bleed and fire to counteract it.

      1. Kincajou says:

        Oh, don’t get me wrong, i have no issues with having to make choices when i don’t have all the information and then facing the consequences… i like the orphans of crookbag bog and the triss interrogation (i never got past the courtyard in this one) questlines specifically because the consequences aren’t completely obvious and you just have to make choices based on “your best guess”.

        Where this werewolf quest fails for me is in that you get the choice, then you have another good 10-30 minutes worth of sleuthing (depending on how much you stop to gather plants) before you reach the hunting hut and figure out what’s actually going on. At that point i decided “yeah, i’ll now go back and tell the dud that his wife just died in the woods of natural causes and let them live out their thing…” except that once i got to the village the sister would refuse to talk to me because i had told her earlier that i wanted to actually get an idea of what was going on in the forest , and the dude in question only complained about me not having finished the quest yet without giving me an option of saying “she’s dead, tough”. In this situation, nothing had changed other than that I had found out more information, no one other than Geralt knew any more than they did before i made the initial choice, i had done nothing which would precipitate the situation or even changed anything….

        For me this quest is a situation where the game wants to say “be careful, all of your choices will have consequences!” but it forces me into the consequence it wants because the choice i’m asked to make is too early and even though nothing changes other than mine (and geralt’s) knowledge, i’m still not allowed to change my mind at a later stage…. This element of this quest pulled me right out of the game. it felt fabricated and atrificial. Which is a pity considering many of the other awesome quests in the game.

        As for the werewolf challenge, yeah now i can fight them relatively easily. At the time though, i got to this quest without the bestiary entry (so i had no oil and I had no idea of how to fight werewolves) which to date has made it the hardest fight in the game for me.

        I could have gone to “prepare” but I got to the hunter’s cabin at mid afternoon and i felt like i needed to be there THAT night to fight the werewolf (a mix of me not quite understanding that i could have left the quest hanging and roleplaying) so i was fighting without oils or bombs… just a silver sword,signs and my potions

        1. Gethsemani says:

          Which still should have made the fight manageable had you only fired off the occasional Igni at the werewolf to prevent the regeneration. Don’t get me wrong, I get your gripes and the fact that you overlooked the most basic way of stopping the regeneration really ties into the criticism of the reverse-difficulty curve. The game is consistently bad at telling you what good tactics against different monsters are, especially before you defeat them and unlock the codex entry for them, and it shows in the werewolf fight. A veteran Witcher player will almost always start a fight with an early igni, so they get through the fight just fine. But a novice player might not yet have realized how absurdly powerful even an unleveled Igni is, making the fight much, much harder.

  12. Redrock says:

    On the subject of “reverse difficulty curve”, I’m not sure it’s necessarily a bad thing – you are supposed to be getting stronger along the way. A flat difficulty curve might kill that gradual sense of getting more powerful. Also, the problem isn’t that easy to fix, simply because a lot of combat systems don’t provide options outside of “give enemies more HP and make them hit stronger”. Turn based combat is better that way, because it allows to build scenarios where you actually need to master every way to control the battlefield and disrupt enemies, and getting new skills actually means more to learn. Status effects, positioning, turn delays, character synergy, all that jazz. Not sure you can really replicate that in real time without things becoming too difficult and annoying.

    1. Guest says:

      If the game let you legitimately fight more dangerous enemies early on, and actually made them too difficult to fight through mechanics you are unlikely to yet have mastered, or by requiring more advanced gear or skills, and sprinkled them around more (There are some wyvern or forklings or something which are neat like that), they could have given you that sense of getting more powerful to overcome things you couldn’t before, without making it seem like level gating the content and things being easy when you do reach them.

  13. Daimbert says:

    I don’t think it’s necessarily about difficulty, but rather about forgiveness. Using Icewind Dale as an example, at the beginning of the game your party has low hit points, few healing abilities or potions, few magical items, relatively poor armour, and no real way to revive a dead character. Thus, your mage can be killed by one or two hits from a goblin archer, you don’t really have any way to prevent that, you don’t have enough healing to make sure that you heal them from that first shot in time to prevent them from dying from the second, and if they die you can’t revive them. Later in the game, that mage has more HP, more spells that can prevent damage, your clerics have more healing spells available, you’ll have more potions, and you’ve equipped that mage better so as to be more survivable. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that they will die to one or two hits from ANYTHING … and if they happen to, you are likely to have a revive dead spell or at least the money to get them revived by a high level cleric somewhere.

    Thus, in the early game, if you make a mistake or two you are likely to end up with a TPK because you don’t have any means to recover from them. In the late game, you are likely to have all sorts of ways to work around mistakes so that one or two small mistakes aren’t devastating. But this has things exactly the wrong way around. The game should be more forgiving earlier in the game while you’re learning the mechanics, and less forgiving later when, presumably, you’ve learned them and so will make less mistakes, or when your mistakes will be less “I didn’t know that!” and more “I was careless”.

    Persona 3’s Plumes of Dusk are actually something that gets this, completely by accident. You get 10 of them — on Easy mode — from the start. If the MC dies, one of them is used to revive the entire party at full HP and SP while leaving the enemies at whatever they had when you died. Early in the game, if you make a mistake and get the MC killed, you get revived, so it forgives those mistakes. Later on, as you get better at the game, the MC is less likely to be killed — you’ve probably at least learned that you need to keep the MC alive — and so as the game goes on any mistakes that don’t kill you will be mitigated, so you won’t need to use them as much. In fact, as soon as you get really good at the game you likely will never need them, even on replays. Since you don’t get any more Plumes of Dusk in the game, you lose the forgiveness as you get more used to the game and so need the forgiveness less.

    I think games need to find ways to be more forgiving early in games so they can be less forgiving later, or at least find more ways to be forgiving early in games because later in games there are all sorts of ways for players to find forgiveness for making mistakes.

  14. EBass says:

    I think the ideal difficulty curve should be something like this….. It starts moderately difficult, but only because you don’t understand the systems and gameplay yet. As the game continues it gets more difficult in absolute terms (as in the fights are objectively harder than the earlier fights) but this is balanced by you getting actually better at the game, so they remain moderately difficult.

    This is a really really hard thing to pull off. I haven’t played much of the Dark Souls games but from what I’ve heard I imagine this is something they do very well. Other mentions I could make would probably be the Batman Arkham Games (Though I only completed Arkham City) I believe Shamus made a post about this some time ago. When I started the game I was being stomped by a few thugs, by the end of the game I was absolutely owning huge mobs of mixed goon types. Sure I had a few more toys to play with at that point, but the main difference was that I had just become MUCH BETTER at the game.

    There are different ways to get better at a game of course, one is the more “physical” way like reactions, blocks, dodges whatever, the other is understanding the systems. So I dunno in the Baldur’s Gate games, a mage puts up stoneskin and you dispell it or similar.

    I’m not a massive fan nor a massive detractor to the combat in the Witcher games, infact I’d go as far to say I rather like them (Well 2 and 3, 1’s combat is…………… meh). But I can’t deny they really could and probably should have forced the player to go into more depth. They have a system with a huge variety of potions and signs and stuff, and a huge variety of monsters. It would have been great if you really needed to engage with it, but for the most part, even on the hardest difficulty I was fine with just dodging and quick attacking with the odd Igni or Quen thrown in.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      This is how some good fps games are.You start out with just a basic weapon against a few weak enemies.Later on,you have a huge arsenal,but you are fighting really hard swarms of enemies,some of which can kill you in just two shots.

      And this is what I like when rpgs do.You dont automatically get hp as you level up,but rather gain different skills that you can use against tougher and tougher enemies.

  15. Ander says:

    I completely missed the witches in my run through of this section of the story. Now I feel like I missed out on something, but I also appreciate that the game was happy to let me move on unhindered.

    1. Zekiel says:

      I didn’t even know you could miss them! I thought a (non-combat) encounter with them was part of the main quest at this point. But I’m probably wrong!

      1. Ander says:

        It’s possible that you’re right; I didn’t look into the baron’s wife’s connection, is the main thing. I didn’t chase after her because I figured she wouldn’t want anything to do with Geralt or the Baron himself. Her business was her business

  16. Hal says:

    So . . . what happens after you kill/free She-Who-Knows?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Nothing much happens here,though you get the resolution with the baron and his wife.Later on,you get to return here and deal with the sisters once more.

      1. Hal says:

        Bob indicated something about consequences for the town and the orphans; I was hoping for some elaboration there.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Spoilers ahead:

          If you kill it,nothing happens to the nearby village,but the orphans are gone.The crones have most likely devoured them.Anna is left to you to bring back to the baron if you wish,but she is insane due to what has been done to her.

          If you decide to help the spirit,it saves the orphans.But it then goes on to destroy the village and everyone in it.The crones curse anna into becoming a hag,and if you remove the curse she dies.The baron then offs himself.

          There is also a kind of a third option.If you encounter the spirit before starting the quest and you free it,the village will be annihilated,and the orphans will never be mentioned again(so dead as well,most likely).Anna is saved however.

          1. Hal says:

            . . . Damn, there’s no happy ending here, is there?

            I realize that there’s an element of realism in that sometimes life sucks and when you’re dealing with the consequences of actions, there might not be any good outcome.

            On the other hand, if this had been a story being told in my D&D game, I’d be pretty resentful of my DM for hitting me with this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. It would feel very much like a “Gotcha! Bad things happened and it’s your fault!” kind of situation.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Like Ive mentioned before,I think there is only one story with a happy ending in the game,the one with ciri.The rest of the quests all have shit like this.And I love the game for it.

              1. Hal says:

                That makes me feel justified for not having played it. I’m not sure I could handle a game where every quest ends in such a manner.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Well,I may be exaggerating a bit there.A bunch of side missions you do are just your regular “hunt the monster” jobs,and those are immense fun.Only a few bigger side quests have moral consequences like this,and they arent all this heavy.

                2. Jeff says:

                  Personally, it’s really just this area that doesn’t have a “happy” ending.

                  Most of the other events have resolutions I’m satisfied with, and I say this as someone who metagames to try and get “perfect” endings.

        2. Kincajou says:

          In short there are three possible outcomes depending on how you encounter She-Who-Knowst which all play out at the “return to crookback bog” quest.

          For more spoilery details, heck out the “consequences” section of the wiki:

  17. Hal says:

    As for the Reverse Difficulty Curve, the opposite way to go would be to have the enemies scale with your level. It’s what Oblivion did, and people hated it. At level 1, you had leather armor and iron swords; so did all of the bandits. At level 30, you had daedric armor and flaming obsidian swords; somehow, so did all of the bandits.

    This sort of system prevents any sort of feeling of progression; you never feel more powerful, you only manage to feel like you’re keeping up with the Joneses.

    This was part of the issue 4th edition D&D ran into; everything was designed to scale with level. At first level, your attacks would hit 50% of the time and it took ~4 hits to kill a monster; at level 20, you would hit 50% of the time and it took ~4 hits to kill a monster. Maybe all of the numbers are higher, but you didn’t necessarily feel any stronger because the monsters were likewise growing more powerful with you.

    These aren’t necessarily bad design choices, but they elicit very strong feelings from people. Some people want to feel challenged all through the game; getting too powerful at the end of the game takes away the fun. Other people want that power fantasy, and having the challenge remain consistent throughout the game can feel like drudgery.

    1. Zekiel says:

      True, but there are plenty of alternatives to the two options (i.e. Reverse Difficulty Curve and Everything Scales With You).

      A lot of successful RPGs (e.g. Pillars of Eternity, Fallout New Vegas iirc) go with no (or next to no) scaling monsters, but the designers simply place tougher monsters in areas which are supposed to be higher level. You can go north from Goodsprings when you start Fallout NV, but you’d better be prepared to deal with deathclaws if you do.

      I feel like that’s a good solution (if done well) since it stops it feeling like the world revolves around you. At low levels you can have enemies that are an appropriate challenge, and later on you can stomp all of them (cos they’re still appropriately-powered for level 1) – which gives you a nice sense of progression. On the other hand if you have leet skills you can take on the high-level monsters at lower-than-intended level. And you can still have super-hard optional monsters as a challenge (something Pillars of Eternity does quite well).

      1. djw says:

        This is my preferred design, by a long shot.

        That said, I think that it is difficult to pull off. I suspect that it is much harder to tune this to appeal to a broad range of player skills.

        Also, it is important that the opponents be placed in a way that feels organic. I did not like the way Witcher 3 did this (level 4 nekkers near White Orchard, level 8 nekkers near crows perch, et cetera) by simply escalating the level of the mobs to the level that they guess you will be when you arrive.

  18. zackoid says:

    I really appreciated that the Witcher had options both for the optional level upscaling (which I had to turn as doing every side quest was putting me way above the power curve) and many difficulty levels (which I had to turn on after Velen because I want challenge in 3rd-person brawlers).

    And that those options were independent and could be changed at any time. If those had been missing I never would have finished the game because it was completely trivialized.

    (Well, I haven’t actually finished it because I went on vacation right as I reached the climactic battle, which is a reaaaaalllly bad place to leave off a game, and now over a year later I can’t bring myself to relearn combat at that point. And then another 100 hours of DLC to play after that).

  19. BlueHorus says:

    Talking of monster design, anyone remember the Brothers from The Void AKA Tension?

    They get me in a way most monsters in a game just don’t – I’ll happily hack my way through giant spiders or tentacle aliens all day with barely a glance – but these guys have always stuck with me. I think it’s the way the design fits the tone and their actions.
    They looked like normal people who’ve either mutilated themselves, or it had been done to them so long ago that they think it’s the right thing to do.

    ‘What do you mean ‘horrible’? Why haven’t you rammed a spike through your chest yet? Also, you have to do what I say, because I’m obviously a sane and rational individual. And I’ll kill you if you don’t.’

  20. Christopher says:

    I don’t know if there is a way to even solve the RPG difficulty problem, ’cause I’ve definitely experiences it in every RPG ever. Stuff is just harder when you’re limited early on.

  21. Thomas Steven Slater says:

    I’m just not that much of a fan of difficulty based on skill, even less that based on time sinks (way to much Hp and/or needing to grind). If I failure some reflex test repeatedly I’ll probably just give up or watch a let’s play.

    You place where negible difficult is annoying is in narrative game with dice roles, like fallen london, sunless sea etc. It these there is often some quite good text if you fail a role, but once you’ve level up a lot is forever lost to you. I like if these games gave you a way to guarentee failure just so I can see what happens if you do.

  22. Scourge says:

    For the Witcher Enhanced Edition Mod, all I can say is that I died around 20 times in the very first battle against the ghouls.

    In the tutorial. Its that hard.

    Things get easier down the line though, even so far as you might call it overpowered. There is a big difference between level 1 geralt and level 30 geralt and you feel it.

    Which is not a bad thing.

  23. Syal says:

    I’m currently struggling to think of a major RPG I’ve played that didn’t have a reverse difficulty curve.

    Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines got harder as it went, but that was because the bosses were… just terrible. Teleportation, periodic invincibility, massive health, mooks with massive health, or all of the above. There are a couple of set-up fights that end up not happening, and the player’s reaction is “Oh thank God”.

    I’m partway through Horizon: Zero Dawn right now. It probably doesn’t count as an RPG since you only gain health and part of a perk on levelup, but that one sure seems to be getting harder as it goes.

    1. djw says:

      Initially, I was going to respond that my experience with bloodlines was close to the reverse difficulty curve. But then I thought about it, and I think that there are actually fairly difficult fights sprinkled throughout the game.

      I do think that two of the early hard fights (the Blood Guardian and the Cathayan) do fit the reverse difficulty profile, since they are difficult because you don’t have enough abilities to mitigate the enemies attacks yet. I’ve had trouble with those two on every play through of the game .

      Additionally, some of the later fights that are really hard (Ming-Xiao for instance) can be easily defeated if you know what to expect and bring the right tools to deal with them (for instance, a flamethrower). I was not appropriately prepared on my first play through, and had to save scum that one, but had no trouble at all with any subsequent play through.

      1. Syal says:

        May have been my build. I only played through once, with a melee Vampire The Flash. (Tried to play through a second time as a Malkavian when the game finally lived up to its reputation and broke.)

        I don’t remember the Blood Guardian at all. Is that the guy with the shotgun?

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Very late to the party but I can never pass the opportunity when this comes up, if you enjoyed the game I recommend you give a Malkavian playthrough another spin, it’s an absolute joy since the “Malkavian insight” in dialogues largely refers to plot events, which becomes obvious if you played the game at least once before. I found it very amusing watching the character call others out on their secrets or borderline prophecises the future (but being basically ignored because hey, those Malks are cray-cray).

          More on topic, the problem I remember having back in the day is that the game is perfectly happy to let you deal with a lot of situations either through dialogue or through indirect combat means (like the obfuscate discipline), which are mostly useless on the final boss(es) basically allowing the player to dig themselves into the hole for most of it.

          1. Syal says:

            Malkavian was certainly fun while it lasted. A word salad madman with mind control powers is a wonderful idea.

        2. djw says:

          The blood guardian is the golem made of blood that appears when you vandalize the paintings. I *think* it is a mandatory part of the quest line, so you must have done it. Its given by the “slutty” personality of the Malkavian Baron.

          It’s difficult because it is fast and hits hard in melee, and you probably don’t have the ability to handle that at that point in the game unless you choose your bloodline and build specifically to handle that fight (something with celerity and a shotgun might work, or something with fortitude).

          The guy with a shotgun is kind of a pain too, now that I recall. That’s in LA, so you can probably back track a bit and earn more xp if you get blocked on that one though.

  24. djw says:

    My first play through of Witcher 3 bogged down a bit after the Dandelion quest, mostly because I really dislike the level scaling and combat in the game. Your commentary on the quests is spot on, and I really enjoyed all of the quests that you have highlighted so far, but it was not enough to keep me engaged…

    So, I am really hoping that you find that the Enhanced Edition mod is worthwhile. I have seen it before, and considered trying a new play through with it, but now I’ll just wait to hear your commentary on it. (I am a big fan of the Requiem mod for Skyrim, and if this is anything like that then it will be right up my alley).

  25. Michael says:

    Level scaling in ESO has a fairly stable difficulty curve, but it’s really weird. Low level characters get downright absurd stat buffs that bleed off as you level up, so the game really is a lot easier for them. Endgame characters almost make up the difference, but that’s due to optimized gear, coherent builds, and other factors. So the game does get harder as you progress (basically), but it’s because your character is actually less powerful as you level up.

    That said, it also has a weird thing for mechanical complexity. Zones that were added later tend to be much more mechanically challenging than the original areas. So even with very powerful characters, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily get steamrolled in the DLC zones, even though the content is balanced for your stats.

    1. djw says:

      Lower level characters of players who have lots of Champion Points (CP) are generally quite strong, because the impact of the CP apply to the under 50 characters too. I don’t think that the level scaling is sufficient to render the experience for a brand new player “easy” though.

      I have a second account with 0 CP, so I suppose that I will find out how much of a difference it makes if I ever get around to leveling those toons.

  26. Jennifer Snow says:

    I don’t have some clever way to fix this problem except “make the early parts of the game easier and the later parts harder,” which is the sort of thing that’s probably trickier than it sounds.

    I don’t think this is a problem, in fact, I generally get so effing sick of the repetitive combat halfway through that I WANT to be facerolling everything. This is WHY I spend so much time looking in cracks to find the OP gear. If I’m NOT facerolling it, it’s a result of enemies having cheesy cheat abilities or the game itself just being badly designed and horribly unbalanced.

    Just think of the number of RPG standards you’d have to overturn in order to accomplish this goal:

    1. The “standard leveling curve” would need to be reversed, so that instead of gaining a few levels quickly and then slowing down, you’re still gaining levels at the same pace even in late-game.
    2. You need to still have NEW abilities showing up even lategame. Which creates the problem of “great, now I have the god ability I’ve been working toward all this time,, and there’s only ONE FIGHT left for me to use it in. Well, THAT was fun. Why even put that silly thing in the game?!”
    3. You’d need to be encountering new enemies (or at least, enemies with new abilities) even late in the game.
    4. The amount of work you had to put into combat design has proliferated to ridiculous levels, which means that bugs and terrible imbalances have ALSO proliferated, probably to the point where every player finds a new and interesting way to break the game at some point, and the whole thing becomes completely degenerate.

    Now, you can resolve some of this with emergent behavior, like the one you mentioned in the multi-wraith fight, where ONE (or even a couple) of this enemy are not a particular challenge, but in a larger group they’re exceptionally difficult. However, emergent behavior lives up to its name, meaning it’s all-but-impossible to predict and account for every possible combination, meaning it’s quite possible to put weeks into designing a detailed and complex fight that the player cheeses past effortlessly by exploiting a slight defect in the pathing AI, or to throw in a “casual” fight that they simply cannot win. And then you wind up with a difficulty “curve” that looks like a sea urchin had babies with a cactus and everybody but psychotics hates your buggy, unbalanced mess of a game.

    The “problem” of RPG’s becoming hopelessly easy as you progress is actually caused by the SOLUTION to the much bigger problem of “we have finite resources for making a very big game full of options that’s going to involve a lot of combat”. You can’t fix the finite resources part, so any other fix is going to either come at the expense of “big game” or “full of options” or “lot of combat”. You pick. Well, either that or it’s going to involve a gimmick that the player will probably see through and also detest. There exist plenty of games with the type of difficulty curve you prefer. There’s a reason those games are NOT RPG’s.

    1. slipshod says:

      I don’t think this is a problem, in fact, I generally get so effing sick of the repetitive combat halfway through that I WANT to be facerolling everything. This is WHY I spend so much time looking in cracks to find the OP gear. If I’m NOT facerolling it, it’s a result of enemies having cheesy cheat abilities or the game itself just being badly designed and horribly unbalanced.

      I know exactly what you’re saying, Jennifer. That’s why I typically do my first run-through of the game in story-only mode, and then decide whether the combat is varied and balanced enough to warrant a normal or higher difficulty mode.

      Funny story, I ended up really enjoying Mass Effect Andromeda, but one of my good friends, whose taste in games usually aligns perfectly with mine, couldn’t finish. Because he’s a Dark Souls obsessionado and always plays games on extra hard. The MEA combat is so repetitive and endless that it wore him out. Which is a total shame! Because he missed the stunning worlds. And the occasionally rewarding quest lines, haha.

  27. Niriel says:

    Wraiths are easily controlled by casting Yrden. It’s written in the bestiary. It halts their teleportation. In general, Yrden slows down considerably enemies within its radius, and the radius is large. The greater the crowd, the more OP Yrden is. Because I’m old with terrible reflexes (I can’t parry an attack in that game, I just can’t), Yrden is my favorite sign.

  28. Coming Second says:

    A shame you didn’t have anything to say about Keira, who’s one of my favourite characters in the game. She’s arrogant, manipulative, fussy and deeply bitter about being turfed out of her sweet lifestyle in Vizima, which is all accurate for the character of a dispossessed noblewoman. But the writers also managed to make her really likeable and funny, sex positive too. It’s an impressive job for a minor character.

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