The Witcher 3: Skellige, Part One

By Bob Case Posted Thursday Jun 7, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 83 comments

Skellige is the third of the game’s three major areas, and a nice tonal contrast from the first two. Velen smells like peat and wet leaves. Novigrad, of course, smells like sewage. Skellige, however, smells like pine needles and juniper. How do I know what fictional locations smell like? I just do. You know I’m right.

See? Juniper.
See? Juniper.

The historical inspirations here are a mashup of Norse and the odd bit of Celtic, particularly in the language. Skellige’s inhabitants supplement their income by periodically raiding sea traffic and coastal settlements in the Viking style. I think we’re meant to like the Skelligers. They have physical courage, an independent streak that appeals to a modern audience, and are loyal to their friends and honorable to their own.

For all that, I can’t shake the knowledge that this lot make their fortunes (such as they are) through armed robbery. This is a consistent problem in fiction that makes protagonists out of Vikings and Pirates and the like. Thematically, they like to play up the whole freedom and independence thing, and play down the fact that these supposed good guys are essentially stickup gangs with boats. Just once I’d like to see a piece of fiction grapple with that issue more thoroughly.

In terms of overall gameplay experience, I’d say that Skellige is my favorite of the three main areas, though they all have their strong and weak points. First reaching the isles – and realizing the size of them – was a memorable experience during my first playthrough, a sort of “damn, this game really is big” moment. I took some time to ride Roach around at a canter, just listening to the music.

That’s a good sign, when a game’s mood is well-conveyed enough to get the player to slow down and soak it all in. The most comparable thing I can remember is first riding into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption.

Upon arriving at Kaer Trolde, we witness the funeral of the recently departed King Bran, setting up the “who will be the next King/Queen” dilemma that drives many of the region’s quests. It’s also our first opportunity to interact with Yennefer since the prologue. Which means that there’s no more putting it off. It’s high time we got stuck in and settled this once and for all.

Triss vs. Yen: The Definitive, Official, Final, Legally Binding Answer

I may be exaggerating. I’ve found the whole Triss vs. Yen debate to be remarkably civil and amicable by fandom shipping debate standards, but there is a debate. It often cleaves along book-game lines, as Yen/Geralt is the book-canon pairing, whereas game-only fans are more familiar with Triss from her presence in the first two installments.

Personally, I’m a Triss man. I can’t explain it better than to say that I actually enjoyed Triss’s company, and liked talking to her, whereas with Yen I was always bracing myself for the next insult. That said, the more I thought about the choice between the two the less I liked it, and the more I found it to encapsulate some of CD Projekt’s foibles when depicting female characters.

Yen, in my opinion, is the more fully realized of the two. Triss is likeable, agreeable, smitten with Geralt, and likes to do the right thing. All things we the players are disposed to like, and yet I often felt like there should have been additional dimensions to her, ones that I kept looking for but never quite found.

Yen, by contrast, is the one who has a discernible personality that exists independently of Geralt. She’s fiercely protectively of Ciri, impatient with obstacles (sometimes to a fault), justifiably confident in her own abilities, and has a ruthless streak strong enough to occasionally be unsettling. She’s also much more likely to challenge Geralt, and is often persuasive in doing so.

They nailed her look, in my opinion. This is pretty much exactly how I pictured her in the books.
They nailed her look, in my opinion. This is pretty much exactly how I pictured her in the books.

The problem, for me, is that Yen’s behavior often bumps against being emotionally and even physically abusive. There’s one sequence in Freya’s garden where, in the middle of her usual needling, she briefly relents and makes a show of affection, only to return to her usual dismissiveness right afterwards, a pattern familiar to those familiar with abuse. Much later, at Kaer Morhen, she gets frustrated with Geralt and teleports him hundreds of feet over a nearby lake, to fall into the water. Of course it’s played for comedy, but I had a hard time finding it funny.

In genre fiction of every type and medium, there’s a common dichotomy to be found between strong female characters and “strong” female characters. The former have coherent characterization and narrative agency that grows naturally from said characterization. The latter tend to substitute belligerence for “strength” and can come off as a back-patting exercise for their (usually male) writers.

Yen is that rare character who’s both strong and “strong” at the same time. I can’t quite find it in me to either endorse or condemn her. Complicating this issue is the fact that I suspect the developers themselves are on Team Triss. Triss was in the first two games (Yen wasn’t), players completing a typical playthrough will have the opportunity to complete Triss’s romance sequence before ever having the opportunity to start Yen’s, and in general Triss comes off more as the “right” option.

The first Witcher game famously featured a rather juvenile mechanic whereby Geralt could navigate your way inside the pants of various female NPCs and commemorate his conquests by collecting explicit playing card versions of them. Generally speaking, the series has outgrown that sort of thing. But habits like that die hard, and when they do remain they’re slippery and hard to pin down from a critical perspective. I don’t at all mean to say that the Witcher 3’s romances are just exercises in rank misogyny. They’re not. But I’d be lying if I said that the options available to the player left zero sourness in my mouth afterwards.

Which is why I have some wariness in me for Cyberpunk 2077, given that the only glimpse we’ve seen of that game so far features an attractive woman wearing relatively little clothing. It’s not egregious. It alone is not enough to throw stones. But it is enough to be suspicious.

Undvik

Now onto to something I can uncritically praise. The Undvik sequence was among my favorite parts of the entire game. A short summary of the setup: Crach an Craite (a powerful Skellige noble) has a son named Hjalmar. Hjalmar, seeking to make a name for himself, has gathered up a crew of rowdies to sail to Undvik, a once-prosperous isle that has since been abandoned after it was terrorized by a fearsome frost giant.

Undvik is something like an island-sized dungeon. Upon arrival, Geralt tracks down the now-scattered and disorganized survivors of Hjalmar’s original expedition, and sees the aftermath of the giant’s work. Speaking for myself, I was kind of scared on Undvik. It really felt like I was on a dangerous, deserted island, far away from any kind of help, facing a terrifying creature I wasn’t sure I was up to fighting.

The frost giant is a example of good monster design and characterization. You really have to see him in motion to get the full effect.
The frost giant is a example of good monster design and characterization. You really have to see him in motion to get the full effect.

The whole sequence also does well to characterize Hjalmar, who all things considered is not a major character. You see him change from a brash, cocky type to a more sober and humbled one, which makes it easier to endorse him as King later, if you choose to do so. (You can also pick his sister Cerys.)

I’m not going to cover all of Skellige in great detail. A big chunk of the area’s major quests are actually optional (you can just do Yennefer’s stuff and pretty much ignore the politics, if you’re inclined). However, there will be one more post about Skellige before we move on to the big Kaer Morhen setpiece. See you next week.

 

 


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83 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Skellige, Part One

  1. Dev Null says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m a game-only player who always preferred Yen, precisely because she doesn’t take any crap from Geralt, and they gave her that extra bit of depth. Yes, there is a borderline-abusive nature to her relationship with Geralt… who is, after all, a serially-abusive curmudgeonly mass-murderer, so y’know…

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Im a game only guy,and I too picked yen.In fact,I picked yen exclusively.No hookers,not even keira(who I really liked).

      And while yen is often abrasive towards geralt,its worth noting that he practically forced her to be with him with that wish he made.In fact,if you break that wish and still decide to be with yen,she mellows out a bit.

      1. Redrock says:

        Well, we do know from the books that a lot of her abrasiveness is a very old defense mechanism. She can actually be a very caring and loving person, surprising absolutely everyone.

    2. Tizzy says:

      As Bob mentions, Yen is the better developed character. But my sense was always because she’s a central character in the books while Triss is a minor player.

      I imagine that CD Project brought Triss to the series first because she was more or a blank slate, they could have her do more things without clashing with her characterization in the books. But it was also harder to flesh her out into a fully fledged character.

    3. Zekiel says:

      In my one and only playthrough, I chose Triss and kind of regretted it. She’s lovely and all, but having read the short stories (after beginning the game) I realised that Yen is really the canon choice.

      Course I then buggered it all up somehow by apparently trying to romance both of them. I’m not sure quite what I did to make the game think I was trying to romance Yen. :-(

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        My issue with Triss is that she basically took advantage of a guy with memory loss to make him think they were more than they are. Its like the plot of overboard, but instead of the cutesy falling in love at the end its the realistic “hey that was actually a pretty scummy thing to do”.

    4. Guest says:

      I agree. I don’t feel like it’s part of an abusive dynamic, it’s part of her feeling abandoned and betrayed by Geralt, who she’s been bound to. I was a game player first, and came to the books afterwards, but even then, Yen has some reasons to be pissed at Geralt. Fair enough, it’s not his fault (Book stuff: it’s Triss’s, who had her memory, and betrayed her friend to get with Geralt), and she’s definitely taking it out on the wrong person (And it’s definitely a flaw in the writing that their relationship hasn’t been affected in the same way). But from where she’s standing, her beloved just cheated on her with one of her best friends for about a year (And potentially a whole bunch more) and his response is really not sympathetic. The specific lake scene, she got there, discovered Geralt and Triss’s love nest, her friend’s hair in her bed and threw a fit, threw out the bed. Got crap from Vesemir who didn’t understand at all, and then Geralt keeps pushing, joking, making excuses for himself, and finally missing the obvious call to change the subject. Her reaction is definitely wrong, but the reasoning still follows.

      Geralt and Yen have issues they have to work through, and I kind of like that. She challenges him in a way Triss doesn’t, and has a lot more of her own direction. Yeah, that is sometimes pretty antagonistic and rude to Geralt, she doesn’t take shit from him, and her patience is already short because she feels betrayed.

      Afterwards, I got into the books a little, and the primer Superbunnyhop does on it is really good. With the context, Triss really has some explaining to do, when she says she’s been using Geralt in Velen, she is not lying. Yen has this character from the get-go with the Last Wish. Both she and Geralt try to play each other, Geralt beating up her servant, breaking into her house, perving on her, and thinking he’s charmed her for it, and getting screwed over in return. It’s a neat dynamic, where both of them are often trying to play each other because of their own perspective, it takes one of them being honest and choosing to abandon the games to actually break that barrier between them, but that barrier is as much Geralt’s personality as it is Yen’s. I don’t usually like antagonistic romance, but their’s actually works for me, and I really like the way the limited perspective comes into it. Geralt is too stuck in his own head to understand her, and you’re stuck in Geralt’s head. The title story of the Last Wish, Yen can come off as a real villain, until you try to consider her perspective, not just Geralt’s, in which what he wants always comes first and he can’t even imagine that she’s playing him with sex appeal rather than her being charmed by his leering. The framing story shows him being incredibly immature in that relationship. It actually makes me enjoy their scenes together more, because Geralt asking to have a reasonable conversation seems like a mature response, except he’s specifically pulled out all stops to avoid that in the past.

      Triss is lovely too, and she’s a lot more sweet and loving, and there is no baggage to win her over, and I get why people would like her, but I’ll always prefer that Yen calls Geralt on his shit and isn’t afraid of looking mean. A good chunk of her bitterness is damage that Geralt has unknowingly done to her. And Triss’s drive to do the right thing, didn’t involve telling Geralt his backstory, his history, didn’t involve trying to talk things through with Yen, didn’t involve avoiding betraying her friend’s trust. She’s very nice to you, but she’s still a complex and morally grey character.

      1. Guildenstern says:

        The “teleport” scene was actually one of my favorite moments in the whole game, though admittedly I am adamantly Team Yen and so didn’t quite invoke her ire enough to get her to dunk Geralt in the lake at the time. The reason I loved it so much was, admittedly, because that didn’t happen when I played it. In a lot of media, this kind of thing would be immediately escalated to high drama: Geralt was boinking somebody else so Yen, being characterized as “harsh” would of course explode and invoke every stereotype of “crazy jealous ex-lover”.

        But then she didn’t.

        She was pissed off at the whole situation and being in a place where her on-again-off-again partner was shacking up with her friend. Geralt tries to play it off with a joke and she is understandably not amused, but then if you relent she softens at least a little. She’s mad, yeah, but she understands. Geralt had lost his memory. He straight up didn’t remember her. She gets that, and actually forgives it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it immediately, magically erases all of the frustration she might feel. She tells you that she’s upset, and needs time to be upset, but that she doesn’t really hold it against you.

        Maybe it’s my low expectation for video game writing but this blew me away. That is a remarkably nuanced and very human scenario. I loved the fact that a character was allowed to be angry and could express that anger maturely without it being ROMANTIC DRAMA. I liked Yen’s character a lot already (and that may speak ill of my outlook on a few things) but this moment made me actually respect her.

    5. Water Rabbit says:

      Having played the games (and read the books — at least the ones that were translated), I dislike Yen. For a character that is supposed to be a diplomat and run in high society, she is essentially and arrogantly stupid character. She creates more problems for herself than she solves because she is so abrasive.

      Her scorched earth approach is so counterproductive that choosing her as a lifetime partner would be choosing to be constantly acting as her servant and cleaning up her messes.

      She comes across as being more trouble than she is worth. It is this aspect of how her character was developed made her the less desirable choice as I dislike stupid.

      The scene in which Triss really shines is when she voluntarily goes into to be tortured by the church to gain information in which to help Geralt and more than makes up for her past transgressions from Witcher 1.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The debate comes down to this:Triss has red hair,but yen has the puns .

  3. Eric says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention one of the more egregious arguments against Triss, namely that she took advantage of Geralt’s amnesia, despite being aware of his relationship with Yennefer. (Some of this may be inaccurate, having not fully played the first game or read any books.)

    That said, I like everything you wrote about their characterizations and the romances.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I’m surprised you didn’t mention one of the more egregious arguments against Triss, namely that she took advantage of Geralt’s amnesia, despite being aware of his relationship with Yennefer.

      The funniest thing to me is that so many people dislike the one innocent in this whole love triangle.Triss took advantage of geralts amnesia to bang him.Geralt used a magic lamp so that yen would always have to come back to him.And yen is just a bit abrasive towards geralt and thats why she is considered by most to somehow be the worst of the three.I wonder how many people who hate yen would be just as resentful like her if they found out that the person they were falling for decided to brainwash them.

      1. Shamus says:

        For whatever reason, I had the impression that the spell between Yen and Grumpus was entirely consensual. Like, they both wished their love would last forever? I missed the detail that Geralt forced it on her.

        But now that I’m thinking about it: If he was THAT crazy about her, then why’d he wait until the third game to see her again? Their relationship is strange. I dislike Yen just because I find her personality annoying, but if anything she seems out of Geralt’s league. She strikes me as being a little too smart and sophisticated for a rugged guy like Geralt.

        I thought Keira was a much better match for him in terms of personality and station.

        Even better? There’s this one herbalist you meet in White Orchard. You get a choice to give her one of your Witcher potions to help a patient. The whole time I thought, “Geralt should settle down with someone like this and stop getting mixed up with these crazy sorceresses.”

        1. Mortuss says:

          Well the wish had occurred in the books and they were kinda together at that time? Hazy on the details.

          I always thought Geralt coming back from the dead in W1 had selective amnesia and forgot about her. But he remembered that he had someone and triss convinced him that it was her (although my memories of the first game are hazy as well). She was also behaving much more like yen in W1

        2. Redingold says:

          Well, he never went looking for her in the first game because of his amnesia – he didn’t know she existed. In the second game, his amnesia is recovering and he learns about her, culminating in Letho telling him where Yen is, and then, sure enough, right at the beginning of the third game, he’s off to find her.

          The real question is, why didn’t Zoltan, Dandelion or Triss tell Geralt about Yennefer? They don’t have the excuse of amnesia, and since Triss especially takes the opportunity to get into a relationship with Geralt, it comes off as real skeezy on Triss’ part. I mean, I think the answer is that they just didn’t plan on making a sequel with Yen in when they were writing the first game, but in-universe it makes the character’s motivation kind of questionable.

        3. Khizan says:

          The story of Geralt’s wish with Yen goes something like this (spoilers for The Last Wish here):

          Geralt accidentally released a djinn. He was granted the customary three wishes, and the djinn was bound to him until those wishes were spent. He was unaware of this, though, and accidentally spent two of the wishes on random things. Telling somebody “I wish you’d get out of my way!”, that kind of thing.

          Yen learned about the djinn and, unaware that it was bound to Geralt, tried to bind it herself. This failed because the djinn was already bound, and Yen and the djinn got into a sorcerous fight and Yen was barely hanging on. Yen told Geralt to spend the last wish, which would unbind the djinn, but by this point Yen was so weak that she would be unable to bind it.

          So Geralt makes the wish to unbind the djinn so that it can leave. We’re never told what the wish actually is, but the effect is that it bound the fates of Yennefer and Geralt together somehow. Geralt did this because the djinn was incapable of harming its master after granting them their wishes, so this meant that the djinn would have to leave them both alone.

          1. Redrock says:

            From what I understood after rereading that bit many times, Geralt wished to bind Yen’s fate to his because at the time the Djinn was very angry at her and it was the only way to protect Yen from the Djinn’s wrath that came to Geralt’s mind.

          2. Paul says:

            The wish Gerald makes in the story is never stated. But I read a theory on Reddit that matches the available evidence.
            1. The genie hated Geralt and Yen. Geralts first wish was the genie would go and do something embarrassing and anatomically impossible to itself. (In an ancient language – he thought it was a banishment)
            2. Geralt needed to make a wish that involved Yen surviving. So wishing for a ton of gold was going to get definitely Yen and maybe himself killed.
            3. It needed to be impossible to prevent the Genie granting it then killing them. Simply asking for Yen to love him wouldn’t prevent the Genie killing Yen a second later.
            4. It demonstrably wasn’t for them to be together forever (plus the genie could be guaranteed to twist something like that).

            The theory was that Geralt wished for him and Yen to have a kid.

            Both sorceresses (most of them) and witchers are sterile. But Geralt and Yen both spent lots of money trying to address that in the books (Geralt spend most of the striga reward on that) as if they think it’s somehow possible

            And ultimately they get Ciri.

        4. Tizzy says:

          In Geralt’s world, sorcerers and sorceresses are manipulative by trade. I don’t think any of them is meant to be likable without at least a good dose of misgivings.

        5. KotBasil says:

          Actually, one of the stories in the books cover the possibility “Geralt should settle down with someone like this and stop getting mixed up with these crazy sorceresses.”. It’s called “”A Little Sacrifice”.
          Spoiler: It didn’t take

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Sounds like it’s time for a fanfix where it actually works! You don’t have anything else to do, right Shamus?

        6. Leviathan902 says:

          The spell wasn’t really consensual, but it wasn’t really a “brainwash” as Daemian called it either. Geralt and Yennefer DO love each other in the books (in their way), but Yennefer’s geo-political work on the council of sorceresses and Geralt’s “rolling stone” nature keep them apart. They’re on a perpetual on-again-off-again relationship.

          When Geralt makes his 3rd wish from the genie to “bind them together” he doesn’t make her love him or anything. Just ensures that basically they’ll keep running into each other no matter what.

        7. Guest says:

          Geralt made the choice to save both of their lives. He tried to cheat her in dealing with a djinn, because he was trying to save Dandelion, and she in turn cheated him, to gain the power of a djinn. Except Geralt had withheld information from her which would have gotten her killed. He made the wish to bind himself to her, to save her from what was in part, his mistake. That’s kind of the crux of their romance. It’s at first antagonistic with both of them playing each other, until Geralt finally can admit that he screwed up his first approach, and that he cares more about doing the right thing than playing what is a pretty sexist game (In particular, the way he views sorceress’ is a bit messed up, he scrutinises them, to see the flaws they magically corrected and judges them for it, in the story, come the conclusion, he changes his perspective there a little, rather than just judging them for how they once looked).

          They’re bound together by that spell, the “Last Wish” but at the same time, that moment is also where they broke through the barriers they each set. At that moment, you can’t be sure if they have a thing going, because they’d be stuck that way regardless, but that was also a selfless and loving act Geralt did, without any game playing.

        8. BlueBlazeSpear says:

          The Last Wish spoilers if you dare…

          Any time I see talk of Geralt’s last wish, I can’t help but cringe because all we can really do is speculate. We never hear what Geralt’s wish actually is – it’s left to our imagination. All we know is when the wish was made, it protected by Yen and Geralt from the djinn’s wrath. And later, a character says that the wish binds their fates together – though it’s never explicitly said how. For all we know, Geralt wished that the only way one of them could die is by the hand of the other or something like that. Which seems crazy, but not considering Yen’s reaction when she learns what the wish was. She opines that she can’t imagine any creature could even be strong enough to actually grant such a wish – whatever it was.

          But more telling in that moment is her wording of the situation. She says that Geralt has “condemned” himself to her. She sees herself as the one to really come out ahead in the deal and she seems to feel remorse for the position that Geralt put himself in for her. Yen didn’t seem to see it as Geralt “forcing” some sort of wish onto her.

          1. Kalil says:

            That seems to gel with her response to having the wish lifted, which is to wonder whether Geralt still loves her – she seemed to assume that the wish was driving their relationship, on /his/ side.
            In fact, without the context of the story (thanks, above posters!), I had kind of assumed that the wish had bound him to her, not the other way around.

      2. TheJungerLudendorff says:

        I’m not sure how many people know. It’s certainly news to me, and I got quite far through Witcher 2 and 3.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its just a single side quest in 3 that deals with this(and I think the journal talks about it briefly).Maybe its in the books too?

          1. Lars says:

            Gerald making the wish to a Djinn is in one of the short stories, before the novel series began.

            1. Zaxares says:

              It is in the books, yes. The name of the story is “The Last Wish” (exactly the same as the matching quest in W3). However, the story makes it quite clear that Geralt’s wish for he and Yen to always be together was a calamitous error. At some point (I don’t know if it was also in “The Last Wish” or a subsequent story), Geralt gets killed by a peasant (Geralt let down his guard and the peasant stabbed him with a pitchfork). Yennefer tries to save him with her magic, but she fails and the magical backlash kills her too. And then you realize that this is the result of Geralt’s wish; in order for them to always be together, when he died, Yennefer had to die too. Geralt’s heart was in the right place when he first made that wish, but love is not something that you can enforce like that.

              1. Redrock says:

                Well, it’s also stated, that regardles of everything else, their love did, in the end, bring them happiness. I think the extent of the Djinn’s influence is meant to be ambiguous, both in the novels and in the game. In The Last Wish Yen does express doubt that a Djinn’s power is actually capable of creating that sort of bond.

              2. Guest says:

                It’s not in the Last Wish, but I don’t think it was really an error.

                It was the best he could make of a bad situation, created by both of their mistakes, which is sort of a running theme in that book.

                I do think he does really care, he just doesn’t know how entirely. That’s why the framing story is him running from that relationship and trying to fix things with jewels and gifts instead of having an honest conversation with her, which plays into the situation in TW3.

    2. Tizzy says:

      Eric: Geralt does have a brief sexual relationship with Triss in the books, a relationship that Yen was aware of as it happened, and maybe even encouraged (my memory is hazy). So Triss “takes advantage of Geralt’s amnesia” in the games, no doubt about it. But it’s a little more complicated than it may seem at first glance (which might as well be the motto for the Witcher series). At any rate, the relationship between the two is not new, which may explain how easy it is for Geralt to go along with it.

      1. Victor McKnight says:

        Having read The Last Wish right after the first game came out but starting the novels recently, my “relatively” fresh recollection was that Geralt and Yen had recently broken up. This was something that apparently happened somewhat frequently. Geralt and Triss hooked up during this time. When Triss first comes to Kaer Mohren and discovers young Ciri, the book indicates that Geralt has mixed feelings about this, but Triss doesn’t.

        This actually kind of makes it look like Triss was Geralt’s rebound girl at first. I haven’t finished the novels, so I can speak to Triss’ actions later on, but that adds some mitigating context to Triss’ actions early in the first game, especially if she and everyone else think Yen is dead, which they seem to (Geralt’s own resurrection not withstanding).

        1. Fr33Lanc3r says:

          If I remember correctly, during one of Triss’ POV chapters in Blood of the Elves she muses on the fact that she used magic to seduce Geralt because she wanted to know what Yen saw in him. I never got the sense that she loved him at all afterwards, especially since later in the series she completely throws Geralt, Yen and Ciri under the bus in order to maintain an position with the Lodge of Sorceresses, including a scene where Yen tries to contact her for help, and gets completely shut down by Triss and her new lover (Phillipa).

    3. tremor3258 says:

      I’m surprised Yen doesn’t, apparently, call Triss on this.

  4. Gethsemani says:

    I am still sore about Keira Metz not being more than a temporary fling. I absolutely loved her characterization in the Witcher 3 and how her struggle between doing the right thing and doing the thing that might keep her alive plays out. She sits at the perfect junction where she’s a strong but flawed character, who’s not the obvious Good Choice of Triss (which is weird considering that she, for all intents and purposes, raped Geralt in the first game by lying to him about their relationship to sleep with him when he was amnesiac) nor the Strangely-Similar-To-Domestic-Abuser Yennifer.

    I am still not sure if the romance options in the Witcher games are like this because it is where CDPRs writing staff has their weak spot or because there’s some difference between what’s considered romantic and relationship material between Poland and my own country.

    1. StuHacking says:

      Triss is the good choice? Pursuing a romance with Triss comes at the cost of her endeavour to rescue potential magic users from danger.

      At the moment the choice came up in my play-through, Geralt didn’t strike me as the sort of character who would a) Jeopardise a bunch of people by taking away their guardian, b) Attempt to draw a friend and competent female sorceress away from her goal of rescuing these helpless people. (A goal she was also clearly passionate about.)

      You’re basically putting selfish lust before Triss’s noble purpose, and it tempts her away from departing on the ship. I’ve always viewed the Triss romance as a bit of a childish fling… at least as it’s portrayed in the game.

      1. Gethsemani says:

        Except if you’ve been romancing Triss up to that point and tell her to leave, she’ll leave for the ship, Geralt will have a conversation with Djikstra, where Djikstra admonishes Geralt for being too much of a coward to admit his love. And then, like magic, Triss returns to tell Geralt that she made sure everything was alright with the ship but that she’s staying for him. This is what happened in my Triss romance playthrough. So the game offers you a golden path, if you only play it out as if her mission is more important than Geralt’s feelings.

  5. Mortuss says:

    I have read the books and hated yen the whole time. In the second set of short stories, there is one where yen is baging geralt and some wizard which nearly results in them battling to death over her. I said F to that at that point and could not understand why Geralt didn’t. She was much more likable when she was taking care of Ciri, which showcases her softer side, but I still wouldn’t go anywhere near that.

    Triss has her own set of problems, especially in the first game. Shani best girl.

  6. Shinmera says:

    The correct choice is neither Triss nor Yennefer, because then Ciri joins you at Corvo Bianco at the end of Blood and Wine.

    1. Vinsomer says:

      Thank you for the unmarked spoiler.

  7. Khizan says:

    I’ve always been on Team Triss simply because I feel like Yen pretty much treats Geralt like crap. She doesn’t listen, she doesn’t care about his opinions, and she doesn’t respect him as Ciri’s father even as she’s going all ‘angry mama bear’ in pursuit of Ciri. She reads his mind without permission even though she knows he hates it. She involves him in theft from his friend without telling him that’s what they’ll be doing. Then when she gets pissed at him she teleports him a few miles away to fall a few hundred feet into the lake. That might be the behavior of a strong woman, but it’s not the behavior of a strong woman who respects her partner.

    If you flipped the genders and had a male wizard treating a swordswoman that way, nobody would say that that was the behavior of a ‘strong man’.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Manipulating people is pretty much what sorceresses do in that world. And every single sorceress character does this to Geralt at the drop of a hat. Yen might be guilty of the most egregious offenses because she’s known him the longest. Or maybe she resents Geralt because he bound their destinies together with an overwhelming magical force without her consent.

    2. Zekiel says:

      How do you get the “Yen teleports Geralt into a lake” scene? That didn’t happen in my playthrough. Do you have to be successfully romancing her?

      1. Guest says:

        You have to ignore the option to change the subject and push her for a third time.

    3. JakeyKakey says:

      I mean, multiple characters in the books and games do actively call Geralt out on the fact Yen treats him like crap. And it’s arguably one of the things that really attracts him to her.

      I wouldn’t go as far as to outright call it an unhealthy or abusive relationship, they’re both independent superpowered badasses who are otherwise free to go their own way and in fact very often do, but it’s definitely acknowledged in-universe to be a complex messy affair full of imaturity and passive aggression on both sides.

  8. Tizzy says:

    Skellige was always my least favorite area, despite some good quests. Partly because of the Celtic Viking thing feels less unique and not quite as well realized.

    But then I realized that it’s also because it makes getting around such a chore. The long boat rides, the endless sirens, the countless times you find yourself having to backtrack because you’re on top of an impassable cliff trying to reach a marker… yeah, screw all that.

    1. StuHacking says:

      I loved wandering around Skellige because a lot of people speak an accent very similar to mine, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear it!

      Also I loved the scenery- It felt very open, fresh and breezy compared to the sodden battlegrounds and narrow streets I’d previously been seeing.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      I’m the opposite. I loved Skellige – partly for the visuals & feel, like StuHacking (and same as Bob I love the Ard Skellige music) – but mostly for the different culture.

      The Nobles, Kings and Barons of Novigrad & Velen seem like a fairly standard medievil-fantasy society to me, whereas Skellige had some key differences that struck me, particularly the clan- and family-based honor system.

      Particular highlights: The ‘Nithing’ side quest, the quest where you observe/take part in the crowning of the new king, and the chain that starts with a random tavern brawl.

      Each one made me go ‘Wait, what? That’s your law/culture? But that’s bananas! What’s wrong with you people?’
      Yet it all fits, because of their particular brand of honor.

      I’m with Bob on the piracy thing, though. I don’t care how proud and ancient your culture is; if you gain honor and esteem through piracy or rape, you’re doing it wrong.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        To be fair to skellige,their piracy is not that worse from what the rest of the guys are doing in this world.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          True enough. There’s probably less raping and pillaging in Skellige than happens in Velen, after all. And the people there expect it/are more prepared to deal with it.*

          One of the great features of Velen that really set the mood of the place for me were the hanged corpses with notices announcing the legality of the execution: Everyone agrees that murder is illegal, but oddly decided it’s not really murder when it’s them doing it.
          And of course Skellige doesn’t have the witch hunts…

          *by raping and pillaging right back, of course. Natch.

    3. Vermander says:

      There really was a group of people called Norse-Gaels (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse%E2%80%93Gaels) with a sort of hybrid Celtic-Viking culture near the end of the Viking age.

    4. LCF says:

      Real-life Scandinavians were first looking for trade and ways to make a buck, after agriculture pressure became too strong up North around 750-800 CE.
      Then, they encountered weak empires, and unprotected sources of gold and precious stones from a weird, exotic culture (to them).
      So, pillaging and looting is not a great way to make friends, especially when the only guys writing History at the time are the monks you repeatedly sacked and enslaved (because they kept living in the same poorly-defended monasteries and they kept replacing the gold-and-gems-incrusted relics). But can you blame a Vikingr when treasures from the mysterious and opulent South just lay about, waiting to be taken?

      Let’s remember the phases: low food / high population, exploration (Going as far as Canada. Suck it Columbus!), trade/diplomacy, pillage, invasions, settlements, entering local feudals systems (Rollo accepting Normandy to defend it against other Norse; Scandinavian kingdoms in Britain, Ireland; mercenary work in Constantinopolis in the Varengian Guard…), maintaining trade systems from Rus to Northern Africa (and who knows how far down south of the atlantic African coast?), then getting christianised and integrated in the medieval European geopolitical bloc.
      The only reason they are remembered as bloodthirsty end-time monsters are because of the Catholic Church grudge ’bout the early days. Aah, Lindisfarne…

      *Forcibly removed by Frankish knights*
      AND IF THEY DIDN’T WANT THEM PLUNDERED, WHY DID THEY MADE THEM IN GOLD?

  9. KotBasil says:

    I prefer Yen, but I’m in a kinda curious position here: I know the books really well, but the games… not so much. And books clearly say that Geralt do not love Triss (romantically, of course, she is still his dear friend).
    Relationship between Geralt and Yennefer is… complicated. Probably best described by the words of a character from the books: “You were made for each other. But nothing will come of it. Nothing. I’m sorry.”
    So not a fun, healthy kind of relationship, this is what I’m getting at.

  10. Redrock says:

    Complicating this issue is the fact that I suspect the developers themselves are on Team Triss. Triss was in the first two games (Yen wasn’t), players completing a typical playthrough will have the opportunity to complete Triss’s romance sequence before ever having the opportunity to start Yen’s, and in general Triss comes off more as the “right” option.

    I might have mentioned it a thousand times before, but I think that most problems with Yen ‘s portrayal in the games comes from the fact that the developers didn’t have a consistent plan for her. I always had a feeling that in the first game Triss was meant to be at least in part a stand-in for Yen. She is much more harsh and cold in the first game. Also, unlike the other characters, her visual design doesn’t correspond to the book descriptions – she is supposed to have a severely scarred chest. And also the whole way she implicitly hid everything about Yen from Geralt and used his amnesia is way too dark to be intentional (also, the fact that NO ONE thought to remind Geralt of Yen or Ciri). I think they never had a solid plan on whether they will bring back Ciri and Yen and pursue a deeper connection to the books. But once they decided to do it, well, they just kinda rolled with it.

    Also, in the grand scheme of things, save for a couple of characters, one can mostly move on from the books to The Witcher 3, completely skipping the first two games in terms of narrative, treating them as borderline fanfiction. You can boil their stories to “Geralt lost his memory and faffed about for a bit, and NOW the real story starts”. All of that, I think, really muddles up the “Yen vs Triss” debate.

    1. Zekiel says:

      It is weird isn’t it. In fact in the first game they basically have Triss standing in for Yennefer, and Some Kid (I forget his name) standing in for Ciri – he’s a super-powerful source of magic or something, and Geralt and Triss (or Shanni, if you choose) end up kind of surrogate parenting him.

      1. Redrock says:

        Yup. And the first game goes full-on weird with the time-travel loop, and most of that crazy shit is barely acknowledged in the sequels. The way I see it, CDPR has a lot of respect for the source material, and wanted to improve their craft before having a go at what is essentially an unofficial sequel, which is The Witcher 3. And that’s why the story of the first two games is mostly inconsequential when viewed in the context of the overarching narrative of the books and the third game.

        1. Zekiel says:

          I feel like the first game probably came more from a place of lacking confidence – hence somewhat repeating material from the books. (As well as not-Yen and not-Ciri, it also incorporates the princess from the very first Witcher story.)

          On the other hand is does end with you confronting the King of the Wild Hunt at the end of the world which does link rather significantly to Witcher 3 (even if it is by no means necessary to have played it to appreciate W3).

          I disagree that the story of Witcher 2 is inconsequential though – the whole plot of the game ends up being about the Nilgaardian Empire preparing the way for their invasion. It also sets up the situation that the mages of Novigrad find themselves in, and it introduces (to the videogame player who hasn’t read the books) important characters in the Witcher 3 like King Radovid (plus less important ones like Vernon Roche and Philippa).

          1. Redrock says:

            Yeah, the second one has some times – a handful of characters and some storylines, especially the conflict between Philippa and Radovid and Roche. Still, by no means essential. The invasion? You can easily replace the whole second game that with one line of narration, “Nilfgaard attacked again”, and achieve roughly the same result. Most of the actual events of the second game have little to do with the third one. Many important characters are missing and barely referenced.

            Also, the portrayal of the King of the Wild Hunt as a mystical soul-collecting entity in the first one doesn’t really help tie it to The Witcher 3.

            1. Zekiel says:

              You’re absolutely right. There’s no need to play the first game to appreciate the 2nd, and no need to play either of them to appreciate the third. But I do think the 2nd leads reasonably well into the third (at least, as well as it could given that they’re saddled with Geralt having amnesia at the beginning of it for stupid reasons)

  11. Redrock says:

    Also, yeah, Undvik is one of the few places where I actually felt scared and vulnerable. Pretty great achievement in a game where you’re generally supposed to feel quite powerful.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I’m a little bit sad that the Undvik quest ended the way it did.

      You end up finding the guy you’re looking for and killing the giant in an epic cutscene, then you both go back as heroes. Ho hum. Player wins again, even though loads of nobodies died to build up the giant.
      I think it would have fit to either have found the Jarl’s son dead, or just have it be flat-out impossible to kill the giant, or find the guy broken mentally and just wanting to leave.
      Some monsters are too much, even for a Witcher, and Whatisname an Craite has to deal with leading his friends to their deaths in a failed endeavor.

      Would have pissed some players off, but had more of an impact. Player character invulnerability kind of bores me.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        To be fair to the game,there are plenty of other places where you cant get everything you want,regardless of what you do.So having an actual victory like this from time to time is less bothersome,and more of a feel good moment.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Well, usually when something bad happens in the Witcher 3’s story, it’s a bit distant.
          There was no easy answer. You didn’t know that NPC was lying to you. You did what you thought was the best thing at the time. Etc.
          I haven’t yet (haven’t finished the game, though) come across a situation where I really felt like *I* failed.*

          Good example: Kiera Metz just died in my game, horribly. I assume that the other endings for her character are better than ‘tortured to death’ – but I made it clear that what she was planning to do was a really bad idea. Sure, I assume I COULD have stopped her, but she made it clear she didn’t want me to…It’s not like *I* killed her.

          *Well, apart from the times the YOU ARE DEAD screen came up and I had to load an old save after being hit too many times. Obviously.

          1. Coming Second says:

            You just need to confront Keira at the tower, then tell her she can hide out at Kaer Morhen instead. The dialogue options at that juncture aren’t particularly clear about where they’ll lead though, I agree.

            1. Redrock says:

              Oh, I dunno, a sorceress offering what’s essentially a chemical weapon to a mad king who gets off on torturing women who even remotely have anything to do with magic or non-humans? Seems to be a good idea to dissuade her, for a whole bunch of reasons.

            2. StuHacking says:

              The dialogue options at that juncture aren’t particularly clear about where they’ll lead though

              In this case, that’s a good thing. TW3 is refreshing in that the conversations you have with other (significant) characters feel like a negotiation between what that character wants, what they are willing to do/give up to achieve it, and whether Geralt can convince them that it’s too dangerous, or immoral.

              And the fact that Keira is headstrong enough that if you fail to convince her she becomes hostile was something that really pleasantly surprised me the first time I played it. I really liked that CDPR were willing to put a significant character moment behind a conversation that had a very tangible negative consequence.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                And they lie to you. All the time. Even the ones that like you – they’ll just omit information that they don’t think you need to know.
                Had to get used to that while I was playing: most games, at key junctures like this, fairly obviously signpost the decisions.
                Say A to achieve X, B to achieve Y.

                But the NPCs here feel a little bit more like talking to real people. They’re saying what they think will get you to do what they want, and quite often they’ll turn on you if they don’t get it. Gotta say I get Geralt’s grumpy attitude.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Like Bob mentioned the quest still has elements of that. Yes, you beat the giant and yes Hjalmar is, or at least presents as, a boisterous warrior because that is the Skellige way. He managed to avenge his comrades and win back the island for his people so he has all the reasons to be pleased with himself. But on a personal level he lost a bunch of his friends, and he was the one who proposed and lead the whole endeavour and to Geralt, who is an outsider, he is a bit more open and somewhat rergretful about the expedition.

  12. Leviathan902 says:

    I love the whole Triss vs. Yen debate and I really had a hard time with it in the game.

    For me, personally, I’ve always been Team Triss but I knew that Geralt himself was Team Yen (if you read the books it’s pretty well established that Triss is VERY fond of Geralt, but he doesn’t love her but REALLY loves Yen). This caused some pretty significant dissonance for me when you came to a point where you had to choose between them (when you release Geralt’s “Last Wish” ).

    I ultimately couldn’t choose and Geralt ended up alone. Though the scene where Triss and Yen trick him and tell him that they’re both done with him is absolutely SPECTACULAR in the way it subverts male audience hopes/expectations. It was extremely memorable and I loved it even if it did mean Geralt would probably die alone :P

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I’m on team Triss too, but that’s because I haven’t read any of the books or played the previous games.
      Though reading this, my reaction to Yen has changed from ‘Jeez woman, what the hell’s your problem?’ to ‘Oh, that’s why she’s like that. Okay.’

      Still doesn’t change the fact she seems arrogant and selfish to me, though. She knowingly and happily tramples over Skellige tradition, doing a lot of damage there – just because she can’t be bothered to find another way. or even consider other options.
      Doesn’t even think about asking permission or apologizing either.

      It fits, because she’s a powerful Sorceress who’s used to getting her way – but fuck you, lady. At least Triss seems to give a shit about the feelings of others who aren’t family/close friends.

      1. Redrock says:

        Arrogant – yes. Selfish – not so much. She is doing most of that for Ciri. And as far as she is concerned, everyone else can burn.

        1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

          Thats pretty selfish in my book.

          1. Redrock says:

            In my experience, most mothers are that way if their child is in danger. Hey, when it’s Liam Neeson tearing up Paris, people cheer. I say give Yen a break.

            1. PPX14 says:

              Hmm I think right or wrong, that’s practically the definition of selfish – the instinct of looking after one’s child regardless of the effect on others.
              He seems unnecessarily brutish in that film to me, ending up a far worse criminal than most of those he killed -presumably just because I didn’t like his character. Why people cheer for him or Taken is a mystery far more horrifying than any in the Witcher lore. I blame the Bourne films, and Taken, for this death of good action films and onset of boring bland ones with terrible camera angles. Bring back the likeable characters of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard 1-3!! I don’t mind the transgressions of Riggs or McLaine anywhere near as much ;-)

            2. BlueHorus says:

              As PPX14, I think Liam Neeson’s actions in Taken are bad too. I’m not horrified or anything – those films are wish-fulfillment action movies, after all – but in real life he’d go to prison and good thing too.

              The ‘my family and friends are more important than anything else’ attitude is, to me – while perfectly natural – inherently unjust.
              Among other things it’s the reason behind honor killings, perjury in court, nepotism, enabling domestic abuse, causing domestic abuse, more murders than you can shake a stick at, and lots of other things I forget at the moment.*

              As I said I understand Yennefer, but I can’t like her.

              *Also some of the batshit-insane laws you come across in Skellige.

  13. Zekiel says:

    Are you going to cover Cerys an Craite’s quest? I loved Hjalmar’s quest for the atmosphere but I far preferred Cerys as a character. And her quest is properly creepy too. (I had no hestiation in choosing who to back as the new monarch.)

  14. Vermander says:

    Just once I’d like to see a piece of fiction grapple with that issue more thoroughly.

    You did a pretty lengthy series on ASOIAF, where the “proud, stubborn Viking” race are generally hated by almost all of their neighbors (for good reason). Their insistence on clinging to a culture that glorifies theft, rape and murder is mostly portrayed as serious detriment to their society.

  15. Roofstone says:

    It is a bit of a rare breed I have gathered from forums, but I’m one of those that has read the books and prefer Triss. For me it comes down to character growth. In the books Triss is needy, childish, and kinda manipulative. She is not pleasant at all. But she grows out of it somewhat towards the end, and by the time the third game has rolled around she has grown to be a down to earth and outright sweet person.

    Whereas Yen is still the same old she ever was.

    I am a sucker for good character progression what can I say.

    1. Redrock says:

      Oh, come on, in the books Yen has a decent arc both in terms of her relationship with Geralt and with Ciri. Triss, on the other hand, goes on to join and remain loyal to the Lodge of sorceresses, which tries to force Ciri to serve their political interests. Like Yen, Triss is complicated, to say the least. I don’t know if I would call her “sweet”, though.

      1. Corsair says:

        Triss is definitely a sweet person – but sweet doesn’t mean good, just as Yen’s bitterness doesn’t make her wicked. I wouldn’t say Triss is evil per se, she tends to be a good person on a grand scale but a selfish person when you break it down to individual levels, see her treatment of both Geralt and Ciri.

  16. Nietoperz says:

    To be fair to the Skelligens (not sure what the appropriate demonym is but let’s just go with that), they are only really affirmed to be raiding the “bad guys”, the *Nilfgaardians. Mostly because of their previous alliance with Cintra, conquered before the games started. Doesn’t exactly exonerate them but makes it a bit easier for the audience to like them.

    I feel like Triss’s actions in the books weren’t adequately addressed, though Yen/Ciri/Geralt seemed to more or less forgive her or at least let it go given how much they’d already struggled. They barely have her address her behaviour in game 1&2 (literally one throwaway line, played as a bit of a joke), though Yen does due dilligence to poor Geralt over it… in any case it made the choice a bit more straightforward for me, although I like many other commenters always thought Yen’s borderline-abusive behaviour was a good fit for Geralt’s outer stoicism.

    *Arguable, since the PoV character pointedly doesn’t have a stake or much of an opinion, but Nilfgaard is mainly depicted as aggressors and Temeria (though not so much the other Northern Kingdoms) is portrayed somewhat sympathetically in the games and parts of the books. And like more than half a book is devoted to the heroic defence of the North in the previous war.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Skellige folk are some kind of noble pirates who only attack the bad, all conquering, slaveowning empire. While they do have a particular dislike of Nilfgaard so they make a point of targetting them whenever the opportunity presents itself Skellige raiders are not above targetting anyone including, at times, each other. Admittedly this may change somewhat particularly if you supported Cerys as the queen as her apparent platform is the unification of Skellige clans and being more open to diplomatic relations (with non-Nilfgaardians).

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