The Witcher 3: Drunk-Megascoping Sorceresses

By Bob Case Posted Thursday Jul 5, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 45 comments

It’s a bit of an abridged entry today due to the holiday, but I thought I’d button up some of my thoughts on the first part of the game.

In Which I Try to Figure Out What Exactly Is Going On

After finally gathering up various macguffins (the phylactery, the incantation to activate it, and a weird baby thing called Uma), Geralt and company are ready to polish off the first half of the game. If you haven’t played The Witcher 3, or even if you have, the parenthetical in the previous sentence might be a bit confusing. It’s still confusing to me, and I’ve played through the game several times.

This is Uma. He's a weird baby thing. It's ok if you're confused.
This is Uma. He's a weird baby thing. It's ok if you're confused.

Basically, we’ve been on Ciri’s trail this whole time, following rumors, gathering clues, and talking to people who met her passing through, trying to figure out what exactly has happened to her and where she is now. This is difficult because Ciri is a child of the “Elder Blood,” also known as the “Hen Ichaer.” I won’t lore dump about this right now, but suffice it so say she has unique magical abilities, chief among them the ability to teleport.

The problem is that she doesn’t entirely have control over these abilities. If she gets into a sticky situation, she can teleport out, but she won’t always know where she’ll arrive until she gets there. This obviously makes tracking her difficult, and it explains why we have to trek all over creation to piece together her story. Now I’m a reasonably attentive person, and I’ve played this game multiple times. However, even I am not entirely sure what exactly happened to Ciri and in what order. I’m going to try and reconstruct my understanding of events, without cheating by looking at the wiki.

  • Ciri is attempting to escape the Wild Hunt, who want her for reasons we don’t entirely understand yet. She is being aided by a mysterious Elven mage. The Wild Hunt has the ability to track her when she teleports.
  • She arrives (I believe) in Skellige first. She fights some of the Wild Hunt in a forest before teleporting again (I believe). At this point (or possibly before) her Elven companion is cursed by Eredin, King of the Wild Hunt. However, the curse does not take effect immediately.
  • Ciri teleports to Velen, where she helps a young girl escape a werewolf in the forest, then finds herself in the company of the Bloody Baron. After spending some time at Crow’s Perch, she travels to Novigrad.
  • The Elven Mage also goes to Velen (I’m not sure where this part fits in the timeline). He enlists the help of Keira Metz to create a potion which will delay the effects of the curse.
  • The curse is somehow connected to a phylactery, which is now broken (how?). Ciri enlists Novigrad gangster “Whoreson” Junior to fix it. (This part is confusing even on its own, and I covered it in the Novigrad section)
  • Ciri’s Elven companion somehow secrets her away on a magical isle called the Isle of Mists. Here she’ll be hidden from Eredin, unless she uses her teleport ability again.
  • The mysterious Elf goes back to Skellige (the Isle of Mists is accessed from Skellige so perhaps it was to deliver Ciri there). Here he finally succumbs to his curse, which turns him into the weird baby thing called Uma. If you know what kind of personalities Witcher Elves, and especially the Aen Elle, have, this isn’t as strange as it sounds. The purpose of the curse was to humiliate the Elf.
  • At some point Ciri spent some time in a village in Skellige called Lofoten, which was attacked by the Wild Hunt shortly afterwards. I think this was right before she went to the Isle of Mists, but I’m not sure.
  • The weird baby thing is collected by a local Skellige trader, who keeps it as a curiosity before losing it in a card game to the Bloody Baron.
  • Geralt collects Uma at Crow’s Perch, once he finally learns that it’s connected to Ciri. Now he, Yennefer, Triss, and the other Witchers are returning to the Witcher stronghold at Kaer Morhen to try and figure out how to lift the curse.

Hoof. That’s a lot of stuff, and I’m not sure I got it all right. Between the fact that this sequence of events involves magical shenanigans, the details of which are not always made available to the player, periodic teleportation of the main character, and the fact that you learn everything in bits and pieces and out of order, it’s no wonder that by the time I arrived at Kaer Morhen I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing and why.

To clear things up, I've decided to include this screenshot with no context whatsoever.
To clear things up, I've decided to include this screenshot with no context whatsoever.

This isn’t necessarily a damning indictment of the first part of the game. Creating a detailed timeline of what exactly happened to Ciri and when isn’t essential to the player’s experience. What’s more important is that we’ve gotten to know and like the main characters, and hopefully feel close enough to Ciri that we have some measure of the parental concern that Geralt does.

But it’s not entirely unimportant, either. In an open world game like this, when you spend a good chunk of your time following the marker on the compass, it’s easy to lose track of your original goal. It doesn’t help when the goal is confusing. On the one hand, Geralt is looking for Ciri. On the other, at some point I basically just gave up on trying to deduce her location using available clues and instead just resigned myself to the knowledge that the game would pull something out of its ass at the appropriate time. That’s not the ideal state of mind you want in a genre that traffics in immersion.

It’s why it’s good, I think, that there’s a bottleneck in the middle of the game to refocus and simplify things. So Vesemir gets the gang back together at Kaer Morhen, and we get to the good part.

The Importance of Downtime

One of the many ways “gameplay” is defined is “a cycle of challenge and reward.” You present the player with something difficult to do, and once they succeed, you reward them. In RPGs, the reward is often either experience points, a new party member, some kind of swanky magical doodad, or all of the above.

But another possible reward, and an underutilized one at that, is downtime. Downtime is the absence of gameplay. It’s a break, a sequence where you don’t have to shoot or stab anything, or make any tough jumps, or solve any puzzles, or whatever. Where you just get to bask in the game world and enjoy it for a bit.

And now, at Kaer Morhen, the player gets the opportunity to get smashed with Geralt’s fellow Witchers. It’s goofy, doesn’t advance the story, and features what by now is the RPG cutscene standard of poorly executed drinking animations. (Seriously, why has no studio managed to create a realistic-looking animation for a character drinking liquid out of a cup? Just mocap it if you have to!)

No drowners, no bandits, no water hags. Just Lambert doing his Vesemir impression.
No drowners, no bandits, no water hags. Just Lambert doing his Vesemir impression.

I’ve noticed that a disproportionate share of the games I’ve found most memorable have had well-crafted downtime. Half-Life 2 is a game that rewards players with expertly-timed downtime. I’m guessing that most people who played Final Fantasy VII still remember going on a date at the Golden Saucer more than two decades later. Bioware, even in their current diminished state, still has downtime chops. The Citadel DLC was basically downtime. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, the “movie night” sequence was the same.

It’s a trick that I wish more studios would add to their repertoire. It’s the necessary balance to the urge to make everything bigger and more intense and more epic. Cycles of tension and relaxation are crucial to music, drama, and virtually every kind of art. Games, in my opinion, are no exception.

So, this Independence Day, we celebrate downtime. In the next entry, we get back to business. After all these hours of gameplay, we’re finally going to find Ciri. Stay tuned.


From The Archives:

45 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Drunk-Megascoping Sorceresses

  1. aradinfinity says:

    All the pictures are broken for me- I’m using a Win10 machine with the browser Opera, so it might be that.

    1. Shamus says:

      Oops. That’s my fault. Bob sent me the pics for this week and I put them on my local server but didn’t transfer them to the site.

      Should be fixed now.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        You also deleted the mouse over text for the last picture ;)

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    For anyone who is confused: a phylactery is a fancy name for a horcrux. Hope that helps *wink*

    1. evileeyore says:

      Not quite. In fact…. I believe the Witcher is going back to the roots of what a phylactery actually was, a box that contains supernatural things.

      In this case instead of containing Hebrew scrolls*, it contained the curse.

      * That’s what a phylactery actually contains, not the ‘soul’ of a lich. Gygax perverted so many myths in his time…

      1. Zaxares says:

        A D&D phylactery is a small, ornate box (traditionally. A phylactery theoretically could be of any shape and size as long as it had an internal compartment), whose inner walls were inscribed with mystical runes and designs. Gygax added the additional lore that this box was where the lich’s soul resided, which was why killing the lich’s physical body had no real consequence; the lich could always possess or obtain another body. I like the idea of the box containing something other than the soul though, like it literally held a curse or the spell that kept the lich from dying, even though its body could be hacked to pieces.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        That’s why I love bringing it up during the discussion of witcher, because it does not fit

  3. GargamelLeNoir says:

    Gods that scene made me laugh to tears! I still smirk whenever I remember these simple words :

    “Lambert, you’re a genius!”

    1. Pax says:

      I don’t know if any other scene in any other game has made me laugh as hard as this one.

    2. Nick Powell says:

      The funny part is listening to the voice actor for Geralt trying to put drunken enthusiasm into those lines while also doing his standard gruff voice and not quite pulling it off

  4. Mr. Wolf says:

    Oh, the timeline. It’s actually quite simple when it’s not fractured into pieces and scattered over 20-50 hours of gameplay.

    0. The Mysterious Elf is cursed. This entire expedition is to find a cure.

    1. Ciri and Mysterious Elf arrive in Skellige, with the Wild Hunt close behind. Ciri is injured and teleports away.

    2. Ciri lands in Crookback Bog and is captured by the Crones. They patch up her wounds. Ciri quickly escapes.

    3. Ciri finds the lost girl, fights the werewolf and meets the Bloody Baron.

    4. Ciri decides she’s spent too long in one place and leaves for Novigrad.

    5. Ciri finds Dandelion and explains the problem. Dandelion gets in contact with Whoreson Jr. because magic is illegal and Whoreson is the only criminal he knows. (Annoyingly if he’d used literally any other contact he has in the city he’d have been pointed towards the King of Beggars, and by extension Triss).

    6. Everything goes wrong. Whoresone Jr. rips them off, Dandelion is captured by the Witch Hunters and the Temple Guard, Ciri teleports back to Skellige.

    7. Ciri lands in the village of Lofoten. The village is attacked soon after but she escapes and rejoins the Mysterious Elf. He casts a spell to put her to sleep and spirits her away to fairyland.

    8. The Elf’s curse progresses. He devolves into the ugliest man alive, and gets traded around as a novelty, coincidentally ending up in the Bloody Baron’s possession.

    When did the Elf see Kiera? Seemingly after Ciri teleports to Velen he came to look for her, but he apparently never found her, and it’s never explained how they knew where to meet up when Ciri got back to Skellige.

    Did I leave anything out? I’m both 90% sure I didn’t, and 90% sure that I did.

    1. Henson says:

      1) No, the Mysterious Elf is cursed shortly after arriving in Skellige for the first time. The whole explosion in the forest (where Yennefer uses the mask) was caused by the casting of this curse.

      2) In the Mysterious Elf’s hideout in Velen, he leaves a message telling Ciri to meet up with him ‘where they first met’, or something like that. Perhaps she eventually found his hideout? The only thing that makes me doubtful is that she didn’t erase his messages; I think he asked her to do that (maybe she didn’t know how?).

      1. Pax says:

        I don’t think Ciri ever got that message. I think he probably sensed her teleporting to Skellige and followed. Maybe once he got the potion from Kiera, he was able to concentrate on finding Ciri again.

        I was also confused by the cutscene on that Skellige isle at first, and only later did I realize that it showed Ciri and the elf leaving in a boat (presumably taking her to the Isle of Mist), and later Uma returning by boat to the same shore.

      2. Mr. Wolf says:

        1) Thank you. I was 90% sure I had forgotten something.

        2) Still doesn’t make much sense. I guess even in the best plots there are gaps (almost said “hole”, but it’s not a plot hole really).

  5. top6 says:

    What I found odd and confusing was that Uma is at Crow’s Perch–the one place where there already was a (somewhat memorable!) baby-like monster creature. I totally forgot about briefly seeing Uma, and assumed I was going back for the botchling’s body (although I had no idea how it had apparently traveled through space/time to interact with Ciri). This just seemed like a weird and unnecessarily confusing choice, since Uma could have been sent almost anywhere in the game at this point.

    1. Henson says:

      There is a single reason why Uma is at Crow’s Perch; it makes the Velen questline necessary. Without Uma, the only thing the Velen quest accomplishes is to tell Geralt ‘your princess is in another castle’; it has no purpose to the main plot.

      Now, I suppose they could have had the Bloody Baron meet Geralt somewhere else along the quest, and show off Uma there, but where would this be? And why? It’s just much simpler to make it Crow’s Perch.

  6. BlueHorus says:

    RE the timeline: Does it matter?

    I didn’t know how everything had happened, or when Ciri was where exactly, but I did know what I was doing: I had to cure Uma. That was clear.
    Where Ciri was is interesting but irrelevant; where she is now is what matters.

    I tell you what was weird, though: if you play through the Velen section first – like you’re meant to – Uma literally tumbles into a serious conversation you’re having with the Bloody Baron, like some horribly miscalculated comedy relief.

    You’ve just finished telling the poor guy about his wife’s damnation at the hands of the Crones, and he’s begged you to help get her back – then suddenly bam! A gabbling baby-creature in a diaper bursts through a door. It’s…somewhat jarring.

    1. RoboticWater says:

      My problem is more that the game explicitly walks you through the chronology at least twice I think, and I can’t, for the life of me, remember the correct order of events. Looking ahead to the game’s final act, I can’t help but view this disjointedness of Ciri’s travels to be a microcosm of her entire plot in the game. Like, I kinda get what’s going on. Sure, destiny this, apocalypse that, but I think there just needed to be more context for me to engage with that part of the story. I’m just left thinking “oh, OK, I like Ciri, so I’ll just go along with this I guess.”

      More immediately though, I think the distinct lack of an “ah ha” moment (or hell, even an “I understand what happened” upon reflection moment) makes looking back upon upon your wild goose chase as little more than a wild goose chase. Sure, the stories along the way were worth the meandering, but landing that quest would have done the game so many more favors.

  7. BlueHorus says:

    The downtime isn’t just that one drinking section, though.

    I hadn’t played/read anything Witcher-related before this, so when I first got to Kaer Morhen and saw Lambert & Eskel I was like ‘Ah crap, who are these clowns? Is it time to go back to the character glossary again*?

    But then you do a quest with each of them, which take the time to show the relationship that Geralt has with them and a history of how Witchers are made and the scars that they all have left from that.
    It combines ‘Geralt catching up with his friends’ with ‘introduce new’ characters really well.

    *Fun fact: one of the things that made me bounce off this game the first time I tried is reading the character entries on Ciri and Geralt. Their entries made them sound like just…awful Mary Sues, fit only for the worst kind of fanfic – which is a shame, given how that story is considerably better than that.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You can do a quest for lambert earlier, in novigrad I think. So I bonded with him earlier over our mutual dislike of geralt.

    2. AzzyGaiden says:

      Absolutely agreed. The way in which Geralt and Ciri (and to a similar extent Yennefer and Geralt) are described as uniquely, cosmically close, destinies intertwined, more important to each other than even a parent and child weirded me out. It is, as you say, fanfic-esque, where couples have these implausibly deep emotional bonds because the author is either too unskilled or too inexperienced to write a more realistic explanation for why these characters would be drawn to one another.

      I also don’t quite understand what Geralt and Ciri’s relationship actually is, and I’ve played through the game twice and read a couple of the books. Like, “adopted daughter,” okay, but she has a biological father, and furthermore has spent much (maybe even the majority?) of her life away from Geralt, so I’m not entirely sure why their bond is so unshakeable. I assume a prophecy or “fate” or something is involved, which is fine, though this feels like an artificial basis for a relationship that is otherwise wonderfully rendered. (The Last Wish quest does a good job of “fixing” this aspect of the Yen/Geralt relationship.)

      Whatever; I suppose it’s necessary to handwave away the wankier aspects of this universe if you want any chance of appreciating it.

    3. Redrock says:

      To be quite fair, the character entries are supposed to be written by Dandelion and have his unique, ahem, flair. To a certain extent, they are intended to read as fanfiction, that’s what Dandelion does within the lore of the Witcher: creates greatly exaggerated and romanticized accounts of Geralt’s adventures and personal life.

      As to Geralt’s connection with Ciri, well, it gets tricky. The books frequently play around with the notion of Destiny (it’s not the exact word used in the original, perhaps, Predestination is better), an actual mystical force that connects people and affects their fates. Some people believe in Destiny and some don’t, and the books remain a bit coy on that subject. The witchers, in particular, have an interesting relationship with this idea, as they believe that Destiny may or may not affect whether a child survives the mutations. More importantly, some of them believe that one day a child of Destiny will come to them that will be as formidable as a witcher without the mutations, which is kinda what happens with Ciri. This has to do with the Law of the Surprise, which, as stated in the game, is “when a witcher demands from a man rescued on the road that which he does not expect once he returns home. It turns out to be a child born during the father’s absence”.

      This law is actually put to the test when Geralt saves a man on the road and when they go to the man’s house it turns out that in his abscence his wife actually took the orphaned little Ciri under her wing at the start of the war. FInding each other by accident amid the chaos of war, well, while not explicitly stated in the books to be Destiny, is enough to make most people in Geralt’s life, including himself, seem to think so, at least. Hence, Dandelion’s enthusiasm about this idea.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Your reward here (and in practically every bioware game) is not just downtime, but interesting downtime. You get to participate in something funny, or heartwarming (like the snowball fight), or just some really well made banter. The reason why downtime is underutilized in other games is because it’s not easy to craft interesting downtime that people will want to get back to.

    On the flip side, you can end up like bioware and have that be much more interesting than your main game.

  9. Christopher says:

    village in Skellige called Lofoten

    I love this. You get Skellige, Kaer Morhen, Novigrad and a ton of other names that just sound like fantasy names – and then you get Lofoten, which is just a regular old Norwegian fishing town. This makes me wonder if all those names that sound like nonsense to me are pulled from Polish or Irish or whatever real places, too.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Novigrad actually just means new town when translated into english.There are tons of places with names like that in the real world.A quick google search leads to a newtown in wales.Heck,I didnt even have to search,since I know of a new town some 200 km from me.

      1. Redrock says:

        Isn’t there a town called Novigrad in Croatia? And I imagine there were quite a few settlements called that in Slavic countries during the Middle Ages, probably lost to the ages.

    2. Gwydden says:

      The Skellig Islands are an actual place in Ireland, and Novigrad is just a play on the medieval city of Novgorod.

      1. Redrock says:

        As well as the modern city of Novgorod. Two of them, actually.

    3. Sebastian says:

      Yes, there are some of those. Another island is Spikeroog, and Spiekeroog (with ie) is a small island in the german Northern Sea with less than 1000 citizens and elderly tourists. -oog is used as composita and is a Low German word for island. Spieker – noone knows really.

      And there’s of course the Faroe Islands, which is an archipelago under the Danish Crown (but mostly autonomous I guess).

      1. Lasius says:

        Actually “-oog” is Frisian. Low German would be “Eiland” or “Oie” in the east (a Danish loan). But many Low German dialects along the North Sea coast were heavily influenced by the Frisian languages.

    4. Henson says:

      Gwent is a county in Wales…

  10. Adrian Burt says:

    You claim to be a pretty observant player but you never put it together that the Wild Hunt, a group that travels between worlds conquering them, wants Ciri for her power to (and this is the complicated step you didn’t seem to observe) teleport between worlds.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      He did not say that he did not understand it,but that at this point in the game its not clear.Theres a difference.

  11. Shen says:

    Man, imagine if you DID get to play as Ciri properly. Imagine a big, richly detailed and interesting quest-filled gameworld with quest hooks around every corner… and a player character who instead of dying at 0HP gets teleported to a random “safe” location anywhere else on the map. Would be fun to have a massive RPG where failure doesn’t mean “now do everything again” and if it really bothered players they could inflict it on themselves by reloading a save.

    1. Joe says:

      That’s a wonderful idea! It would drive me completely insane to play it, but I’d certainly watch a LP.

    2. Redrock says:

      It would really mess with quest structure, though. Say you’re in the middle of a climactic battle that’s relevant to the story of a quest. You get killed, teleport away, spend hours getting back, and, what, is the battle just frozen and waiting for you? Or do you program story forks and reactions for every possible death in every possible battle? Like people just telling you: “Eh, it’s okay, we figured it out in the three weeks you were gone, thanks anyway”.

      1. Shen says:

        I was thinking exactly the second. Make it work like it does for Ciri here – even if you’re in the middle of something VERY important, if you lose, you’re out of there. Maybe you’ve left things in good enough condition that any allies you bounced on can clean up or maybe you didn’t get enough done and they all get slaughtered. Either way, when you finally get back there, there will be a story to tell and Actual Consequences (rather than just wasting the player’s time). Be sure to build the quests around and accommodating of the mechanic and you’ll end up with a very unique feel of an RPG and frankly “unique-feeling fantasy RPG” is something we need desperately more of.
        Obviously it won’t be for everyone but if you want broad-appeal fantasy romping, you pick up an Elder Scrolls game.

        1. Redrock says:

          No, I like the Idea very much. I’d buy that game in a second. I just wonder if it’s doable. That’s a lot of writing and a lot of narrative branches. Possible, certainly, but very, very difficult.

          1. Shen says:

            If Witcher 3 proved anything, it’s that this stuff is possible if you’re crazy enough.
            Of course business-wise, it’s unlikely to ever happen because “big game with guaranteed low mass appeal” ain’t getting funded.

        2. Water Rabbit says:

          see Quantum Leap.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not exactly what you were thinking,but planescape torment works like that.In fact,you dying and coming back to life is used in some quests as the solution.You just brute force it by dying at it.

      But I would definitely love to play as ciri.I enjoyed her sections in the witcher 3,even though I prefer how geralt fights.

  12. Fizban says:

    “But another possible reward, and an underutilized one at that, is downtime. Downtime is the absence of gameplay. It’s a break, a sequence where you don’t have to shoot or stab anything, or make any tough jumps, or solve any puzzles, or whatever. Where you just get to bask in the game world and enjoy it for a bit.”

    I hadn’t thought of it in terms of reward, but it immediately clicks how that is part of what makes Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky so satisfying. Not just that the game is nearly half “downtime,” but because as the difficulty ramps up you still know once you climb over that boss you’re gonna get more of that sweet downtime.

    Or as I initially was going to phrase it, story bits. That’s how I’ve usually thought of it in the past, gotta clear this part of the game so I can get to the next story bits. But the story bits in most games are. . . bits, so I didn’t put them in the same class and draw the link.

  13. Sleeping Dragon says:

    This is the exact reason why, if I recall correctly, when you finally do find Ciri you can have her recount the exact sequence of events in case you have any doubts about it, or you can tell her you know what happened and skip that part of the conversation.

  14. paercebal says:

    Bioware, even in their current diminished state, still has downtime chops. The Citadel DLC was basically downtime. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, the “movie night” sequence was the same.

    Am I the only one to live that like mourning a loved one through their agony?

  15. Lars says:

    It’s goofy, doesn’t advance the story, and features what by now is the RPG cutscene standard of poorly executed drinking animations. (Seriously, why has no studio managed to create a realistic-looking animation for a character drinking liquid out of a cup? Just mocap it if you have to!)

    Play Yakuza Zero, Kiwami or 6. They have really good drinking animations. Even the liquid flows realistically out of the glas.

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