The Witcher 3: White Orchard, Part Two

By Bob Case Posted Thursday Mar 15, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 48 comments

When I left off last week my plan was to get some XP by doing quests that had little to no combat. I did the one where you find out who burned down the dwarf’s smithy, the one where you make a potion for a victim of a griffin attack, the one where you get the old lady’s pan, and advanced the griffin contract a few steps (which only requires you to fight a few wild dogs, with Mislav’s help). I won’t cover them in too much detail. For one, if I cover every quest in detail this series will be a thousand entries long, and for two, I think many of you reading this have already played the game anyway.

Instead I want to write a bit about what they all add up to. White Orchard is a setting with a very focused hook – the tension between the Temerian locals and the Nilgaardian occupiers – and pretty much everything that happens here explores that tension in some way, and how it intersects with people’s everyday lives. At no point during my time in White Orchard did I feel like I played through a quest that was just there as filler. (I’m talking about actual quests here, not bandit camps/monster nests/etc) Seeing it from a critical perspective, it’s startling how easy the developers make it all look.

I include this for nostalgia's sake. It was a promotional screenshot that I used as my desktop background for like six months.
I include this for nostalgia's sake. It was a promotional screenshot that I used as my desktop background for like six months.

It’s also unique in that it explores the aftermath of a military conflict rather than the conflict itself. Were the Witcher license to be acquired by, say, Activision, I can pretty much guarantee you that the dramatic opening battle cutscene would have been the part you played, and the state of the countryside afterwards likely wouldn’t have been mentioned at all. CD Projekt does it the other way round, which is a good illustration of how – for lack of a better phrase – Sapkowski-ish they are.

Andrzej Sapkowski, if you didn’t already know, is the guy who wrote the Witcher books. And if you know that, you likely know that the first Witcher books were collections of short stories, and to this day the short stories are my favorites moreso than the novels. A good Witcher short story typically takes a familiar (to an Eastern European, anyway) bit of folklore or a well-worn fantasy trope and somehow turns it on its head in an interesting way. In my opinion, Sapkowski’s main gift as a writer (along with his imagination) is his ability to find the pathos in even the strangest situations. It’s just the sort of quality that you would expect to be lost in the transition from one person writing a story to several different people writing a video game.

And yet I consider the Witcher games to be faithful reproductions of the spirit of the written works. I wish I had some theory as to how exactly they pulled this off, so I could recommend the method to other developers. How exactly do you make a well-written game from a management standpoint? The obvious answer is just to hire good writers and then let them write (I believe the second part is the hurdle that fewer companies clear than the first), but that’s too pat an answer to be satisfying for me. We’ll be returning to my thoughts on the good (and occasional average/bad) bits of the series’ writing as we move forward, but that’s enough hoity-toity book learnin’ for now. We’ve got a griffin to kill.

Geralt and Vesemir use a particularly stinky herb called buckthorn to lure the big feathered grump out, and it’s punching time. Or more accurately, setting-on-fire-with-Igni time, as this fella is too many weight classes above me to make a KO a likely outcome. I was worried that the griffin might be able to one-shot an unarmored Geralt, but that’s not the case. However, he does do some damage, which means I’m gonna need some stiff drinks to get through this.

If you think fighting a Royal Griffin is hard, try fighting two and a half of them at once while unarmed, half naked, and shitfaced.
If you think fighting a Royal Griffin is hard, try fighting two and a half of them at once while unarmed, half naked, and shitfaced.

Surprisingly, this fight only took me two tries, though the second one was a close call (I was down to my last bottle of Erveluce). Once again it’s Vesemir doing most of the work, as I make a habit of running behind him and letting him draw aggro whenever I don’t have Quen up. Even though I mostly use Igni for damage, I do actually punch the griffin a few times, just so I can say I punched a griffin.

Stop them! They're getting away!
Stop them! They're getting away!

I do have the crossbow equipped for this fight, as Vesemir gives it to you in a cutscene right before and you can’t unequip things in combat. And I admit that in my weakness I shot it with the crossbow a couple times, though you don’t actually have to. Even when it takes off, it will eventually land again on its own if you’re patient enough. This is the game’s first “boss fight,” so to speak, and I have to say it showcases what the Witcher 3 can do pretty well. It’s an enemy that’s essentially a giant bird, which has gotta be awkward to design, but it has several distinct attacks with fair hitboxes and it periodically gets up and flies around. It also looks great. In fact, pretty much all the monsters in this game look great.

There are certainly complaints to be made about the Witcher 3’s combat, but I’m not going to make them right at this moment. This fight was fun, and I got a griffin head trophy out of it.

I don't even wanna think about where he was keeping that knife this whole time.
I don't even wanna think about where he was keeping that knife this whole time.

With a fresh griffin head hanging from Roach’s saddle, I can now collect my reward for the Nilfgaardian Captain, who says he knows where Yennefer is.

Next week we’ll get down to business and start the game’s main quest. I’ve left a lot of things undone in White Orchard, including the “Devil by the Well” contract, which I may come back for. I have to say, for a guy with a bad completionist bug, not feeling like you have to do everything is super relaxing. At one point a guy by the side of the road said “Witcher! I could use your help!” and I just kept riding. This must be what freedom feels like.

If you’re curious about build stuff, the first thing I took was the talent that makes food regenerate health for 20 minutes, which on death march is useful to point of being borderline OP. Then I took two points (so far) in Axii, since it makes Axii more effective in dialogues. I hate missing out on special dialogue options. I also have a vague plan to specialize in Axii, since of all the signs it has the most comedic potential.

I’ve also discovered something encouraging: while punching hardly does any damage to monsters, it does sometimes poise break them. There’s a lv7 wraith – which is a decently tough opponent in the early game – by a place of power near the mill, and I can interrupt its standard (ie, non-teleporting) attack by punching it. Which means while punching may not be an effective offensive weapon against monsters, it could be useful for defense. It’s like the old saying says: “the best defense is punching.”

Anyhoo, like I said: next week we start the game’s main quest. See you then.


From The Archives:

48 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: White Orchard, Part Two

  1. Paul Spooner says:

    Unlike your apparently intended audience, I’ve never played any of the Witcher games. So, thanks to this series, my head-canon now indicates all witchers are drunk magical hobos. Fits in rather well with the folklore at least.

    1. Nick Powell says:

      Well they actually kind of are

      1. Felblood says:

        I have also never played Witcher game, but I have long labored under this impression.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Drunk magical hobo GIGOLOS.

      1. Redrock says:

        Well. I mean… huh. Mostly that’s just Geralt. The gigolo part, I mean. In the Season of Storms novel he is exactly that. Living with a sorceress, taking her money, the whole nine yards. And in The Lady of the Lake, when I think about it. Hm. The interesting thing is that at various points both Triss and Yen are kinda eager to have him give up witchering and let them support him. Huh. That’s something to think about.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Pretty witcher,prancin’ down the street

  2. Droid says:

    “CDPR to wraith: Poise is working as intended!”

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    For one, if I cover every quest in detail this series will be a thousand entries long

    I see no problem with that.

    and for two, I think many of you reading this have already played the game anyway.

    Showing that they dont mind when things get overly too long.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    the tension between the Temerian locals and the Nilgaardian occupiers


    1. Mycerinus says:

      It should be “Milfgaardian,” duh!

  5. alezul says:

    This is my second comment on the site and it’s to criticize this playthrough again. I’m sorry, i’m a negative nancy. I just think there are a billion things to talk about in this game, being naked and punching ain’t one of them.

    The “i’m naked when i’m not supposed to be naked haha” seems more like something that would work in a 5 minute youtube video, not this format.

    Article starts out really nice and then the naked stuff… It’s like in AssCreed games when you’re having fun and you’re suddenly pulled out to do the boring modern day stuff.

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      Article starts out really nice and then the naked stuff… It’s like in AssCreed games

      I see what you did there.

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      Yeaaah. I read you there. I too am here more for the analysis of the story quests and such. Frankly I couldn’t care less for the gameplay bits. Especially this kind of reductionist? play through that limits the mechanics used.

      1. Galad says:

        While it would somewhat run counter to the main joke of this playthrough, there’s nothing stopping Bob from going on tangents to analyse and say his opinion on story quests. Kind of like the above “if this game were made by Activision” passage.

    3. Len says:

      Agreed. It’s just not very funny. Also, by re-characterizing Geralt as a drunk naked hobo, Geralt’s original characterization is lost.

      Would have preferred it if Bob had used some difficult increasing mods instead of this whole naked thing.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But,that IS the original characterization of geralt.

  6. Anorak says:

    I recently finished the main quest of the Witcher 3, and am currently doing Blood & Wine. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of doing a roll-playing playthrough where I design my own rules like Bob is doing, but I just don’t have the time. So it’s nice when someone else does it and I can read about it.

    I’ve also done a recent playthrough of the witcher 2 again, doing Roche’s path instead of Iorveth’s, and I’m finding it to be a frustrating experience. I’m playing on Hard, and the combat is just too fiddly at times. Frequently I’ll roll away, but in doing so I’m presenting my back to my attacker and taking 200% damage.
    So retreating gets me killed :(
    Having gotten into the mid to end game, taking the upgrades for reducing backstab damage and increasing roll distance have almost trivilised some fights. Very weird how unbalanced it can be.

    My wife has always enjoyed watching me play the Witcher 3, she’s just started her own playthrough (on easy, but still). It’s really fun watching, but she’s never been much of a gamer so sometimes she’ll forget what buttons do what and end up doing something daft, for example like drinking all her potions instead of calling for the horse.

    1. Droid says:

      a roll-playing playthrough

      Oohh, what a subtle, yet savage comment on the surprising prevalence of rolling in modern fighting games as the most dependable way to control the damage you receive. To the point where you have to find a self-imposed justification (roll + role-playing) for it in order to not destroy any semblance of immersion.

      Or it was just a typo.

      I think I’ll go with the former (until proven otherwise).

      1. Anorak says:


        I like your interpretation too :)

    2. Fade2Gray says:

      I found the combat in W2 maddeningly frustrating. I bounced off the game three times (always at the big Letho fight at the end of act one) before the combat finally clicked with me (nearly two years after I bought it).

      1. Tizzy says:

        Ah, W2’s love of dropping you into a boss fight for which you cannot prepare… Especially with a checkpoint right before a lengthy cutscene and dialogue sequence.

        I feel your pain. I felt it very vividly at the time.

        1. Henson says:

          Ah, W2’s love of putting you in situations where drinking potions is literally impossible, making the alchemy tree occasionally useless…

          Good game. But what odd decisions it sometimes made.

  7. Redrock says:

    I wish I had some theory as to how exactly they pulled this off, so I could recommend the method to other developers.

    I still think that one of the main reasons that Witcher 3’s writing is that good is the fact that they drew a lot of inspiration from Sapkowski’s work. They had complex characters and situations and a nuanced world to work with. The writers also seem to have read the books many times and soaked in his style and general approach – take a known fairy-tale scenario, pass it through the filter os slavic culture, add a healthy dose of cynicism, and voila. A lot of the Witcher’s scenarios boil down to grittier, more “realistic” versions of common fairy-tales.

    Which is exactly why I’m a bit sceptical about Cyberpunk 2077. The folks at CDPR are very talented and skilled, no question there. But a tabletop setting isn’t nearly as detailed and exhaustive a framework as 7 or 8 books. There won’t be ready-made complex characters, scenarios and conflicts. Whether CDPR can construct them by themselves remains to be seen. Personally, I think that their original characters, like Saskia and Letho, for example, leave something to be desired when compared to those inherited from the books. I might be wrong, but they often feel like fanfiction OCs. Just a bit, but still.

    1. Pax says:

      I’m not saying you don’t have a point worrying about Cyberpunk; after all, they’ve developed their writing up to this point soley with Witcher’s style and themes, but I do disagree that a pen and paper campaign setting can’t have just as much detail as a book series. In fact, P&P settings are so overwhelmingly awash with details that it can sometimes be hard to wrap your head around enough of them to pretend to properly exist in the world (*cough*Shadowrun*cough*).

      1. Redrock says:

        Details and setting, yes. Which is why I emphasized characters and relationships specifically. Because that’s really what sets the Witcher games apart and a lot of that comes from the books. Pen and paper settings can have established characters somewhere in their fiction, but they are rarely all that deep or particularly humanized.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      So the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game is looking like the main inspiration for the game. They might take elements from the earlier edition, or the later Cybergeneration, but I can’t see either being very dominant.

      I loved CP2020 back in the day, even though by today’s standards the mechanics are really clumsy and messy. But much like the White Wolf World of Darkness games, it wants things both ways. It wants to be a deep meaningful story about being badass anti-heroes in trenchcoats fighting against the same corrupt corporate overlords who are paying your bills, while trying to preserve your humanity as you turn more and more of your flesh into metal. But then all the stuff in the supplements is about bigger and better guns and cybernetics, and isn’t it awesome to blow away booster-gangers and corporate security goons?

      It’s ultimately a very superficial take on the cyberpunk genre. There are established events and locations and characters in the setting, but they’re kind of shallow and archetypal. Which is fine for a tabletop game–they’re just tools for the GM to take and customize as they see fit. But it’s going to take a lot of fleshing out to bring them close to the level of the Witcher 3. At least Night City, the core setting they said they’ll be using, is heavily detailed in the CP2020 supplements.

      1. Redrock says:

        It’s going to be a challenge for them, truly. Not saying they aren’t up for it. But it’s something they’ve never done before. If anything, it will be an interesting thing to analyze once the game is actually released. Then we will know just how much of an input did Sapkowski’s writing hlreally have.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        On the other hand the Witcher setting is very gray which might translate well into cyberpunk (small letter) and after getting so much praise for writing in Witcher CDPR hopefully both counts it among their strong suits and will attempt to leverage, or at least not loose, this reputation.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But a tabletop setting isn’t nearly as detailed and exhaustive a framework as 7 or 8 books.

      Zz’dtri is eying you with subdued laughter.

      1. Redrock says:

        Shamefully, I have no idea who or what that is. Do I have to turn in my geek card now?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:


          Zz’dtri is a parody character in order of the stick,the best comic book ever.He is inspired by drizzt,a character in some 30 books,all set in forgotten realms,which is just one world in one rpg system.

          1. Redrock says:

            Now Drizzt I do know, who doesn’t? I even read some of those books as a kid. They seemed so cool back then. Fun fact: in Russian Drizzt is translated to sound like D’zirt. The reason for that is that Drizzt sounds very much like the Russian word for explosive diarrhea. I’m tempted to say that the word pretty much describes Salvatore’s writing style, but that would be unkind and unfair. I can’t bring myself to read his books today, but I really loved them as a kid.

  8. ElementalAlchemist says:

    In regards to how CDPR managed the writing, you should check out NoClip’s Witcher series:

    Unfortunately the whole series is kind of light on real details (not just on writing, but all facets of development), but there are still some interesting insights to be had.

  9. Syal says:

    The knife was in hand #4 the whole time.

    1. Redrock says:

      I’ve recently rewatched Once upon a time in Mexico, and after that comment I just can’t stop imagining Johnny Depp as Geralt. So thanks for that.

  10. Henson says:

    At no point during my time in White Orchard did I feel like I played through a quest that was just there as filler.

    This was something that really impressed me back when Witcher 2 came out. Flotsam has a fantastic group of sidequests, where almost every one seems to reveal a bit more on the politics or history of the town, how Loredo got where he is and what he was doing behind the scenes. It really worked well to tie everything together.

    Witcher 3 really expanded on that idea, including huge optional quest chains I wouldn’t dream of skipping, like the Skellige rulers saga.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      What impressed me the most about witcher 3 is that one of the optional side quest that you can do,is a major thing involving the faith of a king,the whole kingdom,and a bunch of side characters that you interacted with.And you can choose to completely skip it if you wish.

      1. Redrock says:

        a major thing involving the faith of a king

        Don’t you mean fate? Although I do like your version better. What if instead of what happens in the quest you could convert the king into, say, buddhism? That would have been fun and meta as all hell.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:


          I like your interpretation too :)

          1. Redrock says:

            Oh boy. You keep this up and this comment section might just collapse in on itself. Then Shamus will be quite cross with us.

  11. Adrian Burt says:

    You are right about the way CDPR and Sapkwoski handle war is very different then how Activision would and that’s because they are Polish where as Activision is American and Poland and the US have two very different attitudes on war shaped by their very different histories which I can sum up as this: the US is a country that fights wars while Poland is a country wars are fought in.

    The US hasn’t had a war on domestic American soil since the Civil War. The United States has never been occupied by an outside force since the original colonization. The American experience of war is active combat, we go in, blow all the shit up, and leave. Poland’s entire history is about invasion, annexation, occupation, and sometimes just straight up being a battlefield for two foreign kingdoms that has nothing to do with Poland (see Swedish-Russian war). So I’m not at all surprised that if you tell a bunch of Americans to write a story about a war they would focus on the battles and if you told a bunch of Poles to write the same story it would be about what happens after the battles.

    1. Redrock says:

      To be fair, Sapkowski has a lot of battles in the novels. It would be a bit more accurate to say that he isn’t as gung-ho about the whole ordeal as most American creators would be. And in that respect I think your observation about the impact of Poland’s history is quite correct. Dealing with the fallout of other people’s wars is obviously a much more enticing theme for him.

      1. Tizzy says:

        In particular, I remember a battle towards the end of the series where a lot of people get horribly killed, a few survive, and the author makes a point of showing how who lives and who dies is down to blind luck rather than any of their innate qualities.

        I’d call that not being hung-ho indeed

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      That’s a fascinating insight into the underpinnings of the authors’ themes. Probably goes a long way toward explaining “how easy the developers make it all look” to draw themes of foreign powers through their work.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its a part of it,but not the most important thing.For example,a couple of years ago,a girl from a war torn ukraine made a lame war song.But 18 years ago,an old guy from usa at the height of its blissful years made an amazing anti war song called pick up the bones.

        So how come cd projekt made witcher 3 this good?Because they are freaking talented people.

    3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      There are regional differences in the US, too. If you want stories about occupation and destruction, you look to the South (it is an undercurrent in Southern Gothic writing, especially Flannery O’Connor).

      Actually, I don’t know much about Sapkowski, and I don’t enjoy his writing -but I at least see the games as being very comparable -culturally -to O’Connor. Traveling through Velen does bring to mind “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

    4. The British burned the White House in the War of 1812, so yup, the USA has been invaded since colonization. Granted, we were invaded by the Canadians and the British less than 50 years after we became a country, so you do have a good point (and I’d be surprised if most Americans remember the war of 1812 in any sort of significant way, or remember it at all, actually).

  12. Dabor says:

    Maybe it’s just so far as you’re enjoying the novelty of it, but I’d like to second that I find the whole “naked drunk” thing kind of uninteresting. For quite a few reasons –

    If you’re willing to focus on Axii then you’ve made almost all of the game trivially easy for yourself. Keep backing away from a creature until it lets you (possible in pretty much everything but a few boss fights) and then puppet it. It either one-shots all of its friends for you or just lets you stand there beating it for 5 seconds without reacting. It’s funny to watch the first dozen times but gets boring real fast thereafter.

    The swordfighting itself is actually stylized with the “looking like dancing” it was described as in the books rather well and I would’ve enjoyed hearing your thoughts on the various ways they made “normal” combat look and feel immersive – the “ideal” fight being avoiding every enemy blow with the slightest step to the side before gracefully leaping back over to it and slicing up its flank. It does a good job making normal combat look cinematic to an outside observer – there’s less blatantly “gamey” moments in it where you’d only understand what someone is doing by watching them play.

    Generally, I don’t find it too interesting if you refuse to break the game in some ways only to accept breaking it in others. I’m most of the way through a playthrough right now, with my rules pretty much being – no skills or decoctions that directly boost your damage or resistance, no insta-heal or anti-poison potions (they trivialize and let you brute force certain stuff), nothing that offers non-trivial in-combat healing at no cost (like the long duration food or “get health when spending stamina” thing), no hand-picking armour to optimize builds (using only full existing sets), no puppet to just get guys to stand there and eat hits…

    Basically, every time I stumble into something where my logic is “I’d be an idiot not to take this if it’s an option” then I don’t take it (unless it’s just something that saves wasting time, like infinite oils, or something I just find way too fun, like using puppet on random bandits). The end-result is an enjoyable mix of content where most things are an even enough challenge, yet there also aren’t cases of “I know I can do this easily, it just takes ages to actually execute.”

    Although the “never refuse a drink or gwent” thing I actually did. I’m kind of disappointed you only respond to offers and can’t just approach everyone going “WANNA PLAY GWENT?” while twitching.

    On a serious note though, I’d also share in being interested to hear your views on Geralt’s actual characterization, both in various quests and how it manifests in gameplay. For instance, that part where Lambert laughs about making a guy shoot his buddy with a crossbow bolt and then hang himself feels oddly resonant when I was having the EXACT SAME FUN with Bandits using puppet not too long ago. The places in which things mesh well makes some dumb stuff – like looking precious metals and gems from sacks inside of a peasant’s hut (without complaint) – that much more frustrating to me.

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