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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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