The Witcher 3: The Battle for Kaer Morhen, Part One

By Bob Case Posted Thursday Jul 19, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 49 comments

Strictly speaking, The Witcher 3 has a prologue (in White Orchard) and three acts, which I guess is four parts total. More generally speaking, it has two parts: the stuff that happens before the battle at Kaer Morhen, and the stuff that happens after it.

The battle at Kaer Morhen is the first major emotional climax of the game. The second will come at the ending. This is an important bit for the game to get right, and in my opinion, it gets it right. Pulling this sort of thing off is not easy, as evidenced by the number of games that have botched it over the years. I’ll get into some examples in a bit, but first let’s set the scene: we finally have a way to find Ciri, Geralt and Yen’s adoptive daughter, for whom we’ve been searching this whole time. Avallac’h has secreted her away on a mysterious island called the Isle of Mists.

One of the things CDPR successfully pulled off – for me at least, on my first playthrough – was making me worry that Ciri might be dead. This is tricky territory for a game narrative to navigate. Obviously, the average player understands that it’s unlikely that a major character will die offscreen. And yet the world of the Witcher universe seemed wild and unpredictable enough that I did, in fact, worry about exactly that. I worried if Ciri was Uma (the weird baby thing), and that maybe the trial of grasses would kill her. Later, on the Isle of Mists, I worried if I would be too late to save her. There’s one particularly excruciating shot where Geralt finally sees her comatose body in a hut on said isle, and I imagine most players (or, at least, me) will have their hearts in their throats for it.

Link (YouTube)

(Then, they’re cheeky enough to throw in a teaser for Cyberpunk 2077. In this clip, the relevant part is at the 2:45 mark if you want to indulge in a bit of cheek.)

Ciri teleports Geralt and herself back to Kaer Morhen, and, since the Wild Hunt can track her when she teleports, we know they’ll be hard on her heels. Which is why, prior to retrieving Ciri, Geralt recruits various compatriots from the series so far to assist him in defending against their imminent attack: Eskel, Lambert, and Vesemir (his Witcher bros), Keira Metz (optional sorceress), Yennefer and Triss (non-optional sorceresses), Letho of Gulet (a heavy from the second game, one of my personal favorite characters), Roche and Ves (from the Blue Stripes commando group, also from the second game), Ermion (a druid from Skellige), Hjalmar (brother to Skellige’s new Queen, I wonder if Cerys shows up if you don’t pick her for Queen?), also from Skellige, and others that I hope I’m not forgetting.

The ragtag bunch of misfits is big enough that you can't fit all of them in just one screenshot.
The ragtag bunch of misfits is big enough that you can't fit all of them in just one screenshot.

CDPR does a clever thing here: they devise a gameplay device whereby the player feels rewarded for a dozen or so sidequests they had the option of completing prior to this. Most of the characters named in the above paragraph were recruited (or not recruited) in some quest or another earlier in a typical playthrough, or are characters we’re familiar with from the previous games.I still can’t help but be disappointed that we never saw Iorveth or Siegfried.

All in all, this creates a very satisfying sense of things coming together. The player is further satisfied by coming back to the familiar grounds of Kaer Morhen, which we saw first in the prologue (and, for those who remember, the first game in the series – even the layout will be familiar) and later during the quests we complete with Eskel, Lambert, Vesemir, and Yennefer.

Basically, the game has established an emotional connection to this place and the people in it. That sounds simple when you describe it like that, but it’s proven to be difficult in practice. I can think of many games where some character or another died, and the game obviously expected me to be torn up about it – and yet I wasn’t. One example is with Dishonored and the Empress, another is with Andromeda and Ryder’s father, and Ubisoft’s major releases average 1.5 of these moments per game. They, for the most part, don’t work, or least they don’t work that well. But the one in the Witcher 3 does. I’ll describe it now, and though I’ve kind of been working under a blanket spoiler alert this whole time, I’ll issue another now: there is a spoiler incoming. I put this under the “continue reading” link on purpose.

First, the scene: the Wild Hunt is about to attack. Yennefer is ready with a magical whatsit or whatever that will force them to teleport in away from the castle, so Geralt and his Witcher buddies can ambush them in the forest outside the walls. This is where the fighting starts.

This fight was a bit of a slog. For whatever reason, the Wild Hunt warriors absolutely refuse to be poise-broken by Igni's alternate-fire mode, which meant the whole thing took longer than it would have otherwise as I went through the whole Igni-kite-Igni cycle again and again.
This fight was a bit of a slog. For whatever reason, the Wild Hunt warriors absolutely refuse to be poise-broken by Igni's alternate-fire mode, which meant the whole thing took longer than it would have otherwise as I went through the whole Igni-kite-Igni cycle again and again.

This starts a series of scenes in which Geralt and his compatriots are forced to fall back again and again. There’s a clever pattern established here: all seems lost, and it seems like we’re about to lose a named character, but then we don’t. For example, for a second it looks like Letho has died, but it turns out he was just hiding under a Wild Hunt warrior’s corpse. Then, there’s a second where it looks like Lambert is about to be overwhelmed, but then Keira Metz’s magic saves him at the last minute.

As experienced RPG experts, we of course know exactly what’s going on here: we made all of the “right” choices in previous sidequests, and as a reward we’re going to see all of our favorite characters survive The Witcher 3’s equivalent of Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission. Except, of course, that doesn’t happen, and we’ve finally arrived at the big spoiler (this is your last chance to bail): Vesemir dies.

Ciri is cornered, and the Wild Hunt is about to get her, and they (specifically Eredin, the King, and Imlerith, his jerkoff goon equivalent of a first-chair violinist) threaten Vesemir to tempt her into their clutches. It’s difficult to just describe how affecting this moment is. In the games I mentioned above (like Dishonored and Andromeda), the sympathetic mentor figure dies in the first act, before we’ve even had a chance to get to know them. But here, Vesemir is the curmudgeonly old crank we’ve known since way back at White Orchard (or earlier, if you played the earlier games in the series), and the game has earned an emotional connection between not only him and Geralt but him and Ciri as well.

What’s more, Vesemir was an easy guy to like, which makes the people that killed him easy to hate.

Elves are the worst, and the Aen Elle are the worst of the worst. Just look at this smug asshole! This is exhibit no. 456 for why I'm a dwarf man.
Elves are the worst, and the Aen Elle are the worst of the worst. Just look at this smug asshole! This is exhibit no. 456 for why I'm a dwarf man.

This is important, because this is the first time in the game where I felt a personal sense of resentment towards its villain, who prior to this seemed rather distant and abstract. He killed the man who dozed off while teaching Ciri about ghouls and alghouls, who hunted the Royal Griffin with us, and who left behind the floppy hat Lambert donned to impersonate him. For me at least, this raised my investment.

And man, Ciri was pissed.

Like, turned-into-a-magical-nuke-pissed.
Like, turned-into-a-magical-nuke-pissed.

One of the things I (and others) have lamented about AAA games is their often-clumsy attempts to be “cinematic.” But this whole sequence featured a (in my opinion) successful attempt at using the language of cinema to ratchet up the emotional stakes of the story. The whole setpiece is long, and much like a successful oner (the warning: tvtropes warning doesn’t carry quite the weight it once did, but it still carries some), it keeps amping up the tension more and more until the audience is craving release.

That release finally comes with Ciri’s expression of raw rage and grief, which drives off the Wild Hunt (their first moment of weakness), and brings Avallac’h out of his recuperation to turn her off. There’s a messiness and a sense of wildness here that I personally thought was effective. We (the player) still don’t entirely understand the limits and rules that govern Ciri’s power – and neither do the enemy, which makes it that much more unnerving.

I’ve (pretty much arbitrarily) divided this sequence up into two parts, and we’ll get to the next part in the next entry, but there’s something I wanted to close on: Vesemir’s funeral. Here, as elsewhere, CDPR demonstrate their knack for timing. It’s important that, after such a long, uninterrupted action sequence, the player gets a little downtime, and the game provides it by giving us an opportunity to process what just happened, and the death of Vesemir, at his funeral.

During the relatively few times in my life when I've had opportunities to watch opera, my favorite moments were when the characters seemed dwarfed by the scale of the stage and the music. This shot reminded me of that feeling - the fire of the funeral pyre is small compared to the landscape around it.
During the relatively few times in my life when I've had opportunities to watch opera, my favorite moments were when the characters seemed dwarfed by the scale of the stage and the music. This shot reminded me of that feeling - the fire of the funeral pyre is small compared to the landscape around it.

While Vesemir’s body burns, Geralt can talk to Ciri, Letho, Roche, Ves, Ermion, Eskel, Lambert, Keira, Hjalmar, and, perhaps most importantly, Zoltan, who advises him to strike back against the Wild Hunt while they have the advantage. It’s hard for me to exaggerate just how right CDPR got the emotional beats for every character here. With Eskel planning to abandon Kaer Morhen to the march of time, with Letho having nothing in his future but running from his eventual reckoning, with Ciri’s guilt, and with Zoltan’s reliable good sense and courage, everything is right even in the aftermath.

I don’t know quite what else to say. Many games have attempted this type of blockbuster get-the-player-emotionally-invested-in-the-proceedings sequence, but, for my money, no other developer has pulled it off this well. (The closest, in the semi-cinematic-RPG genre at least, is the final act of Mass Effect 1, in my opinion).

These dialogues mark the end of the Battle for Kaer Morhen sequence, but we’re not quite done yet. This is the start of the second section of the game, and the start in some ways is a bit rocky. We’ll discuss how and why in the next entry.



[1] I still can’t help but be disappointed that we never saw Iorveth or Siegfried.

From The Archives:

49 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: The Battle for Kaer Morhen, Part One

  1. Cyranor says:

    Hjalmar will show up regardless of who is King/Queen, assuming you ask him.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Then, they’re cheeky enough to throw in a teaser for Cyberpunk 2077. In this clip, the relevant part is at the 2:45 mark if you want to indulge in a bit of cheek.

    Oh yeah.I never made the connection.I just thought it was a random futuristic world,but in hindsight it seems that they were planning on starting cyberpunk ’77 back then.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      it seems that they were planning on starting cyberpunk ’77 back then

      They weren’t just planning it, it was actively in production. Pretty much its entire staff got pulled off Cyberpunk and moved across to TW3 in order to get it out the door. It’s one of the reasons that Cyberpunk is behind schedule by at least a year or two (coupled with them scrapping everything and starting again early on).

      1. Pax says:

        Yes, remember that Cyberpunk was announced before Witcher 3 was.

  3. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    The Mass Effect 1 equivalent I had in mind was Virmire actually. Big battle, highs and lows, shocking loss of a teammate… It was a great mission. Well, a certain future Elvis impersonator may not agree…

    1. Redrock says:

      I always thought that Wrex’s possible death is the highlight of Virmire. That can be shocking. Kashley, on the other hand, I dunno. It has that very obvious Bioware binary choice segment written all over it at that point.

    2. Soldierhawk says:

      Well bless my soul, what’s wrong with you?!

  4. Redrock says:

    I often come back to this Cyberpunk 2077 reference whenever I debate whether or not Ciri’s plane-hopping abilities are a bit much for this universe. In the books she never tells anyone about the weird worlds she’s visited. There’s a sequence in the last book, I think, where Ciri’s winds up in a strange Mordor-like place, with an unpleasant, unnatural feeling grey road and black bursting sacks full of rotting goo as far as the eye can see. The description works, because it took me a few minutes to realize that she was seeing a 20th century garbage dump. But it was all a bit feverish and magical and contained. Having Ciri’s talk about her powers with Geralt and seeing Geralt actually travel to other worlds, I dunno. It takes a bit from the grittiness of the setting. I think there was a reason why the plane-hopping was contained to Ciri’s storyline in the books.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Ciri’s winds up in a strange Mordor-like place, with an unpleasant, unnatural feeling grey road and black bursting sacks full of rotting goo as far as the eye can see…it took me a few minutes to realize that she was seeing a 20th century garbage dump.

      Well, each to their own. I think she went here.

  5. Mr. Wolf says:

    Oh good. I thought you’d forgotten Zoltan, but you remembered him near the end.

    On the other hand, did we just completely gloss over the part where you complete the game’s stated objective and find Ciri? I kinda felt that needed more than one paragraph.

    1. The long-form review equivalent of, “It’s ok, I found the solution”!

  6. Zekiel says:

    There’s one particularly excruciating shot where Geralt finally sees her comatose body in a hut on said isle, and I imagine most players (or, at least, me) will have their hearts in their throats for it.

    It sure got me. I didn’t think she was really dead, but maybe she was? And Geralt’s reaction really sold it for me.

    Anyway, I largely loved the battle of Kaer Morhan (aside from the fact that on my PS4 there were annoying loads between each segment, which rather hampers the pacing!). Bringing together all your friends was lovely, and they each get their moment to shine. And Vesimir’s death worked really well, as did Imelrith’s ‘reveal’.

    My main gripe about the whole thing is… they’ve built up the Wild Hunt as a really significant threat. Defeating them is established as being difficult and unlikely. But in the event they manage to do it with only one casuality. Isn’t that a bit improbable? I mean, I love all these characters and I don’t want anyone to die, but it does seem a bit odd that literally everyone makes it through a-okay apart from one chap. Maybe that’s just me.

    1. Droid says:

      At least half of these combatants are literally superhuman in some way, either because they have been mutated to be better at fighting supernatural things or because they have spent years studying the arcane to hurl fireballs and the like. I guess Hjalmar and Zoltan are part of the badass/”just a flesh wound” crowd as well, and I would place Roche, Ves and Zoltan (again) into the “knows how to survive tricky situations” corner as well. And of course the sorceresses and their magic shield/whatever would have helped immensely, as it means the Wild Hunt now has to storm a fortress, however broken it might be, from the outside instead of warping right into the middle of things as they usually do.

      The Hunt also did not have the element of surprise it usually has and probably wasn’t expecting such tough competition. So you can assume they did not get their full strength to bear in this fight, while the witchers sure did.

      1. Zekiel says:

        All that’s true. But still – the Hunt is built up as a foe that everyone (Geralt, Ciri, Vesimir, Yennefer) are afraid of. And you kill dozens of them at the cost of only one life.

        Yeah, videogames, I know.

        1. Vinsomer says:

          True, Geralt kills dozens. But they are dozens of mooks, and the Wild Hunt is about to win. It’s only Ciri who saves the day.

          The WH also come across as arrogant and complacent. Compared to the final battle with the WH, where they are much more urgent and focused, at Kaer Morhen they feel like they’ve already won.

    2. Civilis says:

      For me, I appreciated the story’s attention at trying to work some of the fairy tale stories into the story of the game in a way that made the game feel more mythological and in a way epic. For the Isle of Mists quest, though, the game’s use of the fairy tale mythos did make it obvious that Ciri was alive as the whole quest obviously became a Snow White reference.

      Still, seeing Geralt’s natural reaction kept me emotionally vested in what was going on, which I really appreciated.

    3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      So, maybe this was just me, but this was the first time in all three games I realized the Wild Hunt were mortal elves. Which was a bit of a let down. In the first game, the leader of the Wild Hunt is this floating spectre of death -and I killed him. But he came back. So I was pretty sure the Wild Hunt were like immortal spirits of death and hunting -the embodiment of the White Frost or something.

      I mean -after that, you can really just kill them with a silver sword?

      I much more liked the political intrigue bit -where you have to convince part of the Wild Hunt to turn against Eredin.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        …I realized the Wild Hunt were mortal elves. Which was a bit of a let down.

        You and me both. Especially when their imposing, bulky skeleton figures turned out to be impractically-heavy-in-real-life fantasy armor over what is a standard variant on one of the most commonly-used fantasy races ever.

        This game features feral bat-vampires, child spirits, a cursed fetus that drags its umbilical cord behind it, fat manipulative goat men, magical but (mostly) harmless goat women, oddly kind shapeshifters, old goblin women who throw mud at you, the goddamn Crones

        …and then the main villain off the story removes his skull mask to reveal he’s just a pale elf in mascara?

        Also, if they’re elves, why the silver sword and not the steel one?

        1. AzzyGaiden says:

          I’ve never cared for elves as a fantasy trope. They either boring, aristocratic assholes or esoteric tree-dwelling guerilla archers, a trope that has always seemed little too “Native American stereotype” for comfort. Either way they’re immortal and inhumanly beautiful and good at everything and zzzzzzzzz.

          I think elves work best when you throw out everything but the pointy ears and just do what you want with them. To that end I think the best “elves” in western fantasy are the Dunmer in Morrowind.

          (The only elf in that’s worth anything in The Witcher 3 is Elihal. Elihal DGAF what you think. Elihal rules.)

          1. Tizzy says:

            Similar to the books, CDPR did the best possible treatment of the Wild Hunt, which is as an antagonistic force rather than actual people. Like in the books, it’s a bit of a letdown when you get closer and find out what they’re about. But for most of the game, the intent is for the player to care about finding Ciri, with the Hunt serving as an obstacle, an added complication, rather than a proper enemy. Of course, YMMV, especially if you can’t really get interested in her.

            As far as guerilla elves go, I felt that the second game did a really good treatment of the Scoiatel

      2. stratigo says:

        This is a legacy of the book series. The Wild hunt were hunting Ciri as a sort of solution to the fucking over of their world.

    4. Jeff says:

      If you saved Vigi the Loon and Folan when you first met them, they come with Hjalmar to help and will die here.

  7. Gwydden says:

    I wasn’t sold on this part the way most people seem to be. The Kaer Morhen sequence felt very “Bioware-y” and not very much like TW at all. The same problem plagues the entire main plot to be honest, and it only gets worse from here. It doesn’t help that I found Ciri a very bland character, the Wild Hunt painfully nondescript as villains, and Vesemir’s death kinda forced.

    Acts II and III of the game were a disappointing ride for me, but then Hearts of Stone came out and all was well, and all kinds of things were well. I’m really looking forward to your take on that.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Agreed, wholeheartedly.

      Firstly, Everyone feels like they have plot armor to the max* during this set-piece, and the only character who dies does so in a contrived way to further the plot and give Ciri a reason to save everyone with her magical Maguffin powers.
      (‘cos how else were they going to get out of that situation?)

      The main plot in general feels so different from the rest of the game, and not in a good way: while generally TW3 is a gritty story with numerous shades of grey set in a grim world, Ciri’s plot feels like a generic LOTR knock-off.

      Geralt is your Mary Sue protagonist, who’s amazing with a sword, and magic, and has done so many great things and he’s known worldwide. Ciri is the Maguffin that he has to protect, complete with with ill-defined powers that she can’t quite control but do anything the plot needs them to. Vesemir is the standard Old Mentor character, who famously has only two endings: either ‘dies to motivate the party’ or ‘is secretly evil’**.
      And the bad guys wear goofy skeleton armor and are part of Standard Fantasy Bad-Guy Race 003: annoyingly arrogant, treacherous and aloof otherworldly elves who view humans as vermin.

      I’m not saying it’s bad, necessarily, and the cliches are certainly done well, but still. When compared to a smart, nuanced plot with no clear answers like the Bloody Baron or the Nithing quest, the cliches really stand out here

      *On my first playthrough, I didn’t recruit Kiera Metz – but Lambert still survived his near death-experience without her. He doesn’t even end up with a limp or anything.
      **This would have been a fun twist, IMO.
      ‘You think I will protect you from Eredin?’ rips off mask ‘Fools, I AM Eredin! BWAHAHAHAHA!’

      1. derjungerludendorff says:

        Vesamir turning Evil and doing a hammy villain impression would have been a very amusing twist, even if it makes no real sense.

    2. Tizzy says:

      The main quest is where they tie the games with the novels. Clearly, neither the author nor the game’s devs feel entirely satisfied by this arrangement. In particular, the devs must have felt very restricted with what they could do with this cast of characters (isn’t everyone at Kaer Mohren is a book character?)

      I agree that the game shines for me as soon as we get away from the main quest, or at least the book characters (I love the Crones and the Baron).

      1. Droid says:

        Everyone non-optional at least. All the witchers and sorceresses, I think. Zoltan as well, but everyone else is games-only: Letho, Vernon Roche and Ves are from the second game and Hjamlar and his buddy are only in the third one (his father Crach an Craite is a book character, though). Oh, Ermion is in the books as well under his nickname Mousesack.

  8. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    There’s a lot going on in the Kaer Morhen sequence and I find most of it enjoyable. As you’ve referenced, you do quests with/for a lot of the other characters to allow for a bit more kinship with them to build. You get some great “Let’s chill out for a bit and chat like old friends” beats. And as you plan for the battle, you get to make some rudimentary decisions to shape that battle – I always opt to fix the hole in the outer wall. It really just feels like the moment where you pull together all of these threads that you’ve been tugging at for the entire game up until this point. The first time I played this game, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the final battle and was glad to play it out and find that it wasn’t.

    Of course, what it actually ends up being is a bottleneck that pulls everything together, then releases everything again on the other side, which makes for a good moment while it’s happening, but can lead to some disappointment with some of the things that come after it. And once you pass through this moment, there aren’t really any more new places to explore on the Continent. I always opt to go back and deal with the Crones of the Crookback Bog, which makes for a couple of interesting fights. But I’ve been pretty much everywhere you can go. At least until Avallac’h and Geralt go world-hopping.

    As for the threat of Ciri’s death, there were multiple times in the game when I first played it where I was terrified that if I made the wrong decision, she would die – including the ending. Even though one could argue that this is more her story then Geralt’s. I love that they can create that kind of atmosphere and character investment. Have you ever watched the 10 year anniversary video? With all of the characters there, the video still manages to capture all the feels… though it’s probably safer to watch that video after playing “Blood and Wine.”

  9. Christopher says:

    I appreciate the Bad Guys Invade The Good Guys Hub Long Into The Game setpiece. Horizon Zero Dawn did this setpiece one year later as part of its final mission, and I thought it was pretty cool a the time. The bad guys are all gonna attack the good guys, so practically every named able fighter from a sidequest you’ve done comes to help defend the place(the place being one of your two main good guy hubs – they’ve attacked the other one twice, earlier on). It’s a nice way to tie something completely irrelevant to the main conflict, but it suffers a bit from a lack of caring. There’s no downtime in Horizon to go drinking with your pals or anything, to befriend any characters at all. And these side characters aren’t the world’s most interesting dudes in the first place. I still admire it as a way to give a game with no RPG party a way to hook up with all your buds for a brawl, but it probably works better if they’re acually your buds.

    My favorite version of the villains coming in to burn your village 30 hours into the game is in Nier Automata – or possibly the original Nier, where a similar thing occurs. Yoko Taro is really good at making this stuff heartwrenching. I think every good guy base in Nier Automata gets tragically decimated at some point, but it always takes so long for it to happen. I didn’t care that much about any individual character there, Nier Automata isn’t that great at those, but it was stellar at making you feel like your home was being destroyed.

    Mass Effect 1’s final level is great at that, too. I’m not a super big fan of ME1 like you or Shamus, but from Virmire to the ending I was pretty stoked about the turns the plot took.

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      I didn’t like the hunting lodge busywork in HZD so I ignored all the hunting quests for the whole game. Then, at the 11th hour I did one for a lark and realized that it wasn’t just completionist busywork, it involved recruiting another endgame ally. So I finished the hunting lodge quests really quickly (because I was levelled up and kitted out for the endgame) and got the new huntmistress to join me for the final battle. But I certainly didn’t feel a massive emotional attachment to the character.

    2. Viktor says:

      Dragon Age 1 had a random event where you return to your camp and get swarmed there. It was pretty fun/interesting, and was good for keeping you on your toes, if somewhat ruined because 90% of your party is in their underwear fighting Darkspawn with their fists in the background.

    3. Syal says:

      Bastion did it too; you get to collect friendly versions of various monsters over the course of the game that hang out at your base, and then watch them all die fighting when the enemy invades.

      “That little Squirt. Didn’t make it.”

      …(spoilers above.)

  10. BlueHorus says:

    Letho of Gulet (a heavy from the second game, one of my personal favorite characters)

    D’aaargh, what?!

    I despised Letho, with a passion. I was so sad that I had several chances to let him die and took none of them.

    Just, everything about that guy rubbed me the wrong way. The character design, his gravelly voice acting, his ‘badass’ dialogue that confused ‘being a dickhead for no reason’ with ‘showing everyone how tough you are’.
    Like a mixture of all the worst aspects of Vin Diesel, Steven Segal, Jason Statham and a bag of crusty wank.

    He had the same ‘pet character’ quality that Kai Leng, the Harlequin from Shadowrun Returns or Malady from Divinity OS:2 have – some secondary writer came up with what they thought was the best character concept ever and shoehorned them in, regardless of whether they fit or not.

    But hey, if you liked him, that’s cool. Just my opinion etc.

    1. Gwydden says:

      Not a fan of the character per se, but I do think he’s a good foil for Geralt. Both witchers, but one has a rock solid moral center while the other is extremely mercenary. Of course, I think killing Letho is the most apropriate ending to TW2. He’s not a good person at all, and it would reek of witcher favoritism if Geralt put his “killing monsters” policy on moratorium for his sake.

      1. Henson says:

        See, I think I disagree about the most appropriate ending for Witcher 2. While Geralt is not neutral and gets involved where witchers “shouldn’t”, he doesn’t kill people just because they’re bad people, or that they’ve done bad things. In the witcher tradition, it seems that Geralt kills in order to get rid of active threats: a Griffon killing peasants, a crime boss killing prostitutes, etc. But at the end of W2, Letho has finished his task; the kings are dead, and Nilfgaard is ready to move. All the cards are down, and Letho no longer has to hide. At this point, killing Letho won’t accomplish anything other punish him for his crimes. And that’s just not Geralt’s job. He’s not a judge – he’s a witcher.

        Besides, after the craziness of the whole game, especially Loc Muinne, I think Geralt would just be tired of all the killing.

        1. Tizzy says:

          I was also tired of Letho kicking my ass every which way. Man, Witcher 2 was so much harder than 3! Or is it just me?

          1. Droid says:

            They tried and failed to make a combat game with tight controls where spacing and timing your strikes and additional items is important. Balancing the game with that in mind would of course make it a really hard game to get through with stiff controls where doing anything else than facetanking the strong hits would instantly kill you.

    2. Zekiel says:

      I kinda loved Letho too (in spite of the stupid first fight with him in Act 1 of Witcher 2, that was BS). I really liked that he played on the whole “big dumb lunk” thing but was actually very crafty. I felt like he made a good demonstration of what Geralt could be if he were actually the amoral pragmatic Witcher that he pretends he is. Letho wasn’t evil, he was just self-serving (well, serving his school) and didn’t see any reason to be nice to all the people who hate his kind. Whereas Geralt faces hatred everywhere he goes and *still* chooses to be a decent person.

      I loved the fact that after pursuing him for so long in W2, you could choose to let him walk away at the end – or you could give him a long-awaited beatdown.

    3. Gethsemani says:

      I disagree a lot with comparing Letho to Kai Leng. Kai Leng is one note in the extreme. While Letho starts out that way and seems like a typical “badass boss” the few times we meet him in Act 1, the talk with him at the end of Act 3 totally re-conceptualizes his character, giving him the depth necessary to see that he’s not just a writers pet (like Leng) but a fully fleshed out character. In a sense, Letho gets the same treatment over the course of W2:AoK that manymonsters get in their sidequests: A start where we see the expected trope about the monsters, then if you do more digging you can get a twist that puts the monsters behavior or actions in a new light and then there’s a moral dilemma to solve.

      As others already have said, Letho serves as a great foil and counterpoint to Geralt. My main criticism is that he remains unexplored for so much of the game (he’s all but absent from Act 2) that it is fairly easily to not care once you reach him, considering all the other stuff that happened in Act 2 and 3, and thus just itching to kill him. Which leaves his character unexplored and makes him seem like Kai Leng’s BFF.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Sounds like Letho gets a lot more depth/character in TW2. I didn’t play it – and only encountered Letho because of a ‘simulate save’ option in TW3 – so he seemed pretty one-note to me.
        I can definitely see him being used well as a contrast to Geralt’s character. There’s definitely potential there.
        (Though there’s a better contrast, I think, in a DLC sidequest where Geralt encounters a rogue Cat School witcher while investigating a village*.)

        His character design and voice would have pissed me off no matter what, though. It put me in mind far too much of when a famous-ish actor both directs and stars in a film about…their character, being the best at everything and kicking ass.

        *Where the Cat And Wolf Play. Fantastic quest, though it missed a trick or two.

    4. Water Rabbit says:

      What I hated about him was how every scene with him stole character agency. You meet him, you fight, you win the fight, and then the cutscene steals the victory. Even the last fight with him after you defeat him, the cutscene replays the fight completely differently stealing your hard fought victory.

      I despise the character and have never played Witcher 3 in which he survives.

    5. AzzyGaiden says:

      The only thing I remember about Letho (haven’t played Witcher 2) is that his voice actor can’t seem to figure out what accent he’s supposed to have. I swear there are lines where he starts in Ireland and ends in South Africa.

  11. Shen says:

    “the warning: tvtropes warning doesn’t carry quite the weight it once did, but it still carries some”

    What’s this about now? (I am familiar with TVTropes)

    1. Droid says:

      I think he meant this.

  12. Gaius Maximus says:

    The Isle of Mists bugs me a bit. The whole Snow White thing, and especially the comic relief dwarves, just feels so out of place at that point in the game. Really, with Ciri that close, Geralt should just Aard the cottage door down, not run around corralling narcoleptic dwarves. That’s the point in the game that feels the most tonally off to me. I do agree that it is extremely moving once Geralt finally does find Ciri, though.

    I’d also like to give some love to Vigi the Loon, who shows up for the Kaer Morhen fight with Hjalmar provided he didn’t get killed by the Frost Giant, and doesn’t survive the battle. It’s pretty easy to miss unless you compulsively check the character section of the journal, but he’s there.

    1. AzzyGaiden says:

      Seriously. The Isle of Mists sequence had the most egregious Plot-Driven Door this side of Neverwinter Nights.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      There’s also a bit in which one of the dwarves dies by falling off a rock. It’s…kinda funny (I assume he’s the clumsy dwarf of the seven?) I guess, but still, playing the death of a terrified bystander for laughs…?
      And then Geralt just goes ‘damn’, and moves on. Even if he doesn’t care much for (non-)human life – which seems likely – that dwarf was still his ticket to seeing Ciri. Surely he cares more than ‘damn’.

      It was pretty easy to see coming, as well as unnecessary. The instant Clumsy said ‘I’m coming down’ I was like ‘no, no, you’re a dwarf, just go the long way, I’ll come to you, don’t try climbing down-‘
      But nope, just fall to your death for fun, random dwarf.

  13. slipshod says:

    *Courtesy spoiler alert*

    I start sobbing (actually sobbing) every damn time Vesemir dies, even though I’ve seen the scene and played the game at least 5-6 times. The set up throughout the game and the attention to detail, to me, are absolutely astounding. I won’t recall everything, because it has been a while since I last sat through it, but among the few particularly gut-wrenching details are the following:

    1) Vesemir taking care to tenderly sheathe Ciri’s sword so that she could protect herself later
    2) Vesemir provoking Imlerith on purpose, to save Ciri, because he knows that she will sacrifice herself to save Vesemir
    3) Vesemir’s last words: calling Ciri an unruly child, saying he adored her, telling her to fly
    4) Geralt cleaning Vesemir’s second sword and returning it to Vesemir’s back (Ciri recounts to the Bloody Baron & co. in one scene, I believe, how her grandpa Vesemir taught her sword care; she talks to Geralt about this at some point, too, as a joke)

    All of this glued together by the music, the lighting, the past interactions with Vesemir (if you do one of the expansions first, you even get to learn about Vesemir’s love life) infuse this scene with an emotional weight that I have never experienced in another game.

    Seriously. Can’t even. >_<

  14. Jack says:

    Many months late but I take the opposite point of view. I hate the Battle of Kaer Morhen and its perpetual gameplay irritations as well as the general plot stupidities. It’s also the point that I generally come to hate Ciri.

    The first major failure is that the Battle of Kaer Morhen has no reason to exist. We have no goal in this fight. The Wild Hunt will keep coming and we’re just pigeon holing ourselves into a Helms Deep situation with no way out. If the plan was to kill the generic bad guy leader then there is at least some logic and motivation. However, that isn’t the stated plan. We’re just holding out against an unstoppable army with no plan to kill the leader and there is absolutely no reason to do this. Ciri running away is working for the most part and Ciri is the only reason the Wild Hunt are there.

    We’ve also had to assemble a team before this point. Daddy didn’t send an army for plot stupidity reasons. Geralt insists that this battle has to take place in the middle of nowhere because a few hundred people might die in a city. We’re running on full stupid to weave this nonsense together.

    Gameplay wise this battle is awful. The instructions on what to do and where to go are vague and pointless. I’ll point out that I’m trying to play this without the minimap as much as possible because of immersive reasons. This highlights just how big of a crutch the compass directions and minimap are in this game. The game constantly fails to give writing or VO that clearly tells you what to do. It’s a game that just assumes you’ll go to where the minimap marker tells you where to go. As a general rule if your open world, immersive game needs a minimap then it sucks and you need to rework your game so that players can spot what they need to know by actually looking at the world and not an abstract map in the corner of the screen. You made a pretty world so make sure that players look at it.

    Closing the gate yet again relies on the compass marker. Except now that we have combat going on we’ve got a massive problem that keeps coming up. You can’t climb ladders in combat which means you can’t climb the ladder to close the gate and the game puts you in combat when it feels like it rather than when you tell it to. So you’ve got to kill the bad guys to climb the ladder to close the gate after you’ve found the switch. We haven’t closed the gate for 30+ hours so perhaps it would be a good idea to have Geralt close the gate at some point earlier before the battle starts so players run straight to the switch and everything paces smoothly. These gameplay problems come up again later through the need for D bombs that need to be looted from barely visible chests that you can’t see because you can’t use witcher senses in combat. Just give the player infinite bombs for this sequence rather than having to deal with chest stupidity. I can’t stress enough that the goal of this part of the battle should not be combat but speed. The player should rushing to close portals, shut gates and retreat. What is actually happening is you run around looking for chests and frustrated because you can’t loot in combat either. Genuis!

    Throughout this you’ve got excessively long cutscenes to sit through such as Eskel waving a sword around. The result is that the whole battle has no fluidity or consistent pacing. It’s fractured into several pieces segmented by long cutscenes that wouldn’t been so irritating if they had brevity to keep the pacing up. I want to play Geralt and not watch your mediocre cutscenes! Just show Eskel in trouble and then cut to Ciri saving him.

    Then we get to Ciri. Ciri is stupid. Her demeanor would be understandable or charming if this wasn’t a world ending threat. The only reason the Wild Hunt are here is to capture her. So she does the stupid thing and puts herself straight onto the battlefield where they easily could capture her. I’m sure the intent here is to show how brave Ciri is but it’s tactically stupid and reckless.

    So Vessimir dies. Who would have thought that the Wild Hunt has no interest in sparing people. What the heck was Ciri even planning to do considering she doesn’t have a weapon. Ciri is dumb strikes again. If the intent is to show that Ciri is a selfish idiot putting the entire world in danger then they’re excelling at it.

    Then we get Deus Ex why… It just gets worse and worse as Ciri banshee screams to scare away the Wild Hunt. Elf man, who seems to be perfectly fine now so maybe he could help fight, wakes up and saves the day. But the endless cutscene continues and what a surprises only Vessimir died and nobody else is injured. The plot hasn’t really gone anywhere. The gameplay sucked and I feel like I’m watching a crappy LOTR knock off. What a dismal end for Vessimir.

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