*This post arrived a bit late, sorry about that. I’m traveling and had some hotel wifi issues*
And so we come to the end of the main questline. It’s a big, cinematic set piece, with a pair of bosses who are pretty good by this game’s standards, and ends with a scene that caps off the theme of Ciri having her own story independent of Geralt’s. For all that, I’ve never managed much emotional investment in it. Both in my first time through the game, and in subsequent ones, by the time I get this far in my primary emotional state seems to be impatience.
This may say more about me than it does the game, because it’s not an uncommon thing for me. Generally, by the time a playthrough hits the 50-60 hour mark in one of these long RPGs I’m starting to get antsy, and my reaction to seeing the finish line is to rush towards it rather than enjoy the journey.
It might also say something about RPGs in general. If there’s a tick that I don’t like about AAA RPG writing, it’s the insistence on the big, epic, world-saving conclusion. So often the final act divorces itself from the tone that gave the rest of the game its charm. This is compounded by the palpable sense that the writers and developers are getting as impatient as I am, though maybe that’s just a projection on my part. In either case, here are a list of issues I have with the final set piece, in no particular order:
- We’ve done this before. The overall dramatic setup is “Gather allies and lure the Wild Hunt into a trap,” which is the same thing the game has already done (and done better) at Kaer Morhen.
- The Wild Hunt were never well established as villains. If Eredin weren’t a Gwent card (and if I didn’t know him from the books) I’m not sure I would even know his name. They were introduced well – searching the remains of the first village they hit in Velen was a good setup – but barely developed after that. It feels like a waste, because with a bit more backstory (the Aen Elle are a slaveowning society, and the Wild Hunt’s job is to kidnap slaves to take back to Tir na Lia) they could be very hateworthy.
- The whole “Ciri has decided to end the White Frost” thing is introduced in an abrupt and slapdash-seeming way. To this day I’m not sure what exactly Ciri did after she went through that portal. I know that the “this is her story, not Geralt’s” thing is a theme, but to have her defeat an entropic apocalypse offscreen via an unknown method is not particularly satisfying.
- For that matter, the White Frost was even less well developed than the Wild Hunt. If I remember right, the only explicit explanation we get of it is a couple lines in Avallac’h’s “Through Time and Space,” quest, which establishes it as a sort of magical equivalent of the heat death of the universe. I know of at least one friend who admitted he simply didn’t understand what happened at the end. It’s a bit less disorienting if you’ve played the original 2007 game, which gives it more explanation than this one.
It all adds up to an experience whose facade is stronger than its foundation. In the case of the friend I mentioned above, he barely remembered what happened at the end of main quest. This is a guy who remembered many other quests, and Witcher contracts too, in detail. Anecdotal evidence, I know, but I think it’s telling in this case. I personally found the events in Skellige (with Hjalmar/Cerys and the succession) and Velen (with the Bloody Baron and the Crones) to be more memorable than anything having to do with the Wild Hunt.
I’m not sure exactly sure how to fix this, and I always hesitate to monday-morning quarterback a game’s writers. Oh wait – no I don’t. I do it all the time. Basically, I think this game’s main quest could benefit from some streamlining. One possibility is to cut Avallac’h out. Replace the time spent characterizing him with time spent more thoroughly demonstrating to the player who the Wild Hunt are, what they do, and why they’re a bunch of jerks to whom we should give a jolly good thrashing.
This would obviously result in the main quest looking very different, since so much of it is spent assembling the paraphernalia – phylactery, incantation, weird deformed baby thing – required to un-curse him. So it’s a bit hard to picture in any detail exactly what this hypothetical simpler main quest would look like other than the broad strokes of “find Ciri, defeat Wild Hunt.” Given all that, I’m far from certain it’s a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can come up with.
Overall, the game’s writing resembles that of Mass Effect 2 in some ways: the characters and side content are very strong, but the main quest doesn’t bear scrutiny too well. It’s not a perfect comparison – Mass Effect 2’s main quest suffered from a web of illogic, which isn’t quite the case here. Rather, I think CDPR’s writers let their affection for the lore get the better of their storyteller’s instincts, resulting in a lot of largely unexplained plot elements getting introduced too quickly.
While I was lukewarm on the final quest, I have a much higher opinion of the ending(s) that follow it. I personally am a sucker for playable endings – I liked Andromeda’s ending for that reason. It gives you a chance to check in with the characters, which are generally your most intimate connection with the world, and to say goodbye in a sense. The “good” ending sort of head-fakes towards the possibility that the white frost has arrived, and it’s the overall good humor of everyone that gives that the lie, a neat trick.
Of course, depending on circumstances, even the good ending is bittersweet. Ciri may decide to take up Emhyr’s offer to be his heir. And her reasoning is sound – she can probably do more good as the future Empress of Nilfgaard than she can fighting water hags. But the performance really sells how hard this is for her.
The bad ending, of course, is eight different kinds of depressing. I could see it being a real gut punch for someone who had made the “wrong” choices without realizing it. I can’t imagine that’s any fun.
So that brings us to the end of the base game. Bit of a short entry this week due to travel, but I’m not done. I want to cover the expansions as well, as (in my opinion) in many ways they’re better than the base game. See you then.
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