Culture

The Witcher: Wild Hunt: An Exercise in Brutality, Fatherhood, and Gwent

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The Witcher: Wild Hunt is of course one of the current hot properties in video gaming right now, having moved four million units in two weeks and showing no particular signs of slowing down. For those unaware of the title (which comes from Polish game company CD Projekt Red): it’s the third installment of a series about Geralt of Rivia, who is a professional monster-hunter (‘witcher’) and visible mutant in a late-medieval setting whose inhabitants pretty much default to hating anything that isn’t human. Wild Hunt is particularly noteworthy in that it is an ambitious ‘open world’ game setting: this basically means that you can go all over the map, and take your time at getting to the main quests. It is not quite at Skyrim-levels of nigh-infinite gameplay (and this game gets compared a lot to Skyrim, generally respectfully) — but it comes close.

Moving on… the title above covers what I think are the three major themes of Wild Hunt. Brutality is the easiest to explain, of course: suffice it to say that you will not be adventuring in a happy place. I’ll avoid spoilers, but most of the major areas that you’ll be exploring in-game are either being fought over, or about to be fought over, or waiting to be fought over and are distracting themselves in the meantime by burning people alive. In short, it looks a lot like Central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, with a strong flavor of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Polish history added in (with a supernatural setting that draws equally from classic alchemy and the suppressed bits from Grimm’s Fairy Tales). This is not a game where you will be able to make everybody happy in the end; while you are never obligated to be a horrible person yourself, you can very easily blunder into making horrible things happen. And while the game may not really reward you for being a monster, it is not really interested in rewarding you for being a paladin, either. Geralt kills monsters for money, and that’s largely the extent of his professional moral code.

Fortunately, the game’s second theme — fatherhood — will probably save you from the temptation of playing the game as a total sociopath. Still avoiding spoilers, but a major part of the game will involve you tracking down someone who is effectively your adopted daughter. And once you do find her, you will have many, many opportunities to interact with her… and potentially utterly mess up her life by doing something wrong. This particular mechanic was used a little in the first Witcher game, under somewhat similar circumstances… but it’s much more sophisticated here, and it’s definitely a good deal more nerve-wracking. Much like modern parenting, really. Don’t worry, though: it’s also kind of fun. CD Projekt Red did a lot of work on thinking about character relationships, and it paid off.

And then there’s Gwent, which is a mini-game found inside the main Wild Hunt game itself.

Ah, Gwent. When you first encounter it, you will go “They put a collectible card game in the middle of a video game?” and then you will go off and ignore it for a while. And then, slowly but surely, you will realize that you will need to go back and try to find every NPC with whom you could play Gwent, because it is a simultaneously addictive and innovative CCG that will stoke your lust for ever more and more cards for your Gwent deck. You will end up loading up the game just to get a round or two of Gwent in. It’s that good.

All in all? If you have 100+ hours of your life that you can afford to lose, there are worse things to lose it on than Wild Hunt. Many people may not think that they can make that trade; in which case, I’d suggest that you avoid this game, because it will probably manage to leech 100+ hours from your life anyway. It’s a game that you should probably take seriously, in other words. The people who made it certainly did.