Friday, 3 June 2016

5 Infuriating Questions Witcher 3 Left Unanswered

The ending to Geralt's tale was far quieter than anyone would have imagined. There was no war against the heavens, no battle against a relentless horde of Nekkers or fight to preserve all of reality itself. There were no grand ceremonies, no riches which awaited him, instead it was simply he and an old friend sitting by a far in the dead of night. In its own way it was quite fitting for the character, relatively low key and focusing less upon the world than two quiet passers by meeting for the last time. 

However, as near-perfect as  the final game of this trilogy was, there were a few issues left unresolved. Blood and Wine may have answered the pressing question of Regis' fate and Wild Hunt saw the threat of the white frost ended, but other storylines or prominent characters simply faded out entirely. Here's a list of some of the most frustrating ones which stood out from all others. Expect multiple spoilers in the following points.

The Last Rider of the Wild Hunt

Overlooked by many fans, Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings ended with a major bombshell being dropped. Geralt, upon meeting with Letho face to face and no swords drawn for once, finally had the last pieces of the puzzle fall into place and his memory was fully restored. He now knew of how Yennifer had been kidnapped by the Wild Hunt, of his alliance with the surviving members of the School of the Viper to take her back, and the price he paid; in order to free her he was forced to sell his soul and ride with the Hunt itself. This apparently took place for years on end as he was dragged across the worlds by them, forced to act as another of their enslaving marauders. Eventually Geralt broke free via some unknown means and landing half dead not far from the School of the Wolf's crumbling bastion - Kaer Morhen.

The final reveal filled in all the gaps, explaining away the ending of  Andrzej Sapkowski's books and beginning of CD Projekt RED's sequel saga. It offered a satisfactory answer to that long awaited question of just why Geralt had lost his mind and how he had returned to life, but more importantly it hinted at something more. Even ignoring for a moment the epic conflict between four elite Witchers and an ethereal host which had toppled empires, the fact Geralt was a member opened up all sorts of new, exciting ideas. What had he seen whilst chained to their service as they reveled in bloodshed? What acts had he committed whilst they raided world after world in the name of their King? How had he finally escaped them, and what finally drove him to break his word to the elves?

Keep in mind, this wasn't some petty band of pirates with a few magic spells he was joining, but one of the single most powerful forces in the Witcher setting. Scant few hints were ever offered about their true nature, and what we know of them only came from a few brief chapters of the original tales. Within the books, this would have been akin to a monster slayer being put into Satan's service, witnessing every last level of hell and all its prisoners, then managing to get the hell out of dodge.

So, what do the games do with this reveal? Absolutely nothing. We learn little to nothing of his time among them, the impact of these adventures nor even of the worlds visited. Half the time he acts as if they are simply another foe to annihilate, and while that certainly fits with Geralt's approach to life, it largely handwaves away the masses of questions or points surrounding this revelation. In fact, it's so subdued that Wild Hunt itself barely refers back to it, and many of his former unwilling comrades treat him as if he were a stranger.

The Fall of Radovid the Stern

Of all the characters found in Wild Hunt, Radovid's sudden turn was easily the most shocking and the most baffling. The young warrior king had been a part of the trilogy since the start, largely serving in small but vitally important supporting roles. Having both once associated himself with Salamandra - the criminal cult which served the original game's villains - and presided over thee negotiations in Loc Muinne, he was a dangerous nobleman to be sure. Often crossing back and forth between the fine line which separated ally from villain, he never quite fully opposed Geralt and often assisted the Witcher in unlikely moments. Whatever else, the game established that he has cunning, ruthless, ambitious and not a man to be underestimated.

In the brief gap between the events of Assassins of Kings and Wild Hunt, he had managed to turn what forces he had to his advantage, fighting the invading Nilfgaard Empire to a stalemate. Invading his unreliable ally Kaedwen, he united all remaining provinces in the north under his Redanian banner, waging a relentless battle while charging Witch Hunters to cull the local populace of sorcerers. Thus far this seemed relatively in-line with the king established thus far, if exaggerating his hatred of magic that little bit more, but the man the players met was not the one they had seen in Loc Muinne. In a matter of mere months, Radovid had become a gaunt, haggard figure gripped in constant paranoia and barely on the edge of sanity. Constantly making curious and extremely unusual chess metaphors, he was prone to sudden furious outbursts and bloodthirsty acts of violence.

Just to put this in perspective, players had left him in Assassins of Kings behaving like this and then found him mere months later in Wild Hunt gibbering like this. Suffice to say the two don't quite add up and he only becomes worse as the game goes on, eventually attempting to murder Geralt purely due to his behaviour. While many have put his eroding sanity down to Philippa Eilhart - a sorceress who assassinated his father to take the throne and tormented his childhood - having escaped his clutches, there's nothing done to truly exemplify this. At best there are a few key moments to suggest he is increasingly stressed in matching Nilfgaard's tactics time  and time again, but we were never given anything truly substantial to work with. What exactly reduced him to a paranoid wreck of a monarch in a few scant months is now left only to fan theories it seems.

The Lost Dragon and her Lands

In the jump from Assassins of Kings to Wild Hunt, a lot of story elements were left behind. Seemingly world-altering choices were largely streamlined or forgotten to make way for the more open nature of the world, allowing Wild Hunt to still serve as a somewhat self-contained finale. While freeing the game from its baggage certainly worked out well for CD Projekt RED, others were irked at the lack of impact their choices had, and how much had been forgotten.

Easily one of the biggest casualties of this abrupt shift from one game to the next was the Pontar Valley Free State. While one path saw the fledgling government crushed and added to Kaedwen's lands, the other saw it fully established as an independent realm bereft of racial hatred or persecution. This became a rallying cry for many elves, dwarves and non-human folk, but the following game seemed to completely forget about its existence. While a comic would establish that it had fallen to Nilfgaard's invasion, little was done to truly follow up on the conflict or the situation there. 

There was little to no mention of it, and while Temeria featured its own massed resistance movement, the Pontar Valley saw no such love. On the one hand, okay, Temeria was a better nation with a better trained army but on the other the Pontar Valley pushed to establish itself as an entirely new nation. They had faced down one of the best trained military forces in the north in their efforts to remain free and, whether or not they won or lost that battle, that should have had some impact. There should have been some follow-up with their own rebellion, their own resistance, but instead we never learned of exactly what happened there or its fate under Nilfgaardian rule.

Forgetting about an entire nation would have been bad enough but, given the liberties taken to free Wild Hunt from past plotlines, it was somewhat acceptable. A far more frustrating change instead came in the form of Saskia the Dragonslayer, ruler of the Pontar Valley. As the political figurehead and leader of the forces resisting Kaedwen's army, she had been a major character in Assassins of Kings for a fair number of reasons, and the game's big boss fight. You see, Saskia only looked human thanks to magic and was in fact an extremely powerful and idealistic dragon. While true to her goals she fell prey to sorcery of another, and was bound to the will of Philippa Eilhart thanks to magical incantations. In one storyline she was freed of this influence, in another she was killed, and in the last she was left wounded but still under Eilhart's control.

Naturally, as a lone character capable of annihilating entire armies thrown into the mix, many fans anticipated Saskia would play a major role in the upcoming war. Whichever side she chose would benefit from a major power boost, and could reshape the entire landscape of the Northern Kingdoms. Upon Wild Hunt's release however, fans were surprised to find she didn't even put in a cameo appearance. Save for a couple of brief mentions and an offhanded remark by Eilhart stating she was no longer under her control, the game treated her as a non-person. While we would later learn that she had ruled the Pontar Valley until its eventual conquest, that was it. There wasn't even a brief mention of Saskia seeking to restart elsewhere or avoiding the Northern Kingdoms thanks to Eilhart; she just completely disappeared from the story. Her eventual fate was will remain forever unknown to fans.

The Fate of the One-Eyed Elf

As if Saskia's loss weren't bad enough, another major character abruptly disappeared alongside her. As one of the few remaining Scoia'tael commanders in the north, Iorveth was an elf hated and feared by many humans for his acts of terrorism. Bitter, jaded and driven by the torments he had suffered at their hands, his kind sworn to combat humanity until their final days. However, unlike many of his kind, Iorveth understood that constant acts of terrorism were never going to win them back their homeland. Instead, in a surprising move, he threw in his lot with Saskia and fought to create a realm for any who wished to live without racial persecution.

While many players chose to side with Vernon Roche, Iorveth's path was nevertheless just as important to the game. Offering many insights into the world, its events and even the elf commandos themselves, he remained a crucial figure within Assassins of Kings and was responsible for turning the tide of the war against Kaedwen. Then the games moved onto Wild Hunt and he apparently got lost in the mix. Failing to even put in a brief appearance, the closest we got was a lone Scoia'tael suggesting he had been killed in a hail of arrows between games and not seen since. Even this detail was later refuted by one of the developers, and the lone comic mentioned in the point above seemed to go out of its way to avoid mentioning him.

What makes things all the more baffling is that Iorveth was clearly established to have a major role in Wild Hunt prior to his removal. Hiding in Novigrad alongside other elf commanders, he was supposed to greet Geralt not long after his arrival and take part in several big quests. Those named included Pyres of Novigrad, Get Junior and the Battle of Kaer Morhen alongside an addition quest which eventually became Woodland Beast. A few trace lines and details remain within Wild Hunt's code, and even Roche's reaction to Letho was a slightly altered version of what would have happened should you recruit Iorveth. Finally, the game was set to expand further upon why the Blue Stripes commander and he hated one another so viciously, suggesting at a long and bitter history between the two, eventually culminating in a final meeting. 

No one truly knows what went on behind the scenes which resulted in Iorveth's removal, but his role in the war with Nilfgaard and story following Assassins of Kings remains a mystery.

Nilfgaardian Kindness

Of all those present here, this is the one which has flown under the radar for so many fans. As many new supporters of the Witcher series were only introduced through the video games, few realise that Nilfgaard underwent a major reworking for Assassins of Kings and Wild Hunt. While scheming, self-superior, power hungry and mildly xenophobic, the Nilfgaard seen in the games was vastly more toned down from its book counterpart. 

For starters, Wild Hunt went out of its way to depict a varied and grey portrayal of the Empire, with fair or even surprisingly kind generals trying to win over the support of the lands they were occupying. Their troops were shown to be no better nor worse than those of the Northern Kingdoms, and even their approach to war certainly matched what was expected for that time without dipping into full on Genghis Khan. At worst you could argue that certain commanders were more willing to flaunt their authority or back it with swords, but that was about it. They were black armoured Romans with a broad mix of Germanic, Spanish and Russian influences, whereas their book counterparts could best be described as a rampaging genocidal nightmare.

As racist, occasionally corrupt and fractious as the Northern Kingdoms were, they were saints compared with Nilfgaard. When it was first introduced in the books, Nilfgaardian forces were in the midst of conquering the kingdom of Cintra in the most violent way possible. "Conquering" in this case translated to burning everything, slaughtering everything which moved and murdering as much of the population as possible, until they could never be a threat to them again. Alongside directly supporting and fueling its own slave trade, genocide is a favoured way of dealing with a problematic populace and their relationship with non-human species is akin to an apartheid treatment. These are the guys who would take one look at Mordor, roll their eyes and demand Sauron put his back into it before they showed him was real terror was. 

Of course, if that isn't enough for you, the books featured multiple descriptions of mass gang raping, ditches full of corpses, among other atrocities. All of which were further emphasised by this line of dialogue by Dandelion:

"Not this war, Geralt. After this war, no-one returns. There will be nothing to return to. Nilfgaard leaves behind it only rubble; its armies advance like lava from which no-one escapes. The roads are strewn, for miles, with gallows and pyres; the sky is cut with columns of smoke as long as the horizon. Since the beginning of the world, in fact, nothing of this sort has happened before. Since the world is our world... You must understand that the Nilfgaardians have descended from their mountains to destroy this world."

Anyone who has played Wild Hunt will tell you that this is the complete antithesis of their depiction in the games. So, that leaves the question of what in the holy hell happened over the course of a scant few years. This sudden shift would be akin to the Galactic Empire suddenly abandoning all Force Coking and Death Star policies between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Even accepting that the current Emperor might wish to move away from certain policies, this is the sort of change which would take decades if not generations to fully implement. There would have been mass resistance to removing slavery alone, and the very idea of offering fairer treatment to the outer conquered territories would have likely triggered a military coup. 

Like so much else here though, Wild Hunt just seemed to pretend it had not happened and pressed ahead with its own contradictory approach to things. The reasoning, the justifications, the behind the scenes movements which created this shift are once again something we never get any information about. How Emperor Emhyr ever pulled off such a shift, if it was even he who initiated it, is a detail the games could have seriously benefitted from.

So, those are five infuriating questions CD Projekt RED left unanswered with the conclusion to its trilogy. While they're certainly not all of them, and a few others are equally baffling, but these are the questions which stood out the most. For those rushing to the comments box, please know that this is simply highlighting a few points I personally would have liked answered. This isn't bashing the game at all, in fact I would personally argue that the series is what all future RPGs should be measured against. However, while it might not be another Dragon Age 2, the series wasn't perfect and this is simply supposed to serve as a reminder of that.

If you have your own questions, comments or thoughts you wish to add, please feel free to add them into the comments of course. Any and all ideas are always welcome and it's certainly interesting to see where people differ from my own opinions in these articles.


  1. How does Radovid manage to seamlessly gain complete control in Novigrad after the game makes a bid deal of the fact that the big 4 crime bosses wouldn't allow either the Redanians or the Nilfgardians to take the city intact?

  2. I can kind of get why they left these unanswered, as it's my opinion that if you can't do something like this properly, like carrying over a players' choices, then just don't do it. However, that also means that should have been made clear from the first game, and coming to the final part in the series only to learn that everything you did wasn't going to matter is such a slap in the face.

    Why couldn't this just take place somewhere else? Why couldn't they at least do a token mention of certain characters like Saskia? You can't convince me that it's hard to just do a quick check of the hard drive to see what was recorded, it happens all the time and especially in the regular game itself, and you also don't need to do a cinematic on the aftermath, just change some of the dialogue, this is a problem that wouldn't even take all that long to fix.

    Why couldn't previous characters show even in passing? For example Iorveth could be seen in the environment at one point but can't talk to him, at least you'd know he was still around.

    I also can't help but feel Radovid is supposed to be like that due to player choices, however I also think that they made him like this based on one outcome from the previous games, and then didn't feel like making other outcomes for him, deciding it was good enough.

    I guess they were too busy filming the 16 hours of motion capture to properly tie everything together:

    At least the reasons for why they put so much effort into the sex were laughable, here's some quotes taken straight out of an interview with Damien Monnier (a senior game designer for the game):

    "People might think we’re putting sex into the opening scene for no good reason,” explained Monnier. "No, no, no. We are establishing that your character was intimate with this woman recently in order to plant in your mind that, at very least, he must enjoy her company."

    "Through sex we have shown that this is a person who Geralt would be compelled to chase after if she went missing. Sex is the quickest way in which to establish the relationship and provide a justification for the player to pursue this woman."

    “We couldn’t just tell you to go find someone you don’t know or care about. It wouldn’t work.”

    None of these work for me though, the first is just hilarious (I'd hope he'd enjoy her company if he sleeps with her), the second one says to me that they were just lazy, and Geralt from what I remember of the first game sleeps with prostitutes, I don't exactly expect him to go off like this after them and because of this you cannot expect me to get invested knowing that Geralt will try to sleep with pretty much anyone (even Fae creatures).

    1. Alright, first off, i'm honestly not sure whether to laugh or question the dev's priorities with their motion capture antics. While there was a hell of a lot less flirting than in the original game, that just seems excessive at the most, even with those reason. I mean, damn, say what you will about Bioware but at least they tend to just get it over and done with, and leave it as a secondary element.

      As for the answers though, well, part of me does wonder if the developer even wanted to full develop choices and traits. After all, many decisions from the first game have little impact upon the second save for the odd aside comment or even just a minor character interaction. Here, it has even less impact, and even completely siding against Roche in the prior game barely changes how he reacts to you here. Part of me really just wonders if some of these were left unanswered because the developer didn't want to deal with tying in older ideas or environments, but instead wanted to rush ahead into new and exciting territory.

    2. I find it really funny how the dev's thought they needed to mo-cap 16 hours worth of sex to get you invested, when the creators of Double Dragon only needed 10 seconds to tell you everything you needed to know.

      What would it be like if CD Projekt made the opening to Double Dragon instead?