In a gaming era defined by the need to be on-going and forever, whether that be through multiplayer, procedural generation, MMO persistence, an endless parade of hats or drip-feed DLC, it’s a relief to be given an out. The Witcher 3‘s second major expansion Blood & Wine is the developers saying “it’s ok. Go now. Our time here is over.”
The Witcher 3 is a mammoth game. I’ve been playing it since March 2015 – two years with only a couple of breaks here and there. Rather than a single, all-consuming game I’ve ended up regarding it more like an HBO or Netflix TV show, with each quest being a new episode spread over three distinct seasons – those being the original game with its Ceri and Wild Hunt spectacle, followed by the cultish peculiarities of Hearts of Stone and, finally, Blood & Wine.
As the vampiric tale drew to its close, events in my particular version of the story took a turn for the worse, resulting in a tragic and regret-filled conclusion. The genius of the Witcher‘s storytelling is that this was just another contract for Geralt. It went bad, he made mistakes, but it isn’t the end of the world. In most roleplaying stories, failure is literally apocalyptic: in Blood & Wine it’s merely sad, and appalling, and bitter. Far more interesting, dramatically.
But then Geralt sits down with an old friend on a bench overlooking the river, reminisces, and the violence of the vampire plot fades away. The job is done, one way or another, and Geralt is left to his life, finding himself in an oddly idyllic situation. The world around him is as messy as ever, but for the first time he has some kind of carved-out part of the world to call his own.
There are countless smaller stories and quests still to uncover in The Witcher 3 but my defining final image is of Geralt emerging from his house as the sun rises above the distant hills of his vineyard. It’s unexpected. It’s the game saying “it’s fine to stop playing now. You don’t have to 100% this thing. We’re in a good place.”
It’s a fittingly quiet, contradictory ending to a game about combat and strife and war. The Witcher 3 is a very fine computer game, one which has occupied the same parts of my brain usually reserved for great books, movies and TV shows. It’s all-encompassing.
Unlike finishing The Wire, which made all subsequent TV feel inconsequential, The Witcher 3 still feels like it’s on the leading edge of a wave of continuing gaming discovery. There’s much more to come, not least when CD Projekt reveal what they’ve been up to with Cyberpunk.