The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was a huge success when it released two years ago. It was my favourite game of that year and is on my list of all time greats. It’s writing, characters and world drew me in instantly without having played the previous entries or read the novels. As it celebrated two years since release I decided to dust it off and play through again. (OK it’s not two years of dust as I played the two expansions last October.)
I set out wanting my second play through to be different. The Witcher 3 offers a huge amount of choice throughout its expansive story. It’s also got such a big world that both story elements and random encounters can be completely missed. I have to experience as much from this game as I can, such is my love for it, so I was determined to explore everything and make different choices this time around.
My first play through was very natural in the choices made. Having not experienced any other Witcher story I could only make these choices on what was presented to me. Whether characters lived or died, the romantic partners chosen and the quests I completed were all picked on how I felt and who I wanted Geralt to be. I wasn’t thinking too far ahead but only on the immediate context. If I helped Dijkstra who would that affect. Or if I didn’t help how would that play out in a tied mission. I wasn’t thinking about Dijkstra’s long game or what he might do later. My thoughts and choices were definitely in the moment.
This second play through then was to be different in many ways. It wasn’t just story elements I was going to change but the entire way I played the game.
It started hard. Along with experiencing the other side of the games choices I also wanted a challenge. I started a new game plus play through on the hardest difficulty, Death March. This meant adapting to a harder enemy straight out the gate. Geralt was respecced with big importance put into Quen, the sign which provides a shield, and Axii, for crowd control. This meant taking combat encounters more strategically. An enjoyable way to play but not the exciting, frantic, fast paced swordplay and Igni/Aard sign I was used to. This has made me cautious to a fault and I was taking too long to make a move often getting flanked and relying on Quen to protect me. After a while and a lot of slow encounters my muscle memory kicked in. Whilst Quen is still utilised the fast paced swordplay and dodging combinations have returned.
The change to the story choices I’ve made however haven’t been as enjoyable as the change to combat. Playing through the story and side quests it’s been hard to remember what choices I’d made the first time around. My original Geralt was a little apathetic, well as apathetic as the game would allow. He would turn down coin, gave people the benefit of the doubt and generally made to be a nice guy. This time I’ve been the opposite. Although some dialogue choices don’t present a right or wrong, good or bad answer I’ve swayed towards being a prick. I’ll call people out, kill them and take all their money. I’m joking and siding with characters who don’t mind more devious or downright brutal ways to get what they want. I’m more Letho than Vesemir this second time around and I like it. I usually play the good guy but this new fuck you attitude fits well.
It’s in the big decisions where I’m having to really take my time deciding on the choices I make. This time I’d be pursuing Triss instead of Yeniffer (which breaks my heart as Yeniffer is clearly the correct choice). Each encounter with Triss I’m assessing my responses, studying her reaction to know if I’m on the right lines and reloading the dialogue encounter when I think I’ve made a mistake. The same goes for siding with Dijkstra over Roche, not quite as romantic but a big story decision none the less. I’m having to second guess all of the choices and try to preempt what the consequences will be just so I can see a different scripted scene or additional narration. Fuck, I even killed Kira Metz just to know what would happen to Lambert if she wasn’t at the Battle at Kaer Morhen.
This isn’t the way I intended to play the game. Yes I want to see what difference my choices make on the world and the story but it’s at the expense of enjoying the game. At the expense of rolling with the situation and naturally choosing to make Geralt a harder, more detached killer. I should be playing with this harder edged Geralt in mind but take everything as it comes, not reload when I feel I may be missing out on a part of the game I haven’t experienced and not constantly analysing the choices in front of me. Playing in this way hasn’t detracted from my love for the game, it’s how I’ve chosen to play it that’s annoyed me.
I’ll be finishing my second run through with this in mind. It’s a third time to alter my mind-set and adapt to the game but I think it’ll be worth it. I’ve even given Geralt a different hairstyle to help.