Spoiler Warning: These diaries contain spoilers for The Witcher, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt Red, possibly the books upon which they are based by Andrzej Sapkowski, and the comics from Dark Horse, depending on just how ambitious/obsessive I’m feeling.
Geralt wakes to find the city under siege as Henselt’s Kaedweni army attacks. As I said before, choices really do matter in this game. Had I chosen Roche’s path, rather than Iorveth’s, I would literally be on the other side of the wall right now fighting for Henselt instead of on the side of rebels. Not that Geralt cares much for politics. When Saskia asks him why he is fighting, he simply states that he is here for his friend Zoltan—because friendship and loyalty are important to Geralt. (In)conveniently, Geralt’s friendships seem to always get him entangled in the politics of this world, which, like Geralt’s returning memories, I am slowing coming to understand. Nilfgaard, the ruling empire, is not to be trusted. Are they an evil despotic empire? I’m not quite certain. The ambassador we’ve been dealing with certainly shows signs of such, but perhaps it’s merely a case of the Nilfgaardian Emperor seeing the greater picture, while these smaller nations in the north squabble amongst themselves. The sorceresses seem to have similar thoughts and are controlling matters in their own ways as they place themselves on the councils of various kings, but are their motives for good or ill?
As Geralt slowly regains his memories, so too do I come to understand this Wild Hunt business. In myth, the Wild Hunt involves a ghostly group of hunters racing across the sky. For some it is an omen of evil. Had I played through the first Witcher game, I would know that the King of the Wild Hunt, an ancient elf, has been tormenting Geralt and twisting his memories. As Geralt regains them throughout the second game, he realizes that he must find a woman named Yennefer, to whom he is bound, and that he may have been part of the Wild Hunt himself.
Back to the battle, Geralt supports the Aedirnian soldiers (including Geralt’s new troll friends) as they defend the city of Vergen from the attack. Geralt takes orders from Zoltan, amused by his friend’s rise to command, and later joins Saskia to check the mines for a potential attack. At the mines, the pair meet the wizard Dethmold, the notoriously immoral advisor to King Henselt, and some Kaedweni soldiers. The battle seems to be going well until Dethmold knocks Geralt out and goes in for the kill shot. Saskia reveals herself then, taking her true shape as a great dragon. Dethmold escapes, but the dragon kills the remaining soldiers before reverting to human form. She begs Geralt to keep her secret. The people of Aedirn will feel betrayed if they knew the truth, even if her true form could significantly turn the tide of battle. But the dragoness seems quite genuine about her desire to see a free world built on equality for all of its people, human and non-human. Geralt promises to keep her secret safe, and they return to the battle above ground.
Geralt once more has to help in the defense of the walls, fighting off a tedious barrage of soldiers, until finally, Iorveth and his archers make their grand entrance. Geralt and Zoltan orchestrate a trap for Dethmold, King Henselt, and his men. With Scoia’teal arrows flying, Henselt finally surrenders.
Philippa Eilhart, who had been on the battlefield as well, now stands at Saskia’s side and the two make their demands swiftly. Dethmold is sentenced to immediate death, presumably to prevent him from speaking about Saskia’s giant, dragon-shaped secret, and because he’s apparently a really evil individual (something I would have learned about in greater detail had I taken Roche’s path where King Henselt would have won this battle, though I’d never have known about Saskia’s true form). Philippa appoints Síle to replace the dead mage. Saskia and Philippa demand that Henselt reiterate his promises at the Summit of Mages to be held shortly at Loc Muinne. The two women abruptly turn and leave through the sorceress’ portal without further word to the people who Saskia cares so much for. This strikes Iorveth and Geralt as strange. They search Philippa’s room and discover a spell book where, by rule, the counter for any spell is listed on the opposite page. The cure for magepain does not include a rose of remembrance, as Philippa had told them. Geralt deduces that Philippa used the rose in a spell, sealed with a kiss, that has bound Saskia’s mind to the sorceress’ will. Leaving Zoltan and Dandy in charge, Iorveth and Geralt race to Loc Muinne.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Shilard is up to no good again. He has a sorceress and a guard with him and demands that the sorceress free Triss from the figurine prison in which she is trapped. Triss is restored, though naked and disoriented. The ambassador then kills the sorceress.
Let’s pause for a moment to talk about the role women play in this game. Other than a few womenfolk in towns—barmaids, merchants, or soldiers—the majority of the women who play any significant part fall into two categories: whores or conniving sorceresses. Quite often, they are disposable plot points. In chapter one, Geralt either chooses to save women left to burn in a house, or to go after their murderer. Sorceresses are burned as witches when they overstep their advisory roles. I’d been looking forward to spending more time with Triss, but she has spent most of this game kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and coerced into actions and words not her own. The Baroness Lafayette, though not a prostitute or a sorceress, suffered much the same at the hands of her captors during the prologue.
The only mildly positive thing I can say about the treatment of the women is that, unlike Game of Thrones, for example, at least the women aren’t existing in a constant state of rape. The game takes place within a European setting and timeline that, as with Game of Thrones. Some people use this setting to justify the sexual violence and the subjugation of female characters, claiming it as a reflection of the society during those times. Yet, unlike Game of Thrones, rape and sexual assault does not happen often, and even then, it is usually only implied through the words of a few characters or notes found in relevant quests and is never used specifically to advance the plot. The threat and implication of rape exists, but it is not callously and constantly displayed throughout this game of thrones, and it is never portrayed in its entirety on screen.
Aside from this minor positive within a greater negative, one might ask how I can continue to play a game that is so offensive to women. I am neither condoning nor overlooking the negative tropes used in regard to female characters (nor am I overlooking the significant lack of cultural diversity, for that matter). I can still partake in and even enjoy media that offends me, appreciating the enjoyable parts while critiquing the less favorable ones and demanding better. I can only hope that The Witcher 3 has improved upon this, with the option to play as the female character Ciri. But in the initial trailers, Geralt is seen rescuing a woman from her violent fate at the hands of soldiers. Still, my partner in crime, Tiara, reports that thus far in her limited playthrough of The Witcher 3:
“The encounters I’ve had with them thus far have only hinted at a generally dismal place for everyone. I haven’t witnessed any outright violence toward [women]. And the only person I’ve had to actually save (meaning some cowering peasant) has actually been a man.”
Iorveth and Geralt make it to Loc Muinne only to find the place guarded by knights of the Order of the Flaming Rose. In the first game, Geralt can choose to side with the Roses against the nonhuman rebels. Here, Iorveth, the infamous leader of a nonhuman terrorist organization, opts to remain inconspicuous. They learn that Philippa has been arrested and decide to make their way into the prison to find her, either by traversing the sewers or the much shorter route: letting Geralt get caught. I opt for the latter and Geralt is then privy to a conversation between Philippa and the young Redanian king, whom she apparently mentored. He is none too pleased with the sorceress, having learned enough from her to realize now how easily she had manipulated him in the past. He punishes her arrogance by having her eyes gouged out.
Ambassador Shilard arrives to question Geralt when the Redanian king leaves. Geralt learns that Triss is alive and restored and that she’s confessed to the sorceresses’ involvement in conspiracies against the northern kings. Geralt believes her to be under some kind of influence, but there is implication that Geralt does not know the secrets Triss keeps from him. The ambassador leaves his guards behind to kill Geralt, who manages to escape and kill them first. Then Geralt turns his attention to the now blind Philippa, who demands to be released and sort of promises to free Saskia from her control. She notes that Síle is currently in command of Saskia by Philippa’s orders.
So, I’m faced with a difficult choice: free Philippa so that she can break the spell on Saskia, or rescue Triss, who is being held by the Nilfgaardians. This is a tough decision. Hell, everything in The Witcher games is a tough decision because everything has consequences. The most obvious consequence here is losing one or both of these women I’ve spent much of the game trying to save. As much as Geralt wants to rescue his love, Philippa’s argument is compelling. Saskia is needed to unite the people of the Pontar Valley, and, despite Philippa’s belief that she could serve well at Saskia’s side, she agrees to free the dragoness from the spell binding her. The pair make it to the sewers where Iorveth is waiting. After fighting a few monsters, they get to Philippa’s room and retrieve her notes, and then head upstairs to complete the ritual.
Shockingly, Philippa betrays them and flies off in her owl form (though she’s still blind, I assume; I hope she flew straight into a wall). Geralt defeats the monster Philippa left behind and retrieves the magical dagger that will free Saskia. Iorveth grudgingly agrees that if Geralt cannot free Saskia and his own life is in danger that Geralt may be forced to kill her.
Before heading to the amphitheater, I wander around Loc Muinne a little bit. There, I meet two alchemists who had asked for help in testing mutagens earlier in the game. I accept their mission and end up meeting their benefactor Cynthia, the apprentice mage and Nilfgaardian spy that had apparently betrayed Philippa her lover. Geralt opts not to kill her when Cynthia promises that she’ll reveal more about his past if he helps with their quest to find a famous alchemist’s hidden notes. They also find a machine in the laboratory that lets Geralt see what an acquaintance is currently doing. He is only allowed one, so I choose Triss. She is tied up and being questioned again by Shilard. But at least she’s alive. Cynthia keeps her word and Geralt learns that he may have been a rider in the Wild Hunt. She also tells him that the mysterious Yennefer is alive, likely with missing memories too, and is somewhere in the south.
Finally, Geralt makes his way to the conclave of mages. There he meets Prince Stennis, whom I had forgotten about. One has to be very careful about questing in this game, as moving on through the main quest line can render other quests automatically failed. I missed an interesting one with a succubus because of this, and now Prince Stennis is King Stennis because I didn’t pursue the trial against him for his involvement in poisoning Saskia, whom he saw as a rival. Oh well. At least the narrator informs me that Stennis didn’t turn out to be such a bad king after all.
The mages’ summit is interrupted shortly by Ambassador Shilard who, to Geralt and Iorveth’s shock, marches in a shackled Letho, the kingslayer. Letho confesses that his actions were at the command of the sorceresses who have formed the Lodge of Sorceresses intent on ruling the kingdoms by pulling all the strings. Síle is accused of treachery, but before anyone can seize her, she summons a little help from a friend. A very big friend.
Geralt chases them up a tower where he finds Síle about to escape. She mocks him for his ignorance, but when the time comes for her big exit through a magical portal, she discovers that one of the three stones necessary for the spell has been tampered with. I opt to let Geralt save her, but Síle doesn’t return the favour by, you know, calling off the dragon that wants to eat Geralt.
Game play-wise, this is one challenging game. Even on easy mode and even with cheats, the final battle against Saesenthessis—Saskia in her dragon form—is tough. After much struggle, Geralt brings down the dragon and uses Philippa’s enchanted dagger to free Saskia of the mind control. Saskia returns to her human form and the two have an amiable conversation about her plans to return to Aedirn to lead her people. She considers Geralt’s suggestion that she give Iorveth something to do, since he’s in love with her an all, but dragons apparently prefer dwarves.
In the epilogue, Geralt returns to Loc Muinne to find it in ruins. Letho’s words sparked a witch hunt against sorceresses that expanded to include all mages, and finally, resulted in brutality against everyone. Iorveth informs Geralt that Letho remains in captivity in the Nilfgaardian camp and that the kingslayer had saved Triss (wooo … that turned out okay after all). They find both Letho and Triss waiting for them and Geralt and Letho face off one last time. There is an option to simply fight him, but Letho has a lot to say, reminding Geralt that he did not kill him last time they fought. It turns out that Letho does indeed know a lot about the Wild Hunt and about the missing Yennefer, Geralt’s beloved (but … but Triss …?), who now suffers from amnesia as well and is somewhere in the south after Letho, Yennefer, and his other witcher companions had been captured by Nilfgaard. The command to kill kings and sew chaos in the north came from the Nilfgaardian emperor himself, and Letho obeyed in hopes that the emperor would keep his promise to return witchers to their former glory. Again, the option to fight is there, but I opt to let Letho go, as dangerous as he is. There is war coming, as Nilfgaardian soldiers cross the borders into the northern lands. An ally as brilliant and deadly as Letho, who has proven himself somewhat loyal to Geralt, could well be useful in the future.
And the Wild Hunt awaits …
Read the rest of the Witcher Diaries series.
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