McMillan’s Codex #2 by C.T. McMillan
Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
It’s become a videogame norm ito borrow from film for the purpose of gameplay sequences and narrative. Games often elevate the material beyond what movies can achieve, but like literature, unless you are writing a script, it is not a good idea to imagine your story as a movie. The result of emulating film the wrong way can be an awkward combination of displacement and confusion. The self-proclaimed auteur David Cage fancies himself a director and has no grasp of how games work. When playing Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, however, it became clear developer CD Projekt Red knew it wanted to make a videogame and found inspiration beyond the silver screen.
Simply put, Wild Hunt is the Song of Ice and Fire with double the fantasy and enough realism to make George R.R. Martin blush. With its attention to detail and the complexity of an author in story and world building, it’s not surprising it follows a book series of the same name by Andrzej Sapkowski. Playing Wild Hunt is like reading a novel, the level of immersion increased by its depth-full design. Everything has been carefully thought out and crafted in a natural fashion as the player interacts with the world and discovers how it works in further exploration.
The world of Wild Hunt may be fantasy, but its fully realized political elements create a sense of believability many games struggle to achieve. The story centers on a war between two nations whose effects are evident throughout. In occupied land, corpses of deserters hang on trees with warning signs. Villagers live in squalor and poverty as resources are taken in submission to invaders. Parents die of starvation and their children left destitute. The emperor waging the war struggles to maintain it in the midst of debt and stalemate. On the other side a mad king spurs paranoia among his people to keep them in check, tasking witch hunters to torture and burn mages and non-humans. The oppression takes hold as ordinary people persecute one another in ignorance and fear.
Those who live in Wild Hunt’s world make it possible. Each group of people has problems and a region specific culture. One village may pray to a trio of witches for good harvest while a city openly shuns anything outside of the majority religion’s extremist practices. Their struggles are diverse as some are better off than others across the war-torn land. The oppressed talk of their suffering and living in tyranny while those doing the oppressing justify their actions with lesser-of-two evils logic. Individuals have their own accents and dialects depending on location and status, written with pain-staking consistency. Elites of the peaceful regions will have refined speaking skills where as peasants talk with a litany of slang and conjunctions that would guilt a Cockney to take speech lessons.
Within the culture of the world exists an element of magic treated like science. As the protagonist Geralt, you are a monster hunter with a vast bestiary on all things non-human. Within the game is glossary of Wild Hunt’s many creatures that can be slain for profit. Each has its own description and weaknesses that can be exploited in gameplay. The use of alchemy is a kind of fantastical chemistry as you mix herbs into oils for your sword or potions to fortify abilities. Books can be found and read to increase one’s knowledge of the world and its history.
This complex game environment offers numerous quests. From the main story missions to random events the player happens upon, each is a well-written story with strong characters and conflicts in shades of grey. Like the overarching war narrative, both sides are neither right nor wrong and the player’s choice affects those involved. Said choices are complicated and the desired outcome is never what it seems. The ending of the game takes into account the player’s decisions and renders an appropriate closing that reflects upon the how player reacted.
Only in literature can a world of such depth be realized. With words alone an author can build and destroy with the ease of a pen stroke or the press of a button. The flash and excitement of spectacle may captivate for mere moments, but rigorously thought-out concepts that breath life into illusion is everlasting. CD Projekt Red knew better than anyone quality world building takes more than gameplay and graphics. Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is a superior instance of literary inspiration in videogames and sets a standard many should follow.
C.T. McMillan is a film critic and a devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.