‘The Witcher 3’ At 5 Years Old: The Epic's Very Best Quests
When it comes to discussions about the greatest video games of all time at GAMINGbible HQ - which, right now, is several different HQs connected by temperamental video chat, as you can imagine - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is usually somewhere around the top. It is, without a doubt, a big favourite of the team's - and when we put together our list of the best games of the past decade, in late 2019, CD Projekt Red's awesomely epic role-player landed at number four. Though, for my own money, it's a better game than at least two of the titles that placed higher.
I reckon I'm up to 500 hours of play, comfortably, on The Witcher 3 and its two DLC releases, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, across PlayStation 4 and Switch saves. And I'm confident that I'm yet to see everything the game has to offer - certainly when it comes to differing outcomes in several, multiple-choice situations. There are still a few question marks here and there - but beyond those sideshow attractions, The Witcher 3 serves up meaty main quests and sizeable secondary ones that not only impact how the game world views Geralt of Rivia, but also the ultimate fate that awaits him.
And so many of these quests are so memorable, so brilliantly written and structured, that it's almost doing this game a disservice by, for its fifth anniversary, only highlighting five truly special ones here - all of which are drawn from the base game. But you know what they say about content: you can't outrun it, just because you're terrified of it. So you might as well toss a coin its way.
This is an early main quest in the game, which Geralt stumbles into not long after reaching Velen. On the hunt for Ciri's whereabouts, he finds clues enough to seek out a local warlord by the name of Phillip Strenger, aka the Bloody Baron.
While initially appearing a tough opponent, physically and verbally, Strenger soon reveals himself to be a hopeless alcoholic, whose violence when drunk has caused his wife and daughter to flee their home more than once - and they're absent at the time of Geralt's arrival. He is an abusive, aggressive character who's hard to have any sympathy for - but nevertheless, with Geralt's help he goes through something of a process of redemption.
Strenger has seen Ciri, and makes a deal with Geralt: if the Witcher can track down his wife, Anna, and daughter, Tamara, he'll share what information he has on the girl's whereabouts. But what plays out next really isn't as simple as following a breadcrumb trail - or, I guess, a trail of treats - to an X on your map. There are several eventualities for this quest, and other side-quests feed into the end result that you'll see. There's a monstrous stillborn to deal with one way or another; a spirit in a hillock that will impact how Strenger finds Anna; and the small matter of three, thoroughly horrendous witches, aka the Crones of Crookback Bog.
I've played this quest - or, I suppose, cluster of them - through a few times and always seen a different outcome, some much better than others. I don't know if any are ideal, for anyone involved, but I do know that 'Family Matters' is The Witcher 3 at its best: fantastically exciting, penned with the insatiable pace of an addictive page-turner, heartbreaking and horrific, and rich with dramatic, game-changing consequences.
A lot of the time, Geralt gets the job done by running one of his two swords through something. Whatever that thing is stops, bleeds, and falls down - and the witcher gets his coin. But sometimes The Witcher 3 has its hero playing detective, and 'Carnal Sins' is one such side-quest.
A serial killer is on the loose in the game's largest city, Novigrad - and when they attempt to bump off the girlfriend of Geralt's pal Dandelion, Priscilla, Geralt takes a personal interest in halting the murderer in their tracks.
Following a series of clues, Geralt discovers the killer has a superhuman ability to leap over walls, and yet the only possible suspect, or so it seems, is 100% human. Maybe, before you butcher him, you should hear the man out, eh? And find yourself some garlic, perhaps.
Ticking off 'Carnal Sins' isn't essential to completing The Witcher 3, but like a lot of its secondary quests, it's so neatly packaged that it feels every bit as complete as a main mission. It also leads us into parts of Novigrad and beyond that you don't otherwise see, and offers the player a glimpse into the dangerous side of religion in this fantasy world.
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A Towerful of Mice
Play The Witcher 3 for long enough - which is to say, not long at all - and you realise that it's man who's the biggest monster of all in this world. But that doesn't stop this game getting very creepy indeed, and for some genuinely frightening creatures to come floating out of the woodwork.
One of the most significant parts of the game's main story is the defence of the Witcher's stronghold of Kaer Morhen, once Ciri has been found and the Wild Hunt comes calling, armed to the teeth. To best fend off the advances of these spectral warriors, Geralt needs to recruit allies - and one of these is the powerful sorceress, Keira Metz. But she'll only make the journey to Kaer Morhen if Geralt does a few favours for her, first - one of which being a trip to Fyke Isle for 'A Towerful of Mice'.
Only, they're rats, really. Not mice at all, but hungry, hungry rats. Geralt learns that a mage once lived on the island, in a tower, and of the truly grisly (corporeal) fate of a ghost he meets, Anabelle. A curse that blights the island is based around her, and to lift it she has to forgive the man she loved for seemingly abandoning her to die alone in the tower. This can be done with very different consequences - one of which sees Anabelle run riot across Velen as a grotesque, wraith-like Pesta, spreading the Bubonic-like Catriona plague from village to village.
With the curse lifted, Keria can go to Fyke herself - though you'll want to intercept her there later on, to stop her doing something very silly and to make sure she joins you when it matters.
The Last Wish
After all that horror and death, how about a nice cuddle? Maybe even a little kiss? That's one outcome of 'The Last Wish', a quest that sends Geralt from the bottom of the sea to the top of a mountain, accompanied by his on-and-off partner, Yennefer of Vengerberg.
If you know a little of this pair's romantic past, you'll know that their affection for one another coincided with an encounter with a vase-imprisoned djinn - this story is told in both Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski's short story 'The Last Wish', from the book of the same name, and in an episode of the Netflix show, 'Bottled Appetites'. And this secondary quest in The Witcher 3 serves as the conclusion, I guess, to this love story.
But precisely what that conclusion is, dear player, is up to you. You can forge a path forward together, which definitely feels right to me; or you can spurn Yennefer for good, which would be terrible of you, but your game, your rules. I've nothing against redheads, but in my headcanon it's Geralt and Yen 4 eva.
No Place Like Home
Our last pick is a main quest - one without monsters or danger, but absolutely soaked through with lashings of booze. Bored at Kaer Morhen and with the fortresses' ostensible boss-man Vesemir away, the witchers Geralt, Lambert and Eskel raid the place's reserves of whatever it is that they're necking. Anything, really. If it's got alcohol in it, it's good to go.
Just how far Geralt goes with the tomfoolery here is dependent on your choices. Stick with Eskel and Lambert to the quest's head-spinning end though, and the group will be donning dresses and trying to booty-call a sorceress through Yennefer's magical Zoom-like megascope.
'No Place Like Home' is funny, heartwarming and a refreshing break from the usual high-drama of The Witcher 3's main story, and I love it for just how vulnerable and human it feels in a world full of fantastic beasts and the many and varied ways to kill them.
Featured Image Credit: CD Projekt Red / Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe