As Geralt of Riveria, a Witcher, you're expected to hunt down all sorts of things. Mostly monsters, but there are people that need finding too. The Witcher 3 opens with an animated sequence where a narrator discusses The Conjunction of the Spheres, a time when this reality collided with another, and the end result was magic, and with it, all the supernatural creatures that prowl the land. Along with them are magic practitioners like sorcerers, and Witchers, who mutate themselves in order to combat creatures on behalf of humanity.
The scene changes to a young female sorceress named Yennefer, who is caught on a battlefield between two warring factions. Then it flashes back to Geralt, who is tracking her, deducing everything that happened by using his Witcher sense and analyzing the remnants of battle. After rescuing a merchant from a rampaging griffin, and choosing to fill my wallet over doing a free service, I made my way to the town of White Orchard - a place recently conquered by the advancing empire. Being occupied by a ruthless army isn't exactly sitting well with the locals, but I figure it's none of my business. It's not like I have to live here.
Two Witchers Walk Into a Bar...
However, the locals are very weary of strangers, and they're not exactly quiet about it. You literally can't walk down the road without overhearing talk about how terrible and unnatural Witchers are. I guess there's just no tolerance for mutants, even when they go around killing monsters.
I head into the nearest tavern to get more information about Yennefer's whereabouts, and am met with dead ends. At least, I do until I start questioning two shifty guys. One of the Witcher's abilities is to "confuse" people's minds, which works a lot like a Jedi Mind Trick. The guy initially doesn't want to talk to me, but loosens his tongue with a wave of Geralt's hand and a command to talk. I'm surprised there aren't more Witchers out there abusing this ability to get higher pay for their hunting contracts. The bar patron's companion immediately starts to protest my mind control, but good old fashioned intimidation made his sit back down.
After a few lengthy conversations - including one with an ex-merchant turned vagrant, who likes to ask a lot of personal questions - I start making my way toward the soldier encampment. But, this wouldn't be a fit role-playing game if I didn't get distracted with a few side quests along the way. I pass by a cursing dwarf, whose forge had recently been destroyed by an arsonist. He promises to pay well, if I can find the culprit.
This is where The Witcher starts to look a lot like Batman: Arkham City. I turn on my Witcher senses to reveal a set of footprints leading away from the forge. I follow them to a river, sometimes analyzing them along the way. I figure out that passing under a bridge at night probably wasn't the best idea, because some drowners attacked the arsonist, but he managed to escape with minor injuries. I continue to follow the tracks to a house, where there's a man with his arm bandaged. I recognize the wound and determine that this is the arsonist I'm looking for.
Of course, he tries to bribe me to go away, but I refuse. I like to stick to my contracts. He tries to refuse me, but I decide to hit him with the Jedi Mind Trick instead of trying to punch an unarmed and injured man into submission. Turns out I didn't need to worry about his well being. The dwarf immediately handed the man over to the local guards, who then proceed to take him to a hanging tree without trial for his act of treason. I get paid, and I get a nice little discount at the forge. Nice!
On the Hunt
I continue on my way to the soldier's encampment, which up in the northern part of the region. It sits in the back of my mind that I pretty much ditched my pal at the bar while I single-handedly chase down a lead on my horse, Roach. But I suppose he could have a time drinking while I go out risking my life and whatever. I decide to do some exploring along the way, which turned out to be a really bad idea. Coming upon a church, I sensed a place of power, but am attacked by a spirit while trying to absorb it.
There's a great paradox in long standing games like The Witcher. On the one hand, you're supposed to be a professional monster hunter. On the other hand, you end up being really bad at your job when controlled by someone who doesn't believe in blocking or parrying. Combat in the Witcher 3 is pretty straightforward. There's a fast attack, heavy attack, and dodge supplemented with a few dodging moves, potions, and runes. Runes act as the magic system, and will equip you with everything from shields to a fire blast as long as you have the stamina to cast them. I lay down a trap to keep the spirit from teleporting away, which doesn't work very well. It eventually kills me, forcing me to restart from the last checkpoint.
This time I skip over the church and head straight to the soldier's fort. I'm met with a lot of good cop, bad cop here. There's definitely some sort of mix of respect and mistrust for Witchers here. I'm told to make my way to the captain, and walk in just as he's telling a farmer that he knows what it's like to be a peasant and therefore won't take any more than he needs from him.
I decide to get right down to business and ask him about Yennefer, but I understand that nothing is free around here. So, I agree to take care of the griffin terrorizing the countryside in exchange for the information. It turns out there's a lot of traveling involved with griffin hunting. First I need to find out from the local herbalist where I can find some foul smelling herbs to bait the creature out. Then I have to meet up with a survivor to find out why the griffin abandoned its nest to go people hunting.
But before the survivor will tell me anything, he asks me to help him hunt down some dangerous wild dogs. Sure, why not? I'm a little surprised that I need to use my silver monster sword for a pack of wild dogs, but hey, whatever gets the job done.
After making short work of the pack, he takes me to an encampment where the griffin slaughtered everyone. Then, I used my Witcher sense to follow a trail leading into the woods and back to the griffin nest. It seems like these people had it coming. They killed the griffin's mate and were slaughtered at the celebration party. Unfortunately, the griffin doesn't know when to stop.
Having all the information I need, I pick up some stinky herbs and meet up with my friend, who made good use of his time by winning a crossbow while gambling. He hands the crossbow over to me and we head over to a site where we're going to lure the griffin out.
Griffins are fast, and they can fly. I also found out that they really don't like it when you set them on fire. Again, combat is relatively straightforward. Dodge when the griffin tries to attack, throw down some magic, and keep hacking at the creature. There is one point in the fight where the griffin suddenly tries to fly away, and I got worried. There was no way I could catch it if this thing decided to flee. Thankfully, the fight resumed after a short run. Eventually, I can out as the victor with some loot and nice griffin head a trophy. I really wished that I could hang the griffin's head from my horse's saddle, because that would be a fantastic effect.
Instead, I just fast traveled back to the soldier camp. In a world this big, fast travel is practically a must, but it's limited in The Witcher 3. You can't just teleport from anywhere. Geralt first has to make his way to the nearest road sign, then activate it, so that he can instantly travel to a different road sign.
The captain is talking to the same farmer again as I walk in, and it looks like he delivered a shipment of spoiled rye. So, it's off to the whip for him. The captain may have been a peasant once, but suppose that doesn't mean that he's a nice guy. He gives me the information I need and offers to pay me for my griffin hunting services. I can decide to either refuse the money and make a moral statement, or I can take the money and walk on out. Of course I took the money. Either way, the farmer gets lashed. No reason for me to suffer too. Plus, there isn't a griffin terrorizing the countryside anymore, so everyone wins.
We're Not Exclusive to Monster Slaying
I meet up with my friend back at the bar, where trouble is brewing. The locals are drunk and eager to get into a fight. A female patron accuses the bartender of being a traitor and start slamming her face down on the counter. My friend breaks up the fight, but the act emboldens the other patrons, hoping to deliver a beat down on a pair of Witchers. I guess they didn't see that I already left a group of guys bloody and unconscious outside the bar earlier that afternoon.
A fight ensues. Entrails are spilt, and the head of one of our attackers goes flying. Both the bartender and the woman that started it all are scared to death of us now and demand that we leave. It's like they've never seen a beheading before. If the people of White Orchard were suspicious of Witchers before, I doubt their opinions of us are improved. So much for mutant relations.
We step out of the bar and find the captain alongside a number of solders. We're about to explain the whole bit about the severed heads, when Yennefer steps out from among them. Looks like she saved me some trouble... or she's about to get me into some. Maybe some of both. She takes me to the king, who has adopted the title of "White Flame who Dances on the Graves of his Enemies" or something like that. There's a deal that I simply can't refuse waiting for me there.
But even short horse rides are rarely without incident. We're hit with a wintry blast of snow, followed by undead soldiers of the Wild Hunt, which might herald a second Conjunction of the Spheres. Politics, monsters, and apocalyptic events. Just another day in the world of The Witcher.