Patching Up Geralt Of Rivia, The Last Action Hero

There's always a catch. When a Witcher asks for "what you find at home yet don't expect" in return for saving someone's life, neither party really knows what form that reward will take. It being an unknown quantity, one can usually be safe in assuming it will be somewhat meaningful. There's always a catch, after all. I like ambiguities like this, and The Witcher 3 is full of them. You've got your more standard video game ones, like not truly understanding the wider consequences of your actions, or never having a complete grasp of your companions' intentions. But it's home to many more, ones that are much more specifically, well, Witchery.

You play as Geralt of Rivia, a monster slayer looking to track down his de facto daughter, Ciri. You roam about the land and talk to people she's met, with the hope of eventually figuring out where she's gone. Your control is periodically switched over to Ciri herself, as you relive a particularly important detail of her journey. These being snippets, it's not entirely clear exactly when each event takes place, or even if the details being fed to you are wholly accurate. You're playing as Ciri, but in another character's retelling of her story. Furthermore, some of these episodes include events the storyteller wasn't actually present for, so it’s rather difficult to determine if what you’re seeing actually occurred as presented, or even at all.

The game's narrative progression initially seems like it will be very straightforward, but after a couple of these flashbacks you begin to realise it is anything but. While you’re following Ciri up through the Northern Kingdoms and then westward out to the Skellige Isles, as if in some orderly fashion, it becomes apparent that you're pursuing your leads out of order. Ciri, it would seem, has been all over the place, with Geralt following but a couple of clues, incorrectly assuming he’s only ever a few steps behind her at any given time. In actual fact, he’s been chasing a shadow; fixating on a few sightings of Ciri and reckoning they all tie together into a neat, linear journey, which, it becomes apparent after crisscrossing the gameworld a few times, they very clearly do not. While this isn't a massive narrative upset, it does make you aware that the world of The Witcher 3, and the storytelling taking place within it, is rarely as straightforward as one might first assume.

This places Geralt in a position few action heroes find themselves in. He's super powerful, more than capable of holding his own in situations calling on his physical abilities. But without enough of the right information, he's largely at a loss. He might well be able to kill monsters and bandits all day long, but if he's doing so in the wrong place -- well, he's not getting very far at all. This allows Geralt to play like the power fantasy archetype he kind of needs to be by the third entry in a once very mechanically complex, PC-only franchise, while also leaving plenty of room for him to actually be a little more nuanced and ineffectual as a character.

The question of why he needs to find Ciri in the first place is posed to Geralt numerous times. Characters outright tell him to give up on his search, stating that she likely doesn't even need the help he feels obliged to give her. He still thinks of her as a child, but, through being in control of her, I know she’s far from helpless. If anything, she’s more powerful than he, able to harness magical abilities to teleport through space and attack enemies with ease. While Geralt crafts potions, oils and bombs to give himself an advantage in combat, Ciri simply has an innate advantage already.

Geralt, then, comes across -- quite intentionally -- as a bit of a relic. He's visibly older than in previous installments, and seems to exist on the fringes of a world that is changing around him. Magic users, non-humans and Elves are being systematically persecuted. Those who are different aren't to be tolerated any longer, and it seems only a matter of time before the eye of this violent cleansing falls on the Witchers. Amidst all this upheaval, Geralt regularly bumps into his old friends and onetime enemies, who themselves are having their lives impacted by the changing times. But never sticks around for long enough for these meetings to be anything more than cursory how d’you dos. He visits people in their homes, places of business and clandestine hideouts, does his business (only sometimes in that way), and then goes off and sleeps in a field. Like Ciri, he's a shadow; never quite a whole person to those around him. But there’s a crucial difference: he is fading, while she is only just beginning to fully form.

Geralt is alone. This is one of the few unambiguous things I can find in The Witcher 3. He has a base of operations, the fortress of Kaer Morhen, which is frequented by a few of his remaining Witcher comrades, but he only ends up back there when he really needs to. It's on the world map, sitting up there, fittingly isolated, in the north east, but the game won't let you go there until the story necessitates it. Geralt can't go home. He has no real say in much of what he does; he just roams about, looking for Ciri, looking for monsters to slay, looking for another lonely wood to fall asleep in. Tied to his destiny.

With no home to speak of, he has to travel light. Encumbrance, something I usually detest, works well here because it’s really quite punitive. It forces you to adventure humbly, taking only the essentials for whatever long journey you’re about to embark upon next. Unequipped weapons and armour weigh a tonne, so it’s impractical to carry much more than what you’re already wearing. Similarly, you can't have Geralt hoover up endless reams of loot to sell, because he simply can't transport it. After all, health replenishing food, plants and monster parts for alchemy, and crafting materials all take up his precious pack space, and are arguably more important than hard currency. Even when you do seek to pawn some unwanted plunder, there’s no guarantee the poverty-stricken traders of the game’s many provincial hamlets will have the cash to buy your wares. Sure, you could travel to the bigger cities of Oxenfurt or Novigrad and sell your tat there, but the gameworld is massive, and it just isn’t always practical to take a long shopping trip.

There’s a real sense of scarcity to the world of The Witcher 3, and it all works to make playing Geralt feel thematically in touch with the Witcher lifestyle itself. It further brings into focus his standing as an outsider; a man detested, ostracised and removed from the normal world in equal measure, yet allowed to remain there, if only for the time being, because he is useful. He may well be the prototypical action protagonist, but the game goes as far as to ask if this is even a good thing. Geralt certainly, apart from the odd shag and the permission to be sarcastic at all times, doesn’t seem to get much out of being a lone warrior in a world fast losing need for them. Not since the heady days of Metal Gear Solid 4 has a game thrown you into the shoes of a protagonist who is so thoroughly outmoded by his surroundings and outdated lot in life. It's tangibly exhausting playing as Geralt when you stop and think about it for a moment, and I find that pleasantly refreshing.

It is for this reason that a recent update to the game makes me slightly uncomfortable. Patch 1.07, released earlier this week, made all sorts of changes to the way the game works. But a couple in particular -- and I’m really not the type to get hung up on this sort of thing normally -- kind of stick in my craw. They’re tiny, on paper, but change Geralt’s place in the world a fair bit. Crafting and alchemical ingredients now weigh nothing, and there’s a new chest system, like the one Resident Evil had. The former sort of makes sense, because there are hundreds of these ingredients to be found, and having ten of each of them was fairly weighty. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that this change devalues the foraging systems they fit into, as now you’re able to simply hoover up items indiscriminately, rather than carefully scouring locations or merchants' inventories for them.

The chest, though, that’s the big kicker. At its heart, it means that Geralt can stockpile a neverending supply of stuff. The chest, available across the gameworld, works like a Mary Poppin bag, allowing you to store infinite items. You still have to wander up to a magic box and physically get the items, but this unquestionably removes the scarcity that formed a good part of his characterisation. Further to this though, is where the chests are located. Early on in the game you visit a local despot called the Bloody Baron. You meet him a few times, up at his waterlogged manor in Crow’s Perch, to discuss the finer points of adventuring. You strike deals, hunt for clues, learn information and have some light fisticuffs. After each of these episodes you leave. Like every location in the game, you go to Crow’s Perch because there is something or someone there you need. You never just go there. Now there’s a chest there. (And yes, technically a chest is something you need, but that’s not the point: it wasn’t always there.) The repository sits in the manor, located in a bedroom Ciri may have stayed in when she passed through. There’s a raging fire, a table of food and a big comfy bed. And they’re all perpetually laid out for Geralt. There are numerous other inviting rooms scattered around the gameworld, all of them waiting for our hero.

I’m sure these all, like the bedroom at Crow’s Perch, existed within the game before last week, so it’s not improbable that I’ve already visited a few of them before. But without the chests in them, these rooms were meaningless to Geralt. They were places filled with cushions, hot water and oil paintings; comfortable places that weren’t meant for him. Geralt is a tragic figure, because while he passes through the realm of normality on a constant basis, he is too extraordinary to ever truly be a part of it. The chests, if only to a small degree, erode this fascinating aspect of his character. They give him the semblance of a home, of a structure and a normalcy, that the rest of the game denies him. Their inclusion is only a very tiny, mechanically-informed decision, but it has quite dramatically affected my understanding of Geralt's presentation as a character. There really is, it would seem, always a catch.


Unlike my boy Geralt, I don't sleep in fields on the regs. I have a house in North London. Thusly... If you're thankful in any way for my free written
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