This week sees the release of one of the most anticipated games of the last few years, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. As gamers across the globe wait to dive into this rich fantasy world, many of them for the very first time, I thought it would be good to take a step back and fill people in on where this series comes from and a bit of its lore. There are players who’ve played all the games that have barely scratched the surface of this dense world, which is sad as this world has so much to offer. I’ll keep things as spoiler free as possible, but I am going to have to talk about some things if I’m going to explain anything.
Here we go!
Where did this franchise start?
The world of The Witcher is the brainchild of Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski. Sapkowski is a big damn deal in his homeland and is one of their most celebrated authors. Poland is so proud of Sapkowski that the one of the gifts from the Polish Prime Minister to Obama when he visited the country in 2011 was a signed copy of one of the Witcher novels. His work has been translated into a dozen or so languages, and his Witcher novels and short stories have led to a TV show, comics, and of course, a series of video games. While not required reading to enjoy the games, Sapkowski’s writings add so many additional layers to the world and give you a greater understanding of the world and the players in it. Most of the novels and short stories have been translated into English and can be found wherever bad-ass books are sold.
Who the hell is Geralt of Rivia and why should I care?
Geralt is a Witcher, in fact, he’s the titular Witcher. Witchers are males trained from a very young age to be monster hunters. Witchers are typically orphaned or abandoned children taken in by the order. During their rigorous training, they are introduced to all kinds of secret concoctions that mutate their bodies and give them superhuman strength, speed, and senses. However, the potions render them sterile. These changes are very painful and not everyone survives them. Witchers are also taught very rudimentary magic they can use by casting signs. They are often viewed with fear and suspicion, until someone needs them of course.
Geralt is said to have been able to adapt to the changes easier than most and thus he was treated to even more advanced potions and elixirs. This led to his body losing all pigmentation, hence the nickname, the White Wolf. Despite his best efforts to stay out of big time politics, Geralt’s usefulness as a warrior, monster slayer and supernatural expert lead him to have to deal with many of the power players on the continent. While not what anyone would consider overly moral, Geralt does have a code he lives by, and he takes his work very seriously. Many mistake him for a dumb thug given what he does, but having spent years formulating contracts with people and towns to dispatch monsters have molded him into a rather clever speaker and skilled negotiator. Geralt is a loner that likes to keep it simple: beat/kill a monster, protect the people, get paid, and then move on. Now if only the world would let him.
The games take place after the novels and are not necessarily canon. Before the games Geralt was attacked and either nearly or may have even straight up died. Taken up by the Wild Hunt (read you ancient myths folks). For reasons nobody fully understands, he was able to leave the Hunt and woke up with no memory of his time in it. It is from this point where the first game picks up.
Who are Geralt’s buddies?
As a loner and an outcast in the world, it isn’t all that surprising that Geralt doesn’t have that many friends, in all honesty, outside of his fellow Witchers from Kaer Morhen Geralt only has two long standing friends.
First and foremost is Geralt’s best friend, the bard, Dandelion. Dandelion is a celebrated performer and poet across the land, which allows him access to all kinds of rich and powerful people as well as keeping him on the road hearing all kinds of news and rumors because people want to hang out with him. This is perfect for Dandelion as he is also a spy. Dandelion hangs out with Geralt not only because of of all the interesting stuff that happens to the Witcher, which Dandelion can put to use in either or sometimes both of his professions but also because he simply likes Geralt. While Dandelion is a noted womanizer and crap in a fight and even has a habit of making some situations worse, he is far from spineless. He has proven willing to stick his neck out right beside his friend even though he has a much higher chance of having it chopped off. You get the sense that in spite of Dandelion’s fame, he has very few true friends. That level of loyalty combined with his information gathering skills and celebrity make him one of Geralt’s most useful and trusted allies.
Secondly, we have Zoltan the Dwarf. Zoltan has the same basic pragmatism towards life as Geralt, which is where most of their bond lies. A fierce warrior when needed, Zoltan is a reliable leader who knows how to work with people to get things done. Zoltan is the old salt sort of guy you just want to sit and have a beer with.
Who are the women in Geralt’s life?
Geralt’s life is blessed by many fine women. Women who have guided, aided him, and given his life more purpose then just killing monsters. When it comes to the games however, you really only need to know about three.
First we have the raven haired love of Geralt’s life, Yennefer. Yennefer is one of the most powerful and respected sorceress’ in the world who has the habit of using lilac and gooseberry scented perfumes. Yennefer is a very driven person, and knows what she wants and will do what it takes to get it. Most people agree that she and Geralt make a good couple, but that their paring is also terrifying. When they are together they do little more than fight, bicker, and hump like jackrabbits. This has led to a weird sort of on again, off again relationship, much to the amusement of their friends who chide them for not being able to get their acts together. As much as neither side wants to admit it, they are soul mates and will go to the ends of the earth for each other.
Next is the platinum blond Cirilla (but everybody calls her Ciri), the rightful heir to the kingdom of Cintra. For the sake of simplicity lets call Ciri Yennefer and Geralt’s adopted daughter (I know they’re not married, roll with it). Ciri has had about as rough a life as possible as she just happens to be the linchpin for almost every major player in the series’ history schemes to grab more power. Ciri has been kidnapped, abandoned, beaten, and tortured more than once. Ciri is far from helpless though, she has been trained in Witcher style combat and is athletic enough to pull most of it off as well as super crazy powerful when it comes to magic, a skill she had only begun to develop under Yennefer’s tutelage. Ciri appears at least in part responsible for Geralt’s resurrection and early info suggests that the Wild Hunt is after her. We’ll find out when we get to play as her for certain sections in the new game.
Finally we have Triss. Triss is Yennefer’s best friend and also happens to be quite close to Geralt and Ciri as well. Triss is powerful sorceress and an accomplished fighter. Oh, and she is also in love with Geralt, which as expected is a bit of a sore spot between her and Yennefer. Geralt has slept with Triss, but only when he was in a long period of separation from Yen either trying to move on or unsure of where she is and if she is even alive. Triss is smart, funny, easygoing, and a general pleasure to be around. She is very much the Betty to Yennefer’s Veronica. She knows Geralt doesn’t love her the way she loves him, but she remains drawn to him anyways.
What’s a Nilfgaard?
While there is are many countries in the game, each with their own distinct people and problems, when it comes to the basics there is only one name you need to know, Nilfgaard. Nilfgaard is a huge country on the south end of the continent. Their huge size is due to their rather large and scary army that enjoys conquering whatever land the Emperor, Emhyr var Emreis, tells them to. Nilfgaard is convinced of its superiority and right to rule over everybody else and as such has made multiple incursions into the North only to be repelled (barely) by the combined efforts of all the Northern Kingdoms. A fiscal-military state with very limited freedoms, Nilfgaard is feared and hated by many of the inhabitants of Geralt’s world.
One last thing of note, while those outside the empire refer to the entire country as Nilfgaard, those inside refer only to those in the actual Nilfgaard proper as Nilfgaardian. The rest use the name of their conquered state to distinguish themselves.
Why is everybody going on about Squirrels?
The Scoia’tael, or Squirrels are a guerilla force made up of members of non-human, primarily elves. Humanity at this point has taken over everything and all non-humans are consider second-class citizens, if they are considered at all. When humans showed up on the continent, both the gnomes and dwarven kind were able to build some sort of relationship with humanity through trade and services, elven kinds took a more passive role with many retreating into the woods and mountains figuring they would bide their time and wait for the dh’oine (Elder Speech for human, often used as a pejorative) to leave or kill each other off. To their surprise, humanity did more than survive, it thrived, taking over even more land and ultimately destroying the elven way of life.
The Squirrels are dedicated, strike hard, and are ready to die for their cause despite most people agreeing it was a lost cause before they even started. They have accepted arms and supplies from Nilfgaard and even fought alongside Nilfgaardian forces as Emhyr var Emreis gave them an independent state in Dol Blathanna. The loss of the war branded the Scoia’tael as war criminals, and although very few of their forces were ever brought to justice, this alliance further damaged the relationship between humans and non-humans, possibly making things even worse than when they started.
You mentioned monsters, what are we talking about here?
We’re talking a bunch of mean nasty monsters that would rip an average person in half (and do). There is a reason Witchers are drilled in combat as hard as they are and are given superhuman abilities because without that stuff their already dangerous careers would be as short as a breath. While you can simply hack any beasty that gets in your path and/or you are requested to kill, that might not always be the best option. Simply killing everything may put you a odds with the very people you believe you are protecting as there may be some skill or service the monster provides or perhaps its presence is stopping something even worse from coming in. A clever Witcher seeks the path that will satisfy the most people, keeping the populous safe and happy as well as his wallet fat.
There you go folks, I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the Witcherverse has to offer, but now you have the basics. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little crash course, make sure to let us know how you feel in the comments below. Who knows, depending on your response I might do more on the Witcher or even another “what you need to know” on another property. Until next time, I wish you all happy hunting.
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