“No knight he, though a master of the sword. No wizard he, though adept in secret magic. He did not care to save the world, yet for many, he was a deliverer. He was no murderer, though he killed for a living. The legend of him that arose is not over.”
By now, there must be very few people who do not know about The Witcher. The lore-rich world, the fantastic storytelling, the endearing characters. The Witcher franchise has something for everybody.
The birth of a Legend
The Witcher franchise has captured the hearts of many since its debut in 2007 but its origins can be dated all the way back to 1986. Well before The Witcher became as popular around the world as it is now, it had a huge following in Poland. The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, came to life when Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski took part in a novel contest for a fantasy magazine named Fantastyka. He wrote a short story which he simply called ‘The Witcher’, and it featured the monster hunting exploits of one Geralt of Rivia. He didn’t win. But hey, Poland fell in love with Geralt and The Witcher became a household name in the country. So much so that Andrzej quit his job and became a full-time writer going on to write seven books between 1986 to 1999. Two of which were a collection of short stories and remainder became known as The Witcher Saga, quickly becoming bestsellers and making Sapkowski the J. R. R. Tolkien of Poland.
Witcher before The Witcher
The Witcher was gaining popularity pretty fast, even neighbouring countries were taking interest. But it wouldn’t be until 2007 that we’d see the first English translation of the series, which happened after the release of the first game. So far, three of the five books in the saga have been translated. Other than the novels, there have been several Witcher comics, with the Dark Horse Comics being the most popular ones. But that’s not all, there was a Witcher pen-and-paper RPG released by MAG in 2001 and a Witcher card game that released alongside the first Witcher in 2007. This card game is not to be confused with the stupidly-popular-for-the-right-reasons Gwent. There’s been a Witcher movie too, actually, a really horrible one at that but we thought we’d mention it regardless. It’s called The Hexer if you’re planning on watching it, but don’t tell us we didn’t warn you.
Witcher: the game (or not?)
As popular as The Witcher books are, you’d think someone would’ve approached Sapkowski before CD Projekt RED to make a game. Someone did actually, way back in 1996 for that matter, Metropolis Software. The now defunct studio was being led by Adrian Chmielarz back then – he’s famous for titles like Painkiller and Bulletstorm. He obtained the license to The Witcher at quite the bargain and intended to make an action-adventure game with RPG elements out of it. In 3D, with a third-person view, with choices, and complexities, and mature storytelling. In 1996. Too ambitious? Short answer, yes. Long answer, the project was too much for the small studio and they had no choice but to abandon it.
Witcher: the game (not quite there yet)
The first game of the Witcher series we all know released in 2007, but what we got was quite a bit far off from what was initially planned for the game. The game was being created in collaboration with Interplay as a Baldur’s Gate PC port. But that was around the time Interplay was starting to collapse (remember, from the Fallout Phranchise?) and the project was dropped. But the Polish developer decided to keep working on it since they already had a portion of the working code, but under a different license of course. The game was not going to be about Geralt’s son, with the White Wolf appearing every now and then to guide you. However, the new co-ordinator of the project, Ryszard Chojnowski decided that it wasn’t good enough and the project has to be redone from scratch.
Witcher: the game (fo-real this time)
The development team had moved to Warsaw. After meeting with BioWare to use their Aurora Game Engine – the one they used in Neverwinter Nights – The Witcher, as we know now was finally starting to take shape. They even roped Sapkowski to help with the project, who went on to say that the game was indeed a “high quality adaptation” of his books. Come October 26th 2007, the world was finally introduced to The Witcher. The Witcher was released as a PC game and Xbox 360 and PS3 ports dubbed Rise of the White Wolf were in the works. It was going to be better, graphically (yeah right) and mechanically, with better combat and the ability to jump (yea, you couldn’t jump in the first game). However, due to various reasons, it never came.
A sequel to the books
The Witcher franchise remains mostly faithful to Sapkowski’s works and universe. The events of the games are set after the events of the fifth book. Now for the meat of matter, the books and the games follow the life of a Witcher who goes by Geralt of Rivia. After the events of the books, Geralt finds that he has lost his memories, and this is where the games begin. The amnesia is convenient for both, game developers and players. Players get to make choices that Geralt may not have traditionally taken in the books. And developers could use the amnesia as an excuse to learn about the world of The Witcher.
The story so far
In the first Witcher, we find Geralt unconscious and without his memories. As you play, you learn more about yourself and about how you’re some renowned Witcher. You also learn that you have many friends and enemies. Both of whom still have their memories. In true RPG fashion, the path Geralt takes is entirely up to you, the player. Will you make new friends? More enemies? Who knows.
The events of Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings takes place a few months after the events of the first game. In The Witcher 2, Geralt has to face off against a Witcher-like enemy who is out to kill kings (Assassins of Kings, get it?). One of the kings he assassinates also happens to be the one Geralt is aiding at the time.
And finally, that brings us to Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. Set a few months after the second game, the world is now at war. The Northern Kingdoms are at war with the Nilfgaardian Empire, and the might of Empire is quite evident. There are no kings to order Geralt around anymore, but the war is least of his concerns. The Wild Hunt is coming; the spectral riders that bring only misery to the world. But this time they seek only one person, one whom Geralt considers to be family.
The Witcher franchise is arguably one of the best RPG franchises. Very few games offer a storytelling experience like The Witcher does and we hope more RPGs go this way.
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.