The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine story critique – Another Witcher post? It’s only because I love it

Seb May-Wilson/ September 12, 2018/ Story Based/ 0 comments

*Contains main story spoilers for Blood and Wine*

When it comes to games I love I enjoy critiquing them into the ground, discussing their various foibles and small imperfections with anyone who will listen. If I ever do actually begin properly going into an in-depth analysis of parts of a game’s story on here then you know at least that my imagination was caught by the game’s writers. It’s fairly rare for me to really love a game, for instance I’ve only ever posted any in-depth analysis of the ending for Mass Effect 3, and despite my continuing dislike of that aspect of the story, the rest of it still shines as one of my favourite experiences in gaming.

So with that preface I will follow it by saying that when I now start to negatively talk about the ending and a few important plot points in The Witcher 3 DLC: Blood and Wine you know that this does not mean you should not get the DLC. I will repeat what I said in my actual review that despite my frustrations with a few aspects, this is still one of the absolute best things you can play, bar none.

Pontificating aside, I will now go on to talk about two separate aspects that I personally disliked with the final parts of the main story of Blood and Wine. I touched briefly on them in my actual review but now I’m going to go into some detail about them.

So, to be absolutely clear: what follows WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for Blood and Wine.

 

Everything that bothered me about the story of Blood and Wine occurs either in the quest Night of the Long Fangs or following the decisions made in that. So first a little summary of the build-up to that:

As we know, Duchess Anna Henrietta hired you to track down the Beast of Toussaint who is killing high-ranking kniggits. Following meeting best-bro Regis you learn that the Beast is a higher vampire called Dettlaff who is actually performing these brutal murders because the human woman he loves has been kidnapped and the kidnappers are threatening to kill her. At this stage you are encouraged by CDPR, through Regis, to give Dettlaff a second chance. After all, he’s normally supposed to be solitary but also quite a good guy, and this is out of character. He is doing it for love after all.

Things come to a head however when it turns out that Dettlaff’s lost love, Syanna, is none other than both Anna Henrietta’s long-lost sister Sylvia Anna. More than this though she is actually also the mastermind behind faking her own kidnapping and the resulting manipulation of Dettlaff. Dettlaff is, understandably, a little miffed at this and demands that Syanna comes with him so that she can explain to him why she did this… And probably end up with her head torn off… HOWEVER, Anna Henrietta has decided that she wants to reconcile with her sister. Despite the fact that Dettlaff, an insanely powerful vampire, then promises all-out war on Toussaint, the Duchess will not be moved on this. Because who ever said that the people in power in the Witcher were smort?

You don’t even get to bang her!

While this is obviously stupid and selfish on the part of Anna Henrietta, and irked me no end, it actually makes sense with regards to her character (in that while she does her best to be a “noble and just” ruler, she IS also arrogant, self-righteous and self-important) and so is not one of the problems here. It is only after this that the problems start, because after all of this Dettlaff keeps his promise and unleashes an army of vampires on Toussaint. A literal army of unstoppable killing machines that tear through most ordinary humans with no problems whatsoever and with whom even Witchers struggle to contend (and even a over-leveled Geralt will struggle too!).

So here comes the first problem!

As chaos and death consumes the capital of Beauclair you and Regis are presented with two options: finding a way to stop and kill Dettlaff, or finding a way to bring Syanna to Dettlaff, as he demands.

The issue here is that the game very much presents the latter as the better option. Regis repeatedly insists that this is not Dettlaff behaving normally and he should be given a chance to redeem himself, especially as Regis owes Dettlaff his life. Regis does accept that the decision is Geralt’s but strongly advocates fetching Syanna for Dettlaff. By doing this he essentially is the voice of CDPR and also the voice of the “good option” as only through doing his request are you able to reach the “good” ending.

He’s just a wee bit overly forgiving is good old Regis. His ONE single flaw.

Now, I would have had no problems with leaving Syanna to her death with Dettlaff, she was a murderous and ultimately traitorous bitch, regardless of her motives and background that does not change the fact that she was a bad person. The issue here is that Regis continually presents Dettlaff’s actions as minor transgressions. Like he has been a naughty child who can still be redeemed (often highlighted by the way he talks about Dettlaff’s highly emotional nature).

Here’s the thing though: Dettlaff is at this stage single-handedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of innocents. While Anna Henrietta should shoulder some of the guilt for decisions leading to this, in the end it is Dettlaff’s choice alone to bring about an apocalypse on thousands upon thousands of innocents.

Does nobody recognise the phrase “We do not negotiate with terrorists”?

Now I always play as “the good guy” in games. I always try to choose the nicest of options in every game, playing as a sort of Lawful/Neutral Good, with examples like my Mass Effect good-guy Shepard springing to mind. I was no different in the Witcher, despite that so often the decisions do not have a “good” choice, I always attempted to choose the route that was the lesser of two evils. The Best Option.

At this stage, the single smartest choice is to put Dettlaff down. He had a second chance after already having committed several murders, and even if he hadn’t this was no small, tiny crime he had committed. He also instigated this apocalyptic situation with seemingly no remorse about what he was doing. Things had to go his way or else other people would die. For all that he is supposed to be naïve and emotional and supposedly has performed good actions in the past, such as regenerating Regis at great expense to himself, he has now gone too far to be forgiven. The lack of guilt about his choice also seems to suggest to me that if he was ever placed in a similar situation again he would once again choose to kill innocents in exactly the same callous manner.

In short, even if one could argue that Dettlaff’s actions were misguided or even almost justified (which you can’t), he has the capacity for the murder of hundreds and would walk away without batting an eyelid. He is, essentially, extremely close to outright evil.

I guess it IS only the peasantry who die. Not like they really matter…

So to then have the game insist that the best option is to once again try and forgive him, to try and bargain with him or take his side, is utterly infuriating. You do not negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers and Dettlaff is by far the worst sort here. For all his supposed capacity for intelligence, he is a monster and genuinely deserves to die (I can already sense Gandalf and Batman disapproving, but in the context of the world I truly believe this). But the game presents this unequivocally as the worse of two options and then punishes you should you choose it with the ending it results in.

Now, my criticism here is actually not that things do play out in the way they do if you choose to hunt down Dettlaff. I think from a story perspective they actually still work completely and are really excellent. In fact, the entire story-line surrounding the build-up to hunting down Dettlaff is actually genuinely incredible and includes some of the best and most memorable moments from the game overall!

My problem here is the way that CDPR seem to very clearly be attempting to railroad you into the “good” option. So far in every quest, even if there was a good and bad choice, it never felt like there was much pressure from CDPR to choose the good option. It was always up to you. Now though, choosing the “bad” option (which I have just been insisting, logically actually makes more sense as the good one), is practically outright frowned upon.

While other games do this as well, having it done by CDPR is just more than a little disappointing and out of character.

My second criticism is less of a story complaint than anything else. It’s mostly just a little nit-picky, but I hashed it out with a friend and he too agreed that it had annoyed him as well.

Regardless of which of the above paths you take, if certain conditions are met, Syanna meets with Anna Henrietta at the conclusion of the story. Immediately prior to this Geralt can inform both the captain of the Ducal Guard (Damien, who is actually also a good guy) AND Henrietta herself that Syanna had intended to have Anna Henrietta herself murdered. It is only through the disruption of her plans that the Duchess was saved. Regardless if you inform both of them the Duchess pulls Syanna into a hug and is then stabbed to death, quickly followed by Syanna’s own death at the hands of Damien.

It is true that this does present something of a fitting, if tragic, ending given that it is Anna Henrietta’s own foolishness that leads to her death. However, it also just bothered me that it was even allowed to happen. The stabbing is fairly telegraphed and happens inches away from Geralt: a witcher capable of moving at speeds faster than a human eye can follow. A witcher who also knew of the intentions of the killer. It also happens right in front of the captain of the guard who ALSO knew the killer’s intentions, and even if he could not have intercepted the blow, he definitely could have positioned himself to be better prepared for it or to prevent it completely.

Yes, Anna Henrietta’s death was perhaps inevitable given her own stupidity in this situation, but it also felt out of character for both Geralt and Damien that it was allowed to happen regardless.

Womp womp

While it is only a small criticism on its own, it does tie into the aforementioned larger criticism. This is because if you choose to hunt down and kill Dettlaff, Anna Henrietta always dies. It is only through choosing to give Dettlaff Syanna and also meeting several other conditions that you can save her. It is, quite simply, frustrating that this is the way it has to happen.

Overall, this is less a criticism of story and more a criticism of gameplay in a very broad sense. Frankly, I think story-wise it’s pretty much all excellent (minus the sudden dropping of Geralt’s guard at the crucial moment). The writing is stellar and the actual missions leading up to either situation are absolutely amazing.

I just was a bit put off by that feeling of being railroaded into a “good” decision in a game, which until this point was always playing with varying shades of grey. Even more-so when the “good” decision is one based on faulty logic.

In times like these you’ve got to ask yourself “What would Commander Shepard do?” and you’ve got to accept that he would not let a mass-murdering fuckhead get away with it just for the sake of “forgiveness”. He might be all about mercy and shit, but only when there’s a chance for redemption!

 

Of course, realistically, in the end this is just another excuse for me to bang on about how fucking good the Witcher 3 is.

AND I MAY GET ANOTHER CHANCE IN THE NEAR FUTURE. HMMMMMM…

About Seb May-Wilson

A sometime protege of Leeroy Jenkins. A lover of all things RPG. A geek and a sci-fi man. Nothing is true... Everything is permitted...

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