The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Game of the Year Edition arrives on a tidal wave of critical and popular praise. This new edition bundles all of the game’s minor DLC and two major expansions together into a definitive version of one of the best role-playing games in recent memory. Though many longtime series fans are eager to jump back into Geralt of Rivia’s monster-stomping boots, this will be many players’ first Witcher experience, thanks to a wide and beloved release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. It’s a good time to jump in, too. Mechanically, this is the most polished experience in the series yet, and the game’s story doesn’t require you to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the previous entries to understand what’s going on.
However, for those unfamiliar with the rich and nuanced world that’s been fleshed out over the first two games — or the long-running series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski that they’re based on — we’re here to help.
Much like watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, you can have a complete and satisfying experience without any background knowledge, but knowing a little more about this world and characters goes a long way. To help catch up any neophytes, or just refresh the memory of fans that haven’t thought much about Geralt in the last few years, here is our primer on all things Witcher.
Where does this take place?
The series is set in a medieval, high fantasy world that owes as much to Polish history and Slavic folklore as it does to JRR Tolkien. The familiar swords, kings, elves, and dwarves are all there, but with a distinctly grim Eastern European flavor. Colonizing humans arrived about 500 years ago on a continent populated by elves and dwarves, who were rapidly pushed to the fringes of society, or otherwise integrated into the growing human nations and ghettoized as an oppressed class. The empire of Nilfgaard has rapidly risen from the South, waging a war of conquest that has scooped up most of its neighbors.
Most of The Witcher 3‘s action is set in the expansive, war-torn northern region of Velen, also known as No Man’s Land. It is currently held by a charming-sounding fellow named Philip Strenger, AKA the Bloody Baron. The lovely landscape resembles the temperate, European climes of its provenance, with rolling forested hills and murky swamps.
Which is a What-er?
Following a magical event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, horrifying monsters and evil spirits started to ravage the world. In response, people created witchers — warriors trained from birth and modified through magical and alchemical mutation to be exceptionally good at dealing with monsters. While people depend on witchers for their safety when monsters strike, their strange appearance (pale, with white hair and cat-like eyes) and fearsome abilities have led to many civilians reviling or mistrusting them.
As a Witcher, series protagonist Geralt of Rivia has travelled extensively and earned a substantial reputation as one of the most dangerous men in the world. You can expect plenty of people to know who you are wherever you go. Some will approach you with awe, seeking your help, but lots of other people will spit insults at you. Being a famous pariah is an interesting inversion on the classic RPG tropes of being the hero of the realm.
Characters you need to know
In addition to Geralt, there will be a number of returning characters in Wild Hunt.
The daughter of the Nilfgaardian emperor, a one-time student of Geralt, and the quarry of the game’s eponymous Wild Hunt, Ciri is the object of game’s main quest when you start. The emperor hires Geralt (you) to track her down in Velen. Ciri was separated from her royal parents as a very young girl, and eventually meets Geralt, who, believing her to he orphaned, takes her in to train as a witcher (though without the mutations), recognizing her immense potential power as a “source,” or someone with an incredible in-born ability for magic — so much so that she has been described as a “living weapon.” At one point, she brings Geralt and Yennefer back to life before magically teleporting herself to an extra-planar realm. By the beginning of The Witcher 3, rumors have suggested that she is back.
Yennefer of Vengerberg
A powerful sorceress and former love-interest of Geralt, Yennefer was seen wreaking havoc on the battlefield in an early trailer for the game. Yen and Geralt were lovers prior to the first game’s events, before he lost his memory of her and most everything else. By the end of The Witcher 2 when Geralt regains his memory, he learns that she is still out there and seeks to reconnect with her and his past. Yennefer, although sterile, like most sorceresses in this world, was a maternal figure for Ciri, serving as her main magic teacher at the Temple of Melitele after she trained with Geralt.
Also competing for Geralt’s (your) affections is another sorceress (he really has a type). Triss is Geralt’s primary, on-again/off-again fling, and one of the main characters of the Witcher series so far. She is one of the first people to find Geralt after he loses his memory, and she helps nurse him back to health. Their romance soon blossoms because Geralt has no memory of his love for Yennefer — awkward! Triss is back again to help with her powerful sorcery and perhaps rekindle that old flame.
The Wild Hunt
Like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Wild Hunt are a band of spectral, mounted knights that sometimes appear in the sky as a dark omen of impending destruction and chaos. Their origin and intentions are a mystery, but they have been known to kill and kidnap people, abducting them to be new hunters. The King of the Wild Hunt tormented Geralt in dreams during the first Witcher.
Previously on The Witcher…
The Witcher (2007) follows the amnesiac Geralt in the kingdom of Temeria where he must navigate the growing tension between the human Order of Flaming Rose and the Scoia’tael elves. Over the course of the game Geralt is able to ally himself with either faction, or maintain neutrality, leading to different results at the end. Elder Geek put together this thorough summary of the game’s event, highlighting moments that will come to bear in The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (2011) picks up with Geralt in prison under suspicion of killing the king of Temeria. After a flashback prologue framed by his prison interrogation, the commander believes Geralt’s story and helps set him free so he can go prove his innocence. Over the course of the game, Geralt gradually remembers more about his past prior to losing his memories, including Yennefer and Ciri. Elder Geek again provides a pithy summary of the game’s events.
That more or less brings us up to the present. The series has an extensive wiki if you want to dive deeper into any elements of its lore. Are you excited to take up the Wild Hunt? Good hunting, witchers!