Does anyone still read these? Anyway as promised I return with some Witcher 3 content! I know I’m probably two years late to the party but playing Gwent made me want to try this game out and I’ve been sucked into the black hole that is this game… That made it sound bad, it really isn’t.
After completing the tutorial area of the game in White Orchard I went on to Velen. A massive swampy land with many villages and monsters to traverse on my hunt for Ciri. It’s here we meet a very interesting character and a very interesting string of quests. I of course mean Phillip Strenger, the self proclaimed Bloody Baron. This is where things start to get interesting and where I feel CD Project Red really showed that they can tell self contained stories really well. There will be spoilers if you haven’t played this game yet.
The highlights are that the Baron knows information about Ciri, your ward, and is willing to give you this information if you help him find his wife and daughter who were apparently taken in the night. Immediately something is not quite right. Signs of a struggle and wine everywhere. The baron has been beating his pregnant wife, Anna, and forced them to leave. During the struggle Anna unfortunately miscarries. My first thoughts going into this quest were that he deserved everything he got and thats that but I might as well find them to continue the story.
What I actually got was a 6 or 7 hour journey into the grey zone. The main theme of this portion of the game is accepting the consequences of your actions and trying to make recompense what you’ve done. The first part of the story is punctuated by a monster that is literally the living embodiment of this, the Botchling. This creature is created from the improper burial of stillborn infants. The Baron is ashamed of his actions and rather than acknowledge the death of his child he buries her in an unmarked grave. If left unchecked, this creature will exact it’s revenge on those who betrayed it.
There is a way to lift the curse however, a naming ritual followed by a proper burial. It has to be performed by a family member, in this case the Baron and watching it unfold felt like an important scene of character development. By giving the Botchling a name, Dea, he is acknowledging his mistake rather than still trying to hide from it. The cliche says that the first step is accepting. However true that is in practice in terms of story I think it shows a point in the Baron’s life where he has realised the consequences of his actions and wants to make amends for what he’s done to his wife and daughter, Tamara. The ritual isn’t about just making the creature go away. Dea’s grave sits at the foot of the Baron’s house as a constant reminder of his misdeeds; a literal monument to his sins. He can’t change the fact that Dea is dead because of him. After the ritual she becomes a lubberkin, a guardian spirit who shows you more information on where the Baron’s family is.
When you find Tamara she has no intention of returning to Crow’s Perch. I can’t say I particularly blamed her. She doesn’t want to go back to living with her father. As the questline unfolds the final act comes and in my playthrough the Baron hung himself having lost everything. After the questline had concluded I had to take a second to think about what had just transpired. The developers did a really good job at making you care about these people, gave them a soul. Yes the Baron was an abusive drunkard to his family but rather than make him a two dimensional bad guy they gave him many shades of grey; they showed you why he was like that. A soldier who was always at war, who’s wife also abused him. Was he justified in his actions? Of course not but it did give the character a certain weight that made him a believable presence.
His passing made me stop in my tracks for several minutes to even consider whether a person can ever truly redeem themselves. If a person really wants to make amends for their actions is it possible for them to be forgiven no matter how heinous? If you abuse the people close to you, are you entitled to a second chance? If you were to ask me personally I would say no. However, having said that I don’t know all the information or whether the person really does want to change and will do anything in order to achieve this goal. The saying goes that a leopard cannot change it’s spots but is that entirely true?
I am by no means an expert on the subject and I am not trying to condone the actions of the character. This is merely my expression of the thoughts that the questline made me consider. Even those these characters don’t play anymore part in the storyline (well not in my playthrough anyway) a lot of love and attention was put into their creation. CD Project Red did a very good job bringing these individuals to life and I actually cared about what happened to them. There was a part of me that hoped that the Baron might actually be able to reconcile with his family and make reparations for his actions, gain the redemption that he strived for. But now his body swings from the tallest tree in Crow’s Perch and all the strife and hopes are lost, like tears in the rain.
If you are looking for a hook into this game as a whole after struggling through a banal starting area. This is that hook. This questline has gripped me more than anything I have played in Mass Effect: Andromeda or Dragon Age Inquisition (both of which I’ve played more hours in). If Witcher 3 can keep this tempo up for longer then it might even overtake the original ME trilogy as my favourite RPG