[Heavy Spoiler alert! To discuss this matter properly I have to spoil the endings of Witcher 3!]
I‘m not the typical hater on Twitter. My Twitter tag cloud puts the word „Love“ in a big position right in the middle. I‘m easy to hype the shit out of things. Animals, movies, games, art. I despise social media hate and I like to spread love on my channel. Most of the time. If you follow me on Twitter you know I recently played the Witcher 3 and since I played the first title by CD Project Red followed by reading the books by Andrzej Sapkowski and watching the Polish TV series I eternally entered the Witcher fan dome of indispensable love.
But love can easily turn into hate when a fan doesn‘t get what she wants. Am I that immature? Sometimes. My Twitter wall will tell you of that side, too, plastered with sweet, desperate hate. How that happened? Well, I got the bad ending in Witcher 3. The game I dared not to touch for three years, since I pre-ordered it right after gamescom in 2014 where I saw its first major presentation. Since then I followed the development closely as I did with Witcher 1 and 2. But I feared to install Geralt’s final adventure for two years, because I knew it would suck me so deeply into his world I‘m going to ignore work, friends, hygiene and life outside the couch. And that’s exactly what happened when I decided finally it’s the time to play a game praised so overwhelmingly for its characters, world, art, music and moreover story and quest design. It took me about 74 hours to complete the game including tons of sidequests and strolls into the wilderness just looking for stuff or interesting places. How that felt until the end? Addicting. Intense. Fun. Overwhelmingly real.
In those 74 hours I’ve been 100% dedicated to find Geralt’s adoptive child Ciri, whom I knew so well from the books. I was psyched to finally have her in the game and even be able to play her. Though I slightly became impatient after the fifth “Sorry, your princess is in another castle”, the greater was the moment when you finally see both reunited. And the game continues to perfectly put you in the position of becoming a caring dad. I choose every dialogue option with Ciri super carefully. And Kudos to the animators for commenting those lines with subtle but powerful eye rolls or mouth movement of Geralt. After all that's Ciri has been through I tried to comfort her and be at her side whenever she needs me. I felt we we are the greatest team evaaar to defeat the damn evil elves and save the day. I couldn't be more wrong. Turns out I choose too many bad and protective decisions out of five possible trial moments.
After doing the final and the final final preparations, getting the band together twice, defeating evil overlord Eredin (with a close two drops of blood in my health bar) and watching too many cut scenes, I sat there - super proud of my self - to receive my final shoulder pat from the game. All baddies killed, the White Frost prevented and all friends saved, I couldn’t wait to see the final cut scene. But instead the Frost continued to be a threat and Ciri announced she would need to enter the portal alone to end this. Cut. I don’t know what happened but see myself (Geralt) two weeks later in the swamps of Crookback Bog, talking to a werewolf. Geralt is there to kill the third crone Ciri missed in one of the boss fights. Good! But something feels off. And as it turns out Ciri is dead. You never saw her dying. You never got the feeling. Those are the news. Deal with it. After killing the crone, Geralt goes into her hut desperately searching for Vesemir’s amulet, finds it, cries, camera zooms out and a batallion of monsters creep towards the hut. Credits. Is the deadly Frost banned? I don’t know.
Oh and you can continue playing the game after that. Standing in the very lonely, very silent and very large hall of the Witcher castle of Kaer Morhen. The game tells you that the main story line is finished, but you may continue slaying some monsters in this world that was reset before the end fight takes place. Minus all of your beloved characters.
WTF?! I felt punished. I was angry and sad. And angry. And I cried. What did this game do to me? And what did I do to the game to deserve such an ending? Outrageous. Fuckers! Developers burn in hell...and so on. The rest is my Twitter timeline.
I wrote there, that I will accept bad endings after 8-12 hours playtime, but not in Open World games. Not in games where I’m emotionally bound that much. I want my fan relieve moment. I want my romance (I fucked that up either, but that would need another blog post). I want Geralt to retire and live happily ever after. I want Ciri to become a cool Witcher or travel with the circus. It would have been okay if she would be empress, too. But dead...both of them? Why would you want such an ending?
Now that I slept it over, I’m not sure I changed my mind. I still want to have the happy end. But I don’t want to play another Saturday to kill Radovid, retrieve the Sunstone, change my dialogue options concerning Ciri, swimming to Emhyr, killing the generals and Eredin, again.
So I come to accept the outcome and I see more clearly how this might be the more realistic end to the Witcher’s world. The dark and gritty fantasy that I love so much for bringing politics and hard themes to the table. For not being black and white, but deeply grey. For bringing bittersweet outcome to whatever side you choose, all of them with a problematic aspect. To be clear: My bad ending is just one out of three possible outcomes for Ciri. But it makes total sense in such a world raided by war, racism and darkness. I also feel that this is the end, that will stick in my memory forever. Something that a happy ending could never have achieved.
But here comes the big BUT! If you choose to have an outcome like that, where the main protagonist dies (or rather lets himself getting killed), because he failed and lost what became the most precious thing in his live, that died most likely, too. Something the game let’s you experience in every way. Then this has to be done carefully and with the chance of letting the player know what the outcome will be and why.
In no way did I realize I was up for a bad ending and after that I didn’t know why I got to experience that. This could have been done much better! Game endings like “Life is Strange” come to my mind. There was so much foreshadowing and irreversible darkness towards the end, that I accepted the loss. It felt good and it felt right. I did see that coming and I knew why.
Or “Shadow of the Colossus”, where the hero dies in the end (well, there is more happening after that). But after seeing his killings taken a toll from him every time he slays a giant, you are fine with that. You killed those beautiful creatures just to revive your girl friend. What else should happen to you?
I didn’t play Nier, but I already heard about its endings. And I love that they exist. And I feel there is a great opportunity for writers to tell something else then Disney endings (marriage with cute children). But I also want authors to respect the player's feelings they built up with their worlds. Players that laugh, cry and feel with your characters are the greatest gratitude you will get as an author. But you shouldn’t abuse that potential just for the sake of a shocking moment. Warning shots, please!
Moreover took the Witcher 3 a great risk: To let you search for a character that soon will become the main story and thereby the main character. The Wild Hunt is not about Geralt, but Ciri. That's why you play her sometime and that's why you should take her problems serious. I did that, but instead of being the hero Witcher that protects and does everything on his own, I should have built her up to become the main hero. I think the game did communicate this, but I still find it hard to empower a character to go on her quest alone - and thereby missing out certain scenes. That is a weird decision and I normally hate it when games change the characters you play. In Witcher you cannot do much as Ciri, but you play her side of the story and that felt interesting. But maybe I still wasn't prepared to accept that I'm not the hero here.
In hindsight, I love the ending. Probably the perfect ending for a perfect game (minus the character controller). But I know I can’t take this sad and broken Geralt to any of the DLCs. At least not for the next two years.