Once upon a time… The Witcher

Donate a penny to yours Witcher, sang Dandelion (or Buttercup, in the books of the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowskj), and for months many did nothing but repeat the refrain of the song, turning it into a real catchphrase as happened with The Rains of Castamere from Game of Thrones, sung by the Lannister soldiers under the moat wall of King's Landing. Donate a penny to your Witcher, a redundant tune, famous for many thanks to a TV series, for others it has become a source of pride since they vaguely knew its existence having previously played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

But the real success of that tune hides behind a tradition made up of books, written by a Polish author and reinterpreted by a handful of developers, in a story that could only begin in the most traditional of ways…

Once upon a time there was a development team called CD Projekt RED which has led millions of players into the world created by the pen of a former Polish banker with a great passion for fantasy. And here we are, fifteen years later, talking about The Witcher, again, as if we didn't already have enough and with the same passion as then. The Witcher, before being a great production of modern times, is a cultural phenomenon that has been able to offer players and readers from all over the world a totally unforgettable reality.

When it comes to the universe to be built polygon after polygon, someone deliberately forgets that where a story begins, many others are starting and many of them know what to offer from all points of view. When I played the very first The Witcher, I was almost fifteen years old, and I fell madly in love with it because, as a fan of fantasy, i needed a darker adventure, brutal and yes, especially violent.

In short, The Witcher was the videogame that allowed me to interface with the books and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, the second chapter of the famous videogame series developed by CD Projekt RED. As happens with great stories, of course, I was so involved that Vizima (or Wyzima, in Polish) and the adjacent countryside left me very little to explore, and to this day I still remember the busy streets of the royal city of Temeria, the northern kingdom ruled by King Foltest.

The production dedicated to the world of Andrzej Sapkowskj was anything but obvious, as it proposed an intense story, an even better written context and a character as complex to understand as fascinating to see and play. I'm talking about Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (or a Strigo, as he is called in the Polish author's books), a monster hunter who takes the pay of lords, baronets, peasants and even assassins. Neither a man nor a monster: he is a hybrid, a creature between two worlds who, however, unlike many others, not afraid of the monster under the bed. It is clear that, obviously, an interesting story can only be born linked to these fundamental jokes, which arrived precisely at the moment in which fantasy needed a more mature evolution, already carried forward by Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings . It was Eragon's time, but it was also time for Licia Troisi and many Italian authors. Unlike many other fantasy, in The Witcher - both in books and video games - it was clear that the real enemy was not a deformed creaturebut man, which has always been the real brute.

Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher of the School of the Wolf

It all started with a truly evocative introductory video that I still remember with great pleasure today. There was a narrator to describe the events, while what happened on the screen did not bode well. A castle in the background, a lake and a moat, as the sun set and darkness took the place of light, bringing with it the night and many nightmares. Crows cawed annoyingly, doors rattled in the wind, and a Witcher, safe in a disused cottage, was preparing to break the curse he placed on the daughter of the king of Temeria.

The unforgettable presentation of Geralt of Rivia, who everyone has known precisely as a cold and apparently emotionless protagonist, is actually taken from a fundamental passage of The Guardian of the Innocents, the first book dedicated to the history of the Strigo preferred by young and old. CD Projekt Red, acquiring the rights to the work in 2003, subsequently created the plots of the various video games, inserting the Wild Hunt, which appears for the first time in La Torre della Swallow, or when Ciri grew up.

Apart from these clarifications, the character of Geralt of Rivia has been adapted by CD Projekt RED in a faithful way to his literary counterpart, so much so that the cover of the third edition of the work, originally published in 1993, resumed the features of the Geralt of the video game . A decision taken precisely to attract the attention of the players of the time, who thanks to the videogame work had come into contact with the Witcher, the English name that the British publishing house gave to the English version in the first book.

However, leaving aside these curiosities, Geralt mysteriously loses his memory after escaping from the Wild Hunt, finding himself in a bed in Kaer Morhen, the place where he grew up, undergoing the Test of Herbs from a very young age with many other aspiring Witchers.

However, few survive the mutation, as the herbs retain enzymes and salts which, when mixed with Witcher magic, can lead to death or transformation. That's why, unlike in the past, there are few Witchers left along the Road, called in this way by the members of the ancient order to describe their journey in the cities, hamlets or villages of the entire Continent. divided by the Northern Kingdoms to the north and by the Nilfgaardian Empire to the south.

Net of this, however, in Kear Morhen I made the acquaintance of illustrious protagonists such as Triss Merigold and Vesemir, very important in the evolution of The Witcher immediately after the attack by Salamander, a criminal organization interested in the secrets of the Witchers, in particular to the mutagen capable of transforming them during the Trial of the Herbs. The best known members are the Professor, a scholar who dabbles in black magic, e Azar Javed e Savolla, two brutal assassins wanted even by Nilfgaard and the rest of the Northern Kingdoms.

While The Witcher's prologue was engaging and didn't waste time throwing the player into the middle of the action, what happens after takes on greater prominence, as the world opens up once you get past the stronghold of Kaer Morhen. Geralt sets off on a long journey to regain possession of the secrets stolen by Salamadra, ready to reach the center of Temerian power: Vizima. Part of the story, in fact, takes place between the urban streets of the town, and then moves on to the countryside and marshes. Geralt of Rivia, who has lost his memory, he is sure he could reacquire it by embarking on this journey into the unknown, and it is precisely here that the narrative offers further interpretations and many memorable moments.

As Geralt journeys through this fantasy world darkened by famine, pandemic and death, understands how man is actually the real monster. However, he discovers hope, which keeps many people going and, in the meantime, his bond with Triss strengthens. In this sense, the adventure even allowed you to get to know maidens of various kinds in the countryside or in city brothels, unlocking useful cards for Gwent, the card game of the Northern Kingdoms (but also in vogue in Nilfgaard, according to someone) . Furthermore, in Vizima, Geralt finds his old friends Dandelion and the dwarf Zoltan, known years before.

CD Projekt Red, in recreating the atmospheres of the book, has thus built a plausible and tangible world. Nowadays, after the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we would certainly consider it inferior in many respects. For the time, however, it was a great sight, especially for the characters around the city who dabbled in dances, the clumsy strumming of the lute and songs more or less in tune. Of Vizima I remember the streets, the alleys, the various neighborhoods and districts, while of the countryside the darkness and unpredictability from which dangers of all kinds could appear, like a blade in the dark ready to slay my throat.

There was a unique atmosphere accompanied by overwhelming music that seemed to whip the air as if they wanted to break the silence, giving the coup de grace to the certainties I thought I had until a few moments before. The city, however, was not safe: it was full of criminals, pickpockets, murderers and monsters. Creatures from sewers, mounds and crypts awkwardly opened by an undertaker who had forgotten to close them because he was attracted by a scantily dressed woman who passed a short distance from him. From the graves came beasts of all sorts, ready to tear apart the flesh of as many poor naive citizens who did not respect the curfew imposed by King Foltest.

The city of Vizima, once the cradle of civilization and aristocracy, the source of knowledge of the Northern Kingdoms, had become an open pit for its own inhabitants. The corpses, dismembered and mutilated, were everywhere: along the roadsides, in front of the Churches of the Eternal Fire and also on the steps of the building which overlooked the small courtyard ready to welcome anyone who came from remote places in search of some relief. In Vizima, however, there was nothing but work for a Witcher, at the same time focused on his mission. In Features, Yennefer and the Wild Hunt remembered nothing.

A gameplay in the old days, and which is now even more…

The Witcher, while offering a fascinating storyline and a living and pulsating world, however, it lacked some game design inaccuracies. If I think about it better, it could have been considered a classic point and click in all respects and, although you could change the camera from the settings menu, at the time it had mechanics that players would now consider cumbersome. The combat system, which remained slow and not very incisive, could in fact be modernized with the remake, thus giving the video game a soul closer and perhaps better than that of the third chapter of the franchise.

If on the one hand I hope so, on the other hand I hope that it will be further explored and arranged in its details, since at the time they were already outdated. At that time, and I admit it without shame, they seemed to me wonderful and I would even say innovative mechanics. What captivated me was the construction of the game world and how this was proposed to the player in his entirety, first of all the approach to the various macro areas that can be explored within the game map.

This makes us understand how the landscape sometimes advances without brakes, not giving itself time and consequently not giving the player time. Compared to fifteen years ago, therefore, The Witcher's gameplay could currently receive more criticism than praise, and at the time it was remembered for its world, narrative, setting and perfect story. Despite presenting the Signs for the first time and everything related to a Witcher's paraphernalia, the work offered extremely essential and classic gameplay for the time. When you hit, the attacks were generated automatically, and on certain occasions the emphasis of the fight fueled perhaps moments before by a memorable dialogue was lost. Those were other times, there were other needs and probably CD Projekt RED was not the development studio it is today.

The delicate themes of The Witcher: how to write a story full of life

The Witcher, proprio come Dragon Age, he approached delicate issues inspired by news stories and some historical episodes in world history. Andrzej Sapkowskj himself, in reality, was inspired by the Nazi purges that took place against the Jews, and CD Projekt RED brought back in The Witcher those brutal dynamics against the Elves and the dwarves, who once lived in the Northern Realms also ruling over men.

Through the Scoia'tael, a guerrilla group made up of two races, we discover better how much racism and hatred towards the different are actually the order of the day within the city. Although they are poorly tolerated by King Foltest, who tries in every way to defend the districts in which the dwarves and the Elves are confined, the growing hatred coming from other realms by now consumes the kingdom to such an extent that by now the violence against the two peoples are becoming more frequent, and no one can tame a similar flame ready to devour the lives of so many unfortunates.

Dealing with such issues is never easy, not at a time like this. With The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, however, the racism and the positions taken by the team as well as by its author were explored more, who have inserted this social scourge precisely to sensitize the player as well as to give an even more sinister and brutal context to the narrative. A choice which, of course, I welcomed with great interest, because exploring human nature in a video game is something that has always fascinated me.

In this sense, The Witcher has explored the character and existence of Geralt within such a world. He is seen as a mutant, therefore he is considered a danger to anyone who crosses his path. Another name of his, in addition to White Wolf and Gwynbleeid, is Butcher of Blaviken, which the inhabitants of the village of the same name gave him after he massacred an entire garrison of mercenaries in the pay of Renfri, a character who speaks to Geralt of his fate and in general also of his future, and readers and fans of the television series will surely remember it well.

Geralt is seen as a monster, and another theme is precisely that of not stopping at appearances, even if a mutant appears in front of him who kills creatures and does not feel remorse in doing so. Geralt often even repeats that it is men who are the real monsters, the only real threats to the world and peace. And it cannot be said that he is wrong.

What to expect from The Witcher Remake?

The Witcher was initially supposed to be released on consoles in 2009 with improved graphics and a completely revised combat system. but CD Projekt RED shelved the project and devoted himself exclusively to the production of the second chapter of the franchise, already starting to imagine the future of the series. Now that the remake has been announced and the project is not directly entrusted to CD Projekt RED, one wonders what a complete remake of the first The Witcher could offer in the future.

  • Meanwhile the Unreal Engine 5 will be exploited, a graphics engine of which little has been seen yet. And secondly the combat system could be modernized and even rebuilt from scratch. Certainly, the historical importance of The Witcher, which began with an acquisition and the dream of bringing the story of Geralt of Rivia to the screen in a way other than cinematic (there is even a film), it still flows powerfully between the Polish development studio's Warsaw offices. After the Cyberpunk parenthesis, which saw CD Projekt RED present such a production to the world, it is clear that he wants to return to where he achieved worldwide success. In short, will setting foot on the Continent again be equally wonderful after exploring Night City? This question will have to remain pending for a long time, like any good self-respecting story. And quoting a metal song by Vader, Witcher is my name.

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