The Witcher Journals #2 – Old Friends, Village Quarrels, & Hellhounds

In an effort to actually continue the smorgasbord of different article ideas that I start, it’s time to get back to my Witcher video game adventures (instead of leaving them in the creative void of my drafts folder, aha). As outlined in my first entry last year, I am gradually making my way through the Witcher video games, and documenting my thoughts along the way. At this rate, I might just about get done before the fourth game comes out…

My first entry tackled the Prologue to The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, which teaches the player the main combat and inventory systems. This all happens amidst a dramatic set-piece, where a mysterious mage attacks and escapes the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen with valuable cargo. Subsequently, Geralt of Rivia ventures into the world to track them down. This is where we pick up, at the start of Chapter 1…


Chapter I: Outskirts of Vizima

We begin with a brief time skip, joining up with Geralt after he’s reached the outskirts of Vizima. The main focus of the chapter is gaining the trust of the local townspeople and guards, in order to work your way into Vizima itself. This naturally leads you to meet various intriguing characters, building relationships as you help them in various quests.

The most significant of these is “Of Monsters and Men”. At the beginning of Chapter I, a woman named Caroline and a young boy named Alvin are attacked by Barghests (a sort of spectral hound). Despite the efforts of Geralt and the player, only Alvin makes it to the safety of the Country Inn. The surprises don’t end there, because as a result of the shock, Alvin levitates and proceeds to speak the Prophecy of Ithlinne, which foretells the future and a coming destruction. It turns out Alvin may be a source (a conduit for strong magical power, like Ciri in the books), and this is where Shani, an old friend of Geralt, makes an entrance.

Shani is a medic who’s only occasionally mentioned in the main Witcher books, but I’m glad she gets a larger role in the CD Projekt Red video games. In fact, minor characters getting more significant roles is one of the aspects I’m most excited about in my adventures. Her immediate role is to act as an exposition machine for Geralt, telling him the state of the outskirts, and explaining how she’s attempting to get into Vizima to help heal patients at St Lebioda’s hospital.

Considering that in-world Geralt is known to have died, Shain’s quite surprised to see the old friend. Still, Shani keeps an eye on the young Alvin and also heals Geralt when needed, and it’s a wise choice to have a known character pop up early as a foil for Geralt. Speaking of, later in the chapter Geralt meets another friend, the loveably blunt dwarf Zoltan Chivay. After helping Zoltan fight off some thugs, Zoltan gets re-acquainted with the resurrected Geralt, and teaches the player how to play the dice poker betting mini-game. He also helps Geralt remember what it’s like to get screen-shakingly drunk, if you so choose, haha!

Whilst dice poker is no GWENT, it’s still a fun addition where you attempt to get poker-like sets of dice by rolling and re-rolling them. This plays into earning gold as well as progressing quests later on. It’s easy to understand and isn’t too densely layered, so I found myself enjoying it when I needed to play. Between Shani and Zoltan, it’s satisfying to see Geralt re-discover his friendships and past history from the books. Sure, amnesia is a very convenient and unoriginal way of justifying this, but it works well enough, and I’m looking forward to more returning characters making appearances deeper into the game.

As an early-story area, the Vizima outskirts are an effective – if unsurprising – way to ease the player into the game proper. You’ve got a good variety of mission types, from escorts to combat to fetch quests, and the map is tightly designed in a way where everything is easily accessible. The Country Inn has a board of optional quests you can take on, and there are also some extra character interactions you can have if you so desire, such as a brief romance option with barmaid Vesna Hood. This romance is very surface-level, and I’m still waiting for the game to improve at developing these romantic relationships beyond offers of sex.

The Outskirts of Vizima map, with the inn on the right

Meanwhile, outside of the glowing-green Barghests permeating the world during the nocturnal hours, your main monster threats are Drowners and Ghouls skulking around the damp areas of the landscape – as well as occasional unruly townsfolk, of course. At this point I’m getting used to the timing-based combat, and continue to appreciate the dance-like swordsmanship Geralt displays as I time my mouse-clicks and changes of attack style (fast, strong, or group) to the rhythm of combat.

One of my favourite side quests was “Dead Hand of the Past”, where Geralt is hired to find a missing person, whether they’re dead or alive. When Geralt does so, they have indeed already perished, so Geralt’s job is to bury the body. Before doing so, the King of the Wild Hunt appears to talk to Geralt, which I was not expecting so early in the game! After an intriguing conversation, I had to fight the spirit of Leo, who was killed in the Prologue. As he blames Geralt for his death, Geralt must defend himself against the attacking spirit in a difficult fight that has plenty of emotional meaning to it.

After defeating Leo’s spirit, Geralt obtains Red Meteorite Ore which is useful for upgrading his sword. As well as upgrading with found items, Geralt can boost his knowledge and skills by purchasing books and scrolls at the Inn, though they’re quite expensive. Whilst you’re at the Inn, you can also relax and have a listen to the local music players, who I hope become a regular occurrence throughout the game (hopefully with a bunch of cameos from Geralt’s bard friend Dandelion). The Inn also features casual fist-fighting, but I wasn’t particularly drawn to that – I’d much rather spend the time adventuring.

So, let’s get back to the main questline. After the beginning of the Chapter, the local Reverend is looking to burn the witch Abigail, as he believes her magic is what attracted the Beast and Barghests. Abigail has taken the boy Alvin with her into hiding, where she is creating conditions for him to speak more of the aforementioned prophecy of Ithlinne. This is where the main moral quandaries of Chapter I present themselves: will you choose to side with the Reverend, or instead defend Abigail?

Personally, I chose to defend Abigail, as I didn’t like the idea of just standing aside and letting a mob decide the life of one woman. Yes, it leads to the deaths of many townspeople, but that’s only because they actively choose to attack Geralt – they could have left him alone and avoided a conflict. The consequences of my decision was that it made the final fight against the Beast itself very tough; because I sided with Abigail, I had to fight villagers as well as Barghests, whereas the same villagers could have been on my side if I’d chosen differently. I’m happy I went for the narrative upside, though.

That battle against the Beast is the first fight in The Witcher that really stumped me for a while, as it’s hard to keep your distance from the fast and deadly Barghests. After multiple attempts, I learned a strategy of dodging, using the Aard Sign to magically push the Beast away, and then getting quick hits in to whittle the Beast down before dodging away again and continuing my strategy. The various elixirs I had crafted for speed and vitality were helpful here, too. I like it when I’m using all of the Witcher powers available to Geralt, as it makes the fights feel like I’m in a scene from the books!

After my successful defeat of the Beast, Abigail escapes the Outskirts with her life, whilst Alvin is left in the care of the Reverend. Intriguingly, you never get an 100% definitive answer to whether Abigail was innocent; it could well have been her mistakes that brought on the Barghests, but it could also have been the deception of the townspeople that summoned the monsters. This sort of moral ambiguity is very on-brand for The Witcher, so the game is off to a good start!

Following the fight, the Reverend grants Geralt safe passage into Vizima. After another quick visit to Shani and cleaning up any last odds and ends in the Outskirts, I made my way to the city – however, it isn’t quite the welcome I hoped. Instead of being welcomed in, Geralt is arrested and thrown into jail! At least we technically still made it into Vizima, I guess… !

Quite the predicament to end Chapter I, then! In the next post, we’ll follow along as Geralt makes his way out of prison and into Vizima proper, discovering more familiar faces along the way.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this post. Have an amazing day!

2 thoughts on “The Witcher Journals #2 – Old Friends, Village Quarrels, & Hellhounds

  1. Sounds like a great game! I’ve only ever played Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, so great to learn more about the original games like this. I’m a console player, so don’t think the first two games were ever on Playstation or Xbox.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m mostly a console gamer, but after building a PC a couple years ago I’ve dabbled in a bit of PC gaming. I know that Witcher 3 is regarded as the best game, but as a big fan of the books, I’m fascinated to follow the continuity of the games and the decisions they make – even if certain elements age better than others, aha… ! Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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