Good news: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a really cool game. Bad news: It's dense and complicated as hell, and requires you to keep track of a ridiculous number of people, places, and concepts. Don't worry: I'm here to help.
Wild Hunt is likely going to attract a bunch of new people to the series, people who didn't play the first two games. Which is totally as it should be; it's worth playing whether you're a Witcher superfan or just someone who likes open-world games and fantasy.
To that end, I thought I'd take another journey deep into fantasy lore, similar to what we did last fall with Dragon Age: Inquisition.
A few notes up front. First of all, this article contains spoilers for both The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. However, while it's based on my time with Wild Hunt and contains the information I think you'll want to know to get the most out of that game's story, it does NOT contain any direct spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Last note: I know a lot more about The Witcher universe now than I did when I started researching for this article, but I'm not a Witcher expert. I haven't read Sapkowski's books, or watched Hexer, and I actually didn't finish the first Witcher game. If I got anything wrong, I hope you'll let me know. I want this reference to be as accurate and helpful as possible.
Ready? OK, let's go.
Hi, it's me, the disembodied voice that asks questions in Kotaku's explainers!
Oh, hey! Nice to see you. Did you wind up playing Dragon Age?
Yeah. Good game!
So… The Witcher 3. What do I need to know?
OK, let's do this. For starters, I guess we should talk about the books. The Witcher games are based on a series of fantasy stories by a Polish author named Andrzej Sapkowski.
Will reading the books help me understand the games?
I'm sure that reading the books would help you keep track of who's who and where's where, but the games aren't actually adaptations. Sapkowski's Witcher books, several of which were short story collections, don't depict events that take place in the games.
The games pick up after the books and tell their own story. They're spin-offs, not adaptations. For The Witcher 3, it's more important to understand the events of the first two games.
OK, so: the games. Where do we begin?
Let's start with setting. Like the first two games, The Witcher 3 is set in a land known as The Continent. Yes, that's actually the world's name. Broadly speaking, it's a fantasy world like a lot of fantasy worlds you may already know. There are elves and dwarves; dragons and castles; mages and sorceresses who cast fearsome spells. Technology hasn't evolved much past the middle ages.
Sounds pretty familiar, yeah.
It is, at least on a surface level. It's a basic fantasy world but it can get pretty weird, thanks mostly to the inclusion of parallel dimensions and extra-dimensional worlds.
Ah, got it. It's one of those deals.
Yeah. About a thousand and a half years before the events in the books/games, The Continent saw an event called The Conjunction of the Spheres. It was a mystical happening that united a whole bunch of parallel dimensions and loosened the walls between worlds. It opened portals that allowed the first demons and beasts to cross over from their dimensions to this one, and ever since then, The Continent has been populated by unnatural beasts.
Humans also arrived during the Conjunction of Spheres, which led to them colonizing, populating, and eventually dominating The Continent.
Before we get too deep all that, or dig into the the events of the first two games, we should talk a little bit about the main character. He's a Witcher known as Geralt of Rivia.
He's the white-haired guy on all the promotional art, yeah? Good-looking dude.
That's him. He's a sexy one.
So he's a Witcher. That's not just someone who kills witches, right?
Oh, cool, you're way ahead of me. Right: A "Witcher" doesn't actually have that much to do with witches. Rather, Witchers are a rare breed of genetically mutated monster-killer. They were born as ordinary humans, and were taken in at a young age and more or less forced to undergo years of intense mental and physical training before eventually undergoing a mysterious ritual known as The Trial of the Grasses.
During the Trial of the Grasses, potential Witchers imbibe a mysterious alchemical concoction that mutates their genes and makes them more dangerous and harder to kill than ordinary men. The Trial kills the majority of those who attempt it — six or seven out of ten candidates die in the process. Also, only human men can undergo the Trial, for… uh, reasons, I guess.
Those who survive the Trial are permanently changed. Their eyes turn yellow and cat-like (an easy way to identify a Witcher), they gain heightened senses, strength, and reflexes, and they become able to heal extremely quickly. They become immune to almost all forms of disease and resistant to toxicity and poison. The Trial of Grasses renders men sterile, meaning that no Witcher can ever biologically parent a child. Witchers also gain unnatural longevity — at the start of Wild Hunt, Geralt is around 100 years old, which isn't actually all that old for a Witcher.
Got it. So they just exist to fight monsters?
Yeah, Witchers were first created as a way to effectively combat the monsters who were overrunning the land. There are a number of different Witcher schools spread across the continent, and each one trains its disciples in a slightly different way.
All Witchers wear a Witcher Medallion that indicates where they trained; Geralt trained in the school of the Wolf, and so he wears a nifty silver wolf medallion. Other schools include Griffon, Bear, Cat and so on. Witchers use their medallions to focus their senses, too, and a Witcher's medallion is a sort of extension of his inner self.
That trial sounds pretty intense, especially if almost everyone who attempts it dies. Why would anyone volunteer?
Most people don't "volunteer" to become Witchers. Rather, orphans and other cast-off children are taken in at the various Witcher strongholds across The Continent, with the understanding that most of them won't survive the training. Witchers also sometimes gain new recruits by enacting something called The Law of Surprise. The Law of Surprise is an ancient custom that can be used in lieu of payment whenever one person saves another person's life. It's kind of an abstract concept, and it takes a few different forms. Basically, it dictates that the person who was saved must give his saviour something unknown to him, with a cryptic description like "That which you did not yet know you have" or "The first thing that comes to greet you upon returning home."
It's a little weird. The Law of Surprise is kind of a wild card, since neither person in the transaction knows quite what it will mean. Sometimes it winds up being a horse, or a pet, or whatever. But a lot of the time, it winds up meaning that the saved person has to give his or her saviour a child. Witchers save a lot of people's lives, and those people can't always pay, so Witchers sometimes use the Law of Surprise to gain new recruits.
I guess that makes sense. You said payment — Witchers demand payment?
Yeah. Witchers operate independently, apart from the kingdoms and empires of The Continent. They're politically neutral, like self-contained, mobile versions of Game of Thrones' Night's Watch. (Of course, some Witchers are more than happy to get involved in politics anyway, which is their prerogative.) A Witcher's business is usually with the monsters of the world, and involves protecting the general populace. They hunt and kill beasts, and they always demand pay for their services.
Witchers call their way of life The Path. They usually work alone, going from town to town and accepting Contracts for whatever monsters may be troubling a region. Witchers never work for free — they're basically just freelance bounty hunters, but they have built a whole quasi-sacred way of life out of it.
They seem like pretty useful dudes to have around.
They are, but most people don't really like them. Regular people fear Witchers; peasants view them as freaks, and politicians and rulers view them as dangerous and unpredictable. People are happy to scrape together some coin to hire a Witcher to take care of the monster in the bog, but few want him to stick around after the job is done.
OK, I think I understand what Witchers are all about. Can we talk a little bit more about where this all takes place?
Sure! The Continent is made up of a number of nations, and they're almost always at each others' throats. Wild Hunt, like the first two Witcher games, is set in and around The Northern Kingdoms, which, in terms of topography and climate, are a lot like like northern Europe reaching up into Scandinavia.
Here's a map, taken from The Witcher 2 and annotated by me to include the most important locations in The Witcher 3:
The most important regions in Wild Hunt are:
- Redania, a kingdom to the northwest; they're currently led by a king named King Radovid V.
- Nilfgaard, a powerful empire located to the south; they're led by an emperor named Emhyr var Emreis.
- The Skellige Islands to the west, which are home to a collection of viking-like clans. They have a king named Bran, but each clan is really just ruled by its own Jarl.
There's also a fourth important kingdom, though it technically doesn't exist anymore: That's Temeria, a kingdom located just south of Redania, across a river called The Pontar. Temeria was ruled by a king named King Foltest, but he was assassinated at the start of The Witcher 2 and since then, the nation has kinda fallen apart. I'll explain more about that in a second.
Kings, Emperor, Jarls. Roger that.
The two other kingdoms you may hear referenced in Wild Hunt are Aedirn and Kaedwen, but they don't play super important roles. They're located to the east, separated from their neighbours by mountain ranges. (You can see them in the map above.) Aedirn is the southern of the two, located to the east of Temeria, with Kaedwen to the east of Redania.
OK. But those nations aren't that big a deal?
Yeah. Both played bigger roles in The Witcher 2 — which we'll go over later — but they're not a huge deal in Wild Hunt.
Got it. So what's the current political climate?
At the start of Wild Hunt, the Nilfgaardian empire has begun violently expanding northward, conquering kingdoms and and taking land as they go. (Nilfgaardian soldiers wear black armour and most people refer to them as "The Black Ones.")
It's not the first time Nilfgaard has attempted to conquer the northern lands, but years of wars between the various northern kingdoms — some of which were engineered by the Emperor of Nilfgaard himself — have left the kingdoms weak and vulnerable. Redania is the last holdout in the region where the game takes place, but they're outnumbered, and Nilfgaard's victory seems imminent.
Most of the game takes place in an area that includes southern Redania, the two major Redanian cities of Novigrad and Oxenfurt, the Pontar river, and, south of the Pontar, a contested no-man's-land that used to be northern Temeria, now referred to as Velen.
OK, got it! So… where does Geralt fit into all this?
At the start of the game, Geralt is chilling out in the castle where he grew up and trained, a stronghold known as Kaer Morhen located in the far-northeastern wilds of Kaedwin. (It's on the map above.)
He's summoned south to meet with the Nilfgaardian emperor, Emhyr var Emreis, who is currently stationed in a temporary Imperial stronghold in the city of Vizima, former capital of the fallen kingdom of Temeria.
Emhyr needs Geralt's help to find a woman named Ciri, who is a super important character that we'll talk more about… well, pretty soon, actually. For now: Ciri has been spotted in a few places north of the Nilfgaardian lines — in Velen, and in the Skellige Islands — and Emhyr hopes that Geralt's peerless tracking abilities will help him find her.
And that is where things are at the start of The Witcher 3, at least politically.
What else do I need to know?
Well, here's the thing: The political climate isn't actually all that big a deal in The Witcher 3. It informs whatever's happening in the world around Geralt, and it's always there at the margins. But Geralt's mostly kept himself outside of wars between kings and emperors.
There are usually other, more important matters that require his attention, and most of the things Geralt deals with are bigger-picture, End Of The World-type things that wind up mattering a lot more than which king is currently ruling which kingdom.
Before we get into individual characters, we should cover a few crucial things: Mages and Sorceresses, The Wild Hunt, and The Conflict Between Humans And Non-Humans.
Cool. Let's do Sorceresses first!
You got it. In the world of The Witcher, sorceresses are more or less what they sound like. They're women who wield powerful, often mysterious magic. They're really just lady mages, and there are also powerful male sorcerers, but the women tend to go off and do their own thing, for whatever reason. Sorceresses play bigger roles in the stories of Witcher games than sorcerers, and many of the most important characters in all three games are women who wield magic.
So it's basically just magic? Same as in other fantasy worlds?
Yeah, magic in The Witcher is similar to a lot of other fantasy universes. Cast fireballs, teleport, throw up huge barriers, control peoples' minds, that sort of thing. Some people in the world of Witcher are born with innate magical abilities. When that happens, they're referred to as a Source. Most Sources are taken off to one of several special schools to undergo training and learn to master their powers. Without training, Sources risk losing control and going insane.
Magic users can rain fire down on soldiers, control the minds of others, and cast curses that level entire battlefields. They're so powerful that they often consider themselves outside of the rule of ordinary people, and have attempted at various points to coordinate into a governing body. Most recently, that group was called The Lodge of Sorceresses, and it counted almost all of the most important sorceresses in the Witcher universe among its members.
Sorceresses are all… really hot, right?
I'm glad you're glad. The hotness thing isn't a coincidence, either: In the course of their training, Sorceresses learn how to remake themselves using glamours so that they're unnaturally good-looking. They live a super long time, like Witchers, and they're sterile, also like Witchers. Sorcerers and Sorceresses differ from Witchers in that they often concern themselves with the politics and power struggles going on across The Continent. They frequently serve as advisors to kings and other great leaders. Most of the major political events in the Witcher games are guided by the hands of sorcerers and sorceresses, usually working behind the scenes.
OK, makes sense. Now… what about The Wild Hunt? They're in the name of the game, so I'm guessing they're important.
They are, and they are. The Wild Hunt is a mysterious entity, so it's ok if you go into the game without a clear sense of who they are and what they're about. Basically, they're terrifying spectral warriors who ride in a marauding caravan. Sometimes they're seen riding across the sky and are viewed as more of a bad omen, other times they will appear on land and attack directly.
They seemingly appear out of nowhere, riding in on great horses and sometimes capturing and making off with innocent people. They're more or less unstoppable, and the land freezes with they appear. The Wild Hunt is a boogeyman in a world full of actual boogeymen — lots of people believe that they don't actually exist.
Geralt has learned a thing or two about them over the years; he knows that the leader of the Wild Hunt is an Elf named Eredin, who is known as The King of The Wild Hunt. Eredin is a member of a race of Elves known as Aen Elle, who appear to be taller than elves on The Continent and hail from a separate, parallel dimension.
Geralt himself has a complicated history with the Wild Hunt. He was "taken" by the hunt at one point and rode with them, though it's never been entirely clear what happened during that time. That's preeeetty much all you need to know about The Hunt going into The Witcher 3 — if you pay attention over the course of the game you'll learn a lot more.
That just leaves the conflict between humans and non-humans.
Right. There's a lot of persecution across The Continent, much of it perpetrated by humans on those they perceive as different from them. (It's almost as though it mirrors our own society!) Non-humans live among humans, but they have been persecuted for ages. Elves, dwarves, and other "unnatural" beings are often forced to live in ghettos, imprisoned, or killed by mobs. Some non-humans have banded together into a group of rebel freedom fighters known as The Scoia'tael, also known as The Squirrels.
The Scwow-ya… what?
Yeah, it's not the greatest name. It's pronounced "Skoy-Ya-Tell." It's basically a group of elves, dwarves, gnomes, and other non-humans. They plan guerrilla attacks against humans and fight for the rights of non-humans. They're seen as a terrorist organisation by most humans, but obviously the truth is murkier than that. Magic-users have run into some trouble in this regard as well; in Wild Hunt, Redania is in the process of purging itself of all magic users, meaning that mages and powerful sorceresses alike must flee and hide or risk being burned alive by an angry mob.
These elves and dwarves… is there anything remarkable about them?
They're a lot like the elves and dwarves you've seen in other fantasy fiction. Elves are thin, have pointy ears, and like using bows and arrows. Dwarves are stocky, have beards, and lots of them have Scottish accents.
Seriously? The Scottish thing again?
Yeah, I know. Whaddya gonna do? Anyway, elves and dwarves are both considered Old Races, meaning they lived on The Continent at the time of the Conjunction of the Spheres and pre-date human inhabitants. Elves in particular often speak The Elder Speech, an ancient language that more or less sounds like Tolkein's elvish as spoken in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Got it. How do Witchers fit into all of this?
Historically, Geralt has stayed out of the conflict between humans and non-humans, and his sympathies have largely depended on the decisions players made in the first two games. That said, there's definitely a sense that he favours non-humans and likes to stand up for the oppressed whenever he can. And… you know what, that's a good opportunity for a transition. Let's talk more about Geralt, then move on to the other characters in the game.
Works for me. What else do I need to know about Geralt?
Geralt seems like a taciturn, straightforward Badass Dude, but he's actually a pretty interesting guy. He excelled during his Witcher training and even underwent some special extra training. That training is kinda mysterious, but it may have given him more of an emotional range than some other Witchers, who tend to be more amoral and stripped of humanity. (That's according to the lore, anyway — most Witchers you meet in the games seem basically like ordinary people.)
Geralt's training is also what turned his hair white, causing elves to give him the nickname "Gwynbleidd," which is a super fucking awesome nickname on its own and even awesomer because it's Elder Speech for "The White Wolf."
Before the start of the first Witcher game, Geralt was grievously injured by a pitchfork-wielding peasant while standing up for a group of non-humans. He was believed to have died, but he eventually turned up back at his home castle Kaer Morhen with no memory of who he was or what had happened to him. He spent the first two games trying to recover his memory, and finally did so at the end of The Witcher 2. Which was nice, because the whole amnesia thing got pretty tedious. Thankfully, the Geralt at the start of Wild Hunt is complete, fully aware of who he is and what he's done over the years.
Does Geralt have any friends? Enemies? Rivals?
Geralt does have a few friends, rivals, and lovers. Here are the most important ones:
First, there's Ciri, whose full name is Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon. She's the most important character in The Witcher 3, even more important than Geralt. Her name is derived from the word "Zireael" in the Elder Speech, which means "swallow," and the bird is closely associated with her.
She's the one the Emperor of Nilfgaard hires Geralt to find, right?
Right. Her lineage and backstory are… complicated as hell. I'll try to condense it.
OK. Keep it simple! I like simple.
Basically, Ciri was born to a nobleman and woman, and her mother was the daughter of a queen. She first came into Geralt's orbit when he lifted a curse from her father and enacted the Law of Surprise (remember that?) to claim "that which you have but do not know you have" from him as payment. Turned out, that meant Ciri, with whom the guy's wife was pregnant without him yet knowing.
So suddenly Geralt had an adopted daughter?
No, actually. Geralt didn't take Ciri in at the time, since women can't become Witchers and I guess he didn't want to deal with having a kid around. Their fates seemed to have been intertwined, though — they crossed paths a number more times over the course of his adventures, and eventually he decided to take her in as his ward. He returned with her to Kaer Morhen and began to train her as a Witcher. Because she was a woman, she couldn't undergo the Trial of the Grasses, but she learned everything else there was to learn, and proved to be a talented swordfighter. On top of that, turns out, surprise! She's a magical Source.
Why is the Emperor of Nilfgaard interested in her?
Well, as it turns out, by some complicated bit of lineage wankery, she's also technically the Emperor's blood relation and heir.
Yeah, Ciri is a triple-whammy plot device. Bound to Geralt by fate, possessed of magical powers, and oh! Turns out, she's also the heir to the Nilfgaardian empire. On top of all of that, she's got some special magic going on that makes her even more powerful and important than a standard magic user.
Don't let all of that throw you! Ciri is a pretty cool person, despite all of her weighty various destinies and world-shaking powers. She hasn't had a boring or easy life — she's been on the run for years at the start of Wild Hunt, and Geralt hasn't seen her in a long time. But she's actually a relatable lady, when it comes down to it. You'll see.
OK, I'll take your word for it. Who else should I know?
Next up is another big one: Yennefer of Vengerberg.
Holy crap, that is an amazing name.
Right?? A lot of the names in this game are amazing. I think "Yennefer of Vergerberg" may be my favourite, though.
So good. I want to listen to people say it all day.
Wait, wait, it gets better. You know what people call her for short?
Get the fuck out of here.
I will not! That's what they call her.
Yennefer is one of the main characters in Wild Hunt. She's a powerful sorceress and also happens to be the love of Geralt's life. Which is a little bit weird, since she didn't really play a part in the first two video games.
Up until Wild Hunt, she's been mainly known as a character from the books — important, but out of sight and mostly out of mind. Literally, actually, since Geralt lost his memory of their relationship along with his memories of everything else during the events that preceded the first game. It wasn't until Geralt recovered his memories at the end of The Witcher 2 that he remembered the full extent of his relationship with Yennefer.
Yennefer cares greatly about power and not much else. She's often cold and sees commoners as beneath her; she loves Geralt, but their relationship is complicated. They initially fell for one another a long time ago, and their attraction was so strong that Geralt used a genie's wish to bind their fates together because, you know, genies.
Since then, they have come into and out of one another's lives with regularity, most recently becoming estranged after Geralt joined the Wild Hunt, nearly died, and lost his memory.
Got it. Who else?
Here goes, I'm just gonna list them:
The other important woman in Geralt's life is the red-headed sorceress Triss Merigold. Her full name is "Triss Merigold of Maribor," which is a pretty good name, but not as good as "Yennefer of Vergerberg." Triss was living at Kaer Morhen when Geralt first turned up with amnesia, and she helped nurse him back to health and, yeah, they fell in love and got into a whole thing together. Triss was a main character and love interest in both The Witcher and The Witcher 2.
Triss and Yennefer are good friends — they both helped raise Ciri and trained her in the ways of magic — and their friendship makes the love triangle with Geralt pret-ty awkward. Triss was like an older sister to Ciri during Ciri's time at the castle, and she, Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer all form a sort of messed-up incestuous family dynamic. They all love one another, but it can get complicated.
The most important Witcher other than Geralt is probably Vesemir. That's the guy who runs Kaer Morhen, and he's one of the Witchers who trained Geralt. He's older than Geralt and wiser, and all the other characters think of him as a sort of mentor/father figure. He's a good dude.
This foppish gentleman is the bard Dandelion, one of Geralt's closest friends. He's the one who narrates all of Geralt's adventures, and he's the "author" of all of the journal entries and character descriptions in the game. He's a goofy romantic and an incorrigible skirt-chaser, as well as a talented musician and artist. He almost always turns up wherever Geralt is, usually on some tangentially related business, and Geralt has gotten him out of more than a few scrapes.
The mohawked dwarf is Zoltan Chivay. He's a soldier of fortune who's known Geralt since the first Witcher game, and the Witcher frequently enlists Zoltan's aid in whatever battles he's fighting. He and Dandelion have struck up a friendship and tend to be found around one another or working together.
This hunk of sweaty badassery is Vernon Roche. He's a Temerian commando, leader of an elite unit of soldiers known as The Blue Stripes. (Remember, Temeria is the kingdom that fell to Nilfgaard around the start of Wild Hunt; they're south of Redania, separated by the Pontar river.)
Roche was a major player in The Witcher 2, and he and Geralt have long had an uneasy alliance. One of his best soldiers is a woman named Ves, who Geralt got to know (and possibly had a romantic liaison with) during the events of The Witcher 2.
Annnnnd… that's pretty much all the major players.
Huh. That's not actually that many people.
There are a handful of other people who are worth knowing, but the game does a fine job of explaining most of them, and we can get to some of the others later. For now, let's talk about what happened in the first two games.
Sounds good. Where do we start?
Happily, the events of the first game, The Witcher, aren't super important to what happens in The Witcher 3. The big-picture story of the first game involved a plot by a nefarious organisation known as The Salamandra, who attacked Kaer Morhen at the start of the game and made off with the mutagens that allowed for the creation of more Witchers. The game mostly took place in and around the Temerian city of Vizima.
That's the place where the emperor is holed up in the new game, right?
Yeah. Good memory! So basically the meat of that game involved unravelling and stopping a Salamandra plot, but it was mostly self-contained. However, the story sprawled quite a bit, and by the end, Geralt was getting visions of the King of the Wild Hunt, and wound up coming into the service of King Foltest of Temeria. Which carried things over to The Witcher 2, which is when things got more complicated.
I gotta say, that recap of the first game was shorter than I was expecting.
Well… ok, full confession, I never finished the first game. But after finishing Wild Hunt, I didn't really feel like I needed to. Wild Hunt feels much more like a sequel to The Witcher 2 than it does to The Witcher. Which is fine! This article has already gone on pretty long.
Good point. OK, let's move on to the second game.
So the second game is subtitled Assassins of Kings. And it starts out with… you guessed it! A king being assassinated. King Foltest, specifically, the ruler of Temeria, with whom Geralt had fallen in at the end of the first game. Geralt was sort of a reluctant servant, since he's not really anyone's kept man-at-arms or anything, but for a time, he had been helping Foltest out. Triss, too, was working with Foltest; she'd become the king's counselor and sorceress.
At the start of the game, a mysterious Witcher appears out of nowhere and assassinates Foltest, throwing Temeria into disarray. Geralt catches the blame for the murder. He's interrogated by Vernon Roche (the guy from earlier, head of the Temerian special forces), who eventually determines that Geralt is innocent and sets Geralt free on the condition that he helps track down the real killer.
Soon after that, Geralt learns that the killer is another Witcher named Letho, a deadly slab of meat from the School of the Viper. Letho hadn't just killed King Foltest; he'd also killed the king of Aedern (east of Temeria), a guy named Demavend.
So this guy Letho is the "Assassin of Kings" in the title, then?
Yeah. Geralt tracks him across the Pontar river valley, trying in the process to figure out who had hired him and to what end. He finds him and confronts him early on, but Letho escapes, kidnapping Triss in the process. While in the Pontar valley, Geralt also runs into Iorveth, the elven rebel leader I mentioned earlier. Iorveth was heading for a confrontation with Roche's Temerian soldiers, and midway through the game, Geralt is given the option to side with one or the other. Depending on whether you choose Roche or Iorveth, you get a completely different version of the game's second act, set on a totally different map. It blew everyone's minds, at the time.
OK, I think I follow.
I'm gonna skip over some details for the time being, since the plot of Assassins of Kings gets extremely complicated by the end. Short version: As it turned out, Letho had been hired by the Nilfgaardian emperor, Emhyr var Emreis. The whole thing was a plot to destabilize the north to pave the way for the invasion that's underway during The Witcher 3.
Yeah! There was some other stuff that happened in the game, too, but the Letho + Emperor + Invasion storyline is the most relevant for Wild Hunt. As for Triss, Geralt finally rescues her, realising that she had been magically transformed into a glass miniature that he'd been carrying around for half the game. (Apparently that's possible in the world of The Witcher.)
The other big development at the end of Assassins of Kings had to do with the Lodge of Sorceresses. Remember them?
Yeah, that was the group of the most powerful sorceresses in the world.
Right. So the last act of The Witcher 2 takes place at a diplomatic meeting in a place called Loc Muinne. The mages have called a meeting to establish a new Conclave, which is a sort of magical United Nations. A whole bunch of different leaders of a bunch of kingdoms and factions have joined them there in an effort to try and get their collective shit nailed down. Thing is, the Lodge of Sorceresses have been plotting in secret to seize power, and Loc Muinne is a trap to get a bunch of leaders in one place at the same time.
One thing leads to another, Geralt reveals and foils the Sorceresses' plot, the leaders get out of Loc Muinne alive, and the mages and sorceresses are all scattered to the wind. At the end of the game, Geralt finally faces Letho, but Letho winds up offering a pretty compelling explanation for how he was hired by Emhyr and why he did the job. Players can choose to either fight Letho and kill him, or to let him go.
Wow, so at the end of "Assassins of Kings," you can let the assassin go?
Yeah. The game let you make some pretty big decisions!
Which did you choose?
I'm not telling. You'll actually get to retroactively "make" the choice yourself at the start of Wild Hunt even if you didn't play The Witcher 2, so it's still up to you. Anyway, that about gets us up to the start of Wild Hunt.
Cool! Anything else I should know?
Just a few things. First, it's worth knowing about a thing called Ithlinne's Prophecy, which is an ancient elven prophecy of the world's doom. Geralt could find a book that mentioned it in the earlier games. It mentions Elder Blood and says that the world will "perish amidst ice and be reborn with the new sun."
There are a few other characters that are worth knowing about, too. I'll run them down now:
Síle De Tansarville is a sorceress who was a major character in The Witcher 2. She helped Geralt slay a big river monster in the first act, and was a major player in the Lodge's power play at Loc Muinne. She fled at the end of the game using a device called a megascope, which is powered by three crystals in a standing triangle and allows her to teleport and communicate with other sorceresses. Her megascope was damaged, however, and Geralt was given the option to either warn her or let her try to use it, which would kill her.
Philippa Eilhart was a another sorceress who played a large role in the last two acts of The Witcher 2. She was an advisor to King Vizimir II of Redania, the man who ruled that nation until he was assassinated and his son, Radovid, took over. (Remember, Radovid is king during Wild Hunt.) Philippa was at the heart of the Lodge's plot to take power at Loc Muinne, along with Síle. She's a powerful magic user, and had the ability to polymorph into the form of a great snowy owl. As punishment for her treachery, King Radovid had her eyes cut out, but she managed to escape before he could kill her.
Sigismund Dijkstra was advisor and chief spymaster to King Vizimir II, working alongside Philippa Eilhart. When Vizimir was assassinated, Dijkstra worked with Eilhart to run Redania in his absence until she betrayed him and forced him to flee the country. He's been in hiding ever since.
Dudu isn't actually in any of the earlier games, but he's worth knowing about. He's a shapeshifter known as a Doppler who can take the form of any man or woman and hide in plain sight. In one of the books, he assumes Geralt's form and forces the Witcher to fight himself.
Eskel and Lambert are two other Witchers who trained at the School of the Wolf at Kaer Morhen. Both trained under Vesemir, and both appeared in the first game. Lambert is younger and more hot-headed, while Eskel is around Geralt's age and is more of a mellow bro.
Crach an Craite is the ageing jarl of Clan an Craite, the most powerful clan in the Skellige Islands. He and Geralt have been friends for most of Crach's life, though they haven't seen each other for a good long while.
One other notable character from The Witcher 2 was Iorveth, an elf and a leader of a unit of Scoia'tael. He and Geralt crossed paths in the first act of The Witcher 2, and Geralt could either ally with him or oppose him, which led to significantly different outcomes to that game's story.
And… that's about it.
We made it!
We did! Of course, there's a ton of other extraneous information that I've left out of this summary. There are a few good lore recap videos online: I liked this one and this one in particular. It's also always worth browsing the well-maintained official Witcher wiki. The wiki can be a bit confusing sometimes, since it can be hard to tell when they're talking about things from the books or things from the games, but it's still a valuable resource. I'm sure it will get some significant updates once Wild Hunt has been out for a little while.
There are some useful in-game tools to help you keep track of what's going on, too. Keep an eye on your quest summaries in the game — they're written by Dandelion and he regularly updates them to explain what's happening. They change along with the decisions you make, too, which is fun to watch and helpful, given how many decisions you wind up making in the game. In addition to the quest entries, be sure to flip through the "characters" directory, which is thorough and also gets regular updates as the story progresses.
Gotta say, I'm feeling like I'm on on solid ground here.
Glad to hear it.
Thanks for all the info!
You're most welcome.
To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected]
Special thanks to everyone who contributes to The Official Witcher Wiki, which was endlessly helpful while assembling this guide.