The Witcher 3 has had a bunch of us under its spell for months now, but we're at a point where several of us on staff have now finished the game. Now that we've wiped away the tears and closed the book on Geralt's adventures, it's time to talk about the end.
WARNING: THIS IS NOTHING BUT SPOILERS
Luke Plunkett: Let's talk about The Witcher 3's ending. Or, endings. I finished the game last week and all I've wanted to do since is talk about them, because holy crap.
Kirk Hamilton: Spurred kinda by you and kinda by my desire to get ready for NG+, I also finished my second playthrough over the weekend. One of the endings I got was the same as the first time, a lot of others were different. I liked all of em.
Patrick Klepek: I don't even really want to know the other endings! I love mine that much -- it felt right. That's when you know a video game with multiple endings has really stuck the landing, and that almost never happens.
Kirk: What was your ending, Patrick?
Patrick: Both women kicked me to the curb, leaving Geralt to find a new love, but when Ciri entered the portal, she eventually emerged. Geralt and Ciri basically went off to be Witchers together for a long, long time. I have no idea what they did, but they looked like they had some wonderful adventures.
Kirk: Yeah, I got that ending too. First time through I wound up with Yen, but the second time Geralt wound up alone… which actually felt truer to me. I got the Ciri Becomes A Witcher ending both times because I loved it so hard the first time I couldn't imagine going for one of the other options. Though I know from talking to Luke that he went another way and his ending sounds pretty cool.
Luke: Yup, mine was different again. I wound up with Yen, and Ciri actually left me/us; she takes you on this heart-breakingly beautiful final mission before saying goodbye and heading off to become Empress of Nilfgaard.
Kirk: If I ever finish a third NG+ playthrough… which is a terrifying prospect but may still happen one day… I'm probably gonna go for that one. It sounds lovely. What's crazy is there's also a third, ultra crappy option, where Ciri doesn't come back from the Tower and Geralt has to hunt down the remaining crone and avenge her. I'm glad none of us got that one, though it's wild that it's a possibility!
Patrick: Wow, that's messed up.
Kirk: Yeah! Remember how that last crone stole Vesimir's amulet? Geralt goes to retrieve it because it's the last thing he has to remember Ciri.
Luke: Yeah, I looked them all up, and while mine seemed to be the "happiest" (at least for how I played the game!), that ending seemed bleak as hell. I'd have been pissed if i'd played like 90 hours of Witcher 3 to end like that.
Patrick: (The Crones were so good.)
Kirk: Yeah, I'm not sure of the decisions you'd have to make to make that possible. I guess you'd have to just be a jerk to Ciri the whole time? Which… well, if you're a jerk to Ciri I guess it serves you right to get a crappy ending.
Patrick: What I enjoyed about making those decisions with/for Ciri was how little was really communicated about what you were deciding. It wasn't even clear to me I was making endgame decisions, but it all clicked into place when the ending actually rolled out. I can see how someone might feel cheated if the game provided them with a different set of closure, but for me, it chained together perfectly.
Patrick: It chained together without feeling like I was picking A, B, C.
Luke: But that's the thing, you can't feel cheated; the way they play back that montage of all the decisions you make would spell it out for you that you were a total dick to Ciri, and you deserve your crappy ending, you monster.
Luke: Mine was all hand-holding and snowball fights and hugs and smiles and it really made me feel like I'd made the right decisions in the game. Or, at least the "right" decisions for the approach I'd taken, at any rate. I never felt like I'd gotten a cheap ending, one that didn't match the choices I'd made.
Kirk: Right, which all seemed very purposeful. You were usually just giving advice, which felt more like it'd change how she felt about Geralt, rather than actually changing her actions. She even says it outright in the tower at the end; she's like, "This isn't your story, it's mine."
Luke: Which, phew, time stands still when she says that, because she's 100% right. You're never changing or altering Geralt's actions, you're just playing through Dandelion's narration. Only you never knew that. So hey, Witcher 3, way to pull a fast one; this game's major decisions were about someone else.
Patrick: And it's when it becomes clear just so much of this story was never really about Geralt, even though you spend the whole game with him.
Kirk: Though it should be said, we're really just talking about Ciri's ending here - I was also struck by how many other endings there can be, and how many of those ARE directly affected by Geralt's actions. I did almost every sidequest the second time around, and got some extremely different endings from my first time through.
Patrick: Can't you choose to not go after the Crones entirely? When there's that chance to hang out with Ciri and track them down on that mountain.
Luke: There are 32 different endings, depending on the decisions you make. 32!
Kirk: My first playthrough, Emhyr (Ciri's dad, the emperor of Nilfgaard) was eventually betrayed by forces at home because he was unable to defeat King Radovid, and he was assassinated by his own people. In my second playthrough, I'd helped assassinate Radovid, so Emhyr conquered Redania and the north… but in the process, made a deal to establish Temeria as a free nation once again. That's a pretty wild twist, if you follow the politics of the Northern kingdoms!
Patrick: There are a lot of names in that video game.
Patrick: How did you guys feel about how it played out with the various women in the game? To me, it seemed like the game encouraged Geralt to kind of…do whatever he wanted. You could indulge with so many woman, and it was up to you, the player, to say no. But if you never say no, the main lovers in your life tell you to snarf off.
Kirk: I gotta say… I thought it was cheap.
Patrick: I think we talked about this privately, Kirk, but I thought it was OK for them to toss you to the side at the end, to say it was unfair for you to pick a side, but the way the game chooses to play that out -- a fake out threesome scene -- was terrible.
Luke: wait there's a threesome scene
Patrick: Almost! They strap Geralt to a bed, tease a threesome, then leave him strapped there while they go get drunk.
Luke: oh my god
Kirk: Yeah, it's a fakeout. It happens if you tell Triss and Yen both that you love them.
Patrick: Which is really funny, right? But the problem is that Triss and Yen refuse to talk about what happened after that. The game treats the joke as the conclusion, when the nuance there is that Geralt is in love with two women for somewhat legitimate reasons (his amnesia), and yet everyone just laughs off the last 80 hours.
Kirk: Right, which… video games being video games, that's almost surely because it would have taken some unimaginable amount of work to wrap the thing up with yet more branches after you've already taken an unusual path. All the same, it really left me hanging. Considering that we're talking about two complicated, interwoven love stories that have spanned the whole trilogy, I felt like, "Wait, seriously? We're just gonna end it on a joke and that's it?"
Luke: It's a bad ending for bad people who make bad decisions. This is the final game in the trilogy! There are no more games and no more chances, so people had to know it's time to double down. If you still couldn't choose after all that Witcher 3 you deserve a blueballs conclusion.
Patrick: Booooo! Hisssss!
Kirk: I guess, but it isn't laid out entirely fairly. For example: Stuff with Triss plays out before stuff with Yen, so you could snarf it up before you even realise what Yen and Geralt are all about. You can kiss Triss at the costume party, but you can't tell her you love her later, when she's leaving. Also, you can sleep with Yen on the unicorn (I think?) but you can't tell her you love her. It's all a little bit… it doesn't quite feel fully fleshed out, so to speak.
Luke: Is love ever really fleshed out, Kirk?
Patrick: There is flesh involved.
Kirk: Oh so it's LIKE LIFE is it?
Kirk: MAKES YOU THINK
Luke: A video game being cruel and vague about love is TOO REAL. DOES THIS MAGIC LADY LOVE ME? DO I LOVE THIS OTHER MAGIC LADY? OH LIFE
Patrick: All I need is Roach, man. He's always around!
Kirk: Patrick did u know: Roach is a lady.
Kirk: So basically, my Geralt ended up with his one true love: Roach!
Luke: It's the post-credits ending. "Slow down, roach"
Patrick: I feel better about my ending already.
Luke: So one thing I wanted to talk about was investment in the story overall. I came into The Witcher 3 almost totally blind to the wider Witcher lore. I'd hated the first game and played the second for about two hours before giving up. I thought the game did a VERY good job for the most part in not punishing me for not being up to speed on fantasy lore and background stuff; it was able to infer and communicate most things through backstory hints and tone.
And this continued right through to the ending. I felt empty and emotional as the story ended, totally wrapped up in a story that by all rights should have alienated me. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for people who had played all three games, because I didn't have any feels left to give after playing just one.
Kirk: Yeah, when I think about the various subplots that "had endings" (and I want to hear more about you guys' specific subplot endings in a minute here), they did a good job of setting those endings up as logical conclusions to conflicts/situations that you came to understand over the course of the game. Like, you understood that Skellige was a difficult-to-rule collection of Jarls that could be warlike but might benefit from a more unifying ruler. You understood that Radovid was a bad person, but also saw that he was a brilliant strategist who was keeping the North from being overrun, and understood what it meant for Geralt to consider aiding in his assassination. You understood what had happened to Temeria, and how Roache had become a man fighting for a country that no longer existed. And so on.
Patrick: The game did a brilliant job straddling the line between paying off storylines that have been building for several games, while contextualizing them in a way wherein the basic stakes made sense to everyone involved. So even though you would have an inkling that more was going on, you still felt invested in the decision. That is not an easy thing for a game to pull off when it's dealing with threads from multiple games.
Luke: Ironically, given the importance to the ending, the only things that weren't explained as well for newcomers were your relationships with the three most important women in the game. I had to hit the wiki to find out what was going on between me and Triss, or why I was looking for Yen, or who Ciri even was.
Kirk: Yeah, and even then some of the finer points of those relationships STILL weren't entirely clear, since amnesia figures into it so heavily.
Patrick: Ugh, that amnesia plot. It's still annoying how long they played that out. In reality, a lot of what's "happening" in The Witcher 3 is pretty stupid and fantasy bullshit. The game doesn't work without the characters -- period.
Kirk: I'd say that in some cases the richness of the world can carry it -- like, the relationship between the crones and the people of Velen -- but yeah, the individual characters are what made it special, and what made the endings feel consequential. And w/r/t those endings, I actually really liked how they played out in those nifty illustrated cutscenes, with Dandelion narrating. It let them do a bunch more variations, since I'm sure those were relatively easy to do, and it let me use my imagination, rather than showing me everything in a cutscene or whatever.
Luke: It's why there are 32 endings, and not 3.
So, individual endings! The minor, lesser stuff. What'd everyone get?
Kirk: Who did you back to rule Skellige, and what happened there? I backed Cerys on my second time and she wound up being a pretty great ruler. In my first playthrough I skipped a lot of Skellige and wound up getting a really different outcome, though -- Birna Bran's son Svanrige became king and took charge with lots of bloodshed.
I missed that whole quest where the men become bears and kill everyone at the banquet, though -- that was some gnarly shit. I was glad I took the time, second time 'round.
Patrick: That whole scene is amazing. I went with Cerys, too. Seemed like she'd be able to balance out her brother's hot temper.
Luke: I backed Cerys, because ❤ (and also because her brother seemed dangerously stupid for a ruler).
Kirk: I did like Hjalmar, though. Like, as a dude. Not as a king, though, yeah. How about Emhyr and Radovid? I already said how mine played out.
Patrick: Gosh, I can't even remember. That was a year and seven video games ago.
Kirk: If you helped assassinate Radovid, you'd remember. It's a pretty dark scene.
Patrick: That quest died on the vine for me at some point. It was one of the few quests I wasn't able to complete because I'd moved on.
Luke: For me, with Emhyr, he did his victory lap of the north, killing everyone who opposed him at home. As for Radovid, because he was killed and then I killed Djikstra, it was same as you Kirk; Nilfgaard wins, but then retreats.
Patrick: Oh, man, you killed Djikstra?! Damn. I didn't even know that could happen.
Luke: Yeah, if you kill Radovid, you get a showdown choice. Djikstra makes a move for power, and you can either kill him or kill Roche. I saved Roche.
Kirk: Yeah, same here. I liked Djikstra, too! But eventually I was like, "Dude you are impossible to deal with, fine, I'll freaking kill you."
Patrick: I read that as Roach for a few seconds, and got really weirded out about that quest line.
Kirk: I tipped Philippa Eilhart off to Radovid's location, so she turned up and killed him herself, right there on the street. It was intense! And yeah, when it came down to it, I liked Roche more than I liked Djikstra. A weirdly loveable pain in the arse is still a pain in the arse.
Luke: Oh, can you kill him yourself? Phillipa killed him in my game too, I just assumed that's how it goes down, but I guess if you don't tip her off then there are other options...
Djikstra left me hanging at the siege of Kaer Morhen, so screw him.
Kirk: In fairness, he didn't help because I hadn't helped him out before when I could have. As for Philippa, I'm actually not sure if Radovid always dies at her hand -- it was fitting, given what he did to her in the last game, but I'd been assuming that she'd only turned up because I told her what was going down.
Luke: What about romance endings? I chose Yenn and thought it was pretty good, you basically just kick back and "breakfast until noon", which seems like a pretty well-deserved retirement for Geralt. It also kinda leaves room for me to keep sidequesting (and playing the expansions), like I'm just doing odd jobs to keep busy every now and then (which from googling it seems the Triss ending doesn't really allow).
Patrick: Like I said earlier, they both left me. There is no resolution to the romance: you're alone!
But mine, questing with Ciri, certainly leaves it open for more playing in the DLC, should they choose to set it post-ending. My guess is the expansions are set before that, though.
Kirk: Yeah, that will be interesting. Maybe they're in the interim, and you start off getting a note from Yen that's like "Have fun fighting monsters! Nothing you do will actually change the ending you already got!"
As for romance endings, I didn't toooootally buy that Yen would really settle down, but I did like the notion of her and Geralt together. I think Yen is the tops and love her relationship with Geralt. (I know lots of people don't like her, but those people are wrong.) I'll probably go with Triss next time around -- if there is a next time -- just for variety's sake. Even though I thought Triss was annoying in TW3, more so than in past games.
Patrick: Yeah, Triss was way more interesting in Witcher 2.
Kirk: And she spent half of that game frozen in a tiny miniature!
Luke: I wanted to romance Cerys :disappointed:
Patrick: If you'd never played any of the games, I can see how you'd quickly side with Yen: they seem to have a deeper connection.
Kirk: It almost wasn't fair. And yeah, Luke, I liked Cerys, too! Something about Sarah Greene's performance, maybe, I'm not quite sure what it was -- she was a really good character, though.
Luke: Red-haired fantasy/medieval ladies are my achilles heel. Cerys, Ygritte, Boudicca from Civ V...
Kirk: So I guess it's time for our discussion of the game's endings to… draw to an ending. Any final thoughts?
Luke: One of my favourite games of all time had one of the best endings of all time. Supremely satisfying, and a worthy payoff for such an investment of time/emotion.
Patrick: Well, I want another Witcher game, and those expansions can't come soon enough. But I also feel they have exhausted those characters, and so while I want to spend more time in that world, I don't really want to play as Geralt again. It feels like a really nice conclusion, even if there's some ambiguity at the end. And, yes, as Luke says, it's so worth it. I never expected to get so invested in the game, yet here we are.
Kirk: And hey, it's pretty good that we made it all the way to the end! Our Kotaku colleagues and a lot of our readers still haven't made it. I want Dandelion to narrate a cutscene of me, now that I've finished. It'd be like, an illustration of me sitting on my couch. "After he finished The Witcher 3, Kirk smiled. It was time to relax and reflect, and to finally get back to Metroid Prime…"