Every time I think back to my time with Geralt on his quest to chase Ciri and the Wild Hunt, I always return to a single frame. It's the shot of the Bloody Baron sitting in his meagre throne, contemplating the failure of his marriage, the feeling of his fist against her flesh, recalling the pangs of her barbs.
It's an image that stayed with me through all of the game's faults and through the months that have passed since I saw the final screens. It's the most enduring image of any narrative I've experienced in a video game this year.
It might even be my favourite quest line of all time.
Pawel Sasko was the lead quest designer at CD Projekt RED on The Witcher 3, and he told Patrick earlier this year that players from all walks of life had sent in some remarkable feedback about the Baron. "One day there was a letter delivered to the office ... it was sent by a father who had lost his daughter when she was a few months old."
"In his letter he wrote about his experience trying to save the Baron’s baby daughter which had turned into botchling, how desperately he wanted to save her. It was a moving story about him seeking redemption for the Baron, for this character who was carrying his beloved child in his hands."
Watching the Baron's torment — and his storyteller-esque taunting of Geralt, in the way that video games so often do — reminded me of humanity. Not the warmth or the skill involved, but of that grey area in which some of the worst atrocities occur. The kind of humanity you hear about in war documentaries, the kind that, seemingly without rhyme or reason, suddenly becomes capable of great evil.
Not the worst evil, but evil enough. The kind of horror that one never forgets. Like beating your wife, and then beating her again to the point of causing a miscarriage.
Nobody ever wins in a Witcher's world.
Witcher 3 has many undisclosed moments of breathtaking beauty too
This is a shot of Witcher 3 that's been in our CMS for a while. I'm not sure how it got there, but I've always liked it for one very simple reason: the light through the trees.
I'd dreaded travelling to the shores of Skellige for a while, only because I knew — in all likelihood — that I'd never return. But once I started climbing the peaks and mountains of the northern islands, I never wanted to leave.
It was the light breaking through the trees, when I was travelling through the dense forests. The forest itself is a thing of beauty, with its density, the sound of the leaves and the branches.
But combined with the wind, bending the trunks and foliage so that the light peers through ever so inconsistently, Witcher 3 became a thing of majesty. It was one of those cheesy "oh shit" moments that programmers, artists, designers, project leads and animators dream about.
I still remember standing on the side of that hill, watching the forest sway back and forth.
The game is never short on surprises
I could go on and on about the little things in Witcher 3 that drew a wry smile, caught me off-guard or simply caused me to stop what I was doing. But the biggest impact the game had was stopping me from playing Bloodborne entirely.
For the first month and a half, Geralt's style of stabs and rolls continually reminded me of Bloodborne's movement system. This was good, I thought: I'd spent about 35 hours in Bloodborne but was yet to complete my tour of Old Yharnam. It felt like there were enough similarities that I'd be well served when I eventually found Ciri.
And then CDR caved; the movement patch landed. Geralt could make tighter turns. He responded instantly to a player's movement. It felt less like controlling a bull in a china shop. It also felt more like controlling a video game character, and less like controlling an actual human.
But it was more fun. And it ruined the thought of ever returning to the old system. And it destroyed the thought of returning to Bloodborne. How could I go back to From Software's slower, almost plodding pace, complete with its indiscernible plot and punishing difficulty?
Witcher 3 was built to enjoy. And it was something I could enjoy even while standing on the side of a hill, doing nothing more than watching the light peer between the trees.
What a beautiful game.