Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On the moral ambiguity of quests in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

(Yeah, yeah, yeah, all I can talk about nowadays is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.)

One of the things I particularly enjoy about the game is the nuance and shading of the moral decisions that our hero has to make during quests.

For example, at one point he comes across a grandmother caring for a number of orphan children and has to decide whether to help them or not.

But it turns out (trying to avoid too many spoilers here) that she might not actually be a grandmother, and although the children are indeed orphans, it's not clear that she's legitimately in their charge.

In another quest, an evil wraith is haunting the cemetery and attacking the townspeople, who plead with our hero to destroy the wraith.

Only it turns out that the wraith is the spirit of a young girl from the town, who was stoned to death by the townspeople some time ago for daring to date a boy from the other side of the lake...

And for a third example, a fairly complicated quest involves a wealthy woman who was killed by peasants who went on a rampage.

Only it turns out that the reason they went on the rampage is because the woman employed a rogue herbalist who was concocting experimental new potions and was testing them on peasants imprisoned for not paying their debts.

And the list goes on. The Witcher 3 is full of situations like this, where people plead with our hero to help them, while concealing or slanting the information they provide in various ways so that it's not obvious who is deserving of our help, and why.

It's not uncommon to complete a quest, only to learn that while some problems have been lifted from the population, others have been created, or made worse, and it's completely unclear whether the decisions that I made during the game actually made things better, or worse.

I almost NEVER do this in games, but several times I've chosen to back up and re-play sections in order to change my responses to certain quests.

Only to find that, in several cases, there was NO good answer to the problems. Both sides were at fault, both sides were unjust, and there is no simple happy ending for the problems that are raised.

It's so refreshing and addictive to interact with a game that draws you in so deeply, that makes you care so much about the fictional characters of the story, that makes you think carefully about why you're doing what you're doing, what impacts you will have, and whether there might be another way to solve the problem.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, this group of farmers feels that the lord has unfairly raised their rents. Hmmm, let's see...

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