After many years, The Witcher 3 is finally upon us. At the time of writing, I’ve just finished The Witcher 2 for the first time, and The Witcher 3 has just become available. While I eagerly await the download of what many are already hailing as one of the best RPG’s of all time, a question came to mind: Why do I love The Witcher so much? Not just the franchise, rich with fantastic storytelling and unique mechanics, but the character of Geralt. An RPG that puts you in the boots of an established character only ever goes as far as that character is interesting, so why is it that Geralt of Rivia strikes a chord with so many players?
I believe the appealing nature of the character is summed up in The Witcher 3’s TV spot, where Geralt remarks on himself as not a hero, but a professional. RPG audiences have seen it all when it comes to stories being told of heroic adventurers. We’re ready to see the protagonist always do the right thing for the sake of its righteousness, and it’s become a near inescapable trope. What Geralt brings to The Witcher series is something that we’ve seen before only rarely, and never of this particular flavor. Geralt isn’t a righteous hero, nor is he a snarky rogue. He’s a professional – somebody who’s smart, experienced, and uses his unique set of skills to take on the particularly nasty beasties in the universe of The Witcher.
While playing through The Witcher 2, I never once found myself thinking about Geralt as some wandering adventurer, or somebody whose only respectable attribute was his ability to swing a sword around, or cast a few spells. When someone approaches Geralt with an issue, it’s not because they need a mercenary, but because they need somebody who knows what they’re doing. It’s this air of professionalism and general all-around competence that separate’s The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia from your hero in Dragon Age, who was simply in the right place at the right time and happened to be “strong-willed”, whatever that truly means.
In The Witcher, you truly feel like Geralt of Rivia, you’re not just a sellsword set on a righteous path. You’re the only man for the job, because you possess a set of skills that few else could fathom. On the occasions when you, the player, decide to get involved in politics or moral conflict, it’s because Geralt is making a true decision, and not just doing the right thing because he happens to be “The Hero.” It adds dimension that few other RPG, in my experience, have come close to replicating. We can only hope that other studios begin to take note.