The Top 25 RPGs of All Time #3: The Witcher 3

The game of the generation is defined not by its hero, but by women like Triss and Ciri.

Do you prefer Triss or Yennefer? It's a question that goes a long way toward defining your time with Witcher 3. Do you settle down with the fiery and extremely tough Triss, the red-haired mage who can literally handle having her fingernails ripped out; or do you team up with Yennefer, the caustic yet secretly soft-hearted witch with wicked fashion sense?

Geralt may be the nominal hero, but it's women like Triss, Yennefer, and of course, Ciri, who wind up stealing the show in Witcher 3. They're the characters who embody the strengths of CD Projekt's storytelling, which effortlessly juggles a half-dozen storylines arcing back across a decade's worth of games and books. Even if you've never played, say, the original Witcher, you can still feel the weight of Geralt's history with these women, which is thanks to Witcher 3's fully fleshed out characterizations and excellent voice acting.

Their stories are what I remember most from my time in Novigrad, Skellige, and beyond. They flit in and out of Witcher 3, each with their own agenda and relationship with Geralt, the eponymous Witcher. Triss is leading the fight against the witch hunters; Ciri is torn between her royal heritage and her desire to be a Witcher, and Yennefer is worried about Ciri.

Geralt's history with them is felt in the way that he refers to Yennefer by the familiar "Yen," or in his little exchanges with Triss. At one point Geralt refers to losing his memory, a major plot point from the first game, and Triss coyly says people should stop taking advantage of him. Geralt asks who has been taking advantage of him, and she casually replies, "I have, for one."

Such repertoire carries much of the burden of Witcher 3's characterization, which might have otherwise collapsed under the weight of two games and multiple novels. Having missed the first entries, to say nothing of the books, I was definitely at risk of being confused and alienated by The Witcher 3's extensive history. Instead, Geralt's meeting with Triss was where the story truly came alive for me, encouraging me to delve deep into its dense web of lore, relationships, and politicking.

Specific plot points follow, including a brief discussion of the final scene. You've been warned!

Triss makes her first appearance in a sidequest called "A Matter of Life and Dead," in which she reveals that she's one of the leaders of the mage underground in Novigrad. Undercover at a masque, there's a wonderful moment where Geralt chases a somewhat drunk Triss, and the pair kiss as fireworks rocket into the sky all around them. It's at this point that you know Geralt and Triss are totally going to get back together, but CD Projekt is content to keep drawing things out, waiting for that crucial moment when it lands the hardest. And that's what makes their eventual hookup at the lighthouse all the more satisfying.

In many other RPGs, that would have been the end of it. Instead, Triss' story serves as a launching point into an even bigger plot to remove Redania's psychopath of a king, and Triss herself reappears multiple times throughout the story. Romancing Triss impacts Geralt's relationship with Yennefer, leading to several cold and tense moments, though they eventually bury the hatchet. Amusingly, if you try to romance them both, they turn the tables by pretending to want a threesome with Geralt and subsequently leaving him tied to a bed.

Once I was able to buy into Geralt's relationship with Triss and Yennefer, I was able to buy into Witcher 3's world as a whole. I became invested in its dense lore, and I came to appreciate its massive multi-part sidequests. I began taking on hunts for the hell of it, and I even went through the trouble of acquiring the Masterwork Feline School Gear. Geralt's warm relationship with Triss and Yennefer made him feel more genuine to me, and by extension his world felt more genuine as well.

I also became more invested in the fate of Ciri, who by the second half proves herself the real star of The Witcher 3. It's during this portion of the game that you get to play the role of surrogate father, gently building up her confidence to the point that she can step into adulthood, whatever that might entail. While her arc is heavily dependent on your actions, and by extension, those of Geralt, her final decision is her own. One way or another, she is bound to leave his side and become an adult, and it's one of the most beautiful and bittersweet moments I've had in a video game.

White Orchard, where The Witcher 3 begins and ends. | CD Projekt Red

There's honestly so much to say about Witcher 3, which has steadily grown in esteem to the point that it's considered by many to be the best game of the generation. As Caty so colorfully put it during the episode of Axe of the Blood God covering this episode, "If you can't see the quality of The Witcher 3, you're a dumbass who can't be trusted." Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but between its beautifully realized open world, outstanding story, and multitude of interesting sidequests, it certainly is one of the best RPGs I've ever played.

In the years to come, I have no doubt Witcher 3's standing will continue to grow. It has already propelled CD Projekt to the top echelons of game development; and with BioWare and Bethesda currently in a down cycle, it has few rivals in the RPG space. Even if CDPR royally screws up Cyberpunk 2077, everyone will continue to look back on fondly on The Witcher 3. Its legacy is secure.

As of this writing, I'm at the very end of Hearts of Stone, one of two expansions considered among the best ever made. I've still got the entirety of Blood and Wine to go, which is often lauded as The Witcher 3's peak. I'm looking forward to it, but part of me is reluctant. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to The Witcher 3 or its memorable cast of characters. But as with Geralt, there will be a point where it's time to rest, and I will be left with a multitude of incredible memories to savor.

And for the record, I went with Triss.

Tagged with CD Projekt Red, Opinions, PC, PlayStation 4, Role Playing Games, Xbox One.

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