The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This letter was supposed to come out on March 23, 2022. I missed my deadline and extended it to this week. I’ve been in a unmotivated mindset when it comes to my writing lately. Going back into the office (an hour away) three days a week has been more draining than I remember. I know realize why I was up at 4:00 AM working on Chasing the Stick. I even had the notion to just quit this newsletter.
Thankfully, I did not and am not. I’m sorry for not sticking to the promised schedule. Here’s to the rest of these letters. I hope you enjoy.
- Game - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Released on May 19, 2015
- Developed by CD Projekt Red; Published by CD Projekt (Distributed by Warner Bros in NA).
- IGN’s Wiki Team - Jon Ryan and Brendan Graeber 1
- My contributions - Main Story Walkthrough, side quests, video walkthrough, scripts, narration.
- Pay - $900 (over the course of four months); copy of the game reimbursed by IGN
- Time Spent Playing: 174 hours, includes Hearts of Stone DLC. Estimate between 120-140 hours for the base game
It’s ironic that a brand new Witcher game was announced last week. The announcement is not a surprise in the slightest; even the move from CD Projekt Red’s proprietary engine to Unreal Engine 5 didn’t stun me. The infusion of Epic’s money and technical support will help the Polish team push their western open-world game design, which was superb at the launch of Witcher 3 in 2015. The buzz before, at, and after the launch of Wild Hunt was humming so loud that I volunteered as tribute to help IGN’s wiki team.
Dying Light helped me wade into the pool of open world guides. The Witcher 3 was a wave-making cannonball.
This week’s letter is a bit different. Returning to work in an office has majorly eaten into my creative writing time. 2 I glanced at my emails for this project and they surpassed one hundred in a snap. I wasn’t able to dig around as thoroughly as I have for previous weeks.
Although, I don’t think a deep dive on email threads would be as insightful for this particular letter. The game was massive and the guide work immense. I was able to be far more creative in my chunk of the wiki than I had ever been. I kept on pushing my talents forward into areas I knew they’d desire. My mission was still to cement myself as a full-fledged IGN staffer at the time.
In that vein, I am focusing on the sheer scope and my venture into IGN-dom. Saves me the time from pouring over emails and makes it a twinge more personal. Releasing in May 2015, I was out of school for the summer months. I would bet for those three to four months, I was slicing down wiki entries with Geralt and consuming all E3 news. It was a time of creativity while playing a game jam packed with ideas and mechanics that were new to me.
On paper, I primarily focused on the main campaign and surrounding side quests. If memory serves correctly, main IGN folks were laser-focused on trends. What armor is the best? How do you romance this character? How do you get that sword? Where is the frying pan? If it was popping up on Google Trends, they were tackling it.
It’s remarkable I was able to sink my teeth in the campaign. The surrounding bits were just the gravy on top. My pace wasn’t a saunter through Novigrad; being distracted by the monsters and caves. My focus was clear. That kept me off the proverbial beaten path and getting too lost in the game world. Story is often what I care the most about in a game like this, so it was a pleasure to have playing and writing about it be my primary job.
This campaign is lengthy; just look at my play time up top. I was paid in three chunks. I was hired at a rate of $400 with two $250 additions based on the work I did after the campaign. This was over the course of three and a half to four months. If you take what I was paid and divide it by my estimated total time (this relieves Hearts of Stone work), I was being paid $7.50 an hour, solely for playing. I have no logs of time spent writing, editing, and so on. 3
I’m not pointing this out to complain. I was quite content at the time to be playing a game I was enjoying and writing about. 4 I wanted to point out the fact that open world games and creating guides for them—even just parts of them—is lopsided to other guides with similar pay rates. I made more money from the entire season of Tales from the Borderlands than I would for all my Witcher work, DLC included. IGN and the industry could be different now, paying different rates depending on the type of game. I haven’t written a guide for them in three years. During my entire tenure there, the baseline was $500, usually going below or above depending on the scope (i.e. a TellTale episode was $250). As games become larger and denser or stay active as a live service game, these rates (I would hope) have changed in a more favorable direction.
As for the story itself, I did almost every main quest after Lilac and Gooseberries (the third main quest out of forty). The first act of the game is by far the longest with the pace picking up after Novigrad. Each main region has adjacent narrative side quests. I tackled these too, which is where Geralt makes allies and can fall in love. The only one I did not do was the questline in Skelliege.
“I did not. I killed Keira and I skipped all the Skellige side quests, but I have a save to go back and do them if need be.”
Hard cut: He never went back. 5
Playing that questline is one of the few trophies I have left to get the Platinum trophy. Just need to beat the game on hard and collect all the Gwent cards. Maybe someday…
The coolest opportunity was being able to narrate two boss fight videos. I was able to help folks through The Crones and the final boss Eredin. Anyone can hear my voice (recorded lying down on the floor of my closet to minimize echo) on IGN.
My first video was against the three witchy sisters. 6 Listening back today, my narration is stiff and cold. I’m used to hearing my own voice after years of editing podcasts, so I know my cringy feelings aren’t a result of hearing myself. I’m so focused on the script and being clear about beating this boss that all personality is lost. My writing style is there, but my voice buries it out back.
“I know recording and listening to yourself can be a bit weird, but make sure to have fun with it! You certainly don’t need to go and re-record anything, but keep in mind that the more fun you have reading it, the more fun the viewer will have watching it.” - Jon Ryan
I took Jon’s advice and implemented it right into the next video. This Crones video gave me the green light to handle Eredin, the games final boss. The fight is, thankfully, straight forward. My delivery was lighter while keeping in mind that this was the last big fight the game had in store for players. I think it turned out leagues better than the Crones video. I even incorporated a pun that I am still proud of to this day.
The Witcher 3 was probably the defining game in my stint as a freelancer for IGN. It was early enough in my career (my third paid gig and sixth overall) that it cemented my usual assignments as open world games. Almost half of the assignments I would end up having were open world. I think back fondly on my time with the game and guide. It was the perfect time in my life for a project like that. A summer free of classes, fueled with creative energy, and playing a game the likes of which I had never played. I’d work on this game throughout the rest of 2015 thanks to the release of the Hearts of Stone DLC in October.
I also spent so much time and energy on The Witcher 3 that I have not touched the entire franchise since. The show on Netflix? I maybe made it twenty minutes in before shutting it off. 7 I may have downloaded Gwent, but never spent time with it. I bought the Blood & Wine DLC, but never found the drive to play it myself.
I’m reminded of a piece of advice Stephen King gave out in his book On Writing. King recommends wrapping up that first draft and tucking it all away for six weeks before you reenter the world you created. I get that six weeks is far, far shorter than seven years. The analogy breaks down upon closer inspection. I had my fill of The Witcher. Sometimes I do have the itch to return to Roach and ride across the land, grinding away at the Platinum trophy I am so close to earning. Perhaps enough time will have gone by when the PS5 port is released. But until that day comes when I brandish my dual swords once again, the townsfolk will have to just hire another Witcher.
Thoughts & Impressions
When thinking back on the world and design of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I often remember a take from Colin Moriarty. He talked about how Bethesda were the kings of Western open world RPGs, but they had dropped the ball with Fallout 4. He remarked that CD Projekt Red had taken the crown with The Witcher 3.
I can’t speak to that particular comparison myself: My experience with Fallout 4 was renting it for free from a RedBox and having the install crash, making the game unplayable on my PS4. I can speak to the influence I’ve seen The Witcher 3 have on games since its release seven years ago.
The intricacy of side quests and characters is what I notice the most. This framework was undoubtedly established long before the likes of The Witcher and Fallout. To this day though, I remember quite a bit about the people, places, and quests I went on with Geralt and crew. Every plot seemed to have richness. The way they all tied together enhanced the whole narrative and world. My memories may be twinged in a rosy glow, but I do recall the conversation surrounding this element focusing on the polished nature of the quests.
I remember the game looking good and running well enough. I was playing on a base PS4. 8 Each region was distinguished well. I’d be perfectly happy never trudging through the swamps of Velen again, but should hike the mountainous islands of Skelliege any day. It’s a map engrained in my brain, one part great design and the other part spending so much time staring at said map.
The one other influence I feel is profoundly Witcher 3 is every open world game having some brand new card game invented for it. Horizon Forbidden West has one. Even Shovel Knight made up a card game. Fewer card games inside your big ol’ games developers (even if I do like playing them). It’s just too much.
I find it hard to believe it was just Jon, Brendan, and myself on this guide. My records indicate it was just us, but I feel like there would have been more hands on deck. Breath of the Wild had seven-ish, which was just two years later. ↩
I was not brought on to help with the second expansion, Blood and Wine, because I did not have a gaming PC. I still have yet to play that expansion, so that was never a factor in my play time. ↩
I wonder if I still have that save… ↩
I have yet to hear the “toss a coin” song that was all the rage when the first season came out. ↩
Apparently we all were since the PS4 Pro wasn’t even announced at the time. I’d wager the IGN crew was on PC though. ↩