The critically acclaimed video game, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, is an expansive world full of adventure, horror, tragedy, and complexity, just like the series of novels on which it is based. Both focus on Geralt of Rivia, a witcher— One of the last few of a group of highly-trained mutant monster-slayers. Through Geralt, we see what it means to be a witcher, with all the prejudice, admiration, and power it comes with. The games get a lot of things right when it comes to character and setting, and you’ll find that there are quite a few memorable moments, some of which may not even be scripted. The reason for this is that the world built from the Northern Kingdoms, Nilfgaard, and Skellige, is gargantuan and fully populated with fleeing refugees, ignorant nobles, battle-weary soldiers, and monsters. Sometimes the latter can be found within one or two of the other groups.
CD Projekt Red has done a fantastic job of giving us horrifying monsters and epic battles. Unlike other open world games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age Inquisition, wherein the creatures may give you the occasional shock, the mystical creatures in The Witcher III are actually surprisingly frightening. The artists weren’t afraid (or kept from) giving us the stuff of nightmares and conveniently organising them in Geralt’s bestiary so you know what to look out for and when to close your eyes. You’ll find Necrophages (rotfiends, ghouls, drowners, etc…), Spectres (Wraiths, and hyms), cursed ones (werewolves, botchlings), hybrids (griffins, harpies), and a host of others, among which are some of the most frightening beings you will ever encounter in a video game.
Anyone who has encountered the three crones for example, will no doubt remember how unforgettably grotesque and truly intimidating they were. Adding to the shock was how initially appealing their depictions seemed to have been on their tapestry, and how freely they spoke of…getting intimate. But we found out soon afterwards that they were hideous creatures— using rotting flesh and broken items to reshape and rebuild themselves. ‘Crones’ doesn’t quite do them justice. We should have known better. Worst. Catfishes. Ever.
Another creature everyone is sure to remember is the botchling— the malformed corpse of an improperly buried miscarriage. It’s heartbreaking and horrifying in that the botchling preys upon pregnant women with shark-like teeth, dragging its bloody umbilical cord along, wrapped around its half-formed body. It certainly leaves a lasting impression on you.
What these examples have in common is the fact that they aren’t just horrifying monsters. It’s not enough to just be ugly. The really haunting monsters are the ones that have an equally discomforting truth behind their existence. It’s the whole reason why the best horror films spend time giving viewers background on the ghost/monster as opposed to just filling roughly 95 minutes with blood and gore. That’s exactly what you’ll find in The Witcher III: monsters with a purpose. You’ll never really know when you’re about to come across one (unless you have your witcher senses one all the time), unless you’re by the water, then you have an 80% chance of running into a pack of drowners or worse, a water hag. Not a huge challenge (depending on your difficulty level), but nerve-racking nonetheless.
And just in case you feel as though you’ve mastered the game along with its expansion, Hearts of Stone, just remember that Blood and Wine will be released sometime in the upcoming months so you best hone your witching skills to fight off whatever new draconid or necrophage the DLC pack offers along with its 20-hour tale, set in Nilfgaard’s wine capital, Toussaint. Who knows, 20-hours in wine country might make those crones just a little more bearable.