Games often try their hand in morality as a mechanic. One of the first I remember playing that involved a morality gauge was the original Fable, where heroic acts would result in your hero being viewed more favorably, while more selfish or evil acts would evoke fear in others. Something I find refreshing about The Witcher series is that there’s little in the form of black-and-white morality.
There’s no karma meter like in Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. You don’t grow horns or spout angelic features for your actions like in the Fable series. You don’t need to fret about a Paragon and Renegade bar to determine whether your character is a knight in shining armor or a total prick like in the original trilogy of Mass Effect games. The Witcher III goes the route of just presenting you with options.
Choices Are Hard
Those options can seem inconsequential at the time, or they can both be obvious in their turpitude. One quest in particular stood out to me as an exemplar of the turbulent nature of morality in the world of The Witcher. The quest starts off like any other witcher contract, with someone looking for a resolution to a pest control issue. It’s clear rather early on however that things aren’t as simple as they seem. The contract directs you to a town that has been wiped clean (though the scene is pretty gruesome), with alghouls running rampant among the corpses. Further investigation leads to a sole survivor, who ends up directing you to the culprit.
I’m trying to not spoil much, despite this being three year old game now. When you finally find the perpetrator, you find out that he was the one who answered the contract originally, and the folks that called for a witcher reneged on their end of the deal. Instead of working something out though, they chose to try to kill their rescuer, who in turn slaughtered them all.
You’re left with a choice. You can trust the person responsible for slaughtering the village, or you can avenge the villagers. Neither option is completely right or wrong. The villagers lied and attempted to murder their savior in order to avoid paying for the service they called for, and the person that answered the call left only one survivor. If you choose to let the man go, you later discover that he’s likely been burned by many other contract holders for jobs he’s performed, and that there’s far more truth to the story he told than would initially seem evident.
Life In The Northern Kingdoms Kinda Sucks
I don’t necessarily enjoy the ambiguity of morality in The Witcher III. In fact, it’s a rather depressing game considering the torment that people experience on a daily basis. Countless civilians are caught in the middle of a war between three factions, while bandits and deserters prey on the helpless. The Temerians can’t protect their own, mostly because they’re fighting a guerrilla war against the Nilfgaardians. The Redanians are led by a psychopathic king who’s hellbent on wiping out the mages, and anyone else that looks at him sideways. The Nilfgaardians aren’t any better, forcing those who reside in conquered lands into indentured servitude or face harsh punishments.
What I do enjoy though, is that The Witcher III doesn’t present overtly “good” and “bad” choices. Not in the sense that you’ll have a morally correct and morally bankrupt option (though those still exist), but rather you have to consider that there can be unintended, far-reaching consequences for your actions, or inaction even. I must applaud any game that avoids making me feel like I chose the wrong decision; that somehow I didn’t make a choice that led to an optimal outcome. There are far less optimal outcomes that are possible in The Witcher III, meaning I feel disinclined to choose the same path with each playthrough.
It’s damn refreshing to play a game without worrying about maximizing my rewards, and just feeling free to enjoy the experience.
Do you like games that feature less overt decision mechanics?
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