The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone Introduces A Tonal Shift

“The quest you’ve chosen would take too long to solve in the time span you have,” remarks a slightly concerned PR representative. “Maybe try the other one when you get the opportunity?”

I take this as a good sign. The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone [official site] is the first ‘proper’ piece of DLC for CD Projekt RED’s already vast RPG, and comes after the release of umpteen freely available new clothes, minisodes and weapons. While Hearts of Stone isn’t concerned with adding new areas or mechanics, it’s a thrill to learn that it’s of a grander scale than I can reasonably see in the few hours I’ve been given to play it. In fact, the developers from Poland predict it’ll offer around ten-hours of new quests to play come release on October 13th.

On the colossal television screen in front of me, Geralt has just introduced himself to a much older woman. She’s well-dressed, poised, and dripping with pomp. Neither Geralt nor I are particularly impressed, especially after she’s introduced as a collector of Witcher-related paraphernalia. What we are, however, is interested. She looks like she has a story to tell. Everyone in the room looks like they’ve got a story to tell.

“Thank you,” I tell the PR representative, finally, as Geralt reveals Vesemir’s fate. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

And I do. Throughout the remainder of my hands-on session, I find my thoughts returning to the road not travelled. Without being too specific, I wonder whether partying with a dead man would have been a better use of my time. Although that would have meant not attending the auction, not having Geralt roll his eyes at a man dressed ostentatiously in all-black, and most importantly, and not orchestrating a medieval Ocean’s Eleven. (Yes. It’s pretty much what you imagine.)

The upcoming expansion is underscored by a mythic quality, in no small part thanks to the machinations of Gaunter O’Dimm, the mysterious Man of Mirror, who you might remember from early in Wild Hunt. Again without giving too much away, he’s a deliciously ambiguous figure — the perfect embodiment of the Trickster archetype. For the most part, CD Projekt succeeds in keeping him subtle, a bald man with a perpetual smile and a bag full of mysteries. Which is fantastic, because everything else in Hearts of Stone is a little over-the-top.

It starts out easily enough: with a notice board, an exasperated Geralt, and the only advert of interest in a sea of menial requests. I take what it offers, of course, and trot northwards to discover a band of Wild Ones lounging in a manor. After being ribbed by soldiers, I’m taken along to meet Olgierd von Everee, a rapscallion of a bandit king with a taste for destroying art. He shuttles me along to hunt down a toad in the sewers of oxenfurt – it’s apparently been devouring women who have been keen on turning it back into a man.

I eventually discover a bevy of clues and a particular red-haired Shani who some of you may recall from previous games. As such things go for Witchers, events quickly crescendo with an encounter against the boss amphibian, and then it gets properly fable-like.

Passing tangent: The Witcher 3 received a bit of flack about its lack of racial diversity, and I’m happy to report that the expansion features people who look distinctly non-Caucasian. Unfortunately, they also play lightly to a number of tropes. It’s nothing ground-breakingly offensive, but I definitely hope the full playthrough will reveal more depth. I’m reasonably confident that it will, but I thought I’d just put that out there for those who are concerned about such matters.

Moving on, the game chucks me into the brig of a ship and the Man of Glass makes his appearance. A devil’s deal is struck and poor Geralt, who is already a nest of scars, is branded with another. But the uglification comes with benefits. We escape after another boss battle, and ride back to von Everee, who then quickly demonstrates a new and surprising dilemma: he’s immortal.

What follows is a delightful vignette steeped in traditional fairy tales, and Geralt soon leaves with two Herculean tasks, all of which he must accomplish as the latest link in a snarl of favors. From there, the quest branches out into two options: party with the dead dude, or acquire the deed to a very rich man’s house. I’m not certain if it’s a universal trait but for the branch I chose at least, Hearts of Stone drops its Grimm approach in favor of humor and sly, quick nods at contemporary pop-culture.

What I really liked about my options here, however, was how few of them involved fighting. Like so many other Witcher 3 players, I had to learn to tolerate the finicky combat system, so it came as a joyful surprise that I didn’t really have to hit things save for a few uppity rogues. The rest of it was talking, wandering, convincing people that it was far better to sell their captive than to obey the letter of the law, and failing to talk a profanity-spewing, dynamite-ringed dwarf from his place in the rooftops.

And that was glorious. Witcher 3 has always been about the people for me. Virtually everyone’s a caricature, sure, but more often than not, they also carry shades of something human – an idea or an easily identifiable ache. The dwarf I’ve mentioned is hilariously foul-mouthed, sure, but his matrimonial woes are not inconsequential. Similarly, even von Everee’s crew isn’t just a tumble of scallywags. At least one of them is human enough to gruffly worry about a friend-lover-brother-person-of-significant-importance.

Hearts of Stone offers more of The Witcher 3’s same strengths, and then a little bit more. It feels like a tonal experiment, venturing away from series’ usual grimness. The structure and mechanics that define the series, however, remain omnipresent, and there’s a new Runeword mechanic for the min-maxing power player who needs to get more out of their game. I didn’t get to dink about with that. Instead of trundling after the straight and narrow, I ran off to sell a Van Gogh-esque painting to a bookseller in town – and I was happy for it.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone is due for release on October 13th for $10/£8.

79 Comments

  1. Lakshmi says:

    Really hope they get the diversity right. They do seem to listen to feedback and respond well. Looks awesome!

  2. Wowbagger says:

    I have barely touched the main game, I seemed to bounce off it a bit. I’ll go back to it after MGSV for another whack I guess.

  3. BTAxis says:

    When I read that first sentence, out of context, it seemed as if the guy was saying the quest would take longer than the remainder of your natural life.

  4. oskarkrawczyk says:

    Diversity? Guys give it a break.

    It’s the year 1237, location based on Northern Europe. Elves, gnomes, dwarfs, humans, trolls is as much diversity as you’d get there.

    • aleander says:

      Go away, boring person. We’ve had this discussion one billion times already.

    • Wurzel says:

      Let’s see, which argument to use…

      Maybe the economic one? The game area clearly has regular trade with Zerrikania, so why shouldn’t the non-white natives of that land occasionally show up as merchants tended to in this time period?

      Or maybe the folklore one? It may have originated as a celebration of Polish myth, but if you’re happy to mix in the myths of the arabic world (e.g. genies and ghouls) you’re not losing any ‘purity’ by adding in arabic-looking people?

      Or maybe a social one? That there’s very little (if any) harm done to white people’s immersion by showing non-white people, and that realising there’s nobody in a fantasy game that looks like you can really harm a non-white person’s enjoyment of the game?

      • Cator says:

        “the economic one”

        Not at the time this particular story takes place. The world is a at war and cities are largely closed of, remember. And not just any war but one solely focused on persecution of “otherness”. Chances of a random black merchant walking around the streets of Novigrad at this time are very slim. Not saying it coulnd’t been done or that there wasn’t any good way of implementing it in the story (there was), but that it shouldn’t been demanded. Stories can still take place in specific places and be about specific people. Especially if the setting in question is mostly homogenous (as is the case here)

        “Or maybe the folklore one”

        So by Your logic a Japanese piece of fiction with an all-asian cast, in which some character mentions McDonalds or makes an off-hand reference to an American movie in a conversation, should feel obligated to shoehorn an white person into it becouse of it? The thing is, Witcher is less about celebration of slavic folklore (since Witcher universe was intentionally written to be an amalgation of various modern, popcultural tropes. Far from being 100% slavic) and more about inserting Polish people into a fantasy setting and commenting on Polish culture, history, vices and virtues through the use of fantasy and popculture. Now this might not be apparent in the english version, since most of that is lost to poor translation (Polish language, especially the more archaic kind presented here, is a nightmare to translatre and often is completely incompatible with English), but it is true in the original script. This very much is a national piece of pop fiction, a story about Polish people in a fantasy setting. And they have every right to do so. Most Japanese games feature some heavy references to American fiction, since so much of modern Japanese culture has been ifluenced by America, and yet none of You would demand of a Japanese game to feature more skin colours.

        “Or maybe a social one”

        Nobody was arguing that putting a black person would harm immersion. Hell, it was done in the first game and in the novels. The argument is about wether or not putting POC characters in a story and setting that isn’t naturally focused on them, shoudl be mandatory.

        “and that realising there’s nobody in a fantasy game that looks like you can really harm a non-white person’s enjoyment of the game?”

        That is a ridiculous argument. I have a question to You, when Ang Lee released “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, did You feel the need to write a strongly worded letter to the producers, that You can’t enjoy this piece of national fantasy, becouse 100% of it’s characters are asian? By Your logic I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a game or a movie whose main character was a woman. By that logic I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything from outside my own cultural circle. It’s idiotic. I wonder what is Your go-to reaction when whatching foreign films. If I was black, would that mean that I shouldn’t be able to enjoy “War and Piece”?

      • Thoric says:

        The demand for diversity the developers have been barraged with is unilateral and seems to come from feelings of racial contempt.

        I wouldn’t consider any creative work diminished just because it features only Asian, African, or Arab characters and cultures. And I wouldn’t consider it automatically improved by the addition of different ones, including my own.

        However it is accepted and encouraged to consider a creative work lesser because it features only white characters and cultures, and to demand for them to improve it with “diversity”. It’s a double standard through and through.

        • trashmyego says:

          It’s not a double standard. You’re proposing a false equivalency. If the industry and gaming culture as a whole didn’t have a history of white washing and gender inequality, then this would be different, but that’s what is trying to be dealt with. If there was an equal amount of all white, all black, all asian, all-etc games, then this discussion would be different. But there isn’t.

          Creative work or not, it doesn’t exist within a vacuum. And there truly are no artistic justifications for this in a work of fantasy. The historical context argument doesn’t hold up, no matter how often it is pushed out to the front.

          • ProcrastinatingSod says:

            The “doesn’t exist withing a vaccum” argument doesn’t work in this particular case. Nor does the “white washing”.

            You are saying there aren’t too many all-black or all-asian pieces of art circulating in current popculture. Well, how many pieces of all-Polish art circulating in the western world, can You name? This is a game created by a minority. By a country often reffered to as the “Mexicans of Europe”, a country that miraculously lived through so many short ends of history’s sticks, that it’s a wonder it still exists. A country whose people are very oftern discriminated against to this day. And more to Your own point – a country that until today mostly had it’s popculural representations only in the form of an odd stereotypical character here and there (and even then it’s mostly based on stereotypes of it’s descendants of immigrants in the West, rather than Poland itself). This game is very much a representation of a minority. It just happens that this minority is white. I know that for people born and raised in US and Western Europe, the concept of white peple being opressed is unthinkable, but out here in Eastern Europe things and life look a lot different.

            To say that they should change their games based on racial makeup, is literally the equivalent of You telling a minority to change the way it represents itself, becouse it doesn’t gel with the post-imperialistic makeup of the west. Let that sink in.

            This isn’t a game made by some big American, western, AAA company that grew out of a multi-racial social background and yet is unfairly promoting only white perspective and discriminating against other people witin it’s own social/cultural background. This is a game made by a minority that just happens to be white, and they didn’t discriminate based on race when presenting their own perspective, since their own perspective happens to be 99% white, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Stories can still be about specific people and specific places. If this particular one doesn’t feature any Zerrikanians – its a non issue. If the other one (like Hearts of Stone) does feature POC – it’s just as valid and in no way better.

          • mllory says:

            “If there was an equal amount of all white, all black, all asian, all-etc games, then this discussion would be different.” To me this type of reasoning reads like adapting some sort of racial quotas for video-game characters. Like the public should be justified in demanding that their current society be represented on screen, regardless of setting or, indeed, the actual creators’ setting and society. Why would you think this? And even if I accepted your argument, seeing as how I happen to be from Eastern Europe, I’ll then have to request a very different mixture of ethnicities to be shown. You see how this would get silly quickly.

            Another thing to note is that this discussion should be held in a broader context. Would you find your thinking equally reasonable when applied to novels?

          • Thoric says:

            Equal amount? What? You’re not going to compensate for historical injustices by regulating the representation of cultures in art. All you could achieve is bury artists under more red tape and censorship. It’s up to them to choose what they depict, and most delve in their own cultures, as they have intricate knowledge and experience that’s hard to come by for outsiders.

            It’s a gift to be privy to an underrepresented culture and to have the chance to bring it to the international spotlight – CDPR is a great example. And their success is lasting, because it came from passion and hard work, not some diversity committee pushing them forward.

          • Cronstintein says:

            Really good post, ProcrastinatingSod.

            I’m all for more POC in games but I don’t think shoe-horning it in, because it’s the PC thing to do, will improve the art any.
            The sad fact is most game designers are white males. So they write white male characters, it’s not that hard to understand. It’s difficult to write a good female character or properly touch on POC issues, when you have so little personal experience with them.
            If we can get more POC and women into game design, the issue will handle itself.

          • Distec says:

            You have implied that anybody who thinks The Witcher’s “POC problem” is fine as-is and requires no adjustment is harboring some subconscious racial bias and/or too ignorant to understand their own opinions.

            Then you wonder why people get defensive in these discussions.

            It’s not a mystery.

      • waltC says:

        Fixed it for you…

        “That there’s very little (if any) harm done to black people’s immersion by showing non-black people, and that realising there’s nobody in a fantasy game that looks like you can really harm a non-white person’s enjoyment of the game?”

        Nothing is more boring than listening to people who fixate on skin color–it’s exactly like fixating on clothes and any other superficial thing. It’s also disgustingly racist, imo.

    • Lakshmi says:

      As the others say, this has been answered quite clearly numbers of times. link to medievalpoc.tumblr.com

      • Cator says:

        Those arguments have been countered, argued or debunked many times, so it’s not like the discussio is over becouse some poc historical blog says it is.

        • Lakshmi says:

          It’s not like the discussion is over because you say so, either. Do you have any links to these many articles countering, arguing and debunking? They sound interesting.

          • ProcrastinatingSod says:

            Can’t comment for Cator but here are some of my favourites.

            The Gonzologist’s posts (he wrote some quick follow ups on his tumblr):
            link to thegonzologist.tumblr.com

            These two articles (before reading them, it’s worth pointing out that a lot of the “Polish” elements of the script and setting are largely lost in the international versions. What it means is that the “Polish people transported into fantasy setting” argument that these two pieces talk about, is much more apparent in the original script).
            1:
            link to volnaiskra.com
            and 2:
            link to elysianshadows.com

            This forum post by Hollewanderer (a Polish player):
            link to forums.spacebattles.com

            link to soundcloud.com

            link to medium.com

            This piece (though making a larger point)
            link to medium.com

            link to medium.com

            And many, many others.

            I myself would simply offer this: every single argument placed against Witcher 3 racial makeup, could just as easily been placed against any Chinese or Japanese game featuring an all-asian cast (or for that matter any “national” game whose creators show the stories mainly through their perspective). And yet nobody would be crazy enough to publicly complain that “Mulan” didn’t feature any black people despite it’s fantasy moorings and a talking Dragon, nor would anyone complain about the Asian homogeneity of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Imagine a fantasy rpg made by one of the nations of Africa, based largely on that continent’s culture (though still featring lots of references to modern popculture) and featuring an all-black cast. How ridiculous would it be to demand more diversity of it. The only reason You are attacking this game is becouse the race in question happens to be white. And before You reply that its different couse there hasn’t been any well-known all-black games yet, or that white people had allready too much exposure in popculture, note that Witcher wasnt made by people who were part of the post-Imperialistic climate of Whites discriminating other people. It’s very much a minority product itself. This isn’t a case of a game made by some big American, western, AAA company that grew out of a multi-racial social background that is unfairly promoting only white perspective. This is a game made by a minority (Polish people – often called the “Mexicans of Europe”. You would be hard pressed to find a still-existing white nation who got the short end of the stick in history as often as they did), that just happens to be white, and they didn’t discriminate based on race when presenting their own perspective, since their own perspective happens to be 99% white, and there’s nothing wrong with that (it’s worth noting that this homegenuity doesn’t hurt the game, couse it’s very much the subtle subversivess of changing the tired old tropes, that makes Witcher so good in the first place. Despite it’s “whiteness”). As was allready said by others is this comments section – stories can still take place in specific places, and be about specific people. When reading/watching foreign films/books that get an international release, do You also complain that this specific story doesn’t feature Your own specific culture?

          • machineageproductions says:

            Seriously. It’s Polish creators, telling Polish folklore, about Polish people. What’s hard to understand?

            My favorite part is the Polish magic lamp with the Polish genie that grants Polish wishes just like the ones in the literary classic 1,001 Polish Nights.

          • Laurentius says:

            @machineageproductions

            I know right, but let’s not stop there. Poles didn’t even invent their own alphabet but modified Latin, can we honestly say that Sapkowkski’s books are polish books? I say we can’t. Same with polish paintings, depictions outside of certain motives that have seal of approval of being inherently polish given by random interent persons cease them being polish by law of reason.

        • NightOwl says:

          Care to provide us with links to the places were these arguments have been debunked?

          • Distec says:

            Would also be nice if people worked the contents of Medieval POC into an actual argument instead of just throwing it out there is if it’s some unassailable trump card.

    • trashmyego says:

      Whenever I see someone defending the white washed world of The Witcher (or gaming itself), I can’t help but wonder about their motivations. And not even their motivations towards the ‘discussion’ and their defense, but just internally. I can’t comprehend the knee-jerk reaction pushing back against the concept of non-white representations within a fantasy world, seeing it as some kind of threat. Or what itch is being scratched by vocally attacking the idea.

      It’s not active racism either – though there is some of that mixed in, just not the main cause – but a more mild, unconscious sort. Something tied to a lack of awareness of one’s self. And that odd inability for so many gamers to hold a complex view on a title. You can like, even love a game, and still be critical of aspects of it. As a good piece I recently read proposed – you can still love The Return of the Jedi and hate the Ewoks and you would most certainly prefer any future films not revisit them in depth. So why is it so important to discredit the call for diversity? What is it that’ll so drastically change if they try to amend this problem? Unless you are just a conscious racist, that makes your motivations pretty clear. Otherwise, I’m just confused.

      • ProcrastinatingSod says:

        It’s not a call to discredit diveristy. People who are defending W3 in this are not saying that games shouldn’t feature any other races or worldviews, but simply saying the arguments here are unfair when tossed against this one specific title. Sure, You get a lot of actual twitter racists and misogynist whiners jumping on the band wagon, but the actual arguments here are not against diversity in gaming as a whole, and You are being incredibly unfair and detrimental to the discussion by framing it as such. I agreed wholehartedly with the overal inotion of gaming industry having a race problem, but that didn’t stop me from considering most of the things Tauriq Moosa said in his “colorblind” article, to be idiotic when presented against W3.

        And since You decided to play the shady game of trying to guess the motivations of other people, please tell me about mine. I am an asian being part of the quite substantial Vietnamese minority in Poland. I lived my whole life in this country, always feeling like the odd-egg living in this nation that is 99% snowflake white. And yet I find the racial cirticisms laid against this game to be ridiculous. Me wanting one day to play a game featuring a Vietnamese character, doesn’t clash or negate the fact that I find most of the racial criticism of CDPR to ridiculous and ignorantly imperialistic.

      • Tasloi says:

        So The Witcher’s world is predominantly white. Okay. There’s no inherent problem to “amend” here. Period. There’s no if or but about it.

        Also, to touch on your ewoks argument: there’s no moral value judgment involved in me simply not liking ewoks. Meanwhile everything you’ve written here is a “i’m not saying it’s racism but it’s totally racism” type accusation.

      • Laurentius says:

        Says a person who probably can not name a single polish book or any other polish cultural piece of work or Czech’s or Slovak’s or any other Eastern European bar Russia.

        • trashmyego says:

          Why are you so certain of my ignorance of Polish literature? Bruno Schulz and Stefan Grabinski are two writers that mean a lot to me. I adore the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz. And House of Day, House of Night is the last ‘novel’ that fits your demand that I’ve read.

          This isn’t a critique of Polish art. But up a mainstream game released across all platforms that has already taken liberties with its source material. And it’s surrounding an issue the developers seem to be actively trying to amend in the expansions. Again, I’m actually curious about the push back of this topic that is unavoidable even when its innocently mentioned. It was an honest question – if the need to be so vehemently against even the concept of an issue here isn’t conscious racism, what is it?

          The moment you’re considered a triple A title and one that isn’t providing historical realism, but fantasy – you’re losing the argument of creative freedom. And these concerns aren’t even a demand for true equality, but just some sort of evidence that the world is anything but white.

          • Laurentius says:

            Well, then pardon me, but you were assuming other people’s motivations, while my experience pitted my with people both ignorant and judgemental. People, who while being very concious about race and race politics were also extremally dismissive and ignorat about polish culture to the point of questioning of it mere existance because it may contain “dragons” or pop-culture reference. For the record, no one would question in this ridiculous form french or german cultural product.

          • trashmyego says:

            And this wasn’t something I would have questioned until they made a game as large as Witcher 3. Not just in its popularity and success, but the size of the game itself. It’s not like it’s lacking the opportunity or space to examine the larger world.

            I also wasn’t assuming people’s motives. I was asking what they were and why there is such a loud and defensive reaction to even the mention of this issue. The only guess I proffered was that gamers seem to have a hard time reacting to criticism because they’re polarized in how they interact with games. It seems as if a large number of them can’t love a game and hear any form of critique and not take it personally (the same for the opposite). And that if anything, this seems to come from a lack of awareness in how they interact games, that this reaction isn’t an intentional pursuit.

            The mention of racism is just that, it’s undeniable that there are a few people on out there attacking diversity in gaming that are just plain, conscious racists. But that the rest of it arrives out of an institution foundation that is inherent to all western cultures, fantasy fiction, and gaming as a whole. It’s not intentional, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a signifier of larger underpinnings. All of this reeks of accusational defensiveness.

          • ProcrastinatingSod says:

            “The moment you’re considered a triple A title and one that isn’t providing historical realism, but fantasy – you’re losing the argument of creative freedom. ”

            This argument is so ridiculous I can’t even follow it’s logic. So by Your reasoning certain people don’t have the right to tell stories from their perspectives, simply becouse they aim them at a larger market? So by this logic, we dismiss wholesale the possibility of certain games/movies with a worldwide release, being solely about specific topics, specific people, specific regions? Tell me, according to You, should the gigantic Japanese game industry releasing games to the West, change it’s often all-japanese makeup becouse of it (note that most of these games rely often on story tropes and cultural themes that are Western and are not 100% Japanese, same way that Witcher world is not 100% Polish. Should Ang Lee feel forced to include white or black people in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, simply becouse he aimed the films for global release, and hoped for an Oscar?

            “if the need to be so vehemently against even the concept of an issue here isn’t conscious racism, what is it? ”

            I don’t know if You are being purposefully disingenuous, but once again You are unfairly lumping the blowback to Witcher criticism as eqivalent of being against the very “concept” of diverse, multi-ethnic. That’s not what this is about for the love of God. People simply recognise that those specific criticism in relation to race are ridiculous and unfair when taken in the context of this particular game. People can agree with overall stance of Moosa’s “Colorblind” article that games have a race problem, and at the same times think that the arguments he wrote as pertaning to W3 are ridiculous. I am Vietnamese myself, I am not saying what I am saying out of some racial solidarity with Caucasians. Also, may I just add that You equating all of this blowback (blowback in which many rational arguments were written, often by people of colour. Believe it or not, not every black person has the same persecution complex as Moosa who wrote that calling the in-game, in-setting name for the repressed racial minorities of Witcher is a “literal dehumanisation of people of colour”) with people simply being racist, is exactly the sort of ridiculous, pretensious, moral pompousness that so many people rile against. And then others are baffled when internet culture seems toxic.

          • trashmyego says:

            It has nothing to do with taking away someone’s perspective for storytelling, more the issue that there’s a fantasy game in which you can spend hundreds of hours playing and not run into a single spec of evidence that anyone or anything in the world is something other than caucasian. That there is no attempt to excuse or address this with context of the source work, source work it takes liberties with already. Witcher 3’s being contextually innocent or not doesn’t change the fact that it is representative of a larger problem in gaming. A problem that always incites vocal pushback online. This is what I initially brought up. The question of why this happens.

            And specifically in relation to the statement about losing the excuse of creative freedom – the extent and size of the game without strong justification provided within the said game for the utter and complete lack of diversity kinda pulls the rug out from under that excuse.

            You can keep bringing up other examples – who says there isn’t a problem with how the Japanese industry has portrayed race? Why are you assuming the critique of Witcher 3 is made in complete ignorance of other similar problems? It’s an assumption trying to prop up a false equivalency to say I’m disingenuous in my aim. It’s underhanded distraction. And bringing up Crouching Tiger, you know that’s specifically set within a historical period right?

            It also doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. That doesn’t somehow magically prove a point in this discussion. This was a question of why even the mention of the issue results in such vocal attack of that mention. That this is treated so defensively that you undermine and attack those who bring it up with assumptions and accusations all the same. One overblown article and criticism seems to be excuse enough to burn the topic to the ground. Making a generalized assumption that anyone wanting to point out or bring up the problem not only hates the game, but fits every and all concept of the most extreme attackers of gaming.

          • WiggumEsquilax says:

            Originally posted by Yossarian1507 on The Escapist:

            Oh for the love of..
            I’ll speak here as a Pole AND a former employee of CD Projekt (disclaimer – I was the logistics guy in Polish distribution branch of the company, not part of the creative team behind The Witcher 3) – I’m sick and tired of all those ethnic debacles about this game.

            CDPR is a Polish company, yes, but right now it’s pretty much a multi-culture team. The Executive producer for this game is an American from Georgia state. They have a team of people from all around the world, including black people (from France) and Asian (Filipino). And those are just people I personally met there, there’s probably more, if you’ll dig into the subject. Heck, their next big project, Cyberpunk 2077, is created in close association with the original Cyberpunk RPG creator – Mike Pondsmith, who is black. The team is pretty much aware of different ethnic backgrounds, thank you were much. As for us, Poles ourselves – yes, our country is like 99% white people. No, that does not mean, we are not aware of other cultures existing.

            So… Why there was no black people in Witcher 3? Because it does not fit the lore, God damn it. If someone would actually bother to read the books (although I heard that the English translation is terrible, so that may be at fault here, I don’t know), would have caught it immediately. The world of The Witcher series is basically Northern Kingdoms, Skellige Isles, Nilgaard Empire, and Zerrikania. From the west, there is a vast ocean that no one traversed, and no one knows what’s there. To the East, there are huge mountain ranges, that people did not traverse to find out what’s there. Zerrikania is a desert land, and as far south/east as people ever went. This is this universe land of black people who are living there peacefully and minding their own business. In fact, they are deliberately staying away from from Northeners (ie. white people), because they want to take no part in their crazy power struggles. The only exceptions are pretty much mercenaries, like Tea and Vea – the duo of female Zerrikan bodyguards in the books, or indeed Azar Javed, a Zerrikan sorcerer, one of the main antagonists in The Witcher 1. Even the mercenaries prefer to stay away from the North though during the time of war. The war that we see in The Witcher 3 is actually the 3rd war with Nilfgaard, and during the 2nd one in the books it is stated, that Zerrikans want to have no part in any of the Northener’s bloodshed. Also, they would have to either sail through ENTIRE continent west coast to get there (kindly reminder: Skellige pirates does not fuck around), or travel by foot/cart through Nilfgaard, and their borders.

            Do you see where I’m getting at? Putting a black person in this particular region of the world, during this time would mean explaining, why the fuck would he/she travel so far north during such dangerous times (Velen/Novigrad is basically THE FRONTLINE of this war), when risk/reward ratio is really bad, while he/she could stay safe in their homeland south. It would be getting out of the way of the lore and common sense of people living in that universe. It could be done, yes. It would be also an unnecessary stretch to fit in there, that would be instantly accused of tokenism, I guarantee it. And no, expectations of some people from USA are not enough to compromise perfectly fine geographical lore of the universe. You don’t like it – fine, no one forces you to agree with it. It’s a product you can willingly accept to consume or not based on your preferences. THEREFORE please do not force your expectations of racial quotas on other people’s products, because not all products are made with you in mind. That’s their idea of the game, where black people simply do not fit, due to LOGICAL, GEOGRAPHICAL, LORE reasons, not “Lol, racism, we don’t know that black people exist”. You are basically expecting Zulu people to travel north and fight in Germany vs Poland war. Please stop that, it’s insulting.

            Phew… Rant’s over. Now go play the game. It really is damn awesome.

          • trashmyego says:

            @WiggumEsquilax, I completely understand the context. I’ve played all three Witcher games to completion and have read a few of the novels. One of my main points is that when you make a game as big as Witcher 3, and don’t internally try to explain or underline this reasoning, you’re asking for people to take notice of what it lacks. That it becomes another example of something endemic to game design as a whole, no matter whether it is justifiable or not. And that now, in relation to Witcher 3, if there’s ever a mention of the problem of diversity it’s met right away with attacks and derision attempting to end the discussion. It’s an escalation of defensiveness that has resulted in an all out attack on the topic. And my issue is that I have a hard time understanding why so many people feel like this is an okay thing to happen, that it is so vehemently vocal like clockwork.

          • WiggumEsquilax says:

            Okay, yeah, that’s reasonable. I don’t have a problem with Witcher 3’s absentee diversity, but CDProjekt could have telegraphed their entirely logical reasoning a bit better.

            As for people going apesh*t over illogic, preconceived notions don’t breed consensus. The corollary of which people feeling everyone with opposed views is automatically wrong. Hooray for civil discourse!

          • ProcrastinatingSod says:

            @trashmyego
            “there’s a fantasy game in which you can spend hundreds of hours playing and not run into a single spec of evidence that anyone or anything in the world is something other than caucasian.”

            And? If a hypothetical game was set within an fantasy-medieveal reimagining of an African nation, would You feel put off by the fact that You didn’t come across a single white or asian NPC in all the hours You’ve played it? And no, I am not exaggerating. The scope and lenght of the game have nothing to do with it. The size of Witcher 3 is impressive as far as story driven games go, but it still just a small representation of a region that culturally, racially and “stylistically” was predominately white. When looked at logically from a story/setting perspective, Witcher 3 map is nothing spectacular. The Velen/Novigrad combo is representative basically of one big city and it’s sorrouding hills. This isn’t a game that takes a trek through various continents and nations. If a game or a story revolves around a setting that’s inherently homogenous (as many nations are), then it doesn’t matter how big or long it is. And then the only time the game breaks away from this stylistic (Skellige), it does it by introducing us to a region that culturally even more white.

            “That there is no attempt to excuse or address this with context of the source work.”

            What are You talking about? No attempt to excuse? The whole thing is pretty self-explanatory. This is a story that takes place in a fantasy reimagining of a region that for the most part was homogenously white. Also, its a story that takes place only in a very small part of said setting, not representing the whole of Witcher universe, but rather focusing on a small slice of a specific region and one specific country being invaded. Not only that, but it shows said region being engulfed by war in which prejudice and xenophobia run rampart, where everyone out of the ordinary is being persecuted, and where even the native caucasian people have trouble travelling and functioning when every major settlement is being shackled by martial law.

            “Witcher 3’s being contextually innocent or not doesn’t change the fact that it is representative of a larger problem in gaming”

            As other people have pointed out allready, a lot of the folks that criticised Moosa’s Polygon article agreed with his overall stance that gaming has a race problem, but still thought that his critique of this aspect of Witcher 3 was ill-thought and silly. We are grown ups, our brains can easily differentiate between the notion that games have a race problem, and at the same time recognise that W3 is a poor subject to criticise it for. I can lament the fact that the western video games industry isnt giving enough voice to non-white ethnicities that are a large part of the social background from which those western companies come from, and at the same time recognise that W3’s whitness isn’t a product of discrimination, but simply a result of a culture which is basically all white. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Stories can still be about specific places and people. There’s a big difference between something falling in line with some larger problem simply by “accident of circumstance”, and between something being guilty of adding to that problem. The “accident of circumstance” in this case is that Poles are a minority that just happens to be white. But they don’t have to change the way they represent themselves only becouse they happen to share the same skin pigmentation as the people responsible for the current social and racial unfairness that grips the Western world.

          • ProcrastinatingSod says:

            “And bringing up Crouching Tiger, you know that’s specifically set within a historical period right?”

            But is far from being historical. Its a mythical tale not beholden to any specific historical events, revolving around something that could easily been a plot for a fantasy RPG, with it’s heroes having almost magical powers. The Witcher isn’t set in any particular piece of the real world and is very often referential to modern popculture, but still the game is mostly based around a certain cultural and racial context.

            “It also doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. That doesn’t somehow magically prove a point in this discussion”

            I wasn’t using the “race card” to win the argument. I was trying to show You that people who argue against the race criticism of Witcher aren’t all whites who are defensively crying becouse the mostly-white status quo is being attacked.

            “who says there isn’t a problem with how the Japanese industry has portrayed race? ”

            So You would say that a Japanese game with an all-asian cast is somewhat problematic? Stories can no longer be about specific people, specific places, specific subjects? If a Russian novelist decides to write a detective novel set in Moscov featuring Russians, should that somehow be a cause for concern? An asian designer creating an all-asian cast for a game set within a fantasy reimagining of one of China’s medieval regions, is a problem now?

            “Why are you assuming the critique of Witcher 3 is made in complete ignorance of other similar problems?”

            Becouse most of the people making them, would never dare laying them against any culturaly homogenous pieces of fiction, that came from races other than white.

            “One overblown article and criticism seems to be excuse enough to burn the topic to the ground.”

            What are You talking about? It wasn’t one article. It is a dicussion that is still taking place, and with many articles still being written on it. People are arguing about it. Don’t try to paint it as gamers overreacting to one single piece.

            “Making a generalized assumption that anyone wanting to point out or bring up the problem not only hates the game, but fits every and all concept of the most extreme attackers of gaming.”

            Again, what are You talking about? It’s no secret that Tauriq Moosa loved Witcher 3 despite his problems with race (he mentions it more than once in that Colourblind article, and then he gushed about it in lenght in his separate review). People are not raging against these articles becouse they think the authors are hating the game (in fact, most of the pieces on lack of representation in W3, went out of their way to emphasise that they loved the game), they are doing that becouse they think the arguments in this particluar issue are misguided and often undeservedly accusatory and moraly grandstanding .

      • Cator says:

        @trashmyego

        “And this wasn’t something I would have questioned until they made a game as large as Witcher 3. Not just in its popularity and success, but the size of the game itself. It’s not like it’s lacking the opportunity or space to examine the larger world. ”

        let’s not get carried away. The world map was big in video game terms, but speaking in lore/setting terms, it was just a small slice of two predominately white cultural regions. Not only that but one of those regions was being ravaged by war, where otherness was persecuted and communites were enclosed by martial law, and the other one was an island nation of Vikings. I am not saying that there wasn’t any way to sensibely include POC into it (that’s not what the arguent and the blowback is about), but let’s not pretend that the game took some global, multi-continent, World-of-Warcraft-like approach to it’s setting.

        ” I was asking what they were and why there is such a loud and defensive reaction to even the mention of this issue. ”

        One – becouse according to many, the arguments simply don’t work and are grossly unfair in relation to this particular game. And two – becouse often those arguments came with a wallop of grandstanding, reproaching and moral condescension. The first reason would be reason enough for the blowback, this is the internet after all, let’s not pretend like the blowback here was particularly vicious, people got their panties in the bunch over lesser things. Besides if one puts an argument on the internet (especially one as dubious, risky and divisive as this one), he/she shouldn’t feel suprised when people argue back. And then there’s the second reason. You are saying this reeks of accusational defensivness. Well defensivenss is quite the expected reaction when many writers/bloggers/publications start throwing questionable arguments which often (though not always) reek of reprimanding and pointing out the supposed closemindedness of people. And it stings doubly when said arguments are faulty and the moral grandstanding is unfounded, like many people believe. Hence the “backlash”. Tauriq Moosa wrote something that many people thought was silly. The argmuents he used were so faulty that even people who agreed with his overall stance (the one about video games industry having a serious race problem) thought his arguments were weak and the game in question was ill chosen to make those arguments. So naturally they wrote back. And it wasn’t a “backlash”, the initial conversation in the commets under that piece, though intense, was civil and arguments-based. But then other writers and other outlets decided to parrot Moosa’s points, often in a more and more riduculously pretensious and accusatory tone, and commenters replied in kind. This was a mutual escalation. Don’t pretend that it’s the gaming community who overreacted to a “mere mention”.

        • trashmyego says:

          ‘Don’t pretend that it’s the gaming community who overreacted to a “mere mention”.’

          But it was. A single paragraph and within an hour there were numerous separate reactions with the intent to discredit the mention. It’s the thing I can’t understand. That out of that article (among many) and the ensuing discussion, this type of defensiveness always shows up. That it’s always reliant upon the ‘more and more riduculously pretensious and accusatory tone’ of their opposition, while itself being purely rooted in accusation and assumption of the continuation of that discussion. It’s a scorched earth practice I can’t get my head around that seems invested in ending any discussion of diversity.

          • Cator says:

            A paragparh that was very telling and touched upon a subject that people feel very strongly about (rightfully so).

            The simple fact is – people like Gies and Moosa made some highly, highly arguable comments regarding a subject that is one of the heaviest things one can speak of in this (or any other) industry. Not only that, but they did it against a title that arguably was the least deserving of their comments. The “blowback” was natural and to be expected. We are discussing things on the internet, not taking to the streets and burning cars. I and many people like me, argue becouse we think the arguments used against this particular title are unfair and sometimes completely ridiculous. The fact that there are some genuine racists/bigots/cry-babies mixed in with that crowd doesn’t bother me in the slightesT. Not until the time where I actually meet one and react accordingly.

          • pepperfez says:

            The reaction to those articles is unhinged. And to this one! That any mention of race representation receives righteously angry wall-o-text replies is a better argument that gaming has a race problem than any possible op ed.

          • ProcrastinatingSod says:

            @pepperfez

            Walls of texts in reply to walls of texts from the other side. People are discussing things. Don’t want to take part? Fine, but don’t reduce the whole discussion to some ridiculously dismissive take of “angry people being angry”. It’s the internet, walls of text were being written about subjects far more feeble and inconsequential than this one. Guess what, when people start laying potentially unfair arguments based on race, other people get defensive. Especially if those arguments are weak.

          • MD says:

            For whatever it’s worth, ProcrastinatingSod, I’ve found your comments here interesting and well-argued. The most charitable reading I can make of pepperfez’s lazy sneering is that they genuinely care about this issue but are fed up with all of the bad or insincere arguments they’ve encountered, and now find the debate hard to engage seriously with but hard to ignore. So sometimes posts like yours end up being unfairly rounded off to the nearest ‘angry wall-o-text’. (Honestly I think that sort of reaction is a massive problem on both sides of most moral and political arguments. I know I’m being judgmental here, but I also understand from first-hand experience how easy it can be to fall into that trap.) Anyway, I don’t really have anything to contribute here and had intended to read silently, but I thought this was worth saying just in case you feel discouraged by some of the negative responses.

          • pepperfez says:

            The terms of this debate are kinda repellent, to be honest. The articles that got angry internet people angry were accounts of how players felt while playing the game. If anyone thinks they have good arguments for literally invalidating those players’ experiences, well.

            There’s certainly a conversation to be had about race and fantasy, and that’s actually one I’d find very interesting. This is not that conversation; this is debating whether we (including the authors of those articles) should be allowed to have that conversation. That’s a terrible debate and it doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

          • Josh W says:

            I’m not sure that makes sense, you seem to be embracing that meta-level of talking about talking, but others are responding to content.

            There’s another level here; witcher might accurately reflect a polish sensibility of a country that is not erasing it’s ethnically diverse past to any great extent, but that homogeneity is something that at present is causing some problems:

            Poland is refusing to accept asylum seekers from Syria in any significant amount, partially because of a kind of default racism based purely on ignorance. The irony of polish people treating others with a suspicious lack of hospitality is acute.

            So what does that mean? The witcher can accurately reflect a homogeneous history, and that is justifiable. It’s often good to tend towards greater levels of diversity, because of the upsides for those people who want to see themselves represented in games, (and this would be particularly true in a slightly different kind of rpg where players are able to define their starting character), but although I would prefer it, I don’t think it’s essential. It’s effectively something like having a better art style, or better music rather than having the moral implication it would in the case of other games (like ones inspired by the history of america, the second world war or medieval spain say).

            But that doesn’t mean that a uniquely polish game that nevertheless accommodates diversity couldn’t be an incredibly valuable thing. Witcher style games are not really the place to normalise things, that’s a role better suited to soap opera style media, but it could still play a small part, and more fundamentally, a Witcher style game can directly engage with the attitudes and assumptions that underlie this unfair attitude to migrants.

            In other words, it’s valuable for the witcher team to use real prejudice as fuel for their rougher edged writing, and to include a diversity of skin colours, and cultural and religious origins in their games. And if they do it, I think our response should be a positive one, based more on that specific value than on our frustration with other designers from around the world dropping the ball.

            In short, but in a way that’s more easy to misunderstand, I think we should hold the Polish to lower standards in terms of diversity and encourage them nicely to exceed them.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      While I don’t think it has been sufficiently proven that the lack of non-white humans in an CRPG game in any way harms the cause of global racial equality, the addition of more diversity to the generally potatoe-faced white population of the Temerian/Redanian borderland is welcome extra flavour.

      • ribby says:

        Or at least it will/would be, as long as it doesn’t feel like it’s been forced into the game in a way that doesn’t quite fit, due to outside pressure.

        • ribby says:

          (excuse the double-post)

          The same people who will likely lambaste the game if it doesn’t get it just right.

        • Zaraf says:

          My thoughts, exactly

      • pepperfez says:

        That’s really what gets me. Where else is “too much diversity” a problem in games?

        • lizzardborn says:

          Diversity for the sake of diversity is annoying. If you make a game in Roman Empire – there should be diversity, because the place was diverse. Putting brown people in Twilight of the gods feels slightly out of place.

          So instead of crying no black people in Northerner medieval Europe – a better call will be – there are a lot of other mythologies, periods and cultures we could base our game on – why don’t we see them here. Indian, Mayan, Aztec, Aboriginal, African, Mongolian.

          And I would not mind one bit for all black, yellow, white, pink, purple or metallic green on red dots cast. Or whatever is representative.

          So – yes there is a diversity problem. It is not in the games cast, but in what games are made. Why have we not seen Gilgamesh, Rama?

          • pepperfez says:

            Diversity for the sake of diversity is annoying.
            Is it really? Like, in general? Or just as regards skin color?

          • Blackcompany says:

            Has anyone else thought about this possibility: Writers tend to write what they know.

            Why do we see a lot of white folks in games? Probably because a lot of white folks MAKE games. And people tend to write about what is familiar to them.

            Hence we see lots of tolkien from white folks and very little Rama or Gilgamesh. Not that I would mind seeing games from other cultures myself; not at all. But I think its best to let those cultures to those familiar with them, as opposed to having someone who isnt, try and pretend otherwise for the sake of diversity.

  5. SMGreer says:

    This sounds very exciting, cannot wait to have new adventures for Geralt. And if they’ve put this much effort into the first, smaller expansion, it makes me wonder what the second larger one will manage to be.

  6. James says:

    Am I one of the few who really like 3’s combat? Yes? I’ll see myself out.

    Seriously though, I love the look of this expansion. Witcher 3 is so far my GOTY, and this is only going to push it’s bar higher from the looks of things.

    • Hunchback says:

      The combat is fine in Witcher 3. Geralt can sometimes be a bit hard to control while running, but during combat it’s ok and fighting is rewarding and fun.

      GOTY for me too, i try not to be a fanboy but The Witcher kinda IS the best game for me lately, it’s close to perfect and combines many of the things i love in gaming and fiction, all in a very nice way. Go CDPR! :D

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Sometimes Geralt likes to attack the wrong enemy because of the position of the camera. They didn’t quite nail the Batman AA style melee-autoaim resposiveness.

        • Micromegas says:

          They didn’t quite nailed it because it’s supposed to be more of a Souls-like combat system than a Batman-esque one like the recent Mad Max.

          • Michael Fogg says:

            I think it’s a bit of a mix of both really. The fact that those blasted Drowners just pile up on poor old Geralt and not wait politely in line like the thugs in Arkham is quite Soulsy, sure. But on the other hand you can perform an attack at vaguely the direction of a baddie half a barn away and Geralt will pirouette his way over and whack him almost on auto-pilot, there is definitely some Batman inspiration there.

    • mvar says:

      combat turned me off from playing the first 2 games..i’m glad I sticked to the 3rd and got used to the mechanics. After a few hours it all works out well

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      W3 combat isn’t great, but I will say that it’s more streamlined and less frustrating than the godawful combat in Witcher 2. The combat is the reason I never finished that game, even after two attempts.

    • Arkayjiya says:

      Nah I like the combat a lot too. By action RPG standards it’s still pretty good (not soul’s level but that first fight against the griffon if you do it in high difficulty the first time was memorable). By open action RPG’s standard it’s incredible. Bethesda is going to have to react to it and finally provide something on the table combat-wise for the next elder scroll.

  7. brulleks says:

    “Gaunter O’Dimm, the mysterious Man of Mirror, who you might remember from early in Wild Hunt”

    Early?! I’ve been playing it for over forty hours and I’ve never heard of him. Crikey.

    • suibhne says:

      I recently finished the game with about 90 hours of playtime, digging into every nook and cranny I could find, and I don’t remember any mention of him.

      • K_Sezegedin says:

        Yeah sells mirrors, knows who Yennefer is looks like Stanley Tucci. He’s among the first people you talk to, so unsurprising you don’t recall him after 90 hours.

    • reishid says:

      Gaunter is the bald traveler in White Orchard that points Geralt towards the Nilfgaardian outpost when he was asking around the tutorial area inn.

    • Booker says:

      He’s basically the first NPC you meet after Vesemir in White Orchard.

  8. Bladderfish says:

    You missed the word “undeserved” before flack

  9. noodlecake says:

    There are already a whole host of white tropes in the game to begin with. Most people in the game are tropes!

    Cornish sounding farmers, snooty arrogant french people… etc.

    Having all the white characters conform to tropes and everybody else not would be a very weird juxtaposition.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      It’s almost like narrative and cultural tropes exist for a reason!

  10. K_Sezegedin says:

    Don’t mean to go off topic, but I wonder what the racial reading of Resident Evil 6 was like. I’m not the most sensitive person to racial issues but the trailers of a white dude and his light skinned cohort gunning down mindless hordes of slavering Africans made me rather uncomfortable.

    I’ll have to look into that, – did it get a pass because the Japanese developer isn’t perceived to have ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to white/black prejudice?

    • trashmyego says:

      Do you mean Resident Evil 5? It got coverage if that is what you’re wondering. There are main that perceived it as a huge problem and something that could be hard to ignore or get beyond while playing the game. Resident Evil 6 at least globe hops some. And there’s been plenty of criticism/analysis aimed at the Japanese industry when it comes to skin color, portrayal, and cultural representation in the games.

  11. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Go Go Gadget Block Button!

    • pepperfez says:

      WHAT DO YOU HATE FREEDOM OF FIRST AMENDMENT SPEECH OBJECTIVE ETHICS?!

      Yeah, I really appreciate the occasional article mentioning race or gender to help me streamline the comments I read.

    • Distec says:

      I know, right? All those filthy, ravenous hordes that have stormed RPS, saying detestable, ignorant things like “Hey guys, maybe Witcher 3 isn’t racist?”. The gall.

      Your finger must be tired. I allow you to leave the good fight and go home.

    • Lakshmi says:

      I had so much fun with block on this article.

  12. fupjack says:

    There hasn’t been a good angry, exploding dwarf in a game since Myth, to my knowledge. So this sounds like a good idea.

  13. woodsey says:

    The only thing that was racist in relation to The Witcher 3 were its critics who insisted that slavic mythology wasn’t a “real” mythology.

    The racism that the game’s been accused of mostly serves to show how many American critics have no conception of European history or racial politics.