Witcher Boxed Set – a review

Ever since I met Geralt of Rivia in the game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and posted about it in W is for Witcher, I have been exploring the origins of that world in the creations of Andrzej Sapkowski.

Most recently on this blog site, I posted a brief update in my 2020 Blogging from A to Z Challenge revisits – my best posts from the 2014 to 2019 Challenges. The post was a link back to my 2018 delve into the Witcher origins:

https://rolandclarke.com/2020/04/27/w-for-witcher/

The extent of my interest/obsession with all things Witcher extended to a game review:

https://rolandclarke.com/2018/07/19/witcher-3-the-wild-hunt-a-review/

And a review of the first book in Geralt’s chronology – a collection of short stories which introducing Sapkowski’s character to a growing audience: The Last Wish:

https://rolandclarke.com/2018/05/24/the-last-wish-a-review/

Then the second collection of shorts – Sword of Destiny:

https://rolandclarke.com/2018/06/28/sword-of-destiny-a-review/

However, my journey didn’t end there as the Witcher world is growing – even before Netflix released the TV series over Christmas. In Witcher 3, there was an addictive card game called Gwent – well, addictive for some players like me. I even have a physical set of all the cards and a board.

Plus, the developers behind the video games, CD Projekt Red, have an ongoing online version of Gwent, which even includes international tournaments. I’m now addicted to online Gwent when I can find the time. I also completed CDPR’s Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, which also has Gwent at its heart.

But I digress as this post is ultimately a review of the next three books – part of Sapkowski’s awesome world-building. And my reading continues from here, so expect more.

The Witcher Boxed Set

(The Witcher #1-3)

by Andrzej Sapkowski


This special boxed set includes the first three novels in Andrzej Sapkowski’s New York Times bestselling epic fantasy saga — the books that introduced the world to THE WITCHER and inspired the hit Witcher video games.

“The universe of Sapkowski’s The Witcher is one of the most detailed and best-explored in modern fantasy.” —B&N

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world – for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all – and the Witcher never accepts defeat.

In Blood of Elves, The Time of Contempt, and Baptism of Fire, Sapkowski brings a fresh new voice to fantasy fiction, creating something wholly dark and exciting in this world of fairy tales and witchers.

Review 4.4 stars

I confess to being engrossed – probably obsessed – by Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher universe. It’s a fantasy world unlike the Norse/Anglo-Saxon/Celtic one I grew up absorbing. Trying to review the books out of their overall context is hard. They don’t read as standalone novels, although each one has a different style in how the tale is told and in emphasis, whether in who is the primary character or the overarching theme.

Each novel reads differently, sustaining the epic length of the saga. I admire Sapkowski’s ability to change styles – and applaud the translator. One crucial piece of advice: read the books in sequence and start not with Blood of Elves, but with The Last Wish https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40603587-the-last-wish  –– as past events are key to the unfolding saga.

Blood of Elves: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6043781-blood-of-elves

Geralt may be a Witcher, a hired monster slayer, but his challenge is now the Child of Destiny, the Princess Ciri who escaped the destruction of Cintra. There are monsters, but unlike the two earlier initial books of short stories, his concern is personal and more of the monsters are human. Politics and racial tensions are simmering. 

Ciri and those who care for her have become the focus, not just Geralt. Learning about the Witcher universe is a learning process – for us and Ciri – and the jigsaw shimmers into view…although not all at once.

Some readers expected more about Geralt, but the key to his destiny and others is now Ciri. So, other characters play crucial roles – like the sorceress Yennefer, Geralt’s on-off love.

A second war between the Empire of Nilfgaard and the Northern Realms is brewing – and it helps to know more of the background from the shorts. The reader is given some clues and hints, but explaining the intricacies, the twists, the deceptions of politics – and history – will take a few books. It’s complex as in real life.

Yes, there are ‘pages of dialogue’ and Sapkowski indulges in writing chunks of text, sometimes verging on the didactic. Yet, I was engrossed and never stopped read – and adding to my knowledge of a richly-painted and crafted world. Having met a few familiar characters from the shorts – and played Witcher games – I was keen to read more about the Child of Destiny, about whether this child of prophecy will save the world or herald its destruction. 

The Time of Contempt: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14781491-the-time-of-contempt

The story from Blood of Elves develops with increasing complexity as more players get involved – which means more POVs and threads. For those who want a Witcher slaying monsters, beware. Be prepared for political intrigue instead, when a coup threatens the Wizard’s Guild, war breaks out across the lands, and everyone knows what’s best for Ciri.

Including Geralt, but a serious injury leaves the Witcher fighting for his life, while Ciri, in whose hands the world’s fate rests, has vanished. The threads, twists, deceptions, double-crossings, intrigues, and intricacies are spreading – like a disease.

And yes, there are chunks of Sapkowski’s trademark sermonic yet instructive info-dumps. I welcomed them as I’m open to indulging in his world-building, but I recognise many aren’t. But then I’m an addict who even plays the Witcher games, so I dive down research rabbit holes with little prompting.

Anyway, this continuation builds on the previous book – in a more varied and engrossing style. There are distinct approaches to the storytelling, depending on the protagonist – and there are some more now. We get a chance to see events from various angles, depending on the character’s allegiances to one of the Northern Realms, the Nilfgaard Empire, the non-human Scoia’tael, or those caught up in the struggles. Some are poignant and tragic, like a King’s messenger called Aplegatt – one of my favourite chapters. Trying to remain neutral is hard, especially for Geralt.

“It’s incredible,’ the Witcher smiled hideously, ‘how much my neutrality outrages everybody.’”

The portrayal of the non-humans is not idealised either – be they dwarves, gnomes, elves, or dryads. They may wage a bloody struggle against humans, but I understand why they fight and for what since Sapkowski portrays their dilemma in detail.

The book has a cliff-hanger, but the author’s impudently clever explanation made me chuckle. And I had to read the next book.

Baptism of Fire: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18656031-baptism-of-fire

Onto Book 3 of this Witcher set and the weaving threads bring in new characters – ones I know from the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt game and the Gwent card-game. As I read more and more, engrossed, I was wishing I’d bought the next two books.

Anyway, the plot layers are growing. Now that dark times have fallen upon the world, Geralt is helpless until he has recovered from his injuries – in Brokilon, home of the dryads. While war rages across all the lands, the future of magic is under threat and those sorcerers who survive are determined to protect it. It’s an impossible situation in which to find one girl – Ciri, the heiress to the throne of Cintra. She has vanished – until a rumour places her in the Nilfgaard court, preparing to marry the Emperor.

However, the reader knows differently, although Ciri is struggling to survive and too far from those like Geralt, who want to help her. Her story takes disturbing turns as she stumbles from one challenge to another, discovering innate skills. Her ‘adventures’ are told in a contrasting style to the events of those searching/pursuing her.

More characters are introduced with varying agendas and idiosyncrasies – distinct too…with a few forgivable tropes. However, most are complex and deceptive. Never trust first appearances. Geralt adds to his traveling companions at various crossroads, and I welcomed meeting Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy, having encountered Regis in the Witcher 3. Let’s just say Regis, the intellectual barber-surgeon of Dillingen is one of the best characters in all the books – comparable in a way to Borch Three Jackdaws alias Villentretenmerth from one of the earlier short stories.

There are the expected passages that some readers skip as didactic sermonising – or bad writing – and others like me relish as informative. There are other wonderful descriptive passages – as in the other books – but then I’m a sucker for purple prose if it captivates in its craft. Easily satisfied?

By the expected/foreshadowed climax/cliff-hanger, I was wondering where the Rats would end up and whether Geralt would find Ciri before chaos ensued. So, I spent my money and I’m now reading the final two books in the series – but those reviews must wait.

Having given up recently on another trilogy, as scenes felt repetitive – copy & pasted almost – this set of books was an engrossing read.

This isn’t my number one fantasy saga/series, but for all its faults, I rate it for what it adds to the genre. My favourite isn’t even any of the obvious ones. [See the When Women Were Warriors Series https://www.goodreads.com/series/46351-when-women-were-warriors]

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Diversity – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

W for Witcher

My 2020 Blogging from A to Z Challenge revisits my best posts from the 2014 to 2019 Challenges.

W for Witcher (2018)

Even now when I’ve played some other excellent games, Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt remains my favourite and the benchmark as I game on. I still have more of the enjoyable books that inspired the games. Plus, the Netflix adaptation lived up to expectations with my wife and I watching Series One religiously.

I’ve also started playing Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, which satisfies my unsated fascination with the Witcher-world and addiction to Gwent, the card-game in Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. Recommended for those of a like disposition.

On the other hand, exploring the literature and folklore behind this game was one of the reasons I began my investigation into the creative Origins of various On-line Games. Unlike other games, the roots are Slavic so took me down some new rabbit holes – ones I’ve used elsewhere. Skadi meets Baba Yaga?

I will post about other games that were relevant in 2018 and still are meaningful.

Links to my other 2020 A to Z posts can be found here: https://rolandclarke.com/blogging-from-a-to-z/blogging-from-a-to-z-challenge-2020/

To visit other participants see The OFFICIAL MASTER LIST: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YphbP47JyH_FuGPIIrFuJfAQiBBzacEkM7iBnq6DGDA/

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt – a review

Thursday_horizons

I was struggling to find a book to review this week: okay, I have some with short reviews to expand on, but I can’t fully remember the key points that I had to make. And I am behind with my reading as I’m struggling with finding characters I like. I also wondered if anyone would notice me missing a week.

Would you have missed a review? Or are the reviews interesting?

However, I was determined to write something. I never said these reviews were exclusively about books so how about a game instead, I decided. This felt inevitable back in April when I posted W is for Witcher, looking at the origins of the Witcher games. That post looked in depth at some of the elements, but my experience playing the game was limited back then – but not now.

Let’s don our armour and sharpen the swords then.

Witcher3

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an action-adventure RPG based on The Witcher series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, it is the sequel to the 2011 game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, in which the player becomes Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher – a monster hunter for hire. He possesses superhuman abilities and is a master swordsman. a dying breed that makes their living killing the monsters that threaten people.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Polish: Wiedźmin 3: Dziki Gon) is the third and final instalment in the series of games developed by CD Projekt RED featuring the witcher Geralt of Rivia. The game was originally scheduled for release in late 2014, then pushed back to 24 February 2015, and finally released on 19 May 2015. During the first two weeks since release it had sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, more than doubling the total sales of its predecessor The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

The game has proved to be one of the most successful and popular games of recent years – if not ever.

Review 4.9 Stars:

Back in April, I was new to the game, but I was sucked into The Witcher world – and just starting out on my journey. Since then, I have logged over 500 hours of playtime, finished the main game and the two ‘expansions’ – Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. I am now on my second playthrough, using the New Game + feature, whereby a player can start the story afresh but with the level reached at the end of the first playthrough – so my Geralt was level 55 and the monsters were boosted too.

In deciding to re-play, I had to have found the game more than just entertaining – in fact, the storyline is engrossing with multiple endings possible and the settings are brilliant. That excellent storytelling has been great, underpinned by reading the 1993 collection of short stories by author Andrzej Sapkowski as well as his second series – see my reviews of The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny.

CD Projekt has built on the world of Sapkowski, and there are plenty of references to past events within both the main quest line and in the side quests – and the overall world-building is impressive. There is a clever aspect to this game – cheeky at times even as the depth of the narrative produces amusing references to other games, books, artwork etcetera. What other game would have a major-domo called Barnabas-Basil Foulty.

Graphically the game is immersive and, well-not exactly beautiful, except in the final region of Toussaint, but the settings reflect that this is a world ravaged by war as well as monsters. The countryside and cities – rough, bleak and vibrant – feel real albeit not cinema-realistic, but I never expect that in a game.

The gameplay element is more complex than other games with a lot to learn and master – and that has been ratcheted up in my second playthrough as I have decided to tackle it on the hardest setting – Death March. This time, I must prepare Geralt for battle and not plunge in all gung-ho – or he dies too easily. Some of that though, is down to oddities in aspects of the game mechanics, like Geralt’s a habit of auto-finishing enemies off while there are others still alive.

The quirks in the mechanics have been annoying – like his inability to jump more than a few inches – but these are very minor compared with the massive number of pluses. One minor irritation in the main game is the NPCs wandering the world who tend to bump into Geralt or his mare, Roach. In Toussaint, the people have more manners (or the developers improved the AI).

Some players have had issues with Roach floating in the air – but I had no problems, so I suspect this glitch was sorted in a patch. My Roach seems to wander off, but she is usually looking for something to eat or drink when Geralt is busy – extremely sensible. It would be cool to build houses but that is not an essential, although Geralt gets a vineyard to do up in Blood & Wine – with BB’s help. By then, you can also dye Geralt’s armour.

Roach01

I must end this lengthy player-review by saying that my favourite aspect must be Gwent. This is an in-game card game that is popular in the Witcher world and was invented by the dwarves – they get annoyed when a new deck is introduced in Blood and Wine, initiating a clever side-story. Most innkeepers, merchants and even central characters play Gwent, and some sell individual cards. Geralt can collect cards and take part in Gwent quests and tournaments – with trophies. I must admit that I even have a physical Gwent set with the game board and all five sets of cards. Does that make me a card-geek?

In summary, a great game that has justified the countless awards and accolades received. I will be enjoying Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt for many more hours playing on Death March – despite the quirks and glitches. I’m eagerly anticipating the rumoured Witcher 4 – even if it will be some years before it emerges. Plus, I still have five more of Sapkowski’s Witcher books to read.

Setting: 5*

Storyline: 5*

Gameplay: 4.5*

Graphics: 5*

Entertainment: 5*

Features: 5*