In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the sacred is always at war with the profane, and beauty is always at war with blood. The series has always contrasted its world's physical glamor with its intrinsic violence, but never has that contrast been this uneasy, this convulsive. That The Witcher 3 depicts the immediate brutality of battle in great detail is not a surprise; many games fill the screen with decapitated heads and gory entrails. It's the way this incredible adventure portrays the personal tragedies and underhanded opportunities that such battles provide that makes it so extraordinary.
It is more than its thematic turbulence that makes The Witcher 3 extraordinary, actually. Excellence abounds at every turn in this open-world role-playing game: excellent exploration, excellent creature design, excellent combat mechanics, excellent character progression. But the moments that linger are those that reveal the deep ache in the world's inhabitants. In one quest, you reunite two lovers, one of which is now a rotting hag, its tongue lasciviously lolling from its mouth. In another, a corpulent spouse-abuser must find a way to love two different lost souls, each of which test the limits of his affection. Don't worry that these vague descriptions spoil important events: they are simple examples of the obstacles every resident faces. On the isles of Skellige and in the city of Novigrad, there is no joy without parallel sorrow. Every triumph demands a sacrifice.
As returning protagonist Geralt of Rivia, you, too, face the anguish of mere existence, sometimes in unexpected, unscripted ways. The central story, which sees you seeking your ward and daughter figure Ciri, as well as contending with the otherworldly force known as the wild hunt, often forces this anguish upon you. But it was my natural exploration of the game's vast expanses that proved most affecting. At one point, I witnessed a woman sentenced to death, doomed to starve after being chained to a rock. It's a chilling sentence, of course, but it was only later, when I accidentally sailed past the tiny island where her corpse still rested, that the horror of her punishment sunk into my heart. The Witcher 3's story did not script this moment; it was merely a passing detail that might have been lost in the waves or overlooked in favor of the harpies circling overhead. Yet there she was, a reminder that my actions--actions that felt righteous and reasonable as I made them--allowed this woman to