Witcher 3 - About the Most Disappointing Quest in an Amazing Game
It's hard to believe that the Witcher 3 will be 5 years old this year. When it was released in 2015, this open-world RPG was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. Of particular note was the fact that even seemingly small sidequests would often have interesting twists and choices on offer. I loved almost every second of this game when I played it, but one of the larger sidequests that tied into the main story disappointed me deeply. I want to explain why. Beware, this article assumes you have a basic understanding of the Witcher 3's plot, and there will be some spoilers.
The Underbelly of Novigrad
At one point in the story, Geralt's search for Ciri leads him to Novigrad, a city untouched by the war with Nilfgaard but dealing with its own battles, namely between the local religious cult and various crime syndicates. In his search, Geralt meets the leaders of the Novigrad gangs, one of whom is Sigismund Dijkstra, Redania's former spymaster. He's easily one of my favorite characters in the game. His wit and biting sarcasm make most interactions between him and Geralt a treat, and their begrudging cooperation is a highlight in an already compelling narrative.
What's both entertaining and frightening about Dijkstra is that he figures out most of the things Geralt tries to hide from him. He always seems perfectly in control of the situation, and it's completely believable that he managed to thrive even among dangerous criminals. For instance, Dijkstra asks Geralt to investigate who broke into his safe. Geralt already knows it was his friend Dandelion, but keeps this from Dijkstra to prevent complications. However, Dijkstra figures it out soon after and calls Geralt out for omitting this information. I think it's important to establish this because it's part of why I really dislike the conclusion of a later quest.
If you follow Triss' questline to its conclusion, Dijkstra will help you save the mages by shipping them out of Novigrad before the cult of the Eternal Fire can get them. This opens up a questline where Dijkstra reveals his true plans - he wants to assassinate Radovid, the king of Redania. Radovid is burning everyone and everything with even the vaguest relation to magic or alchemy, and Dijkstra wants to get rid of him to restore Redania to its former glory as a fair and just country. If you refuse to get involved, it ends there, but if you help Dijkstra and his co-conspirators with a small favor, a new line of quests opens in the endgame.
The War with Nilfgaard
In the final hours of the game, you return to Novigrad to prepare for the final battle. One of the main quests has you meeting Dijkstra once again, though not on the friendliest terms - he's holding someone captive that you need on your side for the finale. If you resolve the situation by breaking his leg, the questline is also lost, but if you persuade him by sharing critical information, he puts his plan to assassinate Radovid into action. This final quest in a long chain of quests is called Reason of State.
Dijkstra works together with Roche, a friend from the Witcher 2 and Thaler, a friend from The Witcher 1. Couple that with the fact that the Witcher 2 revolved around the shifting power in the Northern Realms after another king was assassinated, and it lends a sense of high stakes to this final step in a long journey of choices that could've locked you out of attempting this if you made any mistakes. If you choose to get involved, Geralt needs to personally lure Radovid from the safety of his ship so the assassination can play out, and it's appropriately exciting and climactic.
The assassination goes as planned, more or less, but then the aftermath plays out. The conspirators reveal that they have a deal with Nilfgaard; if they were to successfully assassinate Radovid, Temeria could remain its own state with its own laws and leadership, albeit as a vassal state of Nilfgaard. This is an interesting turn of events, and the game allows you to share your thoughts on whether this is a good idea, but then the quest takes a drastic turn.
Dijkstra reveals that he no longer wants to stand by the deal with Nilfgaard. Now that Radovid has been eliminated, he intends to unite the Northern Realms himself and repel Nilfgaard completely. He then proceeds to do the stupidest, most out-of-character thing in the game and bluntly claims that his co-conspirators have to die for his plan to work. He bluntly tells Geralt to just go away while he does this, and you are left with the choice of either letting him kill characters you've known for two or three games or fighting back, in which case he is unceremoniously killed in the following battle.
I don't necessarily dislike the idea of the conspirators disagreeing on the exact terms of how the Northern Realms will be ruled, but Dijkstra coming out swinging and deciding to kill his co-conspirators while assuming Geralt won't do anything about it is just stupid, especially because Roche and Thaler are his friends. He invokes the supposed Witcher neutrality regarding political affairs, but conveniently forgets that Geralt literally involved himself in their political assassination, making the expectation of neutrality completely ridiculous at that point. Earlier he even told Geralt that Witcher neutrality is just an excuse Witchers hide behind when he tries to get him involved in the assassination, so why does he suddenly think it's going to matter when he's about to backstab some people Geralt knows? And perhaps this temporary lapse in judgment could be forgiven, but if he had any of the brains that he clearly had when he was first introduced, he would immediately back down if Geralt showed resistance. After all, he should know full well that he and his two random bodyguards can't win against Geralt and several armed combatants. But he doesn't, and if you choose to defend Roche and Thaler, a short battle ensues where you easily kill Dijkstra and his men. A thoroughly anticlimactic end for what was one of the greatest characters in the game. If you allow Dijkstra to do what he wants, he successfully kills Thaler and Roche and proceeds to successfully defend Temeria from Nilfgaard. This outcome is decent enough, but it comes at such a high price in terms of character deaths and your own morality, that almost no one will consider it preferable.
I hope I was able to articulate why this particular questline disappointed me so much. To go over it one more time:
Dijksta, a highly intelligent and scheming character, involves Geralt and his friends in a political assassination plot. At the end of the questline, he decides to betray his co-conspirators and murder them, expecting Geralt to stay out of it and let him murder some old friends because of "Witcher neutrality" - even though Geralt sacrificed his neutrality to become part of the plot in the first place. When Geralt resists, he attempts to kill Geralt too, even though he should know he can't win the fight, having seen Geralt's combat skills. In a few minutes, a complex and brilliant character is turned into a mustache twirling moron to manufacture a "choice."
Sidequests and Witcher contracts in the Witcher 3 are famous for being well written and often having a few surprises and interesting player choices up their sleeves. In general, Witcher 3 stands tall as one of my favorite open-world games with some of the best writing and characters we've seen in the game industry as a whole. That's the reason why a small blemish like I described in this article sticks out so much. But this quest was the one and only time that I was disappointed like that, and the rest of the game deserves all the praise it gets. I look forward to seeing what they made of Cyberpunk 2077, which releases next month!
It's been years since I played Witcher 3, but I just really wanted to get my thoughts out about this one, especially since the release of Cyberpunk 2077 is so close. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your feedback.