Netflix’s fantasy epic The Witcher is an enchanting mix of European folktales, Xena-era action/adventure, and courtly intrigue. The show is coming back for a second season in October, but that’s a long wait. If you’ve tossed a coin to your witcher, finished the show, and long for more adventures with Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer, you should play The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Yes, The Witcher is based on a series of novels from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and you can absolutely read those. But Netflix’s The Witcher shares its tone, aesthetics, and story beats with the video game series more than the books. The show’s plot may be ripped from the novels, but its feel comes straight from the video games.
A word of warning before we proceed: Playing through the Witcher video games will spoil the events of the TV show. The story told in the novels come to a definitive conclusion, and the video games are a continuation of that story. So if you’re worried about spoilers, don’t play the games.
If spoilers aren’t a concern, jump straight into 2015’s The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt — the first two games are skippable. The Witcher 3 does a good job of bringing the player up to speed, and Ciri and Yennefer aren’t in the first two games at all. The first game, in particular, hasn’t aged well. It’s hard to play, harder to look at, and none of Jaskier’s songs slap as hard as Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.
The Witcher 3 starts with Geralt in a familiar place, hunting monsters in a backwater called White Orchard, trying to find Yennefer, and chasing rumors of Ciri. Nilfgaard has recently invaded, the land is in turmoil, and rumors of monsters abound. At first, the game’s systems and story can be daunting. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Whether in battle or during an investigation, preparation is key. Talk to everyone, look through every drawer, and constantly check Geralt’s journal. The Witcher 3 is a grand and epic adventure but, moment to moment, it’s a detective game. Geralt wanders into a new town, takes contracts to hunt monsters, and often finds out that the beast is more than it seems. In The Witcher 3, the player’s choices matter and the more research and investigation you’ve done before you make decisions often leads to better outcomes. As in the Netflix show, the truth of a contract is often more complicated than it initially appears.
Combat is a dance. Geralt can switch between two different swords and several different stances. The instinct is to sit in one position, take the bad guys as they come, and slice them down. But Geralt isn’t your typical action hero. Remember the show. He moves around the field, striking and spinning. Emulate him while you’re playing, always be on the move, always be ready to parry and spin.
The Witcher 3 is so big that it has a whole other game inside it. Gwent is a card game played by the people of Temeria. It’s silly, fun, and breaks up the action between hunting monsters and tracking down Ciri. Every town will have a few Gwent-heads willing to throw down, and the dedicated can even spend hours tracking down special cards and participating in a special tournament. If cards games aren’t your thing, you can completely ignore Gwent. That’s one of the great things about The Witcher 3: the player has a lot of control to shape the experience.
Experiment with the difficulty setting. The Witcher 3 has four difficulty settings and you can change them while you’re playing the game with no consequence. It’s important to find the level that’s fun for you. If you’re not a big gamer and just want to watch the further adventures of Geralt and Ciri, set the game to “Just the story.” If you want a bit of a challenge, start at “Blood and Broken Bones.”
The Witcher 3 is its own, self-contained story. Playing through it will give show watchers a satisfying sense of closure for many of their favorite characters. Its expansions, Blood and Wine and Heart of Stone, are comforting epilogues. Heart of Stone is steeped in Polish film and mythological history—an Eastern European retelling of Faust. Blood and Wine is all about vampires, fairy tales, and Geralt finding a place to settle down. If you beat The Witcher 3 and still need more, they’re absolutely worth your time.