This is something I intended to do for Dragon Age 2 and never got around to, so I’m giving it a go with Witcher 2: A dedicated post in which I talk detailed spoilers for a particular game. I left all spoiler content after the break, so there’s no chance of you wandering in unaware. In future iterations I’ll probably just look at particular key points from a game, but I think the nature of The Witcher 2 demands something a bit different.
As anyone familiar with the game already knows, it’s highly variable, so the plan here is just to talk about what I got out of my experience from beginning to end, relate what little I know of alternate paths, and let you all talk about how what you saw was different from what I experienced. This is gonna be loooong, but hopefully, for at least a few of you it should be fun… knock on wood. That said, if you’ve finished the game once and another playthrough is in your future and you don’t want to know about the paths not taken, this is not safe ground either.
So, with all that established, let’s spoil some shit…
Disclaimer: Keep in mind, as we dig in here, I’m going off of memory with a lot of this, so I may fudge some details. I welcome corrections if I get anything flat out wrong.
I let Aryan LaVallette live, although since I’ve done the prologue three times now, I’ve got a decent grasp of how it can change. With Aryan alive, I later encountered him in the dungeons in which Geralt is imprisoned for Foltest’s assassination. He helps Geralt reach a secret exit; in the midst of doing so, he puts the torch to the place. In my other two attempts I dueled and killed Aryan. This leads to an encounter with his mother (imprisoned in his place, evidently) and the Niilfgardien ambassador. I’ve seen that encounter play out two ways. One, I ran into her being escorted through the halls of the dungeon. In my current run-through I found a shortcut to the torture room where I instead found her being tortured (topless this time; classy). I don’t recall exactly how I got out in the former, but in the latter the ambassador comes in and strikes a deal with her that includes distracting the guards so I can sneak out. If you can get out without a bunch of killing, fires, etc. Roche is pleased and you get a serene send off from the port, but it doesn’t appear the castle’s condition makes any impact on the rest of the game.
There are a few smaller choices in this chapter, but the big one is obviously the decision to side with Roche and his Blue Stripes in their takedown of Flotsam’s corrupt Commandant Loredo, or to go with Iorveth to free some Scoaiatel located on a prison ship. What you choose here has enormous ramifications for chapter 2. If you go with Roche you become part of a multi-pronged assault on Laredo that includes sending Roche’s aid, Ves, in as a whore. You eventually encounter her being tortured and threatened with lines like, “I’m going to cut your tits off” (again with women being tortured). In the back room you find a “young” elf about to give birth. Earlier in the chapter there’s a guy who laments that his honey has gone off missing and nobody knows what happened to her. This is the girl. She gives birth and kills herself and you take the baby to the father (that event is just a quick cut scene). Not sure if you can fail to save the baby or not.
In getting to all this you’ve got a visually epic battle with an enormous squid-like creature called a Kayran. This is a battle that can be easier if you take the time to learn how to craft a Mongoose potion by seeking out an ingredient known as Ostmurk. It makes taking the poison sting of the Kayran considerably less perilous, which is good because doing the stop, drop, and roll bit to avoid its tentacle slaps over and over again does get old.
The best part, for my money, is the scene with Triss at some elven ruins that, for a center piece, features a sculpture of two lovers. The sex scene that ensues is gratuitous at points, but the build-up to it with the rose is great, as is the final bit when the camera pulls away and you see a band of people traversing the ruins, one of them talking about how legend has it if you listen to the wind you can still hear the voices of the statuesque lovers. The dwarf in the group scoffs as they leave, but then pauses to listen and hears Geralt and Triss. The expression on his face is priceless. Soon after this Triss is kidnapped and not seen again until Chapter 3.
This is where it gets interesting in terms of narrative pathing. There are basically two factions here, one that finds you starting out in the camp of King Henselt and the other in a city controlled by a warrior/commoner named Saskia. I have only the vaguest notion of how the Saskia plotline plays out, but I do know it ends with the revelation that she’s the dragon you see in the prologue. This is something that, as far as I can tell, never comes out if you play out the Roche path, which is either a dropped ball or a design choice I’d be fascinated to hear the reasoning for.
On the Henselt path you have to begrudgingly agree to lift a curse that the king caused when he had his sorceress burned for raining down hell fire on both friendly and enemy troops in a battle he was losing. You do this by recreating her execution (along with a bunch of stuff). I’m guessing if you go down the Iorveth path you never have to do any of this. Then, however, you have to take care of the ghost battlefield as well, which I think is something common to both paths. This path also sees you interacting a ton with the warlock and Henselt advisor known as Dethmold as well as the sorceress Sile whom aided you in defeating the Kayran in chapter 1. It’s here that you learn of the plot among some of Henselt’s troops to see him overthrown, that Sile is directly connected to Letho (King Foltest’s killer), and that you have direct ties to Letho as well. You and Roche also, of course, end up betraying Henselt after freeing him of the curse and he decides fair is fair by murdering Foltest’s special forces unit and raping Ves. (Again, find me a woman in this game who isn’t either conniving or denigrated like this. I don’t mind that the story has these things happen, but you need some sense of balance.)
Geralt and Roche end up chasing Henselt into the city as he attacks Saskia’s forces, which leads you to choosing to let Henselt live or let Roche exact vengeance upon him. I chose the latter, although I was never quite clear on the consequences for having done so. All I know for sure is that if you don’t kill him, he shows up in Chapter 3 to play a part in its deliberations. If he’s dead he’s notably absent. As for the battle at the end of Chapter 2, it’s never made clear quite what became of Saskia or Iorveth, although Iorveth is at least mentioned in dialog in chapter 3. Saskia never came up again in my playthrough and I had assumed she died in the battle, which obviously wasn’t the case since it turns out she’s the dragon. She and Flemeth should hang out.
Where Chapter 2 is all about lifting curses (on the Roche path, at least), Chapter 3 returns politics to the center state. You’ll have to forgive me here as my memory of Chapter 3 is a bit fuzzy; not that I ever had a real grasp on everything going on anyway.
You learn about a secret coven of sorceresses known as The Lodge. Triss, of course, is a member, although apparently not a popular one with the group’s two primary power brokers: Sile and Phillipa. Who is Phillipa you ask? That’s a damn fine question because although I think I saw references to her in Chapter 2, there was never a direct encounter. My understanding is you interact with her much more on Iorveth’s path. Sounds like an even sorceress swap in Ch2 between her and Sile. At any rate, I think the Lodge was part of a group attempt of power brokers in the North to set up a sort of joint-rule among nobles, sorceresses, and sorcerers, but I may be remembering their motives wrong. Certainly it’s a powerplay on the part of the sorceresses. One thing that is certain is the chaos among the northern kingdoms has opened the door for the Niilfgardian Empire to make a move that could see the north overthrown.
Indeed, as Geralt recovers his lost memory and learns of his past relationship with the kingslayer, Letho (a sequence that unfolds in ch2), you start to find out just how many shifting loyalties these characters have. Letho is secretly working for the Niilfgardians on the promise that the empire will restore their order of witchers, but Sile also hired him to kill King Demevend (the first to be slain, prior to the game’s start) for her own purposes with the Lodge. Letho joining with the Scoiatel and moving on to kill King Foltest and attempt to assassinate Henselt was not part of her plan. Fascinating stuff, really, but as mentioned, hard to keep track of all this.
At any rate, you arrive with Roche at the ruins of an ancient elven city called Loc Muinee (?) where all these groups intend to set the future for the north. Your first real choice comes when you must decide whether to rescue Triss (held captive by the Niilfgardiens) or to rescue the daughter of King Foltest, Anais, evidently the rightful heir to the Temerian throne. Seems she’s been captured by Dethmold/King Henselt (if he’s alive?). This was a rather bizarre revelation in that Anais is actually the younger of two siblings, the older being her brother, Boussy. Evidently, between the Prologue and Chapter 3, Boussy is killed. I haven’t the foggiest as to what happened there; actually I don’t know how Dethmold got his paws on Anais either, or what his specific plan is. This is what I’m talking about when I say the game has issues with its disparate plot threads not entirely coming back together.
I was playing Geralt’s first priority as saving Triss, so despite Roche’s desire I help him rescue Anais, I went after my Special Lady Friend. This was a tough decision for me. How do you not ensure the safety of a little girl? (Especially when you have one of your own.) But on the other hand, Roche was going with or without me. He’s quite capable that guy and I figured it would be possible to save both. Turns out, I was right, but Roche certainly wasn’t happy about it.
So, I save Triss from Niilfgard, which meant killing a whole mess of their people including an ambassador who was always turning up around each of the featured kings trying to sow seeds. Triss is beaten up pretty bad (of course), and you have to decide if you’re pissed she withheld information about The Lodge from you. I let it go and we escaped only to find Roche fighting for his life with Anais at his back. You help him and Anais escape with the implication being that he’ll keep her hidden away until she’s old enough to lay claim to the throne.
You head off with Triss to the council of kings, sorceresses, etc. to confront Sile’s treachery. She admits to everything and runs when, of course, the dragon attacks. You follow Sile and find that in her attempt to escape she’s fallen into a trap that Letho has set. You get to choose whether or not to bail her out of it. (I saved her and let her leave. She really wasn’t evil. Just conniving. Also, I’m a softy.) This leads to the battle with the dragon in which you defeat it and are left with a decision of whether or not to kill her. I had no idea Saskia, whose name had dropped completely from the story by the time Chapter 3 started, was the dragon. I let her live just on account of the fact that in the Prologue, Geralt says something to the effect of, “Witchers don’t kill dragons.”
With that you’re off to confront Letho. This is where all the cards really come out with regards to who he’s working for and why and it’s brilliant. From the moment the Prologue is over you’re hunting Letho. He’s killed your king, left you to take the blame for it, and you want answers and revenge, figuring that blame for it all was purposely laid at your feet. It wasn’t. Letho has absolutely no ill will towards you at all. In fact, given that you once saved his life he’d actually prefer not to kill you. So for the big finish you basically have a conversation with Letho about life, the universe, and everything. You can, after that, choose to kill him, but at this point there didn’t seem to be much point in doing so. I let him walk, which lead to Triss and Geralt walking out of the city together. Fin.
Witcher 2, as I’ve said before, is a game with a giant sack of answers, but very little resolution. The north is still in chaos and what comes next for the world or any of the game’s big players is entirely uncertain.
I badly need to play this game again and try and get a better understanding of the bigger picture, but I remain monumentally impressed at how many variables there are. So, here’s your job. You know what I got from my play through. How did yours differ? What happens in Chapter 2 on the Iorveth path? What about Chapter 3? What role does Henselt play if allowed to live? What happens to Triss if you stick with Roche and rescue Anais? Does killing Sile or Saskia change anything?
I look forward to seeing your respective takes in the comments. (And bonus points to you if you actually read this whole thing. I know this was a metric ton of rambling.)