The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt made itself the only choice for game of the year (at least until Fallout 4 drops) by combining the best aspects of the best RPG’s of its generation. It’s got the characters of a BioWare title, the combat of a Dark Souls game, and maybe best of all, the open-world exploration of an Elder Scrolls title. That last bit means there is a nearly endless supply of places to go and things to do there that often stack on top of one another. But what sets the Witcher games apart from the oothers is that you play a professional monster hunter, and as such are free to take on extermination jobs where you use your detective skills and monster knowledge to track and kill all manner of beasties.
Deciding what to do next can be a real dilemma, and sometimes you just let those monster contracts hang there while you attend to more urgent matters. But make sure that you at least take care of these, because they are more than simple “go there and kill that” missions. These show world and character-building and occasionally challenge the player’s moral sensibilities with no-win situations that leave you pondering your actions long after the “quest completed” fanfare has faded fom your ears.
The Oxenfurt Drunk
Let’s start off with an easy one. No complicated moral gray areas, just good times and a dead monster. For this multi-stage contract, you have to find out what’s been killing lone villagers in the night around an Oxenfurt tavern. After examining the bodies, noticing that they were all heavily inebriated when they died, and then interviewing a woman who narrowly escaped the monster’s clutches, you know what you’re dealing with and what you’ve got to do.
The killer is a vampire with a taste for alcohol. Vampires in the Witcher universe are ravenous bat-like creatures, but this one is a katakan, a higher vampire who can blend in with humans using illusions. To get him to reveal himself, you need to make yourself a target, and that means you need to get Geralt’s blood-alcohol level up there. Bottoms up, witcher.
This is where it gets good. You see, drunk Geralt is an interesting character, and quite different from the scarred grimdark anti-hero at his soberest. We still don’t talk about that time we got into Yen’s wardrobe and then drunk-dialed her megascope in an attempt to “summon the bitches” to our party. That sorceror totally freaked! Anyways, this time, drunk Geralt goes on a stroll trolling for vampires slurring obscene songs and offending old ladies in the street. It’s a rare moment of pure levity that only drunk Geralt could make happen.
When you finally hear a menacing telepathic voice lusting for your blood, you know it’s time to party. Sober Geralt would perhaps growl something menacing, but drunk Geralt is all “come out and fight, bitch”. And come out and fight he does. Higher vampires can turn invisible, so it’s a pretty cool encounter, but soon the katakan decides he’s had enough and flees so you have to track him back to his lair, which is a pretty much a human slaughterhouse, to finish the job. The Oxenfurt Drunk combines creepy ambiance, humor, and supernatural detective work in a way that only the Witcher universe provides, and that’s why it’s leading this list.
Where the Cat and Wolf Play
If you’re a new player, remember to get your free DLC when you start up your game. Just to be awesome, CD Projekt Red prepared a slew of free downloadable content available for all Witcher 3 players including character outfits, equipment, and extra missions. Three of my five picks here are among them, so naturally you shouldn’t pass the DLC by if you want the best Wild Hunt experience.
In this contract, you arrive at the village that posted the notice to find the monster’s head already delivered, but the entire village slaughtered as well. All except for a terrified little girl who thinks you are the killer. Obviously, there’s another witcher afoot. You track down your fellow monster hunter -who hails from the Cat school- and find that some villagers had attempted to kill him after he completed their contract and couldn’t pay the agreed sum. Uh oh. This is going to be one of those hard decisions, isn’t it? As a really cool and unexpected touch, the other witcher actually commented on the fact that I was wearing Cat school gear at the time.
The thing about witchers is that while everybody needs a professional monster slayer now and then, they don’t have to like them. At this point, I’d already been stiffed by a complete shithead after he mistook a forktail for a dragon and then insisted the reward had been for a dragon. So I feel your pain, fellow mutant.
But still, the entire village? I was pretty conflicted about what to do, but Geralt managed to get him to all but confess that this wasn’t the first village he’d wiped out in a rage. I told him to draw and he -still injured from his ambush- requested I allow him to drink a Swallow potion to heal for a fair fight. I conceded and the bastard blasted me in the face with a Samum instead, blinding me and nearly killing me in his initial flurry. That was the best part.
After overcoming this rare challenging adversary, I was really glad I decided to kill him. Not just because he was a murderous dick, but because his sword was severely awesome, and now it was mine. My kind of reward for a really engaging and cool mission.
Warehouse of Woe
This sidequest is easy to miss as it isn’t posted on any notice board. You can find it on Novigrad by overhearing an argument on the docks. It’s a brief aside, but probably the single most morally gray situation I encountered. I’m pretty sure I’d feel I did the wrong thing whatever I chose.
So in this one, you come across a warehouse whose bickering owners, a dwarf and a human, need a nekker evicted. One nekker. Pretty much the easiest thing you can fight. Whatever. The weird thing is that once it’s dead, it’s obvious somebody put the monster in there on purpose, and the signs suggest it was the dwarf. Open and shut, right?
Wrong. Even though the dwarf is apparently the culprit who put a monster in the warehouse in hope it would kill his partner, the man is kind of a racist piece of shit with no redeeming qualities that we can see. So then you have to ask yourself which is worse: the premeditated attempted murder of a complete bastard, or being a complete bastard?
If I’d had the choice to stay out of it, I’d have done so, but it made me choose so knowing very little, I sided with law and order and fingered the put-upon dwarf. Being an asshole isn’t a capital offense any way you look at it, and being an oppressed minority doesn’t make a crime not a crime. But I still kind of wanted to chop the other dude’s head off after they took the dwarf away on general principle.
This DLC quest is yet another moral quandary. It’s pretty straightforward by itself, but what makes it one of the best contracts in the game is the way it fits into the secondary narrative theme that reveals itself over the course of Geralt’s adventures. The Wild Hunt puts players on the spot in difficult situations time and again and how the player resolves these gray areas can vary greatly, and the picture they paint of themselves may be one of black-and-white idealism, cynical pragmatism, or any shade in between.
At one point in another quest, Geralt encounters a succubus responsible for at least one death, although an incidental one. You’re given the choice to kill her or let her be. I tend to let any non-malicious sentient monster be, and the beautiful demon mocked me for my trouble suggesting I had a soft spot for a monster with “ample breasts and a pretty face” while cutting down her “brethren” without hesitation. It wasn’t the first time I’d made that choice either. I shrugged it off, knowing I tend to avoid killing when it doesn’t seem necessary and went on my merry way.
In the Missing Miners quest I tracked the namesakes to a cave where I found their broken corpses scattered about. The creature responsible was a particularly amusing and badass-looking troll who explained himself as having told the miners to leave. Instead they began mining a silver vein. As he put it, “they wham-a-wham troll’s rocks. So troll wham too.” Yeah, trolls take their rocks very seriously.
So the question is: do you put the monstrous simpleton down for defending his home, or do you let him get away with massacring those men? Given the choice, I very seldom kill but here’s where things got video gamey for me. I happened to be looking for rare troll livers for some alchemy formulae, and I’m not proud to admit my inner pragmatist used this to justify killing poor Wham-a-Wham. But the fact that I’m still kind of bothered that I made that choice, and that the succubus’ words are still ringing in my ears made me think that I probably wouldn’t have killed the troll if it was more feminine. Is benevolent sexism the real monster here?
Skellige’s Most Wanted
Yet another DLC contract, this one anchors the list because it kind of feels like a culmination of the previous dilemmas regarding whether Geralt’s solution of killing creatures that threaten humans makes him as much of a monster as those he hunts. It starts out simple enough and gets curiouser and curiouser right up to the finale.
When Geralt is contracted to investigate a merchant cart attack, he does his thing and is nearly crushed by a boulder from above while examining the evidence, which doesn’t add up. After investigating the spot on the above hill where the boulder was pushed, you find some tracks leading into a cave. Once you step into it, something collapses the entrance, trapping you in what turns out to be a particularly nasty bug’s nest. At this point, it’s obvious you’ve been lured to your apparent death.
After defeating the insectoids, you find a little alcove filled with drawings that are clearly plans for your demise along with details for a meeting spot. Naturally, you go to the meeting spot and there you find an unusual group of ragtag monsters. A rock troll, a doppler, a godling, and a werewolf have all joined forces for…what exactly?
Turns out the entire set-up was a plan by the werewolf to lure a witcher in so he could avenge his mate, who died by one’s hand. His confused accomplices -who thought they wre just scaring witchers from the area- argue that punishing one witcher for another’s crimes is wrong and that’s where things get really interesting. Depending on how you’ve played things, you can either end up fighting the monsters or you can state your case by listing some of the monsters you’ve helped or spared along the way. No matter what, the werewolf is a lost cause and will attack, but convincing three out of four ain’t bad.
The point of the quest is that some monsters are good and some are not, and the same is true of people. It’s wrong to hold entire races accountable for the deeds of unique individuals and each individual situation must be handled accordingly rather than blindly assuming. A witcher has a foot in both worlds, and at his best his job is to protect monsters and humans from each other by exterminating the murderous beasts that give the good ones a bad name. So in a way Skellige’s Most Wanted can be seen as the series’ definitive quest, and arguably the best contract you take on in Wild Hunt.
[Note: this quest was broken by update 1.07 and has not as yet been fixed]