Disclaimer: There will be spoilers for both The Witcher III and Red Dead Redemption in this post, so if you haven’t played either of these games, I would recommend playing those games before reading this post.

The small image above is a screencap I took while playing The Witcher III last night using the PS4 Share feature. Yes, it’s a small cap but this was the moment that it all clicked for me. I’ve played Wild Hunt and aborted two times before giving it a third try last night. And after getting used to the controls and adjusting the difficulty to the point where the controls didn’t get in the way of the story, I finally understood what this game was trying to be.

I had just slayed the griffin for the Black Ones and was returning to their base with the griffin’s head when the sun started to set. It was there and then I realized that I was playing Red Dead Redemption. Having played that game numerous times to completion over the years, I’ve often found myself in situations like the one above, just riding to my next destination while time kept on clicking away, both in game and in real life.

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Other than the settings, I’d say that both games are set up in the same manner. You play the protagonist who’s just a traveler in this world presented to you. You’re on a mission to find someone/get back to someone. But along the way, you find people you can either help or ignore depending on what your idea of the protagonist should be in that moment. And yes, Red Dead didn’t have the leveling up aspects that Wild Hunt does, but you can argue that John Marston does improve his skills the deeper you get into the narrative. His weapons become of a higher quality. His dead eye lasts a little bit longer during encounters. Sure, it’s not as involved as Geralt and his signs and mutagens, let alone the endless loot fests he comes across as he visits a town. But the general structure is still there for both games.

And based on the time I’ve put into Wild Hunt thus far, it seems as though Geralt is just as powerless as John was during his travels. There’s a brief mission where you come across a blacksmith whose workshop has been set ablaze, and he asks you to find the culprit. Sure thing. After all, even though the blacksmith is a dwarf and working for the Black Ones, he genuinely seems distraught that someone from the village would do this to him and burn him out of his livelihood. So, after some CSI Witchery, I find the culprit somewhat inebriated and willing to pay me off if I don’t tell the blacksmith that it was him that caused the fire.

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But that’s not my Geralt. He does the right thing. He helps people, dammit. So, not wanting to get into a skirmish and possibly cleave this guy’s head from his shoulders, I cast Axii on him and guide him back to the blacksmith. As we’re heading back to the blacksmith, I’m thinking that the blacksmith will be the better person and forgive the drunken teenager but have him work at the armory to pay off his debt for the damages.

Nope.

The blacksmith calls the soldiers over and the arsonist is sentenced to be hanged.

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It’s a grave moment. It’s an ugly moment. It’s a moment that Geralt was responsible for. Similar to when John Marston runs into a pimp and his prostitute named Eva in the Mexico portion of the game, where John can buy Eva’s contract from the pimp. Of course my John did so because he didn’t like the fact that this pimp was beating a woman behind a hotel just because he could. Of course, the world in Red Dead is just as ugly as Wild Hunt’s. Maybe even more so.

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Eva should have been free and clear, but she just can’t seem to get away. Maybe if John had done more...

And that’s the point. That’s the ah ha moment I had while I was riding back with that griffin’s head strapped to the back of Roach. If only Geralt had done more, would the arsonist have been hanged for his crime? I keep on wondering what if I had taken the bribe from the arsonist and not turned him in. What would have happened then?

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But it’s like I said before. My Geralt wouldn’t do that. Just like My John did all he could to save Eva. Neither’s a hero. Neither’s a villain. They’re just people stuck in this ugly, vile world with all these ugly, vile things happening around them. All they can do is try and do the best they can and hopefully make it through to the other side with their soul intact.

And while I know how John Marston’s story ends, I am now invested in seeing the end of Geralt of Rivia’s story. Especially if the sunsets are that gorgeous.