Like many fans, Kate had zero knowledge of the massively popular The Witcher franchise when the Netflix series was released. Inspired by this newfound Witcher craze, she gave herself six weeks to change that. And she wasn't going to be satisfied with just the series - no, Kate challenged herself to play the games, read the books AND watch the show, all at once!
Here is her story, documented in her own words. A recommended music playlist to accompany this article can be found here.
Week One: In Which I Basically Declare the Law of Surprise On Myself
March 2020: the quarantine orders are mere days away from being issued, and I, a fresh-faced, high-spirited writer who has no idea of what they're in for, have just been hired by GameLuster.
"So that game site hired me," I tell my partner as the calendar flips over into Year 3 of my fourth Stardew Valley playthrough. "Figure it's as good a time as ever to get into some new game series."
I can practically see the visions of my partner's favorite retro classics dancing in his head as he considers the possibilities. But what he finally says is: "Well, Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be one of this year's big releases, and I'm sure you'll get asked to write an article or two about it. So why not something else by CD Projekt Red? What about The Witcher?"
"I already watched that," I tell him with a frown. At Mike's house on New Year's Eve."
I had watched one episode at Mike's house on New Year's Eve, and was drunk the entire time. Still, my partner thinks I'd like it. So why not?
As it so happens, Andrzej Sapkowski's books that started it all are on sale at my local Barnes & Noble. One bookstore trip and seven books later, I have two neat little box sets, with matching red spines and covers that combine art from the games with a nice little blurb that says "Discover The Inspiration Behind the Hit Netflix Original Series."
It must be destiny, because pieces continue to fall into place: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, including both DLC, is on sale on Steam for $15. Sure, the first two games aren't on sale, but... hey, the third one is the one everyone talks about, anyway. It'll be fine, right? (Spoiler: no. No, it will not be fine.)
Bolstered by the universe offering up coincidence after coincidence to prove that my goal is a noble one, I make an utterly stupid vow: that by the time Cyberpunk 2077 comes out (which, at the time, we still thought might be sometime in April), I would be a fully fledged Witcher fan.
So, with all the naive confidence of Geralt of Rivia declaring the Law of Surprise thinking he's about to luck into a nice meal or some free wine, I begin my journey.
Week Two: In Which I Realize Henry Cavill Makes White Hair Look Good
If you are, like I was during the second week of my epic journey, someone who doesn't understand the reference I just made, let me explain: Destiny, in the world of The Witcher, is a total jerk. Pretty much the entire saga kicks off when the titular Witcher, having just helped a couple get married, asks to be paid with "what you have but do not yet know you have" and - surprise - ends up adopting a child.
My own "saga," on the other hand, kicks off with me in a hammock in my backyard, armed with a stack of books, some sangria and determination.
The Last Wish, the first book in the series, is dense. It's a collection of short stories, in non-chronological order, with a framing device loosely tying it all together. There are too many characters, too many place names, too many signs and spells and potions... I have the bleak realization that I do not have nearly enough sangria for this.
I backtrack and start with the Netflix series instead.
That goes marginally better. My partner manages to make it through two episodes with me before getting bored and going off to watch Tiger King instead. I promise to wait until he feels ready to try again, but almost immediately disregard that promise and blow through the next four episodes, stopping only because the ending of Episode Six absolutely breaks my heart... I mean, because I need to sleep. Yeah. Totally because I need sleep.
Now that I'm starting to recognize character and place names, I manage to make my way through the rest of The Last Wish and all of Sword of Destiny, the second short story collection... along with the vast majority of the fan fiction found in the "Episode 1x06 Rare Species Fix-It" tag on Archive of Our Own, which finally gives me the strength to get through those last two Netflix episodes.
I spend so much time reading, though, that by the end of the week, I still have not started Wild Hunt, which I will soon come to regret. (That game is long, folks. It's long.)
Week Three: In Which Jaskier's Songs Are Stuck In My Head
Let me tell you a secret, dear readers: despite having been hired to write articles for a gaming site, I am actually not all that good at games involving actual fighting. I tend to stick to casual stuff like Stardew Valley or mystery/puzzle series like Ace Attorney.
This means, predictably, that I fall somewhere just shy of "utterly terrible" when it comes to The Witcher. I'm bad at combat. I'm bad at crafting. I'm bad at alchemy. I can't keep potions and oils and decoctions straight, I roll when I try to swing my sword, and I'm pretty sure that rather blunt "You are Dead" message anticipates every single pack of ghouls, nekkers or drowners I accidentally run into and pops up before I even do anything.
Somehow, even though he is merely a collection of pixels and data, I get the distinct feeling that Geralt is disappointed in me. It's probably his extremely intense eyes. Or maybe my general lack of sleep. Nope. It's definitely those eyes.
I finally convince my partner to play with me. He is much better than I am! By the end of this week, we have managed to make it out of White Orchard, the prologue area. Which means we have made approximately... zero progress. Oops. We may not, in fact, be able to accomplish this rather foolish goal of mine.
(At some point during this week, my Luster co-writers message me to point out that Cyberpunk 2077 has been delayed, and my goal no longer even makes sense. I ignore them. I have come too far to give up now.)
Progress with the books goes slightly better: I get into the Saga proper, and pretty much race my way through Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt in about a day each. I mistakenly think that this means this will be the easy part of my personal Witcher's Path. (I am, of course, wrong.)
As I rush to get my GameLuster articles out during my brief breaks from gaming, my partner points out that my writing playlist has started to consist almost entirely of various covers of the unfairly catchy Toss a Coin To Your Witcher. I reassure him that I do not have a problem, and have you heard this metal version, because really, but he merely gestures to the "Toss a Coin" T-shirt I have somehow acquired and have been wearing pretty much 24/7.
I maintain the line. I do not have a problem. I get back to work, humming under my breath. "Oh valley of plenty, oh vall-ley of plen-ty, oh-oh-oh..."
I do not have a problem.
Week Four: In Which I Become The Latest Gwent-sation
I run into a rather major snag in my quest. Namely, the Final Fantasy VII Remake comes out, meaning that my partner dives headfirst into that, condemning me to fight all my own battles as I attempt to make progress in Wild Hunt's enormous open world.
For a while, things are rough. Geralt trudges through the swamps of Velen. I trudge through the swamps of Tower of Swallows, which is when the books really start to slow down, devoting entire chapters to random minor characters who are then never seen again. Just a bit more than halfway through the book, Geralt (y'know, the actual title character) disappears entirely from the story. I think this may have been the point when Sapkowski was just kind of done with the series and wanted to get him over with.
I find this relatable. This is the closest I have been so far to giving up and admitting defeat. While my Witchering skills have been improving steadily, things are still progressing at a glacial pace, especially with my partner unavailable.
And then, I discover it.
An entire chunk of the game which involves minimal combat, no alchemy or potions, and can be completed without any outside help. One beautiful, shining word that represents my savior in this endeavor:
I fall in love with Gwent almost immediately. I have, I am surprised to discover, quite a knack for the card game. I travel merrily around the world, winning matches and tournaments and building an absolutely killer deck. I eat, sleep, and breathe Gwent. I even find myself progressing further in the main plot when I learn that a side quest I can't quite access yet includes Gwent cards as a reward. To give you an idea of just how deep my new obsession runs, here's a look at my actual Google search history during this week:
- Gwent best cards
- Gwent how do I get more spies
- Gwent memes
- When can I do high stakes Gwent tournament
- Real life Gwent tournament
- How to convince your boss to let you write about real life Gwent tournament for work
- Gwent how do I get geralt card
- Gwent one card missing
- Does the dlc have gwent
When my partner emerges in a post Final Fantasy VII haze, he finds me only slightly closer to locating Geralt's beloved daughter Ciri, but now with an unbeatable Gwent deck. (Plus several shiny new achievements. Although, I still don't have the one called "You Have a Gwent Problem," so I'm fine, right? Right...?)
Week Five: In Which I Don't Sleep Much
With my original, now-irrelevant deadline fast approaching, my partner and I throw ourselves headfirst into Wild Hunt. We play like it's a full-time job, racking up thirty-five hours in a handful of days. We nail Novigrad, we sack Skellige, we get drunk off our witcherly asses at the ancestral fort of Kaer Morhen, and we finally make our choice regarding which of the game's lovely ladies to commit to. (But I'm not going to tell you which one. I'm obsessive, not crazy.)
If we're being honest, the whole week is kind of a blur. Other than write my GameLuster articles and occasionally sleep, I don't think I do a single thing, that doesn't have anything to do with The Witcher. I am a writer on a mission, dang it, and I will not be beaten now! I can feel that climactic final battle inching ever closer. But first, of course, more Gwent!
I am forced to spend an entire twenty-four hours away from my partner and the gaming PC when my family starts to get worried, having not exactly heard from me in a while. I use this time to finish up the books (that Poor F***ing Infantry chapter in Lady of the Lake is a low point for the whole series, and the ending is... well, let's just say I'm grateful that the games exist) and get my dad into the Netflix series. He watches about half of it at once and asks me to explain the Law of Surprise to him in detail. For the first time, I feel that I may have actually accomplished something on this crazy journey.
At this point, I reluctantly admit to myself that there's absolutely no way I will be able to play the first two Witcher games within my planned time frame. Instead, I get several helpful friends to walk me through the games, link me to various Let's Plays and gameplay videos, and answer my incessant questions. To everyone whom I messaged at highly inappropriate times to ask about some random tidbit of Witcher lore: I thank you. You are the best friends a hapless, exhausted fan could ask for.
Either YouTube decides to take pity on me, or thinks I would be crazy enough to find it relatable, but, somehow, mixed in among all the "Toss a Coin" covers, I become aware of this video of the guy who plays Jaskier/Dandelion in the show attempting to bake a cake. It is a pretty apt summary of what my life feels like right now.
Week Six: In Which I Emerge Triumphant And Say "So There" to Destiny
I have succeeded.
In just six weeks, I have:
- Played an infamously long game, even completing a fair number of the sidequests (not to mention collecting every Gwent card) and achieving an ending that made me cry happy tears - that totally weren't just because I was so majorly sleep deprived at this point.
- Read seven books, experiencing a saga which, despite its massive pacing issues, was a generally pretty enjoyable read.
- Watched eight hour-ish episodes of a Netflix show, and even convinced some friends and family to watch it as well.
- Watched/listened to/read/generally consumed media about other people playing the other two Witcher games, getting really, really into the deep franchise lore in the process.
- Listened to hours of amazing and dangerously catchy music, and even discovered a new band that will probably remain part of my listening repertoire (seriously, go check out The Amazing Devil.)
- And, of course, written this article.
How has my journey changed me? What did I learn? How do I feel about this franchise that, less than two months ago, I knew less than nothing about?
Well, I think I can answer all of those questions that pretty succinctly:
My official "Geralt in a bathtub" figurine arrived today. He's just been installed in the place of honor on my desk, between my laptop and my stack of unwashed coffee mugs.
And you know what?
I think he's proud of me.
(And, hey, if you enjoyed the journey - toss a like to your blogger, O readers of plenty?)