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More minor Witcher 3 plot spoilers (baron)

Butch:

Man did I play last night! Toodled around Oxenfurt, got a haircut, found Tamara (didn’t see the strong religious freak thing coming. Expected a sacred hiding person. Which is interesting on it’s own, we’ll talk more about that in a bit), went magpie and blew up a nest and some bandits, leveled to level 8, saw a level 8 monster contract right on the way back to see the baron so I did it, which took forever cuz I died about 98 times, stopped to eat and drink beer, went back and finished the contract, talked to the baron, lost a horse race as Ciri, called it a day.

Phew.

So we can go into women and expectations and stuff more in a bit, cuz I’m going to go meet with Keira next, then on to the crones, mostly cuz a) I have a feeling this is where you stopped with Family Matters and b) I have no idea where crookback bog is. I figure the crones will be there, Anna will be there, it’ll come together.

Gotta be careful. I’m at this weird place where I’ve pretty much outleveled my gear. Level 8! Whee! Same sword and armor as I had at level 3 (for real). Not so good.

Anyway, as we can table women stuff for after I meet some more women, here’s where we’re gonna start today:

The Baron.

The baron is a hell of a character. I can’t decide if I want to hug him or kill him, or hug him THEN kill him, or whatever. He’s a drunken wife beater, sure. But he’s also insecure, guilt ridden, and genuinely loves his wife and daughter. He’s also using me, and won’t tell me where Ciri is. He’s a cynical politician. He whips his underlings. But he’s also someone who just has to protect his own, just like me.

This type of complexity is really, really strange in video games. Indeed, in pondering where I’ve seen a character this complex, at least in terms of “is he good or bad?” or “Hug him or kill him?” all I could think of was TLOU. Indeed, the Baron is what David SHOULD have been, and was until they turned him, inexplicably, into a psycho rapist boss fight.

So all this has me thinking: Do we not see characters like this cuz they’re just too hard and CDPR and Naughty Dog are that good? Do we not see them because devs are lazy? Do we not see them because devs don’t think players WANT them, that we’re happier with nice bright lines (or at, least, characters a la bioware that have one big adjective in capital letters with some stuff on the fringes, like ZEALOT who likes romance novels)? Are we going to see more of them? And, if we do, why didn’t we see them before?

Feminina:

Nice work! The haircut is especially key. Ha.

I have not gone back to meet with Keira again yet: I’m currently doing the crones/crookback bog quest, which as you suspect has turned into a tying-things-together bit that seems to be relevant to both Ciri and the baron’s wife. I haven’t gotten that far into it, so hell if I know HOW they tie together, but since the quest name turned back into ‘Family Matters’ at some point, I figure they do.

I’m level 7 at the moment, so we’re similarly situated there. I’ve picked up a few new swords and some different armor, though, so I’m no longer wearing the same stuff. I have these stupid metal-mitten gauntlets on right now that are just not very stylish…but the AC is good! So we make sacrifices. My Geralt is not interested in being a good-looking and stylish corpse.

Ah, the baron. I concur, he is a very interesting character. Like you, I find myself feeling both sympathy and loathing for him. The lubberkin scene, where he did the ceremony to “name you and embrace you as my daughter,” was genuinely moving. The guy feels love, and guilt, and tries clumsily to make it right (it was, as Geralt pointed out repeatedly as I kept having to start that bit over after the specters killed me, his idea to try to make the botchling a lubberkin instead of just killing it). His baffled “why isn’t she coming home? I’ve got her room all ready!” when you tell him Tamara isn’t coming back was really quite touching.

And yet…she’s not coming back because you’re an abusive drunk who beat her mother regularly over the years, to the point that she recently miscarried. You made your own damn bed there, Baron. And his explanation for that, “we’ve been married a long time and she just knows how to push all my buttons,” is not exactly taking responsibility, since, as we generally understand and attempt to teach our toddlers, it doesn’t matter how mad someone makes you, YOU DON’T GET TO JUST BEAT THEM UP. (It could certainly be argued that throughout much of history in much of the world it was precisely true that you DID get to beat up your wife, but the reactions of Tamara and the pellar, and even the baron himself in not just saying “yeah, I beat her, why wouldn’t I?” suggest that a more modern sensibility prevails in Velen, so I’m operating on that assumption.)

And yet, he seems to have perhaps genuinely changed his behavior and repented–as the guard tells you, he doesn’t drink anymore, he’s just been sitting in the garden contemplating the flowers planted for his wife and daughter–so perhaps he can be forgiven? On the other hand, you see him in flashbacks, as Ciri, before Tamara and Anna ran off, and he comes across as boisterous and good-humored and rather charming, so he’s clearly capable of presenting himself in different ways for different situations (as we all do). Nobody’s a monster to everyone all the time, and just because he feels sincerely bad now doesn’t mean he wouldn’t return to his old ways if Anna came back.

Also, as you say, he’s a canny politician using your need for information to get you to pursue this ‘family matters’ issue that really has nothing to do with either your profession as monster-slayer (except to the extent that you naturally slay monsters along the way), or your goal of locating Ciri before the Wild Hunt does. He’s slowing you down and hampering your investigation. Who’s to say he’s not intentionally playing on your sympathies as well?

My current take from a personal standpoint is that perhaps he HAS changed and can be forgiven, but I’m not the one who gets to decide that: if Tamara and Anna want to forgive him, that’s up to them, since they’re the ones against whom he has most gravely offended. (I hope this doesn’t come down to a ‘you-choose’ situation where Anna and/or Tamara asks Geralt “should I go back to him?” because…that is so not my call. I’m afraid it will, and it will be a hard decision, but it just is not up to some wandering stranger to tell an abused woman whether or not to return to her perhaps-sincerely-repentant abuser.)

He’s offending me by slowing me down, and in-game that’s super annoying to Geralt, but metagaming it’s clear that you get a lot of loot and story and XP from this lengthy side-trek, so it’s all to the good.

So, yes. This is a complicated character and a complicated side story, and I agree that we rarely see this level of really ambiguous character development in a game. I think as you say, a lot of times it’s just about the comfort of having things nicely delineated as either good or bad, heroic or villainous. We (and I use the word ‘we’ advisedly as I include myself in this category) don’t always want to have to struggle with the in-betweens when we’re just looking to kill some monsters or blow some things up.

It’s like, I love the complexity, but I also want to feel like I’m not a horrible person for wanting to kill things and blow things up, OK? So I think in many cases and certainly for many types of story it flows more smoothly if you keep it straightforward.

These are nameless wandering bandits who want to kill me, they need to be dead. These are zombies, they need to be dead. (Permanently dead.) These are invading aliens who want to destroy all intelligent life in the galaxy, they need to be dead. These are guards who don’t like me running on rooftops–they REALLY need to be dead. Etc.

Even the most morally complex of games (like the one we’re discussing) has several thousand nameless enemies who just plain need to be dead. I don’t really have a problem with that.

But I absolutely do, in a conflicting desire to grapple with more interesting problems, also really love to see the complicated stories and the ambiguous characters whose fate can’t be resolved with a simple “Needs to be dead? Yes/No” option.

Could you fill an entire game with only complicated and morally gray NPCs? Yes…but not one like this game. And I like this game. I think it’s great that the baron is a kind of challenging character whom you both somewhat like, and quite dislike. Maybe it’s just that they’ve hit on the right ratio of complex to simple in their stories/NPCs?

Butch:

Haircut is key…Except I wasted like 80 gold trying on different ones before going back to the one I had. Beauty. It ain’t cheap.

Ah ha! I thought the quests would tie togeher. I got to that point with the baron where it just said “Follow up on other leads,” and it didn’t give me a yellow circle thingy, so I figured that was a good time to not do it any more.

I like that we don’t know how! Nice that way.

I figure I should go visit Keira just cuz I feel a little cheated that I’m over 20 hours and haven’t gotten laid yet. I mean, c’mon, CDPR.

And, see, my Geralt usually winds up a good looking, stylish corpse. I need new gear, badly. I just found a schematic for some witcher gear pants, but I haven’t been back to anyone who can make them, and, with my luck, I’ll need 27 components I don’t have and I’ll have to be level 52 to wear them.

That and I learned the hard way that there are other impediments to witcher contracts than levels. I got deep into this one, did my research, and, what do you know? Vulnerable to stuff I ain’t got. Cuz of course.

The baron: Those were great scenes. He IS trying to make right, but then, after you talk to Tamara, it seems that this is, like so many real life abusers, his pattern. Which makes him far less likable. I mean, so many real abusers are like that. “I can change! I will change!” when they don’t. Master manipulators. (Which also goes into the whole series of instances where you’re pretty sure Geralt is being manipulated by others……but not totally sure….) He certainly feels guilt. That I buy.

Those spectres sucked. Hard.

I was assuming that wife-beating isn’t cool, as well. I also got the sense that the baby turning into a bothcling (didn’t I tell you these games make up some creepyassed monsters?) was, at some level, punishment, or karma, or something. He did wrong, and this was visited on him, his loved ones, and his people.

And that uncertainty about whether he’s sincere or has really changed is great. Good storytelling.

Oh he so is playing on your sympathies. Lost daughter? Yup.

I just want to Axii the fucker. But no, that would make a lot of quests not happen.

That scene with Ciri and his men, too, played with my expectations. I have to admit, I was pretty certain that some of those dudes were going to try to rape Ciri or something equally awful. I was doing that game thing one does during dialog where you’re going over who you’re going to have to take out first when the dialog is over and the fight breaks out and, what do you know? No fight. Very respectful behavior. This game does subvert expectations.

(As a side note, one of the many great things about CDPR is they make it rather metagame proof. You’re never saying “Ah, yes. This. I know how to fight this cuz I played X.” It’s always something.)

Funny you mention the pellar. One loose end I don’t get in all this (and I’m asking for your take, so spoil) is why the baron’s men were all there at the pellar’s door when I got there. I axiied them away, so I never got a proper answer as to why they, or the baron, were beating me to the pellar. Was the baron trying to hide something?

I was expecting that we might have to offer advice with Tamara, and was rather surprised that I didn’t get the chance to do it. Or even to TRY to do it. There wasn’t a dialog option for “You should go home.” I mean, you couldn’t even say it to have her tell you no. That’s sorta par for the course in this game. You do not get to tell everyone what to do. I have a feeling that, even if we DO get a you choose option, they may well not listen to what we say either way. I mean, other games, DA for example, if you say “Go back,” or “Don’t,” they’re going to say “Ok,” and then stuff will happen. Here? I’m not sure. I think NPCs will say “go fuck yourself” to Geralt more often than not.

As for not having a problem with nameless enemies, me neither. Indeed, there’s whole playing sessions where I just want to say “I’m going to go blow up monster nests,” and off I go. (Maybe that’s tonight.) Or beat people at gwent.

I think that in games, there’s going to be story stuff and “gamey” stuff. Of course there’s gotta be randits and zombies and guards and darkspawn. But once you get down to brass tacks of tellin’ the story, then at that point, give us the baron. Nameless enemies? Sure. Make ’em bad. But once you get down to naming folk, write them.

At least when you’re selling the game as heavy in story/character. I mean, take Doom. I watched some of Doom’s E3 stuff. It can be summed up thusly: “Here are the demons. Here are the guns. Here’s what happens when you use the guns on the demons. Any questions?” And that’s ok. That’s what that game is, and good for it.

But once you get to the point of having story, and characters therein, and selling your game as rich in both story and characters, then you should write them as well as you can. And see, I don’t count randits and ghouls as characters. I mean, sure, they’re NPCs, but really, they’re the aliens in space invaders: there to be dealt with. I’m talking about the dudes that have spoken dialog with options and shit.

There’s always going to be the simple, straightforward stories. Just like there’s always going to be superhero/cackling villain movies. And that’s ok. We like those sometimes. But now that we know characters like the baron are possible in video games, do we have to raise the bar for bioware/Bethesda et al?

Feminina:

Yeah, Mr. O’ spent a lot of money fiddling with haircuts too. Me, I spent the 5 gold, got my soul patch, thought it was silly but decided to wait until next time to try something different. Again, not that interested in being a stylish corpse. Need money for armor repair kits and so forth. It’s just hair, it’ll grow out.

Speaking of updating gear, one thing I need to put some time into is those treasure maps. I’ve bought several, but haven’t tried following up on them. Supposedly they lead to good stuff, or at least the designs for good stuff.

I talked to the baron’s guys at the pellar’s house, and based on the story they themselves told, they were there to beat up the pellar because he’d given one of them boils for some reason…he’d previously offended the pellar in some way, and there was revenge, and now this gang was here for escalating follow-up revenge, in the familiar cycle of violence. So it was a personal feud thing, and only coincidentally occurred at the same time that you showed up. There may be a more sinister explanation, but I didn’t see any indication of it. I think I gave them some money to leave? Or just threatened them? I don’t remember, but I didn’t fight them.

In terms of complexity, this definitely provides a high water mark for comparison with other games in future. Will we measure future somewhat-bad/somewhat-sympathetic characters against the baron? Probably. Can we expect them all to be this well done? Well, no, but it’s certainly something to which others could profitably aspire.

He gets a lot of screen time, which helps. Corypheus, say, had that final moment of potential complexity when he wailed to the gods or whatever, but that was the very end, and we never spent very any time with him one on one that wasn’t about fighting. Also important to the way we see the baron, I think, is that he’s not really an antagonist (as Corypheus always was). He’s in our way, annoyingly making us jump through hoops to get information he has, but there’s no indication that he’s a direct threat to us, or likely to become an outright enemy. He’s just a guy we may or may not like, but have no real call, in-game, to either befriend or to hate.

Interesting, also, that tidbit you learn at the inn…he’s called the Bloody Baron because of spilled wine, not because of any particular brutality–and yet, he did massacre a regiment or whatever, so he’s not NOT brutal, but for some reason people mainly remember the wine. It kind of summarizes him in a way, doesn’t it? He’s not as horrible as you might think at first, but he’s not necessarily NOT horrible either.

Butch:

Fuck I always forget to buy repair kits. Always. I really, really should buy repair kits.

I haven’t followed up on the treasure maps cuz they all say a level beyond 8. Like 18, some of them. Though yesterday, during my monster contract bit, I noticed something while using witcher senses, and I think I stumbled upon some part of the treasure map bits cuz I got a diagram for witcher gear. I gotta pay more attention, too.

Re: Pellar…Ok. I see “baron’s men” and I figured they were speaking for the baron. Good. At least that isn’t nefarious.

As for our expections of other games, well, sure. We can’t say “Well, they’re not as good as TW3, ergo they suck.” That’s what the rest of the internet is for. We are not a 10 or 0 blog. Nope. Not us.

I think the complexity of story is another advantage of telling a story from a perspective other than the “big powerful dude(ette).” I mean, when you lead an inquisition, pretty much everyone is going to think hard whether they’re with you or against you. But when you’re just a working stiff, people are more worried about being with or against other people, not you. TW allows there to be NPCs who don’t really care if Geralt is with them or not. I mean, if we were to plop the baron into Thedas, bet your ass he’d care if the inquisitor liked him or not, and he’d act accordingly.

Hey, when did you learn that about the Bloody Baron nickname? Did I tell you? I didn’t think you wanted to know.

Feminina:

Repair kits! They are extremely handy when something breaks in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t buy them at first, but then I realized I was missing out. Now I obsessively buy them everywhere I see them.

Ah, is THAT why I’m not following the treasure maps? Makes sense. Smart move, me. So it’s not a thing like in AC Black Flag, where you actually had to look at scrawled maps and try to match them with landscape features? As you can tell, I haven’t even tried looking at one yet–I just see them in merchants’ stock and buy them because duh, obviously I need them, and then I stuff them in my saddlebags and forget about them.

No, you didn’t tell me the tidbit about the baron: I actually did finally make it to the Inn at the Crossroads (some people were in the middle of a fistfight, but I stayed out of it, and no one challenged me or seemed to be hassling anyone other than the other person in the fight). I struck up a conversation with the innkeeper, and he just told me.

Butch:

Yup. Every time something goes all red I say “Oh SHIT! I MEANT to buy a repair kit! Really I did!” and then the relief that I found one lying around or something and I’m not screwed.

Those fucking golemy things kept breaking my shit. Irritating.

Yeah, maps are not that simple. Nothing’s that simple. Though I did really stumble on these pants. Or at least the diagram for the pants.

Which kinda amuses me. I mean, I picture me taking these to a smith and having him say “Oh METAL! I didn’t think of using METAL! It’s all so clear to me now!” I mean, how many variations of pants can there be? And yet these smiths have thought of none of them.

It was kinda interesting to know that about the baron before I met him. Glad I didn’t spoil it. How did it hit you seeing as you learned it after you met him?

Feminina:

Golems, and guys with shields. Always wrecking my swords.

And smiths…so hidebound and locked into tradition. They need a brilliant new idea! Like CURED leather pants!!!!!

Learning the tidbit about the baron later was interesting–it kind of confirmed the general sense of him as someone who does a lot of things for show, and isn’t quite who you expect him to be, but isn’t exactly the opposite of that either. It fit.

Butch:

Shields! I hate shields.

Means you have to parry. I just took an ability that lets me deflect arrows with parrying, which is silly, cuz I never remember to parry.

Feminina:

I never remember to parry. I should parry! I never do. If I’m lucky, I manage to dodge.