I’m playing through the bonus Adventures included with The Witcher. Read about the earlier Adventures, along with an introduction to the game, here. Also remember that you can click on images to view larger versions.
The next adventure on the list, The Wraiths of Quiet Hamlet, is by Krzysztof Wiśniowski and his brothers Adam and Jacek, and it earned an honorable mention in D’Jinni Adventure Editor Contest. Like the winner of that contest, Deceits, it repurposes the riverside village location from Chapter IV of the main game, and like Deceits it tells a tale of Geralt arriving in a small village and solving the locals’ problems. So I was surprised at just how different of an experience it is, by virtue of both its writing and its design.
While Deceits acted as something of a sampler of everything one could find in the main game, The Wraiths of Quiet Hamlet is a more focused affair; it is very much the story of the villagers. As the tale opens, Geralt arrives at Quiet Hamlet during his travels, and is immediately propositioned by a local man to solve their problem. It seems that the whole village is haunted by wraiths every night, and no one knows what to do. It sounds like a job for a Witcher. Geralt’s first task is to ask around in the village to learn more about the wraiths’ behavior.
And the villagers have a lot to say. A lot. Much more than anyone in the main game, barring major characters, and more than any of the other Adventures so far. This was refreshing. A new face in a small village, one promising to solve their wraith problem no less, would certainly start people talking, and as I introduced Geralt to everyone I learned a lot. Not just about the wraiths, but about the town, and about each person in it. No one felt like a typical NPC (that’s “non-player character”, a blanket term for incidental computer-controlled characters in games) with only a few lines of dialogue; each was a fleshed out character with a family and friends and a clear role in the village. I learned that a disease had struck most of the children, from concerned parents who told Geralt about it at length. I learned about the fisherman’s twin brother, who fell and hit his head a few years ago and hasn’t been right since. I spoke with the gossiping old woman who was always sticking her nose into others’ business, and who was overjoyed to have a new pair of ears to tell it all to.
I also met an attractive young lady, and Geralt promptly began flirting with her. I’ve mentioned that The Witcher has a particular problem with its representations of women, and this looked like a prime example. Throughout the main game, Geralt has the opportunity to have sex with many different women, often simply because he gave them gifts or rescued them from bandits or something. The women in the game use sex as a transaction, as a reward for services rendered, which is not a good norm to set. The sex is optional, but the developers clearly put it in because they expected players to partake, and they even included collectible “sex cards” for each woman, inviting players to seek out all the nude portraits. In short, it’s a particularly troublesome example of how women are often depicted in games, and I’ll have more to say about it when I write about the next Adventure (and I should also note that The Witcher 2 has a much improved, if still not problem-free, approach to sex). Here, I was worried I was seeing the same pattern, as the woman asked Geralt to find her lost ring and it was heavily implied that he’d get to have sex with her if he did. And, well, he did, but there’s a little (just a little) more to it than that, making the encounter a less trivialized affair than those in the main game. One could even read these scenes as the woman flirting with Geralt from the very beginning, with the ring request just part of the foreplay. Thin, I know. But there’s a little more here than I found in the main game, even though that’s not saying much.
Anyway, after talking to enough people I learned a little about the wraiths: they appear for one hour every night, flying over the town and scaring everyone with their racket, but no one has figured out why, or how to get them to stop. That one-hour window fits in with the detailed schedules that govern this Adventure. When I played Deceits I noted that it mimicked a real village by setting schedules for everyone, so they would eat and sleep and work and unwind at different times, just like in the main game. Here, however, the schedules are even more important. The priestess tends to the ill, so she moves to different houses throughout the day to bring them food and try to ease their suffering. Other villagers have similarly packed schedules, and sometimes they can be hard to find, but most villagers can tell Geralt where everyone else is at a specific time of day. At night when the wraiths come, the villagers all hide in their houses, praying. After that, most of them sleep, but sometimes Geralt needs to find someone at night as part of his investigations.
Investigating is what I spent most of my time doing, in fact. There are a few monsters to hunt outside of town, of course (made more interesting by the new fence that was added, splitting the region in half), but most of the time I was speaking with villagers and trying to discover the secret of the wraiths. I investigated the wraiths themselves too, of course, waiting until the prescribed time to watch them appear. This was one of the more memorable moments, as the smoke from the chimneys turned blue, and an unnatural blue mist enveloped the village amid the unearthly shrieks of the wraiths as they sped between the cottages. This is more serious than a few monsters. It’s a proper haunting.
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story, but I will say that I enjoyed playing an Adventure that puts its own spin on the game. The Wraiths of Quiet Hamlet is the first to really stand apart from the main game by trying some different things, and for that I found I was enjoying it the most of the Adventures I’ve played so far. I definitely recommend it.
The next Adventure of the list is The Wedding, which is notable for having no combat at all, consisting solely of conversations. Stay tuned!