Slipped in between news of a second delay and the cacophony of internet complaints about apparent graphical downgrades, one of the more recent stories about The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt that may have fallen through the cracks is the fact that Geralt of Rivia is not the only playable character in the upcoming open-world RPG. At The Game Awards just a few months ago, CD Projekt’s Senior Games Designer Damien Monnier teased the reveal by saying someone showcased in the Elder Blood trailer he was about to show off will be playable when the game hits store shelves, though he didn’t go so far as to come right out and say who it was.
Just ten days later CD Projekt officially announced that the second playable character would be the ashen-haired girl, Ciri, who is in no uncertain terms the focal point of The Witcher 3‘s story. From Richard Malinowski:
“Ciri is playable only during certain moments in the game – we introduce her to give gamers another perspective in the story to make it even more engaging. You won’t play as her for long periods of time, but since she’s crucial to the plot, we thought that additional insight will allow gamers to better bond with this cool character. We introduce Ciri as supportive narrative tool and not because of gameplay mechanics. The Witcher was always about Geralt and that has not changed, but that handful of moments when you play as Ciri provide us with glimpses of how the story feels from the other side.”
In almost every piece of footage released for the game so far, it’s clear that the titular Wild Hunt, the Emperor of Nilfgaard and Geralt himself are using all of their resources to locate the young mysterious girl. Veterans of the Witcher games will know Ciri as a character talked about multiple times throughout The Witcher 2, and fans of the books know a great deal more about her than that, but newcomers to the series may not understand the significance of the facially scarred Princess Cirilla, and why playing as her is such a big deal – after all, players did get some playtime away from Geralt in the last game, so this isn’t completely unprecedented. Without revealing more information than has already been mentioned in The Witcher 2 and CD Projekt itself, here’s a breakdown of who Ciri is, and why it’s a good thing that we get to step in her shoes later this year.
Cirilla Fiona Ellen Riannon is the last living descendant of an old high-standing family in the world of The Witcher. Her ancestors bred with elves who carried an innate and unique power over magic, or chaos as it’s called in this world. This ability has been passed genetically down multiple generations of Ciri’s family tree (we suspect the full details of Ciri’s abilities will be explained in The Witcher 3, so we won’t go into too much more detail, but certainly the ‘blink’ mechanic Ciri has in the game is based on her magical talents). But equally important in times of war, Ciri’s parents were the rulers of Cintra, an invaluable geographical position that would give an immense political advantage to any who control it. This means her genes – her Elder Blood – are of immense importance both to those in the world who covet magic and to those who seek political gain. And considering that war and chaos are two ever-present elements of this world, it’s pretty evident that Ciri is a major asset for some of the most powerful groups across the continent.
Geralt of Rivia, the legendary White Wolf, is famously indifferent to politics and the world of men – as a witcher, he was created as a weapon against the monsters that threaten the world’s inhabitants. He has little interest or patience for much else – so from a distance, it’s not clear why he should have an interest in the heiress of a small Northern Kingdom. But Geralt is not such a simple person as that, and in fact, in the books, Ciri is pretty much the catalyst for Geralt stepping away from his narrow, bounty hunting lifestyle. She is what pushes him to him define his own purpose. Not that it came effortlessly. Geralt was never one to believe in destiny, nor pay heed to airy prophecies, but his repeated run-ins with the girl led to a change of perspective and a new lease on life for the brutish monster slayer. He eventually took Ciri under his wing and trained her at Kaer Morhen as a witcheress (note that a girl had never been trained this way before), and while she left the ancient stronghold before undergoing the ritualistic mutations and alchemical treatments required to complete her training, she still learned to wield a sword like a true witcher, meaning she’s a formidable fighter in addition to an unparalleled magic user. She became something like an adoptive daughter to Geralt, and at different times strained and strengthened his complex romance with the sorceress Yennefer. Geralt is entirely aware of Ciri’s value to some of the world’s plotters and schemers, and more importantly, he understands what some will do to her if she is captured. He has already fought to the brink of death to save her before, and with his memory back after the events of The Witcher 2, he will likely get as much use out of his steel sword as his magical silver one in this last adventure.
Following the threads of the last two Witcher games, Ciri is a fantastic way to close the trilogy: The Witcher largely focused on the witchers at Kaer Morhen and a desperate fight to protect the secrets of their origins, while The Witcher 2 followed a complex and interwoven political battle for the Northern provinces of the world. Both games have their strengths and weaknesses, but the most lacking aspect of both of them to me is that the player-character is thrown into both stories via external circumstances: Geralt’s safety and duty certainly came into play in both previous titles, but he never chose to partake in either journey. For the first time, Geralt’s involvement is more than just following orders. He will fight tooth and nail to protect the ashen-haired girl out of love, and because it is his destiny.
CD Projekt has stated that Geralt is still absolutely the main character of The Witcher 3 and that Ciri will only be playable in specific, smaller sections of the story, but they obviously know just how important she is:
“She’s a living weapon… and everyone wants to control her[.] This, plus she also has her own will and agenda, so it’s not just finding her that counts. I think that is the most important aspect of this character. Geralt knows Ciri since she was a child. She’s Geralt’s apprentice and they have a close emotional bond – he trained her so she could become a witcheress.”
The developers have latched onto the fulcrum of the Witcher saga, and by placing her at the end of the series she serves as the perfect culmination to the trilogy. It also raises the stakes on a personal level for the protagonist. The developers are either incredibly smart or lucky to have left Ciri for the final game – most franchises in any medium toss everything at their disposal into the first chapter, and parts two and three often become a scramble to introduce bigger characters and events in order to keep the audience interested. For whatever reason, CD Projekt held onto their ace in the hole for The Witcher 3, and because of that The Wild Hunt may truly feel like an ending fit for the series.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt launches May 19, 2015, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Images: CD Projekt