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The gritty reality of The Witcher 3’s sorcery makes The Continent feel like home

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Escape your world

(Image credit: Future)

This feature first ran in PC Gamer magazine, as part of the Escape Your World series. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

The scene before me is unfathomably ghastly. Charred limbs and torsos the colour of charcoal are the only things that suggest that these are humans littering the ground as I pick through the gore to find a man’s lost brother. I’ve witnessed the carnage that remains of this battle between the forces of Nilfgaard and Temeria before in the deceptively-quaint region of White Orchard before, some years ago—so what possessed me to return to this nightmarish world? 

Well, for a start, The Witcher 3 isn’t all battlefields and rotting flesh. In fact, it’s frequently staggering in its beauty, from the rugged pastoral scenes of Skellige to the bustling metropolis of Novigrad. Nevertheless, amid the bucolic rolling hills and the sparkling rivers running between them, tragedy lies. Civilians are murdered by soldiers, husbands abuse their wives, and serial killers play twisted, deadly games. Even in Toussaint, a fairytale space of impossible allure, the monstrous and cruel can be found beneath its shimmering surface. 

While The Continent isn’t exactly a holiday destination, few videogame worlds have had me so enchanted. It’s an environment that feels real and, most importantly, human, warts and all. And, in many ways, that’s not in spite of the fantastical magic and supernatural monsters inked into the world’s rich canvas, but because of it.

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Yes, some supernatural stuff comes from the Conjunction of the Spheres, where a collision of realms allowed magic to appear, but magic in The Witcher 3 otherwise tends to be rooted in something real. It doesn’t just exist, it comes from somewhere. Manifestations of magic emerge from actions and foibles that are resolutely human. Take the Velen contract, Jenny O’ The Woods, that has Geralt hunting a nightwraith. On further investigation, you discover that the demon was once a Temerian woman called Zula, violently murdered by a man whose romantic advances she’d once spurned.

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