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The Witcher 3: Novigrad, Part One

By Bob Case
on Thursday Apr 26, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

 
 

Of the game’s three main questlines (Velen, Novigrad, and Skellige), I personally consider Novigrad to be the weakest.

This isn’t because of Novigrad itself, which as I’ve said is one of my favorite cities in all of gaming. Rather, it’s because the quests, which invovle finding Dandelion, unraveling a heist, navigating the city’s underworld, and finally taking on the Church of the Eternal Fire, are frequently disjointed and full of stray threads. During my first playthrough, I remember often losing track of exactly what I was doing and why.

I personally suspect that the entire area was the subject of significant last-minute cuts which required a rapid reshuffling the story. I say I “suspect” this because I don’t claim to have any inside knowledge of the development process – however, the suspicion is a strong one. There were many things here that made my “last minute scramble in development” spider senses go off: how the various figures of Novigrad’s underworld were introduced in more detail than their significance in the story seemed to merit, the detail invested in the buildings of Temple Isle (the Church’s home base), most of which were only seen in one cutscene, the rather wet-fart resolution of the whole “find Dijkstra’s treasure” quest (we just never find it, and we knew it was Dandelion all along anyway), and numerous smaller rough edges, some of which I’ll mention as we go on.

Temple Isle. You'd think that big tower in the middle, with all the flames would be important, right? But we never go there.

Temple Isle. You'd think that big tower in the middle, with all the flames would be important, right? But we never go there.

I’m not trying to dump on the developers here. The Witcher 3 was a massive game with massive ambitions, and given all that it’s a miracle it came out as polished as it did. What’s more, as I’ve heard more stories about the development of this game or that game, I’ve come to believe that one of the most important skills a game developer can have – and especially if you’re in a management position – is improvisation.

What recollections of the development of various classic RPG’s that have filtered out into the world of RPG nuts corroborate this. Without launching into a bunch of long-winded stories, many of the classics, both Infinity Engine and otherwise, had last-minute changes, features cut short by looming deadlines, and emotions in their teams in the months before going gold that could easily fall under the category of “sheer panic.”

If anything, it seems that a smoothly-running pipeline that stays running smoothly right up until release is the exception, not the rule. But if you have to cut a level in the final stage of your production schedule in a Call of Duty game or something, it may be a relief, but in a genre that features complex stories it’s not so simple. In my opinion, in the case of the various quests involving Dandelion and Novigrad, the improvisation could have been better. Or maybe I’m way off base, there were no last minute cuts, and this was just rough writing from the beginning. Either way, my complaining will proceed as scheduled.

Other games drop references to recent pop culture. The Witcher 3 drops references to Cyrano de Bergerac.

Other games drop references to recent pop culture. The Witcher 3 drops references to Cyrano de Bergerac.

It starts out promising enough, if a bit confusing. Dandelion is missing, and Geralt is trying to track him down by talking to his various romantic prospects, helpfully catalogued in his journal. None of them know where he is, but they each have bits of confounding intelligence to share: Dandelion was interested in the work schedules of a local bathhouse, Dandelion met with a mysterious woman he claimed was his sister, Dandelion was researching a recently deceased nobleman, Dandelion wanted to talk to a certain alchemist, Dandelion was studying different types of fungus.

The player, by this point, is obviously supposed to be mystified at all this, but there’s an explanation coming. First, we confer with Zoltan, who reveals that Dandelion’s “sister” is in fact his current special lady, a singer named Priscilla. We find her performing at one of the city’s swankier inns, and there’s a nice cutscene where she performs a song about Geralt and Yennefer.Mostly nice. I don’t know if it’s just the potato I play the game on, but for me there were pauses in between each stanza that screwed up the tempo.

So Priscilla knows the score: Dandelion was planning a heist to steal the treasure of one “Sigi Reuven,” who we soon learn is actually Sigismund Dijkstra, a former Redanian spookmaster turned crime lord. We have to talk to Dijkstra, since he can help us find another big-time Novigrad gangster named Whoreson Junior, who may have taken Dandelion captive. So we found Priscilla, to tell us to find Dijkstra, so he can help us find Whoreson Junior, and then we finally find him he’ll tell us that Caleb Mange of the Witch Hunters has Dandelion. The first time I played the game, by the time I got two-thirds of the way through all this I was a mixture of irritated and confused.

Not Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary!

Not Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary!

Most of the above plays out in a quest called “Get Junior,” which has you visiting the crime boss’s various enterprises (his house, a casino, and an underground fighting pit) and dispatching the endless mooks who try to stop you. There’s another quest, given to you by Dijkstra, to solve the mystery of who robbed his now-empty vault and how.

Of course, we know it was Dandelion, but the “how” of it is rather clever. Remember all the things Dandelion was researching? They all come back into play now. The fungal research was to create an antidote for the toxic spores in the sewer he used as his getaway route. The dead nobleman was impersonated by a creature called a doppler (more on them later), who dropped an explosive device down a pipe that went through the vault wall.

Of course, there’s still the question of why he was doing all of this. Dandelion is not an Ocean’s 11-style heist planner by trade or inclination. This is where you learn bits of the truth in bits and pieces, in this bit of quest dialogue or that one, and out of order to boot. Near as I can tell, what happened is this:

  1. Ciri came to Dandelion with a broken phylactery (a magic gizmo, we’ll learn what it is and how she got it later)
  2. Dandelion, instead of making use of his extensive contacts in the worlds of both sorcery and academics, turned to local degenerate thug Whoreson Junior, who “knew a guy” (this is the only explanation I managed to find)
  3. Whoreson demanded a staggering amount of money for performing this service, so much that Dandelion had to rob a bank vault owned by one of the city’s most dangerous people
  4. Dandelion robbed the vault with the help of the doppler named Dudu, but then apparently didn’t give Whoreson the money for reasons I never managed to figure out
  5. Whoreson kidnapped and tortured Dudu, who was rescued by Ciri
  6. Whoreson’s men chased Ciri and Dandelion all the way to Temple Isle, where they were captured by the Temple Guard (getting them to the other end of Novigrad required a comically long chase sequence)
  7. Somehow the Temple Guard got ahold of the treasure too, I didn’t catch how (Dandelion got it out on a barge. It’s not like it was on his person or anything, that would’ve been impossible)
  8. Even though he never got the money, Whoreson went ahead and had the phylactery fixed anyway (he gives it to you when you storm his hideout)

Maybe there’s a better explanation for all of this in some note I never picked up or something, but my impression while playing through all this was that the whole thing was a mess. There are some cool things: the heist is mechanically interesting, each of Novigrad’s underground bosses is some kind of interesting hook (except Whoreson, who’s just a disgusting person overall), and at one point you get to talk to a rock troll. I feel like the raw material for an interesting – and less frustrating – adventure is here, but it just doesn’t cohere into anything.

Fortunately, the worst is over. The rest of the stuff in Novigrad is quite good, and in part two we’ll cover the last part of the search for Dandelion, which handily outperforms the first. See you then.

Footnotes:

[1] Mostly nice. I don’t know if it’s just the potato I play the game on, but for me there were pauses in between each stanza that screwed up the tempo.


 
 
Comments (49)

  1. Dev Null says:

    I’m kinda hoping some knowledgeable person jumps in these comments and explains it all… but that person is not me.

  2. Droid says:

    I was under the impression that Whoreson Junior gives you the repaired phylactery because Whoreson is actually dead and is currently impersonated by Dudu. But that only happens AFTER you (as Geralt, so in the present) manage to get ahold of Whoreson and decide to kill him. So that leaves me guessing as much as you.

    • Jennifer Snow says:

      I . . . okay . . . is Whoreson Junior his NAME or is that an EPITHET? Is this a bit of unfortunate Polish-to-English translation?

      I’m sorry, but having a character named “Whoreson” is just throwing me for a loop, here. It’s like having a character named Whattacunt or Justadick.

      • slipshod says:

        His name is Cyprian Wiley. :) But his daddy went by Whoreson, so when Alonso was stabbed to death on the way to a poetry recital (on Junior’s orders) Cyprian inherited the family business and the name.

        Also… I would not bat an eyelash if I saw a “whatadick” in a Witcher game, lol.

      • BlueHorus says:

        It’s pronounced ‘whaddacant’ – specifically, Jimminy Whaddacant. And he won’t turn up until the Skellige section of the game, which Bob tried to do in an earlier post but couldn’t due to the levelling curve.

        We’ll get to him in time.

  3. Nick Powell says:

    I thought Dandelion’s ‘sister’ was Ciri

    Anyway, yeah, this whole section of the game lost me the first time through. I do like the mission where you have to subtly interrogate Menge and have to choose which line of questioning to prioritise while listening to Triss get tortured though. It’s a much more interesting way to use the dialogue tree than just ‘Click the option you want’ and it would have been nice to see more of it in the rest of the game

  4. You know, I was very confused about why Geralt had two crossed fish in front of his face for a bit. Okay, it’s a wolf mask (and cool-looking once my brain parsed wtf it was) but why wear it? Kinda seems like it’d throw incognito mode right out the window after it set it on fire…

  5. Opagla says:

    I thought I was the only one having problems with pauses during Priscillas’s song. Maybe it’s because my potatoe is also a pc.

    • Henson says:

      I don’t think it’s a hardware problem, per se. I’m having the same issues with pauses between stanzas, but I don’t remember having this problem the first time I played the game back in 2015. My suspicion is one of CD Projekt’s updates borked the playback for this cutscene (perhaps for certain hardware, but the point is that it was working on the same hardware before).

    • Viktor says:

      I don’t know what it is with RPGs and terrible sound editing. I think it may just be some sort of issue with whatever system they have to handle audio files, because I can’t count the number of games I’ve played with odd pauses between lines, people “shouting over each other” one after another, or an “interruption” that takes so long to start that the person could have just finished their sentence.

  6. Len says:

    Dandelion, instead of making use of his extensive contacts in the worlds of both sorcery and academics, turned to local degenerate thug Whoreson Junior, who “knew a guy” (this is the only explanation I managed to find)

    Those extensive contacts would have been worth quite a bit — except there is this mage hunt going on that drove anyone with said knowledge into hiding or out of the city. So they were forced to resort to Whoreson Junior.

    Dandelion robbed the vault with the help of the doppler named Dudu, but then apparently didn’t give Whoreson the money for reasons I never managed to figure out

    Somehow the Temple Guard got ahold of the treasure too, I didn’t catch how (Dandelion got it out on a barge. It’s not like it was on his person or anything, that would’ve been impossible)

    The temple guard stole the treasure before Dandelion could get it to Whoreson. Exactly how the temple guards stole it wasn’t mentioned I think.

    Even though he never got the money, Whoreson went ahead and had the phylactery fixed anyway (he gives it to you when you storm his hideout)

    He didn’t fix it. There’s a quest to fix it later on once you take it to Kaer Morhen.

    I agree that the plot seemed needlessly convoluted. They played up the treasure and the whole bank robbery thing. But cool as it was, the subplot never got anywhere in the end. In most people’s play-throughs, you won’t even find the treasure because you’ll ask Menge about Dandelion first and lose the chance to ask about the treasure. Also, your reward for finding the treasure is a paltry 1000 crowns.

    I think they counted on you being distracted by finally finding information on Ciri and getting this horrifically long quest chain over with.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      It’s been a while since this part -but I think the heist went sideways there at the very end. I think the Temple Guard got the money at that point, and Dandelion had to flee. So Dandelion did steal the treasure, but he just delivered it to the Temple Guard -who are hardly going to hand it back to Djikstra.

      This quest was slightly screwed up for me because many of the secrets were revealed in the bios of the characters before I actually met them. Dudu impersonating Whoreson, for example -which made the confrontation between him and Ciri really, really weird.

      I also didn’t get with Zoltan until I’d nearly finished the quest -and as a result, didn’t get the bios of the crime lords until long after I’d finished with them.

  7. SAeN says:

    The pacing in the Novigrad line seems to be the Capra Demon moment for most players, where you’ll either decide to continue or quit. It’s the part of the game where you have to warn people you recommend it to that it’s a stumbling moment but not a complete fall.

    I enjoyed The Witcher 3, but even on my second playthrough (back in November) I almost tapped out in Novigrad. It constantly feels like the plot is going in circles and you’re never sure how what you are doing is going to help you find Ciri. I also think it doesn’t help that most players will come here after Velen and before Skellige, so you already know that there’s another act to this hunt and might as well not be in Novigrad.

    The upside I suppose is that Novigrad is a brilliant city, and there are some great characters and moments involving it. Additionally I often found it difficult to determine what was sidequest and what was main quest and as a result it feels like a lot of what you do in the city feeds back into the main quest in a way that feels somewhat organic. However the city outskirts feel somewhat barren of content by comparison and the background of racism never feels like it comes to the forefront despite it’s constant presence in the background.

    It’s a good thing that Skellige is a much more straightforward (and shorter) followup to Novigrad or the pre-Ciri half of the game wouldn’t be good enough justify everything after it.

    • Zekiel says:

      I’m just coming back to the game after 4 months’ break (around the end of Act 1, I believe) and I’m reminded of this game’s maddening tendency towards questlines that go:
      10: Geralt you need to find X. Go talk to Random McFace
      20: Random McFace: I can help you! But first I need you to do Y
      30: Geralt does Y
      40: Random McFace: Thanks! here’s the info you wanted! You need to talk to Z.
      50: Goto 20
      Etc

      There is much too much of that in this game!

      • StuHacking says:

        I guess I didn’t really mind all that because I think the game’s strongest aspect is in how it manages to inject a bit of pathos into character dialogues – which is really rare in a modern action RPG. But then, I really don’t mind a story with slow-burn pacing. I enjoyed the sense of Geralt being in a hurry to track down Ciri, but in order to do that he needs help from a few contacts, and they’re not going to give up their help for free.

        Geralt always (in my playthrough) treats the humans with patience and civility regardless of their moral failings, so I really enjoyed Geralt’s deadpan responses, and that little eyebrow raise and wry smile.

  8. Paul Spooner says:

    Having never played any of the Witcher games, I’m having some name troubles. Now, I’m not particularly good with names in the first place, so perhaps this is all on me. Anyway, on the one end, some names show up a lot and I recognize them as being real names in the game. On the other end, some of the names are clearly play-on-word jokes on names in the game. But then there’s this worryingly large grey area in the middle where, that name is so silly that it could be a joke, but also kinda makes sense so it could be the given name in the game?
    I guess what I’m saying is, it’s hard to parody the ridiculous. Poe’s law, etc.

  9. slipshod says:

    Re: the heist. Here’s what I managed to glean through multiple playthroughs:

    1) Ciri came to Dandelion with a broken phylactery, seeking assistance in fixing it posthaste
    2) The only professional known to Dandelion who could deliver that quickly could only be reached through WJ
    3) Dandelion, Ciri, and Dudu attempted the heist in order to pay WJ’s requested amount
    4) WJ kidnapped Dudu as insurance (and for fun, because he’s a sick bastard), when Dudu’s role in the heist was substantially complete
    5) Meanwhile, Menge’s little birds in town tipped him off regarding the proceedings, and he decided he wanted a piece
    6) Dandelion and Ciri intended to deliver the gold but got spotted and then cornered by Menge & co.
    7) Ciri zapped away; Dandelion spilled the beans about the treasure to save his skin
    8) Menge’s muscle picked up and hid the treasure in a vault
    9) Ciri rescued Dudu later, but couldn’t find Dandelion

    Enter Geralt at some point down the line. The phylactery doesn’t get fixed until Kaer Morhen, I believe.

    • Thomas says:

      Even told chronologically it’s still a bit disorienting.

      I feel like there’s something a bit disappointing about setting up a mystery story about a heist which is later revealed to have failed.

      • StuHacking says:

        I think it looks muddled because you’re coming along after the fact and seeing this mangled trail of heists, crime bosses and kidnappings, and think “How was this ever supposed to work!?”

        But at the time it all happened, Ciri was on the run from the White Hunt, arrived in Novigrad hoping to find a friend who could fix the phylactery. However, the mages are all on the run, or in hiding. Instead she finds Dandilion. Dan hatches a plan which in his own mind is simple enough, though he’s clearly not a strategic genious. And it requires some underworld connections and a bit of starting capital ($$). Ciri, still desperate, is willing to go along with it: Crime doesn’t pay, the heist goes south, Dan is captured, Ciri is forced to jump away leaving her friends and the phylactery behind.

        At the time, it was a series of events that led into each other, but the mess Geralt is left to clear up looks all the worse because it failed spectacularly.

  10. melted says:

    You’ve got a typo–second paragraph, “which invovle finding Dandelion”.

  11. LCF says:

    Having never played this game, I find your description of the Dandelion chase absolutely hilarious. Same for the Heist. It seems so harebrained.

  12. Simon says:

    What recollections of the development of various classic RPG’s that have filtered out into the world of RPG nuts corroborate this. Without launching into a bunch of long-winded stories, many of the classics, both Infinity Engine and otherwise, had last-minute changes, features cut short by looming deadlines, and emotions in their teams in the months before going gold that could easily fall under the category of “sheer panic.”

    I completely understand why you don’t want to go down this tangent which would surely double the size of this post, but do you have any links to your favourite such stories? I’d be really keen to read them, especially as I’m currently replaying the Baldur’s Gate games for the first time since the early 2000s and noticing a bunch more behind the scenes stuff than I did back when i was a teenager.

  13. Gethsemani says:

    I always got the impression from the Novigrad section that it was meant for the Heist to be playable, either as Ciri or Geralt. There’s way too much set up about its particulars and all the cool stuff it involved in its’ execution, not to mention that it is a mix of an Ocean’s X and Cohen-brothers plot, for it to have been intended as just a background event. Most likely it turned out to be too complex for some reason and it was cut for time.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ciri came to Dandelion with a broken phylactery (a magic gizmo, we’ll learn what it is and how she got it later)

    Dont you mean a horcrux?

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I fell in love with novigrad when I entered it for one very bizarre reason:It has cripples.As in people with actual missing limbs.Beggars who have no legs.Seeing such a thing in a video game is extremely rare.Because making a different model that youll use just for background characters would be considered wasteful anywhere else.Not in witcher 3.Thats some serious dedication.

    But yeah,the quests here are behind the quests in the other two locations.At least in this first half of the game.Because in the second half this is where you get to decide who will rule after you kill a king.In a side quest.Which is all kinds of amazing.

    • Zekiel says:

      Novigrad is so impressive. It is just enormous, its filled with little alleys and back routes into or around buildings, different bits feel different. Its amazing.

      The one thing that annoys me is that you can only properly talk to:
      a) Quest givers
      b) Merchants
      And no-one else will have a conversation with you, which makes it feel a bit artificial.

      On the other this game has got ALL THE DIALOGUE already, so I’m not sure why I’m wishing it had even more!

      • camycamera says:

        I personally don’t agree with this at all. Why would you want to talk to all the hundreds of NPCs? As you said the work would be enormous to have that much dialogue, and not everyone can have something interesting to say.

        If you compare Novigrad’s NPCs to say, Skyrim… Yeah I’d take Witcher 3’s npcs that populate the area and make it look and feel alive, than Skyrim’s 6 npcs that tell you their life story every time you walk within 10 feet of them.

        “I work with my mother. It’s fun some days, but hard work.” Who thought that was a good idea?! Most of Skyrim’s NPCs don’t have anything interesting to say anyway, they’re just like the above and/or they’re plain boring.

        Also NPCs not talking to you or giving a damn about you is far more realistic than Skyrim obsessing over NPCs telling you their life stories as you walk by. They have their own shit to deal with, why would they want to talk to you?

        • Henson says:

          You don’t need to go full Skyrim to get the kind of dialogue Zekiel is wishing for. For example, there is an NPC on the docks of Oxenfurt who you can have a conversation with, a witness to the events of Loc Muinne from the last game. It’s interesting, it’s worldbuilding, and it’s not tied to any quest. I do kinda wish there were more conversations like this, where narrative is not dependent on quest content or merchants. In a way, the world does feel a bit small when the only characters are ones that have a functional purpose in relation to the player.

          • Thomas says:

            I think this is one of the few black marks against The Witcher for me. You don’t have much way of interacting with the NPC’s, either through chatting to them or stealing/fighting/griefing in a very interactive way.

            I don’t think those are the best ways of interacting maybe, but it makes the Witcher world feel like a bit more of a diarama than Kingdom Come: Deliverance or Fallout say.

        • Agammamon says:

          Welcome to Corneria!

        • Syal says:

          I still like Morrowind’s version; the commoners all share the same pool of basic conversation topics, so you can talk to all of them and get the same generic information.

        • Zekiel says:

          Yeah, its kind of unfair of me to gripe. And as I said, it would make this massive game even more massive.

          But it is an issue of verisimilitude – if the only people who talk to you are ones who have some in-game function, it makes it feel very “game-y”.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Doesnt that make it more realistic though?I mean,when you go do some errand in real life,you only speak to specific people you either know,or have been told about by people you know.You dont go to a random stranger in the street and say “‘Sup?Know of any work around here?”Wouldnt that be more gamey?

  16. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    A lot of the elements of the Novigrad story can seem like an ill-fitting patchwork, but I don’t ever really get hung up on that part. I always assume that the answers are there and that I didn’t give due diligence when it comes to paying attention to how the threads tie together. Of course, when a story is pulled off right, nobody has to wonder if they missed something, but I enjoy enough of what’s going on to handwave whatever gaps may be here.

    But this is the roughest part of the game for me too, less because of what unfolds and more because of how it unfolds. The whole story is a Rube Goldberg plot that works in reverse. You’ve got a mouse in a cage and you’re like “Does this get me to Ciri?” Then you track that back to a guy jumping into a tub, triggering the trap and again you ask “Does this get me to Ciri?” Then you find where a ball fell out of a bathtub… Anyhow, you work backwards through a complicated chain of events and you don’t find Ciri. You just find Dandelion who can only tell you that Ciri’s in another castle.

    Otherwise, there are various quests that are quite enjoyable here. I happen to enjoy the questline of opening Dandelion’s theater/burlesque house. When it comes to making that choice, I go with making it more of a theater because that feels more thematic with a lot of the theater stuff that happens in the main plot, but I would be curious how different the place becomes if you choose to go the other direction with it. But I enjoy the fun little things like that throughout Novigrad.

    • Trevor says:

      Yes. This. Especially if you do the Velen -> Novigrad -> Skellige route. I didn’t find any individual part of the Dandelion quest horrendous, but after the Velen sequence of helping the Baron through all his problems only to be told Ciri’s in another castle, having Dandelion do the exact same thing was infuriating.

      I don’t know if it would have been worthwhile to have Skellige in the middle of that sequence. You can always go there, but if you’re playing through without assistance it’s not at all clear if how close you actually are to finding Dandelion and wrapping up that part of the plot. You get to several points where either the next guy you talk to knows where he is, or you’re five guys away from Dandelion and there’s no way to tell.

  17. Caal says:

    I don’t know how last minute the changes were, but initially the novigrad questlines involved an earlier version of the script that ended up changing and eventually forming the HoS expac. involving master mirror, the eternal fire and the hierarch, Nilfgaards war crimes (tied into roche’s questline – the Ves quest is actually just a remnant of all that) and brutallity and Iorveth. It was cut because apparently no matter what they couldn’t make it (and Iorveth) feel like it all fit into the game and main story on top of making the novigrad part of the game far too long.

    As far as rushed things go, almost the entire main story bit past the battle of KM is what I felt was rushed – and knowing the originally intended ending scene/squence was one that was to take place in a frozen novigrad.. well that just reinforces my belief. The existing novigrad questline with the jet junior part never felt rushed to me, just a bit clunkier than it should have been. Like they couldnt quite figure out how to execute the idea, rather than not having enough time to put it together.

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