Stories are weaker when they have a blank slot where a protagonist should be. MMOs are a worst case example of this, because the developers — the storytellers — have no way of knowing what race, class, sex, or morality you’re playing. What sort of story would Star Wars be if George Lucas asked you, “Hey, should Luke give the droids to the Imperials or should he fly them to Alderaan?”
After the jump, how many paragon points are we talking about here?
Good storytelling requires good characters whose decisions flow from who they are. If who they are is simply plucked from a menu of races, classes, sexes, and moralities, a character is mostly going to be a spectator. Which isn’t anything new. Stories have been playing out in front of spectators for as long as they’ve been stories. The difference with videogames is that the spectators expect to drive the plot by answering multiple choice questions based on their whims.
But The Witcher is about a very specific character. Geralt is no cypher. His qualities are established well before you first push him forward with the left stick/W key. Tough. Scarred. Badass raspy Clint Eastwood voice. Douchey ponytail. Monster hunter class with some points in spellcasting and alchemy. Seems to get laid a lot. But within the confines of these qualities, you still get to make some important story decisions that determine who Geralt is, what he believes, how he feels. For instance, does he follow love or honor? Does he believe in retribution or forgiveness? How does he feel about elfs? Those are all questions that drive the plot of The Witcher 2, which is partly good storytelling because Geralt is who he is and not a blank spot where you could just as easily plug in a chaotic evil dwarf rogue.
So far, in The Witcher 3, my Geralt is a Geralt who prefers the black velvet doublet with the Niflgaardian seal on the left breast. I was hoping my Geralt could wear that as he wandered the earth, but velvet has a terrible armor rating. Also, my Geralt is an altruistic monster hunter who does what he does for the good of the people. This is known as a “good” playthrough. So my Geralt has steadfastly refused payment for finding lost brothers, killing griffins, and banishing noonwraiths. I figure the economy will balance out at some point. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from choice-and-consequence games, it’s that altruism pays. But then I found out how expensive it is to maintain a silver sword after only a few battles. The blacksmith wouldn’t accept altruism as payment, so I’ve now decided that my Geralt still does what he does for the good of the people, but he’s not above being paid a fair market price for his services.