If you had asked me if I wanted The Witcher 4 to return when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched, the answer would have been an emphatic yes. Naturally, there would be caveats: the story should be fair, there should be a good reason to return to this world, but the opportunity to return to this rich, monster-filled realm would be too tempting to pass up. . .
That was in 2015, however.
The recent Witcher 4 teaser, an image of a lynx medallion resting in pure white snow, doesn’t tell us much. The accompanying announcement that the development team has dropped its in-house engine for Epic’s Unreal Engine 5 tells us no more.
It’s an exciting teaser for fans, of course; the lynx head medallion shows that CD Projekt Red is breaking away from the tradition of the books to chart its own path – there is no mention of a school of the Lynx in Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, so it must to be a new Witcher school entirely.
CD Projekt has lost its shine
However, since The Witcher 3 launched, CD Projekt Red has released another massive, not-so-well-received game. While the critics’ ratings for Cyberpunk 2077’s pre-launch were high, the overwhelming post-release reaction was…pretty negative. The RPG launched in a poor state, with major bugs ruining the player experience; it stung all the more that it had failed to deliver on the promise of its early demos and had a general lifeless world. This was a terrible disappointment from such a talented developer. Even those looking for diamonds in the rough should admit that, at best, Cyberpunk 2077 is no patch on The Witcher 3, frequently dropping the ball in its storytelling and falling into numerous lazy tropes and stereotypes.
Part of this may be due to a simple fact: the CD Projekt Red that created The Witcher 3 is not the one that created Cyberpunk 2077. Quest designer Nikolas Kolm, a major role in the success of The Witcher 3, left the studio to work at Ubisoft on the much-loved Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Nor was Kolm the only key staff member to do so.
With such an exodus of talent, it’s fair to say that the team that created Cyberpunk 2077 is not the one that delivered 2015’s fantasy RPG. For all the ambition and dizzying money a studio can to devote to a project, people create games and their success results from collaboration. Can The Witcher 4 live up to its predecessor when those developers left?
make and break
There’s also the question of do we want the Witcher 4? Cyberpunk 2077 devs talked about the terrible conditions they worked under to make the game. Putting out a bad game is one thing, but a studio that subjects its staff to such stressful and debilitating development shouldn’t be easily forgiven. Every time something worth playing slips out of these conditions, it’s a cursed miracle that only hides how insecure and damaging development time is.
All that to say, while a new installment of a beloved series is thrilling in pure abstraction, it can’t be divorced from the way CD Projekt did. It’s hard to get excited about The Witcher 4 when the team that created The Witcher 3 has moved on, when Cyberpunk has been such a disaster, and the studio has failed to protect the good health of its employees.
I could talk about potential features and plots – there’s fertile ground to develop another stellar RPG: I’d love to see Ciri in the lead role and what stories flow from her narrative. How does she make a living as a witcher without the superhuman mutagens that made Geralt the killing machine he was? Does she still have access to the power that defined her life for so long? How would Ciri handle life in a patriarchal world, a reality Geralt largely avoided?
But that excitement doesn’t outweigh the fact that the studio’s latest release hasn’t delivered on its promise and failed to care for the people who created it. People will speculate wildly about what they want from a new Witcher game, but possibility and not reality can blind them. Questions to ask about The Witcher 4 aren’t about its plot or what’s new. It should be whether CD Projekt Red has done anything to improve its working conditions? How can we trust the marketing of this next release when Cyberpunk 2077 paints such a different picture from the reality of the final game?
The Witcher 4 warrants skepticism and criticism until CD Projekt Red shows the world that things have changed for the better. No promise of a sequel to your dreams should change that.