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How Yennefer was brought to life and won your hearts in The Witcher 3

FeatureSep 8, 2016 at 3:45a PSTby Michal Manka

How Yennefer was brought to life and won your hearts in The Witcher 3

It turns out that choosing your love interest in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a weighty decision not only for Geralt, but also for the players. Most of you chose Yennefer, even if you haven’t read the books. Why?

A witchman, mumbled the woman. Called by some a witcher. To summon him is most dangerous, albeit one must; for when against the monster and the vermin there be no aid, the witchman can contrive. (...) But careful one must be to touch not the witchman, for thus the mange can one acquire. And lasses do from him hide away, for lustful the witchman is above all measure...

Indeed, a witchman is lustful above all measure, as proven by the large collection of cards we could collect in the first Witcher game. And although the casual way in which Geralt treated corporal pleasures was not exactly at odds with his life in the canonical BYE (Before Yennefer Era), The Witcher 2 has provided a more mature relationship, where the key role – the same as in the 2007 production – was played by Triss. But let's not forget that it was only in Wild Hunt when the devs had to face the crucial task of establishing Yennefer of Vengerberg, Geralt's iconic lover in the book saga, as a video game character. We managed to talk with Karolina Stachyra, senior writer of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and ask a few questions regarding this challenging task.

We looked back at The Witcher 3 and asked the readers of our associated website, GRYOnline.pl, about the love choices they made in the game. Let's find out whether those players are #TeamTriss or #TeamYennefer and why the introduction of the raven-haired sorceress was such a challenge for the video game's world.

"Just pick the one you like". Yeah, right... - 2016-09-23
"Just pick the one you like". Yeah, right...

Witcher's canon romance

Let's face it – with his ugly witcher mug Geralt is unlikely to become the king of an imperial ball, or any ball for that matter. What attracted women to our favorite monster slayer was the aura of mystery and being-hard-to-get that surrounded him, as well as – in at least one confirmed case – fascination with his witcher mutations. We know of his relationships (not limited to bed) with Yennefer, Triss Merigold, Fringilla Vigo, Lytta Neyd, Essi Daven as well as with Shani and Iola – the Second (for medical purposes, obviously). We could (or perhaps even should) also mention the unreciprocated interest showed by Sabrina Glevissig, Marti Södergren or Keira Metz – and we can be pretty sure that these ladies don’t exhaust the list of fair sex representatives that had their eye on the White Wolf at least at some point.

Despite the fairly large group of interested women, it was the sorceress from Vengerberg who had the deepest bond with the witcher. The pair met under rather intense circumstances, when Geralt sought help for Dandelion after the latter was attacked by a Djinn that he had first released from a bottle and then promptly pissed off. Having found a solution to the Djinn problem, Geralt and Yennefer began a turbulent relationship during which they broke up only to get back together on more than one occasion. The two lovers believed that they were destined for each other, and the conviction was further cemented by the feelings they both had for their adoptive daughter Ciri.

However, many believe that Triss Merigold would be the healthier option for Geralt. The sorceress with auburn hair was the complete opposite of Yennefer, but this never prevented the witcher from nursing his broken heart in her arms.

Ok, now for the real deal: Triss or Yennefer? - 2016-09-23
Ok, now for the real deal: Triss or Yennefer?

Then Geralt of Rivia appeared. A witcher leading a stormy life, and tied to her good friend Yennefer in a strange, turbulent and almost violent relationship.

Triss had watched them both and was jealous even though it seemed there was little to be jealous of. Their relationship quite obviously made them both unhappy, had led straight to destruction, pain and yet, against all logic... it had lasted. Triss couldn't understand it. And it had fascinated her. It had fascinated her to such an extent that...

...she had seduced the witcher – with the help of a little magic. She had hit on a propitious moment, a moment when he and Yennefer had scratched at each other's eyes yet again and had abruptly parted. Geralt had needed warmth, and had wanted to forget.

No, Triss had not desired to take him away from Yennefer. As a matter of fact, her friend was more important to her than he was. But her brief relationship with the witcher had not disappointed. She had found what she was looking for – emotions in the form of guilt, anxiety and pain. His pain. She had experienced his emotions, it had excited her and, when they parted, she had been unable to forget it. And she had only recently understood what pain is. The moment when she had overwhelmingly wanted to be with him again. For a short while – just for a moment – to be with him.

Virtual Geralt goes for redheads

All book-based love affairs are forgotten, however, after Geralt loses this memory. With the beginning of the virtual history of the White Wolf, the players (and not all of them) are the only ones aware that we had bedded the wrong sorceress; who cares though – we get a fancy card. But after ploughing our way through five acts, it turns out that Yennefer is nowhere to be found, and Triss is not the same sorceress she used to be when she was overshadowed by her friend. Merigold has spread her wings, made a degree in manipulation and her behavior started to increasingly resemble that of Yennefer.

The Witcher 2 makes it clear from the beginning how important Triss is to Geralt, and their romance blooms throughout the whole game. The woman, despite being directly involved in the affairs of King Foltest, comes to White Wolf's aid anytime, no matter the circumstances. We also learn that Merigold is ready to accompany Geralt on his search for Yennefer – despite the feelings she has for him, Triss still deeply cares for her friend. Enter The Witcher 3, and with it the raven-haired beauty smelling of lilac and gooseberries...

Always by your side

And here at last we face the choice that seemed inevitable from the beginning – whether to stay with Triss, who accompanied us in the virtual world for 8 long years, or remain faithful to Geralt's true love, a woman few people of sound mind would dare to live with. First, let's take a look at the choices of our readers. We’ve decided to divide the decisions into the following groups: people who read the books before playing The Witcher 3, people who read the books after playing The Witcher 3 and those who didn’t read the books but played The Witcher 3. As a bonus, we've added the option of declaring love for both sorceresses.

Triss and Yennefer in numbers

More than seven thousand readers took part in our survey, which makes for a pretty decent sample. Let us now examine the specific numbers and see what we can find.

Who did you choose in The Witcher 3?

That's 3:0 for Yennefer. - 2016-09-23
That's 3:0 for Yennefer.

If you read the books first...

...you probably chose Yennefer. Of the 3122 people voting in this group, 72.6% opted for the woman destined to be with Geralt since The Last Wish. There is no doubt that the relationship of the two is so deeply embedded in the heads of the fans of Sapkowski's prose that it seemed like the only viable choice to confess your love to the witch from Vengerberg, as Geralt himself would have probably done.

DRAUG chose #TeamYennefer

I chose Yennefer, because in my opinion it was the only reasonable choice for someone who wants to continue the story of Geralt in a way consistent with the original vision of the character outlined by Sapkowski. I admit, Triss can also be charming and shooting her down wasn't exactly pleasant, but I couldn't prioritize a fleeting romance over a relationship with long history – and especially one that was born from the power of destiny and “The Last Wish”.

GAMBRINUS chose #TeamTriss

Each and every one of my colleagues will testify that I'm not a big fan of the love story with Yennefer as depicted in the books. Sapkowski has many talents, but Geralt's love life was too much for him. That’s why I never felt much of a connection with the black-haired sorceress... The video game series allowed me to try out a scenario in which the witcher doesn't care for her one bit. Triss was therefore an obvious choice for me, letting me erase what I felt was lacking in the novels, and for purely aesthetic reasons. Redhead beats everything.

If you played the games first...

...you probably had a tough nut to crack. 1137 people voted in this group, among which 52.9% chose Yennefer, and 47.1% opted for Triss. It seemed obvious that the emergence of a new love interest may encourage a change in preferences; keep in mind, however, that the players who have spent some time with the series’ version of Merigold already knew what kind of relationship formed between her and the witcher in the meantime.

GHOST chose #TeamYennefer

Geralt is like a sailor – he has a girlfriend in almost every port. The truth is, however, that there were only two important women in his life: Triss and Yennefer. Both of them rare, both head over heels in love with the witcher, but each in her own way. Triss is emotional and full of warmth. Yen seems to be cold and distant. They complement each other perfectly, creating a kind of yin and yang chemistry around the White Wolf. Then playing The Witcher 3 I chose Yennefer. In part because I was more curious about her – after all Triss has accompanied us in both the first and second installment of the game – and partly because this was the witcher's choice in the books, which I decided to respect; also in part because personally I prefer brunettes...

The unicorn scene is a direct reference to the books. - 2016-09-23
The unicorn scene is a direct reference to the books.

If you haven't read the books...

...the choice wasn't even a bit easier. You are one of the 2040 people who haven’t ventured outside of the witcher’s game world and chose either Yennefer (56.8%) or Triss (43.2%). The emergence of a new, intriguing female character could be counteracted by the fact that after all Triss was the first sorceress we got to know in the game. Most of you, however, had enough patience to wade even through the Skellige arc and choose what was in Geralt's heart.

JORDAN chose #TeamTriss

Redheads for life, Yen is a cold b..ch! I know, the source material, the canon etc., but I cannot imagine my virtual Geralt without Triss at his side. In Assassins and the first Witcher the chemistry between them was almost palpable, and the Triss-related plot in The Wild Hunt (especially the scene at the ball) is the perfect development of this romance. What's more, Triss' character makes her feel like the girl whom you can trust with anything – with Yen it would be constant horn locking and threats with a rolling pin in hand.

T_BONE chose #TeamYennefer

Yennefer seemed like the only logical choice from the point of view of the story. If Yen is the mother figure to Ciri, Geralt the father, and Triss the sister, dating Triss at this point would be kinda awkward at best. Besides, I got the impression that despite her "stone-cold b..ch" attitude Yen displayed towards Geralt, they've actually established a sense of understanding.

If you have chosen both sorceresses...

...you either couldn't decide which one you prefer or simply hoped for a 1+2 relationship... and got burned. There is also a third possibility: you had no idea how important the love declaration is, because other RPGs have accustomed you to having "You're about to enter a permanent relationship; congratulations, now go watch a sex scene" situations rubbed in your face.

Didn't see that one coming, did you, lechers! - 2016-09-23
Didn't see that one coming, did you, lechers!

LOSIU chose # TeamTriangle

It happened so that at the end of The Witcher 3 my Geralt was still single and having fun around countryside hay barns. Which simply means I wanted to have the cake and eat it too, because that's just how the flawed masculine nature is – after all, how can you reasonably choose between a redhead beauty and a vamp dressed in black lace? You can't, obviously! However, I must admit that the romantic element of my soul has always leaned more toward Triss. The deciding factor was not the appearance, but the character traits presented in the game – she was far more feminine than the somewhat calculating Yennefer.

UV chose #TeamTriss (the first time)

Yennefer had failed to leave me with a positive impression throughout The Wild Hunt. On the contrary, she reaffirmed my belief that the witcher's relationship with the sorceress is best summarized as "love is blind". In Sapkowski's original material, she got on my nerves, The Witcher 3 only served to strengthen this impression, which is why I deliberately chose Triss, hoping that Yennefer would burst on the spot. That was the first time though, because the second time around – I honestly admit – I confessed love to both of them. I wanted to see if the devs at CD Projekt RED were prepared for this option, and as you’ve probably guessed, I was pleasantly surprised.

Summary of the survey

The first thing that immediately catches the eye are the results in the group of people who have read the books before starting the virtual adventure. This group of voters accounts to more than 40% of all votes cast, allowing us to say that the knowledge of the book saga is quite strong among the fans of The Witcher 3. Thus, the fact that most of you chose Yennefer is hardly surprising – she ended up with your Geralt in almost 3/4 of cases.

The ball was a nice occasion to take a short break from searching for Ciri and spend some quality time with Triss. - 2016-09-23
The ball was a nice occasion to take a short break from searching for Ciri and spend some quality time with Triss.

What was surprising though was the advantage the sorceress from Vengerberg had in other groups, although the difference in votes was not so great. People who have read the books only after playing The Wild Hunt contributed 15.8% of all votes and 28.3% of you weren't convinced to have a taste of Sapkowski's original, despite having spent many hours with the third Witcher (let's face it, you had to invest some time before you could even finalize the relationship with Triss). Those undecided and trigonometry fans represent 12.5% of all voters.

Why did most of us choose Yennefer?

The reasons for this development may be several. We have tried to analyze them and reach to the source – we've sent our questions directly to CD Projekt RED, and received comprehensive responses from Karolina Stachyra, senior writer of The Wild Hunt. The following part of the article contains some theories which are not necessarily consistent with what the creators had in mind, but we wanted to introduce you to the different points of view on this issue.

We have to begin from the fact that Yennefer existed in the minds of the players for a long time. For those who have read the books, choosing the raven-haired sorceress was something natural, because it was she and Ciri who gave the witcher something he could call home, with Triss treating Ciri as her younger sister. Things get a little more complicated if the player wasn't introduced to the story through the books, but there's an explanation for that as well – a great deal of things was said about Yennefer in The Witcher 2, and although she didn't appear personally (except for the flashbacks), we were aware of how important she was to Geralt. So when we finally get the opportunity to meet the woman we have spent so much time looking for, the affair with Triss does not seem so important anymore.

Karolina Stachyra, senior writer of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: We've approached the matter very methodically: first we had a brainstorm on the essential features of Yennefer that made her so special. We knew that for her character to be believable, she must have a personal purpose for the sake of which she would be ready to move mountains. That was the critical moment for us, because for a while we feared that if her motivation was too similar to Geralt's, Yennefer would lose her individualism. It quickly dawned on us, however, that the only thing in the world for which the sorceress would be willing to bear any sacrifice would be to rescue Ciri, and looking for an alternative motivation for her seemed forced and doomed from the start. It was then when we came to the conclusion that Yennefer resorts to vastly different methods than Geralt, so we were confident that both characters will be distinct and consistent.

The lady sure kept us waiting. - 2016-09-23
The lady sure kept us waiting.

Let's stay on the topic of Yennefer for the moment; from the very beginning of the books I was intrigued by the feeling of "distance" in her behavior and her – at least initially – pretty cold attitude towards Geralt, the man she gave her life for in the last volume of the saga (not quite, as it turned out, but still). The virtual Yennefer, however, immediately had the vibe of a haughty sorceress that we got to know in The Last Wish, and only with time had she become more open and warmed up to others thanks to the maternal feelings she came to harbor for Ciri.

Karolina Stachyra: It's funny you should mention that, because we often hear voices that Yennefer from the game is much more gentle and appears to be more mature than her vision from the books. We are always happy to hear such extreme opinions, because it means that we have created a well-developed and internally complex character. Yennefer combines the features of a cold, sometimes calculating professional who is absolutely committed to her goal, no matter the means and dead bodies in her wake, but also of a woman full of warmth and with a big heart, ready for any sacrifice for the sake of her family. When creating the character of Yennefer, we always had it in the back of our minds that her goodness does not consist in the fact that she bakes a pie every Sunday and has a weak spot for cute kittens. On the contrary – she can be arrogant, she can curse, punch someone in the face or even kill if need be – but everything she does is to save her loved ones.

On the other hand, maybe it's not Yen's doing? Maybe it's the change that has taken place in the beautiful Merigold that wasn’t to our liking? Note that in the first and the second Witcher Triss is a confident, rather bossy woman, acquiring some of the qualities we associated mostly with Yennefer (though she's not so arrogant and haughty). The events that took place in the finale of Assassins of Kings and their aftermath deprive the sorceress of all the privileges she enjoyed so far, and her only remaining choice is to fight for her colleagues, some of whom had crossed her on a few occasions. Little Merigold has grown up and her priorities have changed; maybe it's her maturity and newfound idealism that lies behind the fact that we've decided on a different romance.

Karolina Stachyra: In the previous games Triss enjoyed a completely different social status – she was a valued advisor to one of the most powerful rulers of the North, a respected and wealthy person. The political events taking place during The Wild Hunt (and prior to the beginning of the game) made her lose almost everything: power, position, money, and influence – her personality was the only thing she had left. I think that, paradoxically, this is what revealed the strength of her character – she finally gained something that was worth fighting for, a goal that, if achieved, would benefit not only her, but also the entire community, and I feel that it suits her character better than working for personal gains.

We also never treated Triss as Yennefer's rival. Let's not forget that they were good friends in the saga. Yes, they had some clashes, mainly when it came to Geralt, but when the situation called for them to work together they never let their personal animosities get in the way and were able to fight for a common cause shoulder to shoulder. We wanted to underline this particular relation in the game, which is why we've put a number of scenes in the game that emphasize the strength of their friendship.

But that's not the end of our speculations – knowing we've spent so much time with Triss during the first two parts of the game, perhaps eventually the players wanted to try something new, something a bit more... exotic? In addition, it should be noted that the presence of Yennefer left a deeper impression in our memory than the story of her friend (or at least that's how I see it). It is true that the wizard-focused Novigrad arc as well as the Skellige arc both offer roughly comparable amounts of time with both women, but it is Yen who is always working in the background of events and she is the driving force behind the extensive search for her adopted daughter. You could therefore dare to take the risk of identifying the reasons for our decision solely as character exposure time in The Wild Hunt.

Karolina Stachyra: We were facing the challenge of presenting two very strong female characters – vastly different – both extremely important to Geralt. (...) Of course, in the saga Geralt eventually chose Yennefer, who was his great love, but he always harbored strong feelings for Triss and it was extremely important for us to present this situation and the difficulty of this choice in the game.

To do this, we've tried, first of all, to show the complexity of character of the two sorceresses, their flaws, strengths, and what they're fighting for. We've put them in difficult situations and circumstances, had them experience extreme emotions, everything in order for the player – and Geralt – to have a tough nut to crack in the end. We took special care to provide both Triss and Yennefer with equal amounts of "screen time", to give them their own side quests and a role to play in the main storyline, so that the player felt how very important they are for Geralt. Both of them.

Triss is a very... capable... sorceress. - 2016-09-23
Triss is a very... capable... sorceress.

It’s still possible, however, that most of us chose Yennefer because we expected that at any moment the game would clearly indicate that it's high time we decided which of the sorceresses we want Geralt to spend the rest of his life with. Such an explanation is not as impossible as you might think – a lot of games of the last decade accustomed us to the fact that the dialogue window leaves no doubt as to what we’re doing, informing the player if what they’re saying is considered flirting or will close up the possibility of romance with others. In Wild Hunt there's no such thing, so some players might not have been aware of the weight their words carried.

Karolina Stachyra: As for indicating the choice between Triss and Yennefer, I feel that it worked out in a very organic way. None of us wanted to create a situation or write a dialogue line in the vein of, "And now, dear player, decide with whom Geralt will spend the rest of his life". It makes no sense, we don't work like that, and we don't want to write like that because it feels unnatural. In real life, no one asks such questions or presents us with a choice formulated like this. We gave the players an opportunity to get to know both sorceresses, see what kind of people they are, spend time with them, and learn their strengths, passions and weaknesses. And then both of them demanded that we choose in a more or less explicit manner. I think that everyone, even an extremely casual player who clicks through most of the dialogue, understood that those were not mere words, and that this particular choice had very real consequences.

This fact that the players are used to being told explicitly that a choice has to be made led to the (in)famous scene of the attempted love triangle. Personally, I thought it was a great way to teach a lesson to those players who thought that they could engage in a polyamorous relationship without any consequences. Having decided myself that the only right choice for my Geralt was Yennefer, I had a good laugh when it turned out that some of my colleagues wanted to have it all and were in for a surprise.

Karolina Stachyra: Hmm... It was a long time ago, but I remember that there was no calculated reasoning behind this scene. When I approached it, I asked myself what the two women would do in such a situation – women who have been best friends for a long time, women entangled in a unique love triangle with one man; each of them is ready to retreat if Geralt chooses the other one, and would hold no grudge despite a broken heart... And yet he didn't choose any of them. He wanted to have it all and for some mysterious reason believed that they wouldn't find out about one another (even though they are good friends), or simply wouldn't mind. But they did mind. We all love Geralt and forgive him his various social blunders – but here he crossed the line. It was only fitting to teach him a lesson – something that wouldn’t hurt too much, instead just letting him know that you can't pull crap like that. A lesson worthy of a sorceress, so a little bit naughty. But also classy – and funny. This is how the scene came to life.

Writing romance in video games is no easy task – on the one hand it has to be mature enough not to be cheesy, and on the other you can't take the seriousness too far so as not to risk being ridiculous. It's equally difficult to present two women – one we've known for many years in the virtual world, and the other, who for those familiar with the universe is an iconic and very specific character and, what's worse, had been chosen first by our protagonist. When trying to analyze why Yennefer is the top choice among the players, I would lean towards the explanation that even if the game didn't suggest to choose any of the characters, somewhere in the back of our minds there would lurk the idea that the raven-haired sorceress is the right choice from the point of view of the canon Geralt. Whether you consider it a weakness or not, it’s up to you.

"A beautiful dream". Yennefer lightly stroked his arm. "A house. A house built with your own hands and you and me living in that house. You would raise horses and sheep, I would take care of the garden, food and card the wool that we would then take to the market. From the money we'd earn from the sale of the wool and various fruits of the earth we would buy everything we need, things like copper kettles and an iron rake. Every so often Ciri would come visit us with her husband and their three children, sometimes Triss Merigold would come over and stay with us for a few days. We could grow old with dignity. And if I get bored at night, you would play the bagpipes for me, made with your own hands of course. Playing the bagpipes, as everyone knows, is the best remedy for the blues".

The fragments of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels that we quote in this article come from “Blood of Elves” (translated by Danusia Stok) and “Time of Contempt” (fan translation).