The Witcher 3’s locations have become ensconced in the collective gaming consciousness in a way few open world games have achieved before or since.
The soulful Skellige soundtrack playing as you lead Roach up a hill and emerge to witness a breathtaking view of the isles and mountains. You stop for a moment, simply content to feel awe and a certain solemnity. Fighting a giant in the lush valleys of Toussaint like a knight from Arthurian legends. Uneasily riding through the haunting Velen countryside on a moonlit night.
These locations are expansive and meticulously detailed. Rich lore and distinctive culture imbue each setting with authenticity. Quests explore these elements in ways that reveal much, but also leave plenty to your imagination. All of this adds up to experiences that are unlike any other in video games. The praise is rightfully earned.
But this article is not about those locations. It’s about a location that isn’t talked about as often, understandably overshadowed as it is by the more voluminous maps.
Kaer Morhen is at the heart of The Witcher 3. While the other settings constitute nuanced political and mythical landscapes that Geralt has to contend with in his quest, Kaer Morhen is about Geralt himself. It is a singular monument to his character and journey.
One way to understand this is to look at how the game is neatly bookended by Kaer Morhen.
Geralt’s call to adventure begins with a flashback dream to an idyllic time in his life, when he’s with Yennefer and a cheeky and talented young Ciri, surrounded by his some of his oldest friends — Lambert, Eskel and Vesemir. I wish this sequence had been longer, so that Geralt could have enjoyed a few more moments of tranquility. But it was perfect as it was; the ephemerality and jarring ending sets the tone for the game and enhances the poignancy of later events.
Geralt’s journey ends on a somber note. After the final quest in the main storyline, you are returned to Kaer Morhen to find the fortress empty. Geralt’s friends had either perished along the way, or moved on to other things in life. The abandoned fortress is bittersweet; it shows that Geralt doesn’t have many daunting battles left to face, but it also symbolizes how Geralt’s way of life is beginning to become obsolete.
Key moments in the game’s narrative tie back to Kaer Morhen. It is where you meet with Eskel, Lambert, Yennefer and Vesemir after you’ve gathered information on Ciri’s recent adventures. What follows is a leisurely set of quests and interactions with these characters that permits you a brief but well-earned reprieve from your adventures. It is a chance for Geralt to catch up with Eskel and Lambert, enjoy Yennefer’s fiery company and rely on Vesemir’s grounded wisdom.
This segment culminates in one of the funniest and most enjoyable quests of all time — No Place Like Home. The trio get shit-faced drunk, needle each other about past exploits and indiscretions, play a game of ‘Never have I ever’, and watch Lambert cosplay Vesemir. Then Eskel gets lost and they go looking for him (the only part of the quest that’s reminiscent of a typical Witcher quest — a drunken Geralt traces Eskel’s trail of booze using his Witcher senses). They eventually get the bright idea to ‘call’ a bunch of sorceresses, and dress up in Yennefer’s clothes so the sorceresses wouldn’t get scared.
This exquisite quest puts Kaer Morhen in perspective as a cornerstone for so much of who these people are, and who Geralt is. It deftly presents the notion that Witchers are as human as any of us. It engenders fondness for these characters and strengthens your resolve for the battle to come. The quest is aptly named.
Throughout your journey, you make choices that affect the fates of your allies, friends and former enemies. When you realize Ciri will need to be protected once she’s found, Kaer Morhen is where they assemble to fight. In coming to Kaer Morhen, the Witcher stronghold, this small circle of people demonstrate how they’ve been able to see past the prejudice against Witchers to embrace Geralt as one of their own.
The tragic culmination of The Battle of Kaer Morhen with Vesemir’s death and the funeral thereafter ring the death knell for the Witcher way, leading to the deserted fortress at the end of the game. But the place is not devoid of hope, for you can still snatch a few moments of levity with Ciri before the decisive battle (and hopefully you seized those moments).
Kaer Morhen is emblematic of Geralt’s journey. One of friendship and loss, mentorship and camaraderie. While I absolutely love the other locations, Kaer Morhen is the one I wish we got to spend more time in, even while knowing that it was perfect as it was.