This blog contains spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Alright, who here played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? And who here wanted to spare Keira Metz when given the option? Personally, I can verify that I did, seeing as Keira Metz is my favorite character in the entire Witcherverse. (Sorry, Djikstra.) She's a fairly minor character in the grand scheme of things, but one of her sidequests (A Towerful of Mice) is my favorite quest in the whole game. I really, really like Keira Metz. So that's why I killed her.
Wild Hunt is a game all about consequences for your choices. The game guides you through, but there's no explicit "good" or "evil" option. Most choices have an unexpected consequence. Keira is that philosophy of unexpected consequences that seem logical when you think about them.
For me, I didn't quite see the consequences coming. I hadn't played through the quests in Novigrad beforehand, which meant it was hard to know just how much of a madman King Radovid would turn out to be. Thanks to that, however, I got one of the most genuine and organic tragedies in any video game, all thanks to a mistake and a clever subversion.
To start with, let's talk about Metz herself. Keira Metz is initially just eye candy. She shows up as nude as you'd expect, deliberately flirtatious, and very, very fun to be around. She's involved in a couple main quests, and then proceeds to dish out the best sidequests in the game. Metz is a character who did not endear herself to every player, but certainly did to me.
What endears Keira Metz to me is how charming she is on the whole. Metz is a woman whose interests are primarily in magic and science, and she's clever and often has a "done with your shit" attitude. She's also flippin' gorgeous, but that's a trait most women throughout these games share.
So let's talk about Wild Hunt's dialogue system. The way it works is unlike many games, in that Geralt has no "karma meter". Geralt is also a predefined character, whose responses are variable yet in-character. Now, where this subverted my expectations is thus: Geralt's decisions are "good" or "bad" compared to the story being told. Where something like Mass Effect would present a "paragon" or "renegade" option which would often be the same. Instead, Wild Hunt tends to leave it context-sensitive.
Now, when I say I killed Keira Metz, that doesn't mean the usual. I didn't kill Keira personally, although you can do that if you go horribly wrong. No, I let Keira Metz die. The man in the picture a bit above is Radovid V, who hates witches.
I met Radovid after I sent Keira Metz to him. I knew about Radovid being kind of a nutjob, but little did I know just how evil he was. While I didn't actually get to the point in which you find out about Keira's death, I've spoiled it for myself even though I have a ways to go.
Now, the way the game subverted expectations was thus: I figured there were no genuine consequences to my actions. Many games simulate consequences, when really all it often is is a number on a screen, Paragon or Renegade. Mass Effect is the game before Wild Hunt that came closest to having actions genuinely feel consequential, and there are parts of 2 and 3 that take lots of decisions into account.
At the end of her questline, whether you chose to make love to her or not, Keira decides to leave with her research to try and bargain with King Radovid. She can be killed personally by Geralt, talked into going to Kaer Mohren, or she can be let go to make the deal.
I let her go. After all, her intentions were good, and I figured right made might. Now, having skimmed her wiki article, I can confirm two things. First, I should have talked her into heading to Kaer Mohren. Second, I'm gonna murder King Radovid the moment I get a chance.
See, here's the subversion: There are consequences. Letting Keira go to help the world doesn't help anyone. Radovid, psychopath he is, has her killed and put on a stake in Novigrad, the sick bastard. (How does Radovid have so many apologists amongst the fandom?) I have to give credit to CD Projekt, because that is a detail you will not encounter until far, far later, meaning if you want to save scum to fix it, you require losing tons of progress. The way it works, you have to deal with the consequences of your decision far after you'd expect.
This felt fleshed-out to me. First off, I was genuinely upset I sent my favorite character in the game off to a gruesome demise when I tried to help. Secondly, it motivated both me and my character. Learning what became of Keira means that later, when there is a quest to kill Radovid, I'm motivated to do so, no matter what. And lastly, this is built up incredibly well but without the game showing its full hand to the player.
You know how I mentioned A Towerful of Mice? For a quick summary, that quest presents Geralt with two choices: Trust an obvious benign choice, which is one blue aura away from being a generic "good" option, or interrogate everything. The latter is the right thing to do. The quest subverts the expectation that trusting people makes for a happy ending, by instead having a happy ending if you play detective and end on a genuinely peaceful solution. It beautifully subverts the "good" choice while also offering a happy ending. It's lovely.
Keira's storyline is the same way. I assumed I was doing the right thing in trusting Radovid and trusting Keira's judgement. After all, I figured out A Towerful of Mice. I thought after that subversion, the game was done tricking me. I figured sending Keira off was going to help people, and that there could be a peaceful solution.
See, A Towerful of Mice also serves as foreshadowing to the uninitiated as well. If somebody picked the "good" option in that sidequest and saw its horrific consequences, they would be wary. Instead, I picked out the consequences of the horrific quest, but didn't think for a moment about the consequences of the "reward" period after.
In the end, I was met with a scenario that genuinely upset me, motivation to finish the game, and a hell of a grudge against one King Radovid V. Well played, Wild Hunt. Well played.