The Witcher 3 story primer: catch up on the essentials

Witcher 2 Art Header

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a daunting game: a huge, open world RPG and the end of a trilogy starring monster hunter Geralt of Rivia. What do you need to be prepared? First comes brushing up on the events of The Witcher and The Witcher 2, Geralt’s previous video game adventures. Both are big games, dense with characters and political machinations. But that’s not the beginning and end of the Witcher-verse. Geralt’s origins lie in a series of novels by author Andrzej Sapkowski, and guess what? Some important characters from those novels will be showing up in The Witcher 3.

You don’t have to be well-versed in the Witcher novels to understand what’s going on in Wild Hunt: the games are spin-offs, and thus don’t tie directly into the events of the books. But Wild Hunt does pull in characters from those books, and reading a bit about Geralt’s relationships with them will help you hit the ground running in Wild Hunt.

If you want to go into The Witcher 3 knowing more about, well, everything, we’re here to help. We’ll cover the basics below, but we’re also assembling some of our favorite recaps and lore resources from around the web. There’s already someone out there who could do it better than we ever could, so let the savviest Witcher 3 superfans help fill you in on everything you need to know.

Important characters and their backgrounds

These are some of the major players in The Witcher 3 and the Witcher series in general, but they're hardly the only ones. For more background, look up Roche and Iorveth from The Witcher 2, King Radovid of Redania, and Vesemir of the witchers.

Witcher 3 Geralt

Geralt of Rivia

More from the Witcher world

The Witcher 3 - Geralt artwork

(Image credit: CD PRojekt RED)

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Our hero Geralt is a witcher, a monster hunter trained since childhood to be fearsome warriors, skilled in combat, tracking, magic, and more. Witchers are given mutagens to make them stronger, faster, and resistant to toxic alchemy. Geralt, also known as the White Wolf, is the protagonist of the Witcher novels and games. He has a relationship with Triss Merigold, and his personality and politics are largely left up to the player. Witchers are meant to remain detached from conflict without taking political sides, but in the first two Witcher games, Geralt often has to make a choice between aiding humans or the persecuted non-humans. As mutants, witchers comfortably fit in neither camp.

At the beginning of the first Witcher game, Geralt is found near the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen, wounded, with his memory stolen by amnesia. Geralt recovers his memory over the course of The Witcher 2 and recalls that he was killed by a pitchfork-wielding villager while defending a group of nonhumans. His former lover, the sorceress Yennefer, died trying to bring him back. But both were saved by Ciri’s magical powers, and they lived in peace until Yennefer was taken by the Wild Hunt. Geralt tracked them and made a trade: his life for Yennefer’s. She was freed, and Geralt rode with the Hunt until he somehow made his escape, which is where The Witcher 1 picks up. When Geralt discovers Yennefer is alive, he sets out to find her.

Witcher 3 Triss

Triss Merigold

A powerful sorceress and Geralt’s on-again, off-again lover. Triss is a friend to the witchers and sometimes stays with them at Kaer Morhen. She saves Geralt’s life more than once in The Witcher 1, and again plays a key role in The Witcher 2. She is kidnapped by the kingslayer witcher Letho, and her fate is up to Geralt’s actions. At the beginning of the Witcher 3, she and Geralt are separated, as Geralt is riding across the Northern Kingdoms in search of Yennefer.

Witcher 3 Yennefer

Yennefer of Vengenberg

A sorceress and Geralt’s lover in the Andrzej Sapkowski novels. Yennefer makes her first game appearance in flashbacks in The Witcher 2, as Geralt regains his memory. Yennefer dies trying to heal Geralt after he defends a group of nonhumans from an angry mob. Both are brought to live by Ciri, who Yennefer helped train in magic. Yennefer is later taken by the Wild Hunt and rescued by Geralt; when she returns to the earthly plain she has amnesia, and makes her way across the wartorn Northern Kingdoms in search of Ciri.

Witcher 3 Ciri


Ciri is a source, someone born with innate (and likely enormous) magical powers. She makes her first appearance in The Witcher 3, so all of her backstory comes from the Andrzej Sapkowski novels. She is the daughter of Emperor Emhyr var Emreis of Nilfgaard. As a child, after both her parents are believed to be dead, Geralt takes Ciri to Kaer Morhen to train as a witcher. She later brings Geralt and Yennefer back to life using her magical powers, before teleporting herself out of the world of The Witcher into another realm. At the beginning of The Witcher 3, she has apparently returned and is somewhere in the Northern Kingdoms, pursued by the Wild Hunt for her powers as a source.

Witcher 3 Emperor Emhyr

Emperor Emhyr var Emreis

The Emperor of Nilfgaard and father to Ciri. As The Witcher 3 begins, Emhyr var Emreis has invaded the Northern Kingdoms and taken up rule in Vizima, capital of Temeria. He is in search of his daughter Ciri. Prior to becoming emperor, Emhyr var Emreis was cursed and turned into a monster. His father, the emperor, was killed, and Emhyr var Emreis traveled for a time under an assumed name, fathering Ciri, before eventually freeing himself from the curse and returning to Nilfgaard to take the throne.

Witcher Letho


A witcher and the kingslayer, murderer of Temeria’s King Foltest and former companion of Geralt of Rivia. Letho is the main antagonist of The Witcher 2, as Geralt is hunting Letho as Foltest’s killer. At the end of The Witcher 2 Geralt learns that he once saved Letho’s life, and Letho once rode with him to save Yennefer from The Wild Hunt. When Geralt traded his life to the Hunt for Yennefer’s, he entrusted Letho with Yennefer’s life. Letho reveals to Geralt that he assassinated the rulers of the Northern Kingdoms while working for Emhyr var Emreis of Nilfgaard, as a prelude to a Nilfgaard invasion of the north. At the end of The Witcher 2, Geralt can choose to kill Letho or let him go free.

Witcher 3 Dandelion


A bard, and Geralt’s friend. He’s renowned across the land as one of its greatest bards, and often tells tales of Geralt of Rivia. His stories are often used as narration in the Witcher games.

Witcher Zoltan

Zoltan Chivay

A dwarven warrior and another of Geralt’s friends. He was at the battle where Geralt was slain, and appears in both Witcher games as an ally to Geralt and oppressed non-humans.

What is the Wild Hunt?

Witcher King Of Wild Hunt

Like the horsemen of the apocalypse, the Wild Hunt are a group of spectral riders who appear as an omen of war. They kill and take some mortals to become new wraith riders. The Wild Hunt is in search of Ciri, who has escaped their clutches before. In the first Witcher game, the King of the Wild Hunt appears to Geralt multiple times as a spectre, and Geralt fights him for the soul of Jacques de Aldersberg, Grand Master of the Order of the Flaming Rose.

At one time, Geralt rode with the Hunt after giving his soul for Yennefer’s. He somehow escaped. As Geralt says, all witchers know that wraiths cannot be killed, only driven away, but it seems that at times they take physical form, as Geralt, Letho, and other witchers killed some of the riders before Geralt agreed to ride with them. The Wild Hunt’s ability to appear and disappear as spectral riders seems to be connected to the parallel worlds alluded to at the beginning of The Witcher 3.

An infographic overview of the world of The Witcher and Geralt’s journey

This great infographic from NeoGAF member EatChildern intentionally keeps things simple. It doesn’t pull on wiki resources or Sapkowski’s novels, instead recounting information you can pick up from playing the first two games. It’s an easy way to grasp the basics of the political factions like the non-human Scoia’tael freedom fighters, the Northern Kingdoms and the Nilfgaardian Empire.

The second half of the infographic briefly recaps the major story events of The Witcher and The Witcher 2 that will tie into the third game. Even if you’ve played the first two games, it’s a quick, focused refresher.

The Witcher Wild Hunt Story infographic

The setting of The Witcher 3

Witcher 3 map

Witcher 3 Northern Realms Map

There are a lot of country and city names thrown around in the first few hours of The Witcher 3, and even if you remember those names from previous games, you may not remember where everything is. So, MAPS!

The large map to the right, made for The Witcher 3, depicts the portions of the Northern Kingdoms explorable in The Witcher 3. When The Wild Hunt Begins, the Empire of Nilfgaard has invaded the Northern Kingdoms from the south, occupying large swaths of territory. The Witcher 3 is mostly set in the center of this conflict, in the southernmost part of the Northern Kingdoms. One of those kingdoms is Temeria, where The Witcher 1 is set, and it has already been conquered by Nilfgaard.

The map below shows the boundaries of the Northern Kingdoms before the events of The Witcher 3, and depicts the land to the north of Novigrad that isn’t visible in The Witcher 3’s map. The significant kingdoms here are Redania and Kaedwen, who are still at war with the invading Nilfgaard. Can you Rivia?

Witcher 1 World Map

What happened in The Witcher 1?

This video is an efficient, well-edited story walkthrough of CD Projekt Red’s first Witcher game from 2007. It follows the game’s main plot and touches on some moments that will tie into The Witcher 3, like Geralt’s encounters with the King of the Wild Hunt.

If you’d rather see the game’s events play out without narration, you can watch this “movie version” of The Witcher, which compresses the the game into three hours of cutscenes, dialogue, and key gameplay sequences.

What happened in The Witcher 2?

A second video from the same creators as the one highlighted above covers the events of The Witcher 2, released in 2011. In CD Projekt Red’s second Witcher game, Geralt recovers some crucial memories lost to to amnesia before the events of the first game. He remembers how he and his former lover, the sorceress Yennefer, were nearly killed by an angry mob while defending non-humans. The two were saved by Ciri, who is a “source,” someone born with innate (and powerful) magical capabilities. When Yennefer is taken by the spectral Wild Hunt, he tracks them down, exchanging his life for Yennefer’s. Some time later he escapes the hunt, leading to his appearance at the beginning of The Witcher 1.

At the end of The Witcher 2, the Empire of Nilfgaard to the south begins its invasion of the Northern Kingdoms, chaos successfully sewn by Letho’s assassinations of kings.

If you’d rather see the game’s events play out without narration, you can watch movie versions of both Witcher 2 paths, which total three hours of cutscenes, dialogue, and key gameplay sequences.

The Witcher 2 Iorveth path: part one and part two.

The Witcher 2 Roche path: part one and part two.

Does the outcome of The Witcher 2 matter in The Witcher 3?

Yes. You can import a save file from The Witcher 2 into The Witcher 3, and certain decisions affect the state of the world (and the fates of some characters) at the start of The Wild Hunt. If you don’t have a save file, you can also simulate a Witcher 2 save by making the key choices that carry over to The Witcher 3.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).