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Where to start with The Witcher games if you've only seen the Netflix show

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

I knew The Witcher had hit the bigtime when I started getting Netflix Witcher memes from my sister in the family group text. And while I don't expect her to make the leap from fantasy-television-watcher to hardcore PC gamer overnight, some other folks definitely are doing just that. What Witcher game to play first is the big question. It's clear the popularity of The Witcher Netflix show has instilled major interest in the videogames—more people were playing The Witcher 3 on in December than on its launch day, four years ago.

For those whose first introduction to The Witcher is through the Netflix series, getting into the games might be daunting. If you're dying for more Witcher but don't want to commit to reading eight novels, here's how to get into the games, including what to play, what kind of PC you'll need to run them, and how to customize the experience to suit your playstyle.

You can skip The Witcher 1 and 2

The Witcher 1 and 2 aren't necessary in the slightest. This isn't to say they're not good games, but in order to start anew with its own canon separate from the books, CD Projekt Red gave Geralt amnesia at the beginning of the first game. He's made into a blank slate for players unfamiliar with the universe. It's a narrative framework that introduces players to Geralt as he slowly pieces his memory back together while noodling around in the sociopolitical affairs of the land in a series of adventures that echo the themes and events of the books. 

The Witcher 2 is definitely worth visiting after wrapping up everything else (show, books, The Witcher 3) if you're still thirsty for more. The Witcher 1 hasn't aged as well, so I'd skip it entirely. But if you absolutely have to know what happens in those games, I recommend watching IGN's short 5-minute explainer for a quick catch-up. It might save you a couple dozen hours. 

You only really need to play The Witcher 3

The first season of the Netflix series is an excellent primer for hopping in. When the first season ends, you've been introduced to most of the major players in The Witcher 3. When the episode eight credits roll, we know Ciri is a child of the elder blood and has special powers beyond explanation. We know her and Geralt found one another, we know how Yennefer and Geralt met, we get introduced to Triss and Jaskier (Dandelion in the games) and Geralt's monster-hunting profession, we know Niilfgaard is aiming for global domination at any cost, we know the mages circle is web of ego and unchecked authority—all the fundamentals are covered. 

(Image credit: CD Projekt RED)

The Witcher 3 largely ignores the events of the first two games anyway. At the start, Geralt's regained his memory completely and Ciri, having skipped out on the first two games, suddenly enters the picture again. The Witcher 3 does a fine job filling in the necessary blanks, introducing characters and summarizing key events that took place between the events of the first season of the show and the start of the game without resorting to dry exposition. Everything you need to know is communicated through clever dialogue sequences, some introductory cutscenes, and a massive codex that explains who's who, as written by Dandelion (Jaskier). 

If you're dead set on skipping the books, you'll have little problem getting up to speed in The Witcher 3. But if you're mildly curious, we have a guide to getting into The Witcher books, too. They're fun reads, but the political drama might be a bit too dry for some, in which case I'd just wait for The Witcher Season 2 for what I'm sure will be a more accessible, thrilling interpretation of events. 

Where to buy The Witcher 3

So you've committed to giving The Witcher 3 a go. Below you'll find a few links showing you where to get it, but first, a few key bits of information. 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is simply the base game for The Witcher 3. It's all you truly need to get started, an adventure that'll likely take around 100 hours to complete, but I recommend gunning for The Witcher 3: Game of the Year Edition. It includes the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions, both of which are excellent additions to Wild Hunt that add 50-plus hours of new locations, quests, characters, and systems.

GOG: You can get The Witcher 3 from a digital storefront made by the same company that made the game, DRM-free. That means there's no need to install special software to play the game. Just download, install, and play—though GOG Galaxy 2.0 is a nice optional client for managing your digital library. 

Steam: If you want all the fanciest social features and easy library management, Steam is the way to go.

Humble is selling The Witcher 3: Game of the Year Edition for $15 right now. Normally $50 (but frequently on sale), this deal nets you a GOG key for the complete version of one of PC Gamer's favorite games of all time. 

What PC hardware do I need to run The Witcher 3?

There's no shame in playing The Witcher 3 on a console, but we highly recommend playing it on a PC if possible. It's one of the prettiest games ever made and seeing it at its best is definitely worthwhile. But if you're new to PC gaming, knowing what kind of hardware you'll need to get The Witcher 3 looking fine might feel a bit daunting. 

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

To get started, I recommend checking out our PC building tutorial for the basics, and our recommended PC builds based on how much you're willing to spend. 

Every PC we've specced out will run The Witcher 3, no problem—the budget build is already more powerful than any console on the market. How well depends on what kind of performance you're looking for. 

The Witcher 3 is five years old now, which is good news when it comes to hardware requirements. If you have a PC that's less than five years old that includes a graphics card, you should be able to play The Witcher 3 on PC. The CPU is also less of a factor than your graphics card.

In terms of current hardware, a GeForce GTX 1050 or Radeon RX 560 can do 1080p and medium settings while maintaining a steady 30 fps (frames per second, or essentially how quickly the image refreshes. The higher, the smoother the game will run). We consider that a bare minimum for enjoying The Witcher's beautiful world. For better graphics and performance, you'll want a faster graphics card. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 / GTX 1660 Super provide a steady 60 fps or more, and so do the AMD RX Vega 56 / RX 5700. Our mid-range PC build guide fits the bill nicely.

How to make The Witcher 3 even better on PC

If you're fairly new to games, particularly PC gaming, then welcome, first of all. Second of all: mods, baby. Mods (short for modifications) are custom additions that allow PC gamers to change how games play and look, from tiny tweaks to sweeping overhauls.

To find out where to download mods and how to install them, check out our list of the best Witcher 3 mods

If you're in it for the story 

There's a difficulty mode in The Witcher 3 that trivializes combat so you can work through the story without testing your reflexes and understanding of its RPG systems, which can be daunting to anyone that doesn't play games often. Let's make things a bit easier on you, yeah?

God mode - Become invincible, make your weapons and armor invulnerable, run around with infinite stamina and magic power—become the Geralt Geralt wants to be. 

Fast travel from anywhere - Save time and get to the next story arc quicker with this mod. Normally you need to travel to a signpost to use transport between them, but this mod lets you do it from anywhere. Neato. 

If you truly want to roleplay the life of a witcher

Preparations mod - For those that want to make the process of meditation more meaninful withouth turning The Witcher 3 into a hardcore grim fantasy simulator. With this mod, meditation is the only way to use alchemy, manage skills, and tinker with equipment. 

The Witcher 3: Enhanced Edition overhaul - A complete rework of nearly every system in service of realism. Everything from combat to horse-riding takes on a new form in this fantastic mod. 

If you want it to look as good as possible

Minimal HUD - The default HUD takes up a lot of screen space and might look a bit dated to pickier players. This mod pins everything to the bottom of the screen in a much simpler, transparent design.  

Increased draw distance - If your PC can spare the extra processing power, this mod makes the landscape more detailed over long distances. 

If you want to make the game look more like the TV show

I've already written a complete guide to making Videogame Geralt look like Netflix Geralt. Get the face, the hair, the outfit, the medallion, and more to make your leap from TV to PC as natural as possible. 

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)
James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.