Like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, the world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is vast — a fantasy realm filled with heroic characters, ghastly creatures and a long fictional history.

The Witcher universe is similar to numerous other fantasy stories in several ways. It draws heavy inspiration from medieval Europe, while also featuring the usual fantasy races of elves and dwarves. There are dragons and monsters, vampires and sea serpents and much, much more.

But diving deeper, the Witcher franchise truly does stands apart. Here, you won't find the usual tales of good versus evil, light versus dark. In the Witcher story, humans are – more often than not – the true monsters of the world. Both the books and game series go out of their way to present every scenario in shades of gray.

In other words, it's the perfect setting for a rich, choice-driven, open-world action-RPG like The Witcher 3. Game developer CD Projekt Red assures players they don't have to be familiar with the books or previous two Witcher games in order to dive into The Witcher 3. We have no reason to doubt that's true — but knowing more about Geralt's world and the characters who inhabit it will help you to better find your footing once the game releases on May 19.

Characters
 

Geralt of Rivia 

The star of the show, Geralt is the most well-known monster hunter, or witcher, in all the world. Raised in the art of combat by the witchers of Kaer Morhen from a young age, Geralt is as deadly as he is unique. But it's not just his martial prowess that makes him special. All witchers, Geralt included, are subject to performance-enhancing mutagens in their youth. If they survive the process, the young witchers come out the other side with strength and speed greater than that of any normal human. Thanks to this special process, witchers are immune to most diseases — but they are also made sterile as a side effect.

Despite all his advantages, Geralt met his end in Andrzej Sapkowski's book series at the hands of a peasant with a pitchfork. CD Projekt Red's game series takes place after the Witcher books, with Geralt surviving the encounter but losing his memory. He soon finds himself involved in a conspiracy that will see the secret mutagens of the witchers stolen for nefarious purposes.

Yennefer of Vengerberg 

The Witcher 3 is the first game in which players will encounter Yennefer — a powerful sorceress and the love of Geralt's life. Their love affair has been long and turbulent, to say the least, yet the two always find themselves once again in each other's arms. In CD Projekt Red's games, Geralt sacrifices his soul to the Wild Hunt in order to save Yennefer.

Dandelion 

One of Geralt's true friends, Dandelion is also one of the most famous poets in all the Northern Kingdoms — which is probably why he keeps Geralt company. The poet has adapted many of Geralt's escapades into songs and stories told throughout the realm — from run-down village taverns to the halls of kings. Dandelion may not be a skilled fighter or the brightest tool in the shed, but Geralt couldn't ask for a more loyal friend.

Triss Merigold 

Another sorceress who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Geralt, Triss is also the longtime adviser to King Foltest of Temeria. She's a founding member of the Lodge of Sorceresses to boot, a secret organization seeking to steer the direction of the Northern Kingdoms toward more magic-friendly policies.

Ciri 

Princess of Cintra and a child of prophecy, Ciri is one of the most important characters in the Witcher franchise. A skilled warrior, powerful sorceress and heir to a kingdom, she became swept up in Geralt's destiny after he saved her father. As payment, Geralt demanded from the man "that which he had but didn't know he did" — his unborn daughter Ciri. Geralt would eventually return for Ciri, but their paths would cross multiple times before Geralt adopted the girl as his own, taking her to the witcher fortress of Kaer Morhen for training.

There, Ciri learned how to fight like a witcher, though she never underwent the mutation process. She would later travel with Yennefer, who helped teach Ciri how to control her potent magical abilities. And if that isn't enough, an ancient elven bloodline flows through Ciri's veins — granting her the ability to travel between worlds and realities. Raised by Geralt and Yennefer, Ciri is like the daughter the two lovers never had, and they would do anything to protect her.

World
 

The Northern Kingdoms 

Geralt's world is based heavily on medieval Europe, where peasants swear fealty to lords, who in turn pledge their allegiance to various kings. The Northern Kingdoms are composed of a number of countries, which are often at war with one another over border disputes and resources. The kingdoms do occasionally unite under a common cause — most often in response to invasions from their southern neighbor, the Empire of Nilfgaard.

Nilfgaard 

This human empire to the south has a long history of attempting to spread its reach northwards. Prior to and during the events of the Witcher novels, Nilfgaard attempts to invade and conquer the Northern Kingdoms several times, only to be turned back, thanks to an alliance between the northern countries. Niflgaard invades once again in the Witcher 2, after hiring a group of witchers to assassinate the kings of various northern countries and create chaos. In Witcher 3, Geralt will travel south into the heart of the Nilfgaardian empire, as war between the north and south rages.

Monsters and Men
 

Humans 

The most populous of the major races, humans have spread across the known world. They can be found anywhere and everywhere, and all of the major countries of Geralt's world are ruled by humans.

Elves 

Once, the lands of the Northern Kingdoms belonged to the elves — who live far longer than humans could ever dream of. When humans first arrived, the elves paid them no mind. Over time, humans would replace elves as the dominant race in the region, and before long, elves became second-class citizens, often living in slums and ghettos of human cities.

These elves – and dwarves, for that matter – are proud of their heritage and united in their hatred for humans. They join up with the Scoia'tael — guerrilla groups of resistance fighters who rise against their human oppressors. For the Scoia'tael's help in the invasion of the Northern Kingdoms, the emperor of Nilfgaard would create a nation-state for the elves to call their own in the form of Dol Blathanna.

Dwarves 

Sturdier and stronger than the average human, dwarves – along with the far more uncommon gnomes – are the oldest race to have lived on the continent. Dwarves often become soldiers, smiths or businessmen, and the dwarven kingdom of Mahakam tries to steer clear of getting involved with the affairs of elves and men. Like the elves, dwarves who live among humans are often persecuted for their nonhuman status, forced to live in ghettos. Dwarves too will join the Scoia'tael to fight against human oppression — though oftentimes the oppressed become the oppressors themselves. Most humans view the Scoia'tael as nothing more than a terrorist organization.

Monsters 

Not technically a race, the monsters of the Witcher world are nonetheless many and varied. After all, that is why witchers were created: to turn the tide in the seemingly neverending battle against the foul creatures that made the continent their home. Monsters weren't always a part of the world, however. They came about after the "Conjunction of Spheres," a catastrophic event more than a thousand years ago, which saw creatures from another dimension become trapped in the world of elves and men.

The Wild Hunt 

A group of specters from another reality, the leaders of these ghastly riders will be Geralt's main enemies in the Witcher 3. Nobody knows for sure what their true purpose is. Some say the Wild Hunt appear as an omen of death and war, or only appear during the winter.

They've often been known to kidnap innocent men and women, who go on to become riders of the Hunt themselves. Such was Geralt's fate — serving as a rider of the Hunt after he offered his soul in exchange for Yennefer's freedom. This time, it appears the Wild Hunt is after Ciri and her interdimensional powers, for reasons unknown.

Want to know what went down in the first Witcher game before playing Witcher 3? Check out the animated recap below.

And if you want to know more about Geralt's life before the events of CD Projekt Red's RPG series, you can check out this animated video as well.

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