Turbulent winds howl as rain batters the weathered precipices. Wolves can be heard in the distance, likely feasting on a carcass less fortunate than they, while miles away regular farmhands sit around a table, guzzling Viziman Champion as they wager their own boots to break even in Gwent.
Away from it all, stood atop a sequestered crag, Geralt of Rivia patiently awaits the sunrise after completing his contract. The world is quiet here: "I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead," Sylvia Plath writes in Mad Girl's Love Song. "I lift my lids and all is born again." Such is the case in The Witcher 3.
If you've recently finished the Witcher Netflix series, which revels in its confidently kitschy adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's illustrious saga, then you're probably wondering where to go next. The Witcher was commissioned for a second season before its inaugural one even aired, but there will likely be at least a year between the two. But you're already hungry for more: where's all the good food?
How does The Witcher on Netflix compare to the books?
Fortunately, you've got options. The first season of The Witcher is mostly derived from The Last Wish, which is the first short story collection in Sapkowski's Witcher saga - chronologically speaking, at least. Sword of Destiny, the other short story collection, was published before The Last Wish, but the latter was specifically written to serve as a prequel collection. As a result, it's where most people embark on their Witcher odysseys before eventually pressing on to Sword of Destiny and the five-novel saga that ensues from it (there's actually a sixth novel, Season of Storms, but it's set between the short stories of The Last Wish - however, it contains spoilers for later in the series, so it's probably unwise to read that one with respect to chronology!).
Season 1 of The Witcher neatly adapted several stories from The Last Wish. For example: Geralt earning his Butcher of Blaviken moniker, fighting the striga, and uttering the eponymous last wish that binds his destiny to Yennefer's. However, the inaugural season pulls almost as much from Sword of Destiny as it does from The Last Wish (at least in terms of fully-adapted stories, one of which is changed drastically, but essentially).
The hunt for Villentretenmerth, or Borch Three Jackdaws, is the opening story of Sword of Destiny, and serves as the sixth episode in The Witcher. Similarly, Geralt's encounters with Ciri and Yurga - the merchant he saves in the last episode of season one - both come from the second collection. So for those wondering if the second season will adapt Sword of Destiny: the first season already has, at least partially, so it's unlikely we'll have to wait until season three before venturing into saga territory. (Although I'm holding out for an adaptation of A Shard of Ice!)
Where does The Witcher on Netflix fit into the timeline of The Witcher 3?
But this isn't necessarily about adapting the books: it's about where to go next. It's not entirely disingenuous to suggest The Witcher 3 is a pretty good follow-up to the Netflix series, but there are, admittedly, some concessions to elucidate. First of all, The Witcher 3 takes place several years after the last novel in the saga, The Lady of the Lake, and would therefore contain spoilers for the books, meaning it may also contain spoilers for future seasons of the Netflix show. Also, it's The Witcher 3 - the third part of a trilogy. However, it's perfectly playable as a standalone game. Its continued success testifies to this - as does its recent resurgence in popularity, which saw it earn its highest amount of concurrent players since launch.
There are several reasons why The Witcher 3 seems like the most natural text to visit after the series' denouement. First of all, it's really good. Second, you could play for hundreds of hours without exhausting its wonderful world, which is teeming with curios only found in the Witcher universe (studying these oddities will obviously give you a massive headstart by the time season two rolls around). And third, although The Witcher 3 is set in the future, and there are obviously some spoilers as to how things end up a little down the line, characters who have already died in the series are still alive in The Witcher 3, and vice versa. With that in mind, it's reasonably safe to approach if you're willing to remember this isn't necessarily how things go, and some ostensibly spoilerific bits are actually pretty innocuous. Judging by the Netflix series so far, which is faithful to but not bound by the books, The Witcher 3 is operating on a different wavelength.
You've also got two jaw-droppingly gargantuan DLC packs, both of which are excellent. Personally, my introduction to the Witcher series was The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I went on to play The Witcher 3, Hearts of Stone, and Blood of Wine before reading the books. And then I devoured them, starving for more Witcher.
Sure, I was considerably ahead of certain arcs, and already knew how they culminated. I won't spoil anything, but some moments that should otherwise be considered hard-hitting are slightly dulled by knowing what happens later on (shocker). These are few and far between though, as The Witcher is often made up of singular moments, both magnificent and mundane, as opposed to a marathonic sprint to an almighty and ultimate twist. There are so many things that happen in the books that are never referred to in the games, meaning there's an extraordinary wealth of storytelling you can still experience firsthand.
If I could go back and read the books first, I probably wouldn't. Although I started out with The Witcher 2 - which I enjoyed! - The Witcher 3 was what impassioned me to explore more of Sapkowski's world. It was the singular text that convinced me, "wow, this is really something." (In case anybody is wondering, I played The Witcher, the original game, last. It's a little shaky at parts, but holds up remarkably well and is definitely worth your time, especially if, like me, you've read and played through everything else at this point. But yes, it's good!)
So - what do you follow The Witcher on Netflix up with?
So after the Netflix series soars out on a high and you're left staring at the screen thinking, "what next?" your best bet is to do exactly what everybody else seems to be doing: to buy The Witcher 3 and, whether you're a newcomer or returning player, don that witcher medallion and tussle with some creepy crawlies. It's an incredibly dense game that is simultaneously expansive and immersive, and it invites a sublime sense of wonder that other fantasy titles would struggle to replicate.
It's also emphatically alive: townsfolk argue with one another with or without your intervention, and monsters will inevitably gobble up any merchants unfortunate enough to think straying from the main roads is a savvy way to save time. You could stand dead still and the world would still spin, its sui generis anomalies existing solely to be discovered and understood. And the more you explore, the more acquainted with the universe you'll become.
It may trigger a few spoilers in (distant) future seasons of the Netflix show, but familiarity with The Witcher 3 will be hugely advantageous in terms of world comprehension later on. This is important: many people have lamented the series assumes knowledge on behalf of the viewer, causing the first few episodes to seem a little muddled (mostly because of the different timelines, which aren't explicitly separated from one another until the fourth episode). But an investment in The Witcher 3 will give you more of an idea of who people are, what the world is like, and what The Witcher is all about without actually spoiling the novels, which you can use to fill the second half of your year-in-waiting.
And, most importantly, given that Lauren S. Hissrich has stated on more than one occasion the Netflix series is not based on the games, you won't need to worry about spoiling a small screen adaptation of The Witcher 3 for yourself. If anything, you're actively playing through a story that probably won't make the cut for Netflix, but will educate you on what will.
Also: the first two games are distinguished enough you can play them after The Witcher 3 without spoiling anything for yourself (The Witcher 2 has the best character in the entire series, so that's definitely worth a look-in). Happy witchering!