By Pranavi Shekhar
All photos credited to CD Projekt Red
Well-written and compelling antagonists are crucial to the making of any game since they add depth and complexity to the story, creating a sense of tension and conflict that keeps the player engaged and invested in its outcome. Memorable antagonists are not just powerful and seemingly undefeatable – they possess storylines that are meaningfully interwoven into the plot, pose a compelling threat and have a personality that contributes to their villainy. One of the most notable antagonists in that regard is Gaunter O’Dimm, also known by the aliases “the Man of Glass” and “Master Mirror” who serves as the primary foe in the “Hearts of Stone” expansion of The Witcher 3. His enigmatic and seemingly affable nature coupled with his disarmingly unassuming appearance are at odds with his progressively malevolent intentions, which contribute to the growing sense of mistrust that the player feels around him. The sense of unease that pervades all the interactions the player has with him is exacerbated by the manner in which his storyline is rife with suspense regarding his origins and motivations, and how the player comprehends the full extent of his diabolism only towards the end.
One of the most striking and significant aspects of Gaunter O’Dimm’s characterization lies in his visual design and appearance. Several of the major antagonists that prowl TW3’s landscape are nefarious both in appearance and deed, be it the grotesquely designed monsters or the metal-clad, spectral warriors of the wild hunt – a sharp contrast to O’Dimm’s portrayal as a simple, travel-worn merchant. He is introduced to us at the very beginning of TW3 as a sophisticated, if slightly glib, individual with a rather soft-spoken and polite demeanor. It is only as the “Hearts of stone” expansion commences, and his helpfulness in escaping an Ofieri prison comes with a dose of manipulation, that the player begins to suspect that all is not as it seems with the merchant of glass. With each subsequent encounter, O’Dimm’s tone and expression becomes increasingly sinister, revealing his true, villainous nature.
The enigmatic eeriness that surrounds him is often subdued and overlaid with a veneer of a business-like charm. For instance, post the prison escapade, he is suave and persuasive with his flattery about the player’s abilities, and attempts to paint himself as a man wronged by Olgierd, simply out to collect his debt. His tone is measured and cool, and he makes no mention of the nature of his bargain or the heavy price it demanded of Olgierd. The notable disparity between his alluring façade and underlying purpose makes it all the more chilling when the latter is revealed. A rather classic instance is when he freezes time and brutally kills a man whose only fault was to mildly interrupt his conversation, all with an alarming nonchalance.
Another interesting aspect of O’Dimm’s writing revolves around the way his stakes are designed. Instead of simply presenting a generic “save the world” scenario where the stakes are not always tangibly apparent, Gaunter O’Dimm’s motivations and actions are intertwined with the player’s personal story through the character of Olgierd von Everec. The “Hearts of Stone” questline dives into and dissects Olgierd’s complex and tragic past, including his encounter with O’Dimm and the reason for his debt. While Olgierd is far from a saint, having committed many heinous crimes, to the player he is no longer a stranger but a multifaceted character whose actions are largely driven by the tragedy and desperation wrought by losing his emotions – rendering his fate as something that the player is emotionally invested in. By giving the player an option to either let Olgierd suffer damnation or attempt to save him at great personal cost, O’Dimm forces them to confront the complexities of morality and the weight of their decisions, thereby amplifying the impact of their actions and adding depth to O’Dimm’s character as a master manipulator.
No antagonist is complete without being in possession of some truly threatening powers that renders them invincible. CDPR certainly pulls through in that regard by showcasing O’Dimm as the very manifestation of the devil – a man who can grant any wish, kill ruthlessly and control time itself. What stands out about this portrayal is the rather unexpected restraint he exercises in overtly using his many powers, resulting in the player discovering the extent of his diabolism only through the perspective of other characters. One of the most poignant depictions of this is when the player encounters a certain Oxenfurt professor who dared to delve into O’Dimm’s identity and loses his mind in the process, forced to eke out his life within a runic circle with abject terror stamped into his being. As the story unfolds, the player is repeatedly cautioned by characters such as Olgierd, and even Iris, about the dangerous nature of O’Dimm, but intriguingly, little is revealed about the specific powers he wields. All of this shrouds him in suspense and unpredictability, resulting in an extremely engaging gameplay.
The final confrontation with O’Dimm is handled in a manner that truly elevates his stature as a well-rounded antagonist – even if the player chooses to oppose O’Dimm and save Olgierd, there is no direct combat involved. The only way ahead is to solve a riddle, failing which the player dies immediately, implying that a villain such as O’Dimm is impossible to fight. This is consistent with his portrayal as the devil incarnate, since a traditional ‘boss’ fight would ultimately only diminish O’Dimm’s threat. In providing such a fitting conclusion to O’Dimm’s arc, with immaculate visual design and writing to boot, CDPR ensures that the antagonist they’ve created is used to maximum effect within the gameplay, rendering him a memorable and captivating villain to play against.