The Witcher 3 can be a brutal game. Succeeding in combat requires good reactions, a knowledge of your limitations, experience with your current enemy type, and a good grasp of your magical signs. On the harder difficulties, one wrong move can be your end, while even on the easier difficulties, you still need to have a firm grasp on the fundamentals to survive. With this in mind, we've jotted down three quick tips for the inexperienced among you; those that need a bit of guidance when it comes to taking down your prey. With any luck, they'll put you on the path to becoming a worthy Witcher.
It's simple: don't get hit
Easier said than done, right? But it's true – if you don't get hit, you don't lose health, and that's why evading your opponent's attacks is the very essence of survival in The Witcher 3. You have two means of dodging an onslaught. The first is to hit circle, which acts as a sort of sidestep that's ideal for evading quick blows and hitting back with your own attack. The second is to tap X, which will make Geralt roll in whatever direction you're pointing the left analogue stick.
The former, as mentioned, is perfect for dodging those smaller attacks. A human-sized monster like a drowner swings its claws at you? Hit circle and avoid it, then lay into it with a flurry of sword strikes. However, sometimes, especially when you're fighting bigger enemies, your sidestep simply doesn't cover enough ground to avoid getting hit – but your dodge roll is tailored specifically for these encounters. A general rule to play by is that the bigger an enemy is, the more likely that X is going to be your go-to dodge button.
Just mashing the two evade buttons will get you nowhere, though. Watching your enemy carefully, and then only dodging at the right moment is key to taking down the most troublesome foes. For many enemies, this comes with practice, as you learn their attack patterns. For others, it's easier to tell when they're making a move. Look for telling signs of an attack, such as a griffin's circling flight, which suggests that it's building momentum for a heavy swooping strike.
Never rely solely on blocking
Yes, there is a block button in The Witcher 3 – but you should never solely rely on it. By holding down L2, Geralt will enter a defensive stance with his blade. While this is an undoubtedly handy technique – mainly because you can still move around while blocking – the fact of the matter is that you can't block everything. Smaller attacks such as a wolf's bite or a bandit's sword swing can be deflected with ease, but anything heavier will either stun you, leaving you vulnerable for a follow-up blow, or it'll simply smash straight through your defence and take a nice hefty chunk out of your health bar.
Generally speaking, the powerful attacks of larger enemies can't be blocked, so dodging is always your best bet against anything that's the size of a griffin or bigger. However, smaller foes can be just as dismissive of your guard. For example, nasty foglets – monsters that materialise in and out of fog – will break through your block with just a couple of attacks. The first strike will bounce violently off your sword, momentarily stunning Geralt, and the next will cut straight through because of this. Unfortunately, this goes for many smaller beasts – the likes of drowners included.
In some of these situations, it's even possible to argue that you'd have been better off taking the first blow and then dodging the second. As such, you should only ever block when you're sure that you can get away with it. That said, it's well worth noting that you can block and dodge at the same time by holding L2 down as you perform your evasive techniques, which can be useful when you're up against groups of monsters that may otherwise get one or two quick, blockable jabs in.
Quen is absolutely key
Every magical sign has its uses in The Witcher 3, but we'd argue that quen's the most important of the lot – especially when it comes to survival. Casting quen takes but half a second, and it coats Geralt in a magical shield that absorbs damage. How many blows it can take before expiring depends on how much you've upgraded it, and how much damage your foe's attack is doing in the first place. However, with the right application, you can best powerful enemies without losing even a hair of your health.
Quen is helpful against any opponent because it basically allows you at least one free pass. Foes will have to break the shield to get to your health bar, but to make the absolute most of it, you'll need to be careful. When quen is broken, stay alive long enough and you'll be able to cast it again when your stamina regenerates. Although this means that you're going to be saving your stamina exclusively for quen, it potentially means that the enemy will never touch your health bar, because you'll always have a shield ready for the next blow.
Of course, this tactic isn't foolproof, because it relies on your ability to continually recast quen – and that can be a tall order against foes who are able to smash the shield and hit at your health in two quick attacks. However, the benefits of getting it right can be game-changing, especially if you're still finding your footing when it comes to combat.
Things get even better when you invest a few skill points into quen, too. The sign's second upgrade, 'Active Shield', can be an absolute lifesaver when used correctly. The drawback, at least before you upgrade it further, is that maintaining the shield and blocking attacks with it costs stamina. Instead of tapping R2 to cast quen, you can hold the trigger down to form a bubble shield around Geralt, which protects from all angles. If you're having trouble in combat, we can't see any reason not to invest in quen and its subsequent upgrades – it's a survival essential.
Do you have any more combat advice for The Witcher 3? Check out our other The Witcher 3 guides, and then remember to cast Quen in the comments section below.