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The Witcher 3: Grinding and Griping

By Bob Case
on Thursday Apr 12, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

 
 

Last week we ran into an enemy I couldn’t beat, and resolved to go back to Velen and knock out a few levels first. I ended up knocking out two, because I’d forgotten how slow leveling is in the early game. EXP is just hard to come by. I nip back to White Orchard, and the first quest I do is one where I help a Temerian guerilla recover medical supplies from an ambush site. My reward? Eight XP. Eight. If my calculations are correct, and I believe they are, that’s a single digit number. Even early on, it takes several hundred XP to level up. This might take longer than I thought.

So I traipse around White Orchard, hitting up every place of power for the free skill points, and do the “Devil by the Well” contract. Still only level four. Back to Velen, I do a fairly long and involved quest where I’m reunited with Letho of Gulet, one of the villains from the second game.I’m a sucker for callbacks to previous games in the series. Then, three horse races east of Crow’s Perch, then fist fights in three different villages, then the “Woodland Beast” contract, which requires me to kite Alghouls around a stand of trees for like ten minutes. Still only level four. At this point I’m wondering if figuring out the leveling curve was something of a last-minute scramble for CD Projekt.

Finally, I'm around civilized people who appreciate the finer things in life, like punching.

Finally, I'm around civilized people who appreciate the finer things in life, like punching.

Finally, out of ideas and with so much of my quest log way above me in level, I do the thing I’d resolved not to do: I start grinding out monster nests. When I started this series I promised to not just gush about the things I like but also to bellyache about the things I didn’t. Well, here’s some of me fulfilling the second half of that promise: combat has never been CD Projekt’s strong point.

They have gotten better with practice, of course. The first game put its swordfighting mostly on autopilot, with an unusual system of timed mouseclicks to increase damage. It was a bit clunky and mostly notable for its novelty. The single thing I remember most about the second game’s combat is the rolling – the endless, nonstop rolling. On the higher difficulties (I admit I never played the “Dark” difficulty they added in post-release patches) I would roll practically in between every hit. It wasn’t that much of an ordeal, but the fights often ended up looking silly. There were also some flow-breaking irritants, like the fact that you drank potions from the meditation screen.

The third installment has gotten combat more right than the first two. The addition of a quickstep is welcome, and it is a system that rewards several different kinds of skills: positioning (basically, don’t get surrounded by nekkers/drowners and the like), timing (time your dodges correctly), tactical awareness (ie, knowing when enemies are and aren’t stunlocked – they can’t just be button-mashed to death), and preparation (using the bestiary – one of my favorite series features – gives you a real edge).

There’s no single thing that’s glaringly wrong with it, but for all that it never quite clicked with me either. I played the game for the first time right after I finished Bloodborne. Granted, that’s something like asking a comedian to go onstage right after Richard Pryor, but it was still striking how different the overall vibe of combat was between the two games despite the mechanical similarities. I’m going to list some of the way I felt like The Witcher 3 came up short. None of them are glaring flaws by themselves, but they add up to substantial room for improvement.

I should mention that while I'm using a punchmage build for this playthrough, the criticisms I have of the game's combat apply to conventional builds as well.

I should mention that while I'm using a punchmage build for this playthrough, the criticisms I have of the game's combat apply to conventional builds as well.

  1. There’s not as much variety as there seems. There are other weapons, like clubs and axes, that you can loot and use, but there’s very little reason to use anything but swords. This makes sense given the source material, but that doesn’t make it much less restrictive in practice. There are also build options – like the crossbow talents and a big chunk of the alchemy tree – that I imagine hardly anyone uses. I wanted to use a strong attack build at one point in one of my playthroughs because I liked the Bear school armor so much, but once I actually the build put together, I just used fast attacks instead and found they killed things faster. You can play through the whole game using pretty much nothing but Quen and fast attacks, and that seems to be what a big chunk of players do. The combat mechanics never much rewarded experimentation or creativity – not for me at least.
  2. Things get repetitive. Throwing new things at the player regularly in an RPG with a fifty-plus hour main quest and an ocean of side content is a tall order. But it still struck me how many of the different monsters weren’t much more than palette swaps of something else. Some stood out – Leshens and Foglings were both unique, and the first time a Fiend ever hypnotized me was something new. But those were the exceptions rather than the rule.
  3. Too much HP-sponginess. This might be me rather than the game, because I think this about so many games that I play: I wish that almost every mob did more damage and had less HP. A mob that can really hurt you is the one you remember, the one that makes fights exciting. Instead, many of the The Witcher 3’s boss fights had me repeating that same fairly short pattern of moves, like hit-hit-hit-quickstep-repeat, over and over again.
  4. Some gameplay options are frankly overpowered. I wasn’t even a full signs build in my second playthrough, but Igni’s “firestream” mode still could trivialize most encounters. In fact, it’s already starting to do that in my current one.
  5. Reverse difficulty curve. This problem isn’t unique to the Witcher series, it’s something I run into all the time in RPGs, but its especially apparent in these games. In my playthroughs the hardest combat encounters in both the second and third games came in the first third or so of the runtime – and that persisted even on subsequent playthroughs, indicating that it wasn’t just about the rate at which I learned the game mechanics.

My Geralt exclusively drinks booze for roleplaying reasons, which makes it a little tricky to get good screenshots of my vanquished foes.

My Geralt exclusively drinks booze for roleplaying reasons, which makes it a little tricky to get good screenshots of my vanquished foes.

Good combat is important – it can keep me playing a game I otherwise am not feeling. I had no shortage of criticisms of Mass Effect: Andromeda, but by the end I was suprised to find out I’d plunked almost 250 hours into that thing because I enjoyed the combat so much – and not just because Vanguarding is fun, either. I had several different builds I enjoyed playing. By contrast, in The Witcher 3 I can stumble across a bandit camp or grave hag and feel nothing but irritation.

Some of these issues are the product of unique things about the setting, like the fact that you’re playing a specific character with a specific “class” so to speak (Witcher), which makes variety harder to pull off. But I don’t think that excuses everything – some of this is just poor design.

That was a lot of griping. I’m going to be returning to some of this later, but for now lets get back to Geralt. He’s looking for Triss in Novigrad, but she’s in hiding as magic users are persona non grata with Menge and his thugs. Geralt tracks her down to a hidden hideout called the “Putrid Garden,” base of operations for the local underworld honcho called the King of Beggars. This is our first glimpse of Novigrad’s underworld, but it won’t be the last.

After the meeting, you go with Triss on the type of menial job she has to take now to survive: using her magical knowhow to clear the rats out of a warehouse. On the way you have to fight the drowner that defeated me earlier, and I’ve learned something about the game’s leveling mechanics that might be an issue going forward.

You see, if a mob is more than five levels above Geralt, it’s marked (if you have the UI turned on, which I occasionally do to check things) with a skull icon. I don’t know exactly what’s happening mechanically, but this makes them way harder to beat. I know that because I tried beating this drowner at both level four and level five, and there was a huge difference. Same with the level ten witch hunters you fight later on: at level four, a single quick attack from one of them was enough to kill me, and Igni never set them on fire. At level five, a quick attack took less than a quarter of my health, and Igni’s firestream mode was enough to barbeque them pretty much every time.

This may throw a wrench in any attempts to do content that’s significantly above me in level. Honestly, I wish the developers hadn’t included this particular mechanic. They give you the option of doing the different parts of the main quest in any order, but then do something like this? Not the choice I would have made.

Anyway, Triss hasn’t heard news of Ciri, but does recommend an Oneiromancer (who can interpret dreams) named Corinne Tilly. Unfortunately, she’s trapped in a haunted house, natch. Geralt investigates and finds out the hauntings are the doing of a mischievious creature called a godling. This is the type of fun little vignette CD Projekt are experts at.

I saw this jump scare coming and it still made me jump.

I saw this jump scare coming and it still made me jump.

Now rescued from the “haunted” house, Tilly is free to use her ability to help me locate Ciri. One thing the Witcher 3 devs consistently get right is the flavor of magic. I’d never heard of “Oneiromancy” before this quest, but its inclusion feels completely natural while at the same time retaining that level of mystery that the series does so well. It also uses the dialogue as an excuse to give the player some optional backstory. Moments like this are important for getting the player emotionally invested in Ciri’s fate.

We learn that Ciri interacted with Dandelion, a foppish (though he doesn’t quite rise to the level of spoony) bard who’s one of Geralt’s oldest friends. Dandelion has recently been left a local brothel in the will of one of his wealthy patrons, but the man himself has disappeared.

Corinne Tilly. CD Projekt can and does write mature and thoughtful stories. For all that, I wish they would lay off the cleavage a little.

Corinne Tilly. CD Projekt can and does write mature and thoughtful stories. For all that, I wish they would lay off the cleavage a little.

Next week, we’ll follow the thread of Dandelion’s disappearance, and I’ll learn to deal with disappointment. For details, tune in next episode.

Footnotes:

[1] I’m a sucker for callbacks to previous games in the series.


 
 
Comments (59)

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You see, if a mob is more than five levels above Geralt, it’s marked (if you have the UI turned on, which I occasionally do to check things) with a skull icon.

    Five levels?I couldve sworn that it was ten levels.And while its a chore,you CAN kill the skulled monsters.But it takes so much time hacking at them that its just not worth it.

    There are also build options – like the crossbow talents and a big chunk of the alchemy tree – that I imagine hardly anyone uses.

    Alchemy tree is useful because it raises your toxicity,allowing you to be (semi)permanently buffed with two or three decoctions.And some of those combinations are uber powerful.

    • Len says:

      then the “Woodland Beast” contract, which requires me to kite Alghouls around a stand of trees for like ten minutes. Still only level four. At this point I’m wondering if figuring out the leveling curve was something of a last-minute scramble for CD Projekt.

      You lost the right to complain about level scaling and experience curves once you decided to play as a naked hobo fister, which limits you to low-xp non-combat quests and makes any quest involving combat a complete chore. This is not a problem any normal playthrough would have.

      There are also build options – like the crossbow talents and a big chunk of the alchemy tree – that I imagine hardly anyone uses.

      High toxicity multiple decortion alchemy builds with Euphoria is one of the strongest builds in the game, if not the strongest build outright, so I don’t know what you’re complaining about.

      Though I do agree that crossbow-only builds don’t work though, and that the crossbow breaks combat in general. Enemy AI just don’t react properly to ranged attacks. Bomb damage drop off way too fast, though the utility effects of bombs (freeze, poison healing, silver) always remain useful. And I do agree that no matter what your build is, the basic combat pattern (sidestep + quick attack + occasional a sign or bomb) doesn’t change that much.

      However, if monsters are too HP spongy, its just a problem with the player’s build. The highest difficulty level should be designed to be played with an optimized build, after all. Besides, you can’t complain about HP sponginess then go on to complain that firestream does too much damage — are they too tanky, or not tanky enough? Damage-wise, I think monsters are sufficiently punishing, especially since you spend a lot of the time fighting mobs where a misstep can easily result in death by stunlock

      Five levels?I couldve sworn that it was ten levels

      The skull icon adds some HP, damage and sign resistance. Monsters get a bigger bonus if they’re 10 levels above as compared to 5 levels above. In a normal playthrough, this would not be that much of a difficulty increase (since it makes just them pseudo-bosses), but since you’re playing a naked hobo fister, you lose the right to complain again.

      • PowerGrout says:

        You lost the right to complain about level scaling and experience curves once you decided to play as a naked hobo fister…

        Yeah and I guess I forfeited ‘the right to complain’ when I busted open the console and started giving myself the toys the game so stubbornly witheld from me. But…

        I like to spend the first 20-50% of a game gathering every ingredient/crafting material possible, getting the measure of it’s combat system and making sure I’m in a position to steamroller the entire rest of the game if needs be. Boy howdy does this game not like that. I never had much more than 3/4 of whatever was necessary to make anything but the most perfunctory potion, pauldron or pig sticker and couldn’t ever shake the feeling it was all by design.
        So much for OP signs or alchemical builds…

        Combat felt like a miserable headache of pissant little hits and rolls/dodges all the while fighting the camera to maintain any sort of sensible positioning. Fighting 1v1 felt frustrating and cumbersome. Mobs were something I could maybe whittle away at while kiting them halfway around the world if I felt up to it.

        A weird and unfortunate side effect of this – I started to ‘ignore’ the story, in my efforts to best the part of the game I couldn’t enjoy – I was racing/ignoring the story beats/missions that might have been some use to me.
        Doubly ironic when you consider I do what I do specifically so that I can focus on the story and let it breathe. Some folk say this game is designed so that if you just mainline story content there’s no need to beef up and grind. I fear that they are very right and that for me everything backfired catastrophically. 35hrs ‘in’ and I can’t put this game far enough behind me.

        I liked all of Witcher 1 an awful lot though.
        But then Witcher 1 never had fucking Gwent in it. :P

        • Guest says:

          So, you tried to play the game, the self-balancing difficulty pushed back, and you found that uncomfortable, you didn’t understand the targetting, and are now blaming everyone else for it, when if you’d not played the fool trying to second guess how a game you’re not familiar with works, like even more casual players would have done, you’d have found more success and been able to progress with the combat, and somehow that’s someone’s fault apart from your own?

          I typed this on a guitar hero controller. How dare Shamus not cater to my style of commenting.

          • Uh, no, he’s complaining that the game is inflexible–you have to play it the “right” way, which, by your response IS TRUE–not “blaming everyone else” for anything.

            I mean, it’s kind of disingenuous if someone is complaining that the game is inflexible and you HAVE to play it the “right” way, to burst out and say “well, yeah, you just have to play it the right way!!!!” The fact that there IS a “right” way to play IS THE PROBLEM.

            • Mormegil says:

              The thing is there are multiple “right” ways to play W3. Alchemy builds, Igni streamers, fast attack + Quen – all great. I understand he’s doing the naked hobo thing for comic reasons, but doing it and then complaining that the combat isn’t good isn’t particularly funny or insightful. I suspect this is the post where I check out of this series – Bob Case’s style grates on me a bit and he comes across both here and in the GOT series as less of a critic and more of a complainer.

  2. Brandon says:

    I almost stopped playing once fights became waaay too easy for me. I need to feel like I can at least possibly die in my games or else I get bored real fast.

    Then I found the level scaling option and my passion for the game was back. Every mob could kill me, and that’s the way I like it.

    So if you find yourself getting bored because your Geralt is an unstoppable god of death, click that level scaling option and rekindle your love for The Witcher 3.

    • BlueHorus says:

      …level scaling

      ARRRGH THAT PHRASE KILL IT KILL IT WITH FIRE IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE

      Nah, not really.
      It’s just that I associate that phrase with Bethesda’s ‘rob the player of any sense of achievement/power’ approach to Level Scaling.

      I’m assuming the Witcher 3’s take on level is more complex and rewarding than the classic ‘just spawn in a pack of wild dogs/radscorpoin/yao guai every 60 seconds’ system Bethesdas uses?

      Though of course ‘optional’ is also a great way to have your Level Scaling.

      • Chris_ANG says:

        As much as I normally hate level scaling, I was actually really annoyed by this game back when I thought it DIDN’T have level scaling. It just didn’t feel right, narratively speaking, that my 80+ year-old veteran witcher was exponentially more powerful at the end of the game than at the start.

        • I generally have the opposite take on games. I don’t mind if they’re really hard at the beginning, but I generally start to get bored with the combat around the halfway mark if not sooner and I want to be able to faceroll most fights at that point. I WANT the game to get generally easier as I go. If it remains as hard for me to kill individual mooks with my Uber Gears and Blasto Doom Spells as it is at the beginning when I have a wooden stick and a rock to throw, this is probably not a game I’m going to finish, because once there’s not really anything for me to LEARN about the combat, it’s just about executing it with grueling precision 1000000000 more times, I’m done. Bored. The end.

          I don’t mind if there are hard (preferably in the form of COMPLEX, not in the form of “it has a billion HP!!!!! and can one-shot you!!!!!!”) fights later in the game. Sure. Boss fights are good. But mooks should become routine and STAY that way.

          This is the one thing I disliked about the Gothic and Risen games toward the end–they run out of ideas and turn bosses into mooks late in the game, so the tedious bossfights of earlier become something that happens EVERY TEN FEET. In most games, you would have acquired a few new skills or abilities that would “mookify” these bosses, but in Gothic they tended to give the early boss monsters a mechanic that makes them tedious to fight no matter how awesome you are, like they can block all of your attacks unless you execute a specific attack-counter-dodge-attack move. So even if you CAN one-shot them, you still have to sit there and wank around for a while just to get that attack in. (The games also had a mechanic where it punished you for spending your build points early on, because you wouldn’t have enough free points to spend in the ossum trees of ossumness that you can only even get ACCESS to late in the game. Anyway.)

          It is my personal opinion that a good fight should be keyed to have three “rounds”:

          Round 1: You’re trying to figure out what you’re supposed to even DO to hurt this thing.
          Round 2: You’ve figured it out, now you’re just getting the implementation down.
          Round 3: You know how to implement it, now you just have to do it with precision and speed so that you win before time runs out (“time” can be anything–your resources, your health bar, an ACTUAL timer, etc.)

          I found it interesting that the end “fight” against GladOS in Portal EXACTLY followed this scheme.

          • Droid says:

            This post kind of insinuates that you played all of those games mainly as a pure melee build, as even a slight dip into magic in the first game, ranged combat in the second, and any of the two in Risen would have really helped your frustration there. Having different options to attack definitely helps in the Gothic games.

            More to the point, though: In the first two Gothic games and the first Risen game (so all three good ones) you could pretty easily have waited for the enemy to attack in melee, especially if they were using a running attack, and even if you were too slow or didn’t yet have the master rank in your specific fighting talent unlocked (or countering and later counter-countering in Risen), you could easily survive the hit with the kind of armor fighters get, especially if supported by an amulet or ring or two. And healing is plenty and cheap, or free even, with enough patience.
            And getting a hit in against an ever-retreating enemy is easiest when they cannot retreat, namely when they’re locked into their attack animation.

            • Bryan Bridges says:

              Did you bother to read her comment? Jennifer had no problems whatsoever killing the enemies or beating the game. The problem is that doing so did not feel like an accomplishment because the fights were dragged out and excessively repetitive.

              • Droid says:

                You’re really great. I can tell, from all your condescension.

                My point, though, was that there are techniques to make the dragged-out fights completely not-dragged-out because your one attack always gets through. Her complaint was “I have the stats to one-shot the enemy, but I can’t, because I have to wait for them to be attackable”.

                but in Gothic they tended to give the early boss monsters a mechanic that makes them tedious to fight no matter how awesome you are, like they can block all of your attacks unless you execute a specific attack-counter-dodge-attack move. So even if you CAN one-shot them, you still have to sit there and wank around for a while just to get that attack in.

                I pointed out that that only happens to melee fighters, and also only if you’re unwilling to just let them attack you to get a guaranteed hit on them.

                That might also fall under advice to beat the game, but it’s advice specifically targeted at the gripe she was having with the game, listing both options to play the game with a different build to sidestep the problem as well as an option to make the problem effectively disappear against single enemies.

  3. MaxEd says:

    I’m very grateful to CD Projeckt for making combat more or less easy in all of their games. I love Witcher universe, and I love their stories, but I absolutely hate any kind of real-time combat. I guess turn-based Witcher wouldn’t quite work for anyone but me, but given choice, of course I would prefer turn-based combat (it would be an interesting challenge to design one that works with Geralt’s epic swordfighting abilities; I would imagine you would have to plan every strike and every block somehow). And if it’s not available, at least make the real-time so easy that even I can beat the game.

    But I don’t actually find Witcher’s combat (any part) TOO easy. I remember running in circles in Witcher 1 waiting for (health?) to regenerate just to make one attack at a boss, get swatted by him, and then continue on that path for ages. I remember cursing Witcher 2 new combat system where I couldn’t beat the tutorial fight for several attempts. And, well, while I got more-or-less adept at Witcher 3 combat to play on the mode after Normal, I struggled a lot on my first playthrough.

    What I’m trying to say is, real-time combat sucks, I suck at it, and thanks to CDP for not making it too hard.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      While I prefer turn based combat,I think witcher 3 did it well.Because of how story heavy it is,having combat be this quick is a good thing.It doesnt burden you for long,and very few encounters are mandatory,so you can get to the real draw of the game quickly.But,if you do want more fighting,there are a bunch of monsters around the corner for you to dive in.

    • Bubble181 says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with this.

      I, personally, don’t “only remember” the opponents who can kill me – they’re the ones who, very quickly, turn me off a game. I’m not saying I want every game to be a Macho Power Fantasy, but I suck at real time fighting, and I prefer RPGs where my character and stats are more important than my non-existent good coordination and reflexes.
      If I start dying to too many enemies, or I’m constantly in fear of dying because every battle can kill me, I can’t relax and enjoy the story – I’m tense and get annoyed. I play games for relaxation, or for escapism to another world, or to experience a good story, or to give my brain a work-out (strategy or puzzle wise). Not to be scared, annoyed, or put down.

  4. Eric says:

    As much of an improvement it was over its predecessors, combat in W3 remains one of my largest gripes for a few reasons, the first being how easy it is, even at the hardest difficulty setting. The fact that Quen exists is, IMO, reason enough to disable difficulty options entirely–it’s a built-in easy mode. But even abstaining from your free auto-iframes on cooldown, there’s almost no challenge either tactically, mechanically, or strategically:

    1) Almost every fight can be won with the same basic pattern of dodging/side-stepping and fast-attacks, which means there is no tactical challenge. While this might seem to be true in other action games like Soulsborne, those games get around it with greater enemy and build variety.

    2) Dodging/side-stepping are freely spammable and have very forgiving timings, or maybe it’s enemies that have easily-avoidable attacks. Parry windows are also incredibly generous compared to the tight/awkward timing in Dark Souls. You can even use lock-on to score free flick-shots on flying monsters with the crossbow. Pretty much no mechanical challenge for any action.

    3) Since dodge + fast-attack is universally applicable, and since the mechanical execution is so trivial, the natural build that most players will gravitate towards is immediately obvious–straight stat buffs to fast-attacks and health. I’m sure there’s some alchemy- or sign-based build with a higher DPS output, but since the combat is so easy, most players will never even bother, which removes any strategical challenge from the system.

    But aside from the low difficulty, the combat also frustrates me in other ways. As Bob mentioned here, it gets pretty repetitive given the low tactical and strategic variety on offer. What I would have liked to see in this regard is some sort of climbing/grapping mechanic, ala Dragon’s Dogma. This would have especially made since given a) climbing ledges is already in the game, and b) boss fights in W2 had QTE-based climbing/grappling scenes. There are plenty of big, scaly/furry/feathery bosses to hold onto, after all.

    Another thing that I didn’t take to was how slow your attacks are, even the fast-attacks. This is especially apparent when you’re midway through a spinning overhead swing on some mook with a blackjack, only to be interrupted by that peasant’s quick, sensible swipe. The lore of the Witcher specifically cites witchers as being incredibly fast, but it appears CDPR focused on the graceful, dance-like animations over responsive gameplay.

    But the worst offender of all has got to be the item system. Somehow, every mud-farming peasant you meet has a sword that’s just a tiny bit sharper than whatever you happen to be carrying at the time, up until the point you get a green thing and never have to bother looting equipment ever again.

    Overall, still miles ahead of any TES game.

  5. Neko says:

    Low-level quests awarding less XP doesn’t bother me too much, but the thing that does bother me about TW3’s levelling is that high-level quests, if deemed too difficult for your current level, also award scaled-down XP and gold.

    That’s just ridiculous. If I accidentally stumble into a high level quest but defeat it anyway, I should be rewarded for my efforts, not punished.

    • Henson says:

      This was my problem with level-based items. If I can manage to defeat a difficult Basilisk and get some really nice overpowered armor, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to use it.

      Of course, given the sheer amount of loot in W3 and the possibility to get items without having to fight tough monsters in many instances, I can see why they put in this limit. Still irritates me, though.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Referencing a bit of a discussion higher up on the page what I dislike about this kind of system is that it punishes me for not playing the game “the right way”. If rewards are static I’m getting the same sum total no matter what order I do the content in. If rewards are scaled throughout than I’m being kept at a roughly the same level-to-difficulty bracket. With Witcher 3 it’s like CDPR went out of their way to make the system annoy me.

      Most quest rewards scale, but like you said they also scale down if they’re too high? I assume that is to prevent someone rushing to quests that can be done without combat, or where combat is particularly easy to cheese (say, because you have immortal companions) and getting a bazillion XP. But then some of the side content, like the nests, appear to give static rewards no matter what level you do them at? I can’t for the life of me figure out what the reasoning behind this would even be.

  6. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    It does strike me odd that the combat manages to feel a bit clunky while being simultaneously simplistic. You’re right that “fast strike, fast strike, dodge” is a basic tactic that’s pretty easy to adapt to and succeed with in the game. You’d think that the combat designers would’ve hit upon that fact and smoothed it out a bit. If it was a design choice to keep the combat simple one might hope that they’d at least focus on making it feel smooth and not clunky.

    Though to be fair, pretty much all close-combat feels clunky to me no matter the game or the mechanics built around it. It just seems to be a difficult thing to program, understandably. Some certainly feel better than others, but there’s yet to be a close combat system that I’ve played where I think, “This is amazing! It’s smooth and reactive to my input!” I agree that the combat in Mass Effect: Andromeda feels pretty great, but it seems like shooting mechanics in general can be made to feel pretty darn good if they’re the focus of the combat.

    Right now, I’m in the midst of playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance and when I started, it felt like the clunkiest sword fighting I’ve ever experienced in a game. Once I started figuring out how complex it is and once I started getting a hang of those complexities, well, it’s still super clunky, but I find that I’m more forgiving of the clunkiness when it’s the result of a deeper fighting mechanic. Witcher 3’s combat mechanics just felt unnecessarily clunky for as basic as they were. And I say that as someone who loves the game.

    • Redrock says:

      For me the thing about Andromeda’s combat (as well as previous Mass Effects) isn’t so much the shooting but the physics based biotic powers. It’s really fun to make people float before charging into them in a beautiful kinetic explosion. That’s something very few third-person shooters actually offer. That’s why I always felt that people need to cut Andromeda some slack. It has many problems, but in terms of pure combat mechanics it’s one of the most exciting and versatile third-person shooters, maybe ever, once you account for the movement options and the insane amount of weapons and powers, as well as the combo mechanics.

      • BlueBlazeSpear says:

        The powers certainly add a ton of versatility to the combat that no other shooter has fully matched. It feels pretty good to have a primer power and a detonator power that allow you to combo most mooks without having to even fire your weapon. Perhaps ironically, the gunplay is arguably the weakest part of the combat.

        But in thinking this way, it’s interesting if I think of the powers in Mass Effect: Andromeda as a type of magic and try to graft the variety, effect, and gameplay to the Witcher signs. It would completely change the gameplay in a very interesting way. Though I suppose the reason that the powers worked so well in ME:A was that the camera was locked over our character’s shoulder as opposed to Witcher 3’s floating camera.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The reason people are hard on Andromeda is because it’s not marketed as a good shooter with a token story, but as a story rich rpg with good shooting. Also, there are other shooters that offer such gameplay without crap story and wonky faces. Most notably the FREE warframe.

        • BlueBlazeSpear says:

          I have a ton of gripes about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but if I had to boil them all down into one statement, it would sound very similar to this.

          I’d say that it’s a fun, competent sci/fi shooter with some pretty diverse mechanics and it’s a decent game if you judge it in those terms, but it’s pretty terrible if you’re hoping for it to be a good Mass Effect game.

        • Redrock says:

          I still think that the story isn’t nearly as bad as people say. There’s a lot of good stuff there, as well as a rare synergy between narrative and open-world gameplay, as in, it makes at least a bit of sense for your character to be going around on errands and collecting knick-knacks all over the place, unlike most epic rpgs. I pretty much remain convinced that this is largely a case of people priming themselves to dislike the game.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Seeing how even people who liked me3 said that andromeda was bad and buggy,thats hardly the case.

            • Redrock says:

              Andromeda at launch and Andromeda now are two pretty different games. But, to be honest, the fact that CRPG fans are obsessing over animation is baffling to me.

              Also, while comparing Andromeda to ME3 is tough, since they are so different in design and intent, I have no idea how people can dislike Andromeda while liking Dragon Age Inquisition. I just don’t get that.

  7. Redrock says:

    I wish that almost every mob did more damage and had less HP.

    New Game Plus really fixed that for me. Even without my Euphoria build, at least in the early stages of New Game Plus I hit pretty hard, but so most enemies. The whirl would cleave through a group of bandits in seconds, but if you make a mistake, get swarmed, lose momentum – they can easily get in the three or four hits they need to put you down.

    The problem is, the boss encounters get even more annoying. Especially the wild hunt fella in the catacombs early on.

  8. Ander says:

    Here’s a theory: Harsh level scaling and low xp was implemented at higher difficulties specifically to depress the player’s level. That is, xp gain is lower at higher difficulties to prevent the presumably-skilled players using them from overleveling too early. (8 xp still sounds a little silly.)

    Also, echoing a comment above: an alchemy build is, in many circles, the high level build–the kind of build you have to adopt to deal with insane level scaling. You might be referring to specific parts of the alchemy tree, though.

  9. Christopher says:

    Your complaints about the level scaling reminds me about Joseph Anderson’s complaints about Dragon’s Dogma. Ten minutes in, if you haven’t got the time. I think the feel, movement, camera, abilities and controls of Dragon’s Dogma are top notch in the action RPG genre, a result of the devs being action game people first and foremost rather than the way western pc devs have slowly added more and more action into their systems. If you come from that background, I just don’t think you have it in you to make good action. At least that’s my experience with the various Fallouts, Fables, Witchers and Bioware games of the world(I hesitate to put Mass Effects in there – I think their combat is boring and tedious and janky, but I also don’t like a lot of shooters).

    But it does have its issues as an action game: You can pause the game at any time and heal as long as you have a resource, and resources are cheap. You could theoretically beat anyone, because you can simply heal forever. It’s not an issue your first playthrough, but later on you also get wakestones from the game’s final dungeon, which revive you on the spot if you die.

    As a way to discourage that though, the enemies in this can tank an unreasonable amount of hits until you’re on their level. There’s something funky with their scaling, which Joseph Anderson explains way better than me, and might be what’s going on in the Witcher 3 as well.

    Take this story: I’m trying to do a quest that involves clearing out an ogre from a tunnel. He kills every pawn I’ve got with me quickly, outclassing all of us by a mile. But then I hide in a side passage, and the big dork can’t get through to where I am, but I can easily pelt him with arrow after arrow from my bow. Know how long it takes to kill an ogre several levels above you with a strider’s bow?

    About half an hour. I went back there later on at around his level, and this time he went down after five minutes. These numbers interfering so strongly with your ability as a player is what hinders these action RPGs from being as fun to play as they could be. I don’t think the Souls games are perfect, but in terms of just the combat balance with the healing and the numbers and all that? It’s probably the best we’ve got.

    • Dev Null says:

      I quite enjoyed Dragon’s Dogma – despite the stupid name – right up until the final big dragon fight. Which is preceded by a long string of boring quicktime events, which I got through only to discover that the end boss totally outleveled and outclassed me, and I couldn’t go away and come back after leveling up some more. I still have a save game around here somewhere in the middle of that fight, but I’ve never finished the game, and probably never will.

  10. BlueHorus says:

    They give you the option of doing the different parts of the main quest in any order, but then [use the levelling system to make it insanely hard if you do]? Not the choice I would have made.

    Divinity OS 2 has this problem as well. While you technically can visit any area of the map in any order, woe betide you if you set foot in an area designed for a higher level than you.
    (And boredom beset you if you come back and you’re too high a level. I blame the armour system.)

    So did you want to help out Lohse with her sidequest ASAP? Good luck, chump. Not only are the enemies there 6 levels higher than you, they won’t even kill you quickly.
    Instead they’ll hit you with abilities like Taunt or Madness that take control of your characters away from you, making you watch as it drags on.
    Run away? What’re you talking about – are you some kind of loser?

  11. Hal says:

    Too much HP-sponginess. This might be me rather than the game, because I think this about so many games that I play: I wish that almost every mob did more damage and had less HP. A mob that can really hurt you is the one you remember, the one that makes fights exciting. Instead, many of the The Witcher 3’s boss fights had me repeating that same fairly short pattern of moves, like hit-hit-hit-quickstep-repeat, over and over again.

    This is the balancing act in difficulty these days. High damage/low HP enemies are part and parcel of the Dark Souls/Bloodborne dynamic; it ends up requiring a lot of skill on the player’s part, and is part of the appeal of these games; consequently, they can also feel very exacting and unforgiving, which is what makes them unappealing to others.

    Lowering damage is one solution, of course, but a low damage/low HP enemy will feel too easy. So now you have a few options. You can either increase the enemy HP, so that the players can’t just plow right through the enemies willy nilly; this can make the game feel like a grind, as you end up in the HP sponge territory.

    You can also just increase the number of enemies that the player has to fight; in this way, the challenge arises in staying alive and keeping your resources available before you can restore them. This is the model for most Final Fantasy games (and other JRPGs). Unfortunately, that’s also the very embodiment of grinding, repetitive gameplay, since you’re substituting numbers of monsters for higher HP.

    There might be a sweet spot in the spectrum where the number of enemies, enemy HP, and enemy damage are just right to make a game challenging without feeling like a grind. Don’t ask me how to find it, though.

    • Bubble181 says:

      That “sweet spot” is also simply different for different people.

      A few posts up, Christopher complains about numbers interfering with his abilities as a player. That’s a perfectly valid perspective, but I have the exact opposite: I get frustrated and annoyed when my personal abilities as a player are more important than my character’s numbers.

      If I want a game where *my* skill is important, I’ll play a shooter. If i play an RPG, I want my character to play and win, not me. My playing is choosing how to build my character, how to progress, what skills to take, how to prepare, what road to travel. How good I am at fighting should be dependant on if I’m a fighter or a mage, not on if I’m 16 and hopped up on caffeine or 65 with Parkinson’s and can’t keep my mouse still (I’m neither, honestly).

      • Hal says:

        I can probably peg how you feel about the Elder Scrolls series, then, because that was a huge distinction that changed between Morrowind and Oblivion. (I may have just re-read Rutskarn’s Altered Scrolls series.)

        A lot of people didn’t like staring at a mudcrab in Morrowind and flailing at it with a sword, only to be told “miss” when it was clearly right in front of their face. Oblivion changed that so that it was more arcade like; an obvious hit would connect, but now it was like hitting the monsters with a nerf bat until your stats were high enough.

        It doesn’t help that a lot of games are introducing RPG-like mechanics with stats and advancement . . . just because. I’ve played quite a few games where it didn’t seem like the RPG elements really added anything to the game, but that’s the popular trend these days.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        If i play an RPG, I want my character to play and win, not me.

        The problem is that there are two kinds of rpgs*:One where levels give you more numbers(more health,better chance to hit,better dodge,….) and one where levels give you more skills to use.The problem is that most games these days try to mix the two,when they really shouldnt.Playing through human revolution and getting a level so that you could unlock new paths through a level via wall punching is great.Mixing it with a skill that allows your weapons deal more damage,not so great.But in a game where your skill at mouse clicking is not that important,like tyranny,its great again.

        And this is a problem that plagues many bethesda games.Any game that tries to emulate bethesda is doing it wrong.Yes,that includes witcher 3.Having levels that improve your signs and open new tools was great.Having those same levels restrict your equipment,not so much.

        *Technically,leveling mechanics.But lets not get bogged down into the pedantics of video game terms.

  12. Lazlo says:

    That’s one of the things with this game… that’s not even what I’d consider “cleavage”, that’s “I’m prepped and ready for open-heart surgery”

  13. SAeN says:

    The problem with the levelling system in The Witcher 3 is that it either trivializes or disincentives engaging with the larger monsters that, within the established lore of the game, require Geralt to prepare for in order to take on. When Geralt is under-leveled no amount of preparation will get you over level disparity and thus Geralt’s character is infringed on by the game mechanics because he is unable to do his job.

    The opposite occurs when Geralt is over-leveled and monsters of all types are made so easy as to be trivial. Geralt now no longer needs to undertake any sort of preparation to fight because the game mechanics have made it trivially easy.

    This was my biggest complaint with The Witcher 3 (the ridiculous plot pacing is a close second) as the open world made playing as a wandering monster slayer a more believable role compared to the previous two games (actual wandering vs wandering between plot points). But the leveling system interferes with that aspect of Geralt’s character. As a result, the best monster fight in the game is the initial Gryphon fight in the tutorial region as the plot prevents any sort of level disparity and the preparation phase is baked into the plot.

    • Len says:

      They included level scaling just in case you were bothered by that. This way we have the best of both worlds. Those who like lore consistency and a challenge every fight can leave it on, while those who like to see actual progress and self balancing game play can opt to turn it off.

  14. Nimrandir says:

    I have to admit that I haven’t been following this series as closely as those that came before it — primarily because I am way behind in the series and am trying to avoid too many spoilers (for reference, I’m in Act III of the first Witcher as of now).

    That said, I appreciate how you have often divided the mechanical aspects of your discussion thus far from story components. I enjoyed reading about the evolution of the series’ combat without significant story content.

  15. Nick Powell says:

    I played through Andromeda as a Vanguard too. My Ryder basically spent the whole game roleplaying as Thor, zooming around the battlefield and smacking people with the Krogan Hammer.

    I think I had way more fun with it than most people did

  16. Admiral Akbar says:

    I don’t see this build being viable in the long run. There are several quests that are going to be very frustrating to get through. The one that comes immediately to mind is “Wandering in the Dark” where Geralt and Keira have to fight the frost hounds.

    The naked hobo difficulty choice is more suited to a game like Skyrim than Witcher 3. I don’t really see the appeal of playing with such a crippled build as it will make every fight tedious.

    It is a small wonder that everything feels like a HP sponge to the author.

    Finally, combat is not the main point of this game like the Souls series. The combat is fluid enough for a game like this and there are sufficient options to keep it interesting. Frankly, I didn’t find the Souls style of combat anymore rewarding than Witcher combat. In Souls you have characters in full armor with shields performing improbable acrobatics like rolling head over heals. In Souls, the weapons for the most part would be impossible to wield for characters that aren’t giants.

    The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to do melee combat justice with most games. Melee combat in most games feels gamey. But you really cannot justifiably complain about combat in Witcher 3 given your build.

    It is the equivalent of going into a Chinese restaurant and ordering lasagna and then complaining about the taste.

    • John says:

      Not all of Bob’s comments are based on this particular playthrough. He’s played this game before. I’m sure his decision to be naked-punching-man is making things harder than they would otherwise be, but I’m glad he did it anyway.

      • Guest says:

        Generally, the game isn’t. You run into the damage sponge when you play outside of your level, if you’re progressing normally, with a decent build, you usually don’t run into this issue.

        If you choose to try to take shortcuts (I did, for the master craftsmen stuff in particular), you’ll get enemies which are both damage sponges, and do insane damage.

        Combat is generally functional and smooth. I find it rewarding to try to get through encounters without taking damage, and to find ways of optimising my build to take down enemies that I probably shouldn’t.

    • Guest says:

      Very true. Kiting every monstrous enemy like this is just plain silly, and if you’re willing to put up with that and have fun, whatever. If you’re going to gripe about it, that’s some really weird sour grapes.

      I had a small experience with this at the start of the game, where I got rid of my silver sword to get the Viper Silver Sword, but I’d miscalculated something, and I ended up far short of money to make that sword, so I had to resolve several quests, and become a herb dealer to make enough money to get one, meaning every monster fight I had went like Bob’s, abusing Igni and kiting. It was funny as a short diversion at the start, it would have been pointlessly patience trying over the whole game, and I went out of my way to fight that stupid troll to get the master tools at way too low a level and had to BS my way through that fight doing chip damage against an enemy who would one shot me.

      It’s going to get really trying for big quests involving monsters, and if the articles keep looking like this, they’re going to be about as much fun to read as punchy-mchobo is to play.

      It’s a fun idea for a playthrough Bob, but you’re going to really cripple your ability to actually progress and actually start saying something in your articles that isn’t “Hey, this build I made as a joke is awful isn’t it hahaha”. This is the worst of both the worlds of weird builds and nitpicky criticism.

      Order the Chow Mein and stop complaining about the parmesan.

  17. As a human who has these things called “breasts”, I’m fully aware of just how impractical/uncomfortable/downright stupid some of the women’s clothing is in this game.

    Also – I wish I could force-march a few CDPR developers/artists through a forest while wearing tight leather pants and high-heeled boots. Poor Yennefer didn’t deserve that ridiculous outfit.

  18. Guest says:

    “combat has never been CD Projekt’s strong point.”

    He says, playing the game with punches and signs, preventing oils from being used, or even standard damage being dealt.

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