This guide will describe all the intricacies of skills in this game and will give plenty of advice on developing your build.
General Skills Review
Sun and Stars: seems like a nice early game option for the last two difficulties but, in truth, it isn't that great. Sure, meditation ceases to replenish your vitality there, yet it still recharges your Swallow potion. So, as long as you stock up on alcohest (which isn't even that expensive – just 25 crowns a pop, not to mention you'll find plenty of it in the random loot), you can still rest to regen quite effectively. And while one ability point might not seem that much of an investment, don't forget that you also need to spend an entire ability slot on this and those are much more precious.
Not to mention that Witcher 3 is a very long game and, if you are thorough with it, you will gain ability points once every three hours or so. On the average. Rushing the main plot does accelerate the process, of course. Since you need to accumulate a mass of points to unlock the access to the higher tiers of your skill trees, each point spent on the generic skills delays that for the time mentioned. Which isn't exactly welcome as some skill trees (Alchemist, I'm looking at you!) don't even play that well until you reach past the necessary threshold.
Oh, there's also the stamina component of this ability but it's too small to be considered – gives only twice as much as any of the skills in the Sign tree but without any additional benefits (sign enhancement, tree progression). All in all, this ability is skippable.
Survival Instinct: same as above logic applies. When compared with some other vitality boosting abilities (or just plain defensive ones), the return to investment ratio here is rather decent, especially at the start of the game. Yet the ability point spent here occupies an entire slot (which will soon become a very bad thing) and doesn't really lead to anything greater. It's better to pass on this one.
Cat School Techniques: now, techniques are the huge exception here. Unlike other generic skills, they provide many times more than they cost – Cat School, for example, gives as much damage as about 8 ability points spent in the Swordsman tree. And those would require you to spend 2 ability slots instead of just one. Not to mention the amount of time it takes to earn them. Of course, nothing prevents you from combining both techniques and swordsmanship to reach the ultimate melee prowess – that's the way to go, actually. As the payoff is immense, all the swordsmen want to invest here their very first ability point gained. Alchemists may also consider sticking to this one – initially as an early game convenience, but later on they can have incredible critical hit chance reliably so they profit from that 100% damage bonus like no one else.
Wearing light armor, by the way, is not that big of a deal for the swordsmen – it doesn't provide much in terms of damage resistance but that's hardly useful for them. With zero innate regenerative abilities (which are the thing that makes heavy armor good, otherwise it doesn't buy you enough time to be worth it) your main plan with these guys is to parry and dodge as perfectly as you can. And neither are improved by the heaviness of your armor. There are also 4 points of stamina regeneration difference between heavy and light – heavy penalizes you by 2, light provides 2 extra. Which means a lot once you get to the Whirl/Rend skills – they are very stamina-hungry. Another plus for the cat techniques.
Finally, while you won't have that many +critical modifiers early on, one thing to remember that a strike from behind is always a critical hit. So if you stun your opponent somehow (via bomb, sign or weapon enchantment), just get behind his back to reap the benefits of this technique. Against the slow foes like golems it's even simpler – rather easy to get behind their backs naturally. Combine Cat Techniques with the Doppler decoction for the ultimate assassin approach.
Griffin School Techniques: and this one is for the sign users, both pure and hybrid. Exactly the same reason – you spend your first ability point on it as the return is insane. 20% sign efficiency is very noticeable on low levels and 20% stamina regeneration bonus gives you plenty of extra casts. What's delicious here is that being percentage-based means you get more and more out of it as you progress along the Sign tree – it totally multiplies the stamina regeneration gained there. You also start in the full set of medium armor (don't have to find anything to enable the bonus) and the first craftable witcher armor set you'll discover is that of the Griffin school, i.e. medium armor. This technique is both powerful and very convenient.
Bear School Techniques: potent but, unlike other techniques, is a very bad early game choice. Heavy armor takes quite a bit of time to appear – you'll find first pieces of it somewhere at level 11-12 which can easily be one third of the playthrough. And the craftable Ursine set (one of the main reasons to go for this technique) has the minimal level requirement of 17 and one of its recipes is guarded by the level 30 foe (really tough to defeat at level 17). That's a slow bloomer right here. Once you have the appropriate gear, however, this technique becomes very good for the alchemists – big resistances and vitality bonus enhances their many layers of protection, resulting in an ultimate tank. And huge adrenaline gain bonus from the Ursine armor fuels Hunter Instinct rather nicely. Not to mention that you have strong attacks damage bonus as the cherry on the top (and alchemist's cascade of disabling bombs makes those attacks easy to land).
Still, as it is useless for those first 10 levels or so, you probably start with another technique then respec into this one – respecs are cheap and have no innate penalty so why not exploit their power? A high level swordsman, once he has access to the Flood of Anger ability, may also consider respeccing into this technique – he wants to have as much adrenaline as possible and, well, that's the ursine specialty right there.
Steady Shot: sorta misses the point. Crossbow is more of a spec ops tool. It's main purpose is to address certain situations (underwater combat or bringing the flying enemies to the ground) or to apply different debuffs and disables via special bolts. Luring foes away from the group might also be considered on the highest difficulties, at least in the early game. For all those tasks, the damage itself is insignificant – underwater, crossbow functions as a “1 shot, 1 kill” weapon anyways, gaining the huge bonus for that purpose. Only rarely it becomes 2 shots for the kill. In all other cases, the damage is miniscule and it's the side effect that counts. And “miniscule” multiplied by 1.25 doesn't suddenly become great. So this ability doesn't improve the crossbow's usefulness at all. Skippable.
Rage Management: great for the swordsman-sign hybrids. Mind you, both sign users and hybrid builds are starved for the ability slots so when you combine these two you'll get an absolute Morkvarg (you'll understand eventually), but this skill allows you to spam your spells a lot (which is a very rare advantage) so it might still be worth it. It's also more of a mid-game skill – swordsman adrenaline generation begins rather slow and it's only when you gain the access to the Razor Focus ability that you really start to feel the difference. That's the point to invest into this ability. Maribor Forest potion will also be helpful, especially the superior version. Ursine set, however, is not that great – sign hybrids might have some issues with sign intensity so they absolutely need to equip the Griffin set to fix that.
General Skill Review - cont.
Guite bad, actually. The very concept of signs giving you adrenaline is very nice and it could've made a nice combo with both Rage Management and Focus if only the gains here were actually solid. They are not. On practice, they're absolutely negligible and you still have to whack your foe with your sword a lot to rack up that adrenaline. Sure, this also provides five extra points to that and that's probably worth the ability point, but not the ability slot.
An alternative to the Rage Management. They work on a different principles – one wants you to spend your adrenaline ASAP, other wants you to accumulate it. Also, Focus is a narrower tool – Rage Management works with any kind of a sign whereas Focus is pretty much Igni only. Theoretically, it can apply to the Quen, Aard of Yrden but that requires reaching the tier-4 sign abilities and swordsman-mage hybrid is not likely to dig that far down. But then, Igni can make a rather fine combo with the fast attack style so it's not that big of a deal. Quite good in a proper build.
A late game tool for the alchemist (or anyone who has the Acquired Tolerance maxed out, really). With this ability enabled, you can easily reach the 270+ toxicity threshold where you can use 3 decoctions and some potions at the same time. Otherwise, it's only 2 decoctions and potions. So you sacrifice an ability slot to be able to use extra decoction – given that there are many tasty decoctions and you have only so much toxicity, this might be an interesting trade-off. Apart from that, alchemists don't need it and non-alchemist can invest into the Acquired Tolerance instead – it gives much more for the same ability slot/point.
Swordsman Skill Review
The swordsman is the most skill-intensive tree in the game. Mind you, it's not Dark Souls we're talking about so this requirement is neither steep nor scary, but you will have to learn to dodge, parry and counter-attack properly. You will have no durability otherwise – for a long time, your only sources of in-combat healing will be the Swallow and White Raffard's Decoction and, if you're taking hits carelessly, they will run out of charges really fast. Especially on the highest difficulty. And White Raffard won't even appear too soon as nekker hearts required to craft it are a rather rare drop. You can try to meditate in their places of habitat, hoping for a lucky respawn, but I wouldn't bet too much on this. In-combat regeneration is scarce and that won't change until some late game decoctions will come online.
The toughest part is probably fighting the multiple foes in the early game. They're rather good at surrounding and backstabbing you (which means world of hurt via critical hits). So, if things go too tough for you, remember you have two great tools at your disposal – the crossbow and the horse. The cavalry tactic can be very potent in the Witcher 3 – a galloping hit deals colossal damage and the speed that comes with it makes retaliation difficult for the foes. Now, the hit itself might be somewhat difficult to aim because of the weird animation, but practice it for a while and you'll get a hold of it.
The crossbow is even simpler – its shot can easily lure some foes away for the pack, enabling the classic divide & conquer approach. And it can totally be used while mounted so you can roll in the mongolian “horseback archery” style. Keep in mind that it's only the special bolts that are finite – remove them from the equipped slot and you'll get the infinite basic ones. Which are probably the best for the kiting purposes, no need to waste the good stuff. Also, while it sounds absolutely counter-logical, aquatic foes should be absolutely fought underwater – drowners are incredibly annoying on the ground but they're total pansies once in their home environment. Figure this out.
Muscle Memory & Strength Training: I'll review these two in one go so you can see the whole picture. You see, the fast and the strong attacks are in no way equal. Theoretically, the fast approach is against solitary, agile foes whereas the strong style is against heavily armored/shield equipped foes and groups of enemy monsters. However, practically the fast style turns out to be quite universal – shield foes should be dispatched on the counter-attack, you let them make the first move (well, attempt to do so) and punish that with a series of quick blows. Heavily armored foes are usually very slow so you attack them mostly from behind where, thanks to the Cat Techniques, the damage output between the strong and the fast becomes rather equal.
And while fast attack has no special bonuses versus groups, so does the strong one – sure, it swings with a very wide arc but the swing itself is so slow that someone from the enemy group will definitely disrupt you. Not to mention that, thanks due to the greater number of attacks made in the same period of time, fast approach works much better with the enchanted weapons, activating those percentages to bleed / stun / freeze / whatever with greater frequency.
So fast attack is your primary offensive choice whereas the strong attack is more like a side-option. If you invest into fast attack skills only, you will feel no difficulties at all. Whereas investment in strong attack only will feel rather inconvenient at some times. Now, the strong attacks do become much better once you add something else into equation – the alchemist with his bombs, for example, can stun foes for a long time and that negates the slow swing disadvantage rather nicely. Same goes for the mage and his many disabling signs. When going for the hybrid builds, you might consider going for the strong approach only. But for a pure swordsman, fast attacks are an unskippable must and strong ones are more of a secondary tool, competing with other tactical options of the first tier.
Arrow Deflection: barely useful, unfortunately. It's human only, obviously, which greatly limits it usefulness and even then many human fights feature no archers. Not to mention that arrows are not that difficult to dodge and you may not even want to kill archers that fast (higher levels of this ability deflect arrows back with great bonus damage added) – in attempts to hit you, they will shoot their poor comrades in the backs, insta-killing them. Meaning that, if you maneuver properly, they will clear out encounters for you. Almost.
Lightning Reflexes: now, this skill is not for the general crossbow accuracy – if you want to hit your opponent with crossbow reliably, just hit the item activation button/key once and Geralt will auto-shoot them with colossal precision. It's more for the convenient long-range sniping (where auto-aim won't lock on). If you plan to use the crossbow heavily in the early game, you probably rush this ability even before Muscle Memory. It all other cases, this is quite skippable. And you probably respec out of this later on.
Resolve: a late game tool for rather specific builds. For example, if you go for a late game alchemist-swordsman hybrid then you might consider filling your second tier prerequisites with this skill. It's just that the alchemist has a very good vitality regeneration and that spoils you greatly – why bother with precise blocking when you can gulp a potion to get high immediately? Vitality-wise, I mean. But if you get hit, you lose adrenaline which is a big no-no for such character – he really wants his Hunter Instinct constantly up and running. Same logic applies to the Flood of Anger swordsman build – suddenly, upgraded Quen gives you good regen so you can afford to lose some vitality, but not the adrenaline points. For those builds, Resolve is a nice choice. For everyone else, it's rather useless – without any regeneration, the basic swordsman just can't afford to take enough hits for this to matter. Besides, he doesn't have that much of a need for high adrenaline.
Precise Blows & Crushing Blows: pretty much the same as with the Muscle Memory & Strength Training. Most swordsmen will invest into the fast attacks heavily so of course they will want the Precise Blows, especially thanks to the Cat Techniques making that crit bonus even nicer. Crushing Blows, on the other hand, are more of a niche option and even harder to get as an optional tool because the competition at the tier-2 is much fiercer than at the tier-1. Once again, more of a hybrid choice.
Fleet Footed: the main priority for the pure swordsman. Dodging is his main survival tool – more so than parrying as dodging works against everything. Swordsman is useless if he doesn't dodge properly – mind you, dodge, not barrel roll. That means left or right movement keys/buttons or Alt key (dunno what gamepad button it's tied to – simply the plain dodge choice). So an option which improves said defensive mechanism greatly is obviously the top-notch choice and the first priority once you get to the tier-2 abilities. Hybrids, on the other hand, might not find this ability as necessary – signs and alchemy provide their own protection, after all.
Swordsman Skill Review - cont.
Another specific choice. If you feel like you're strongly lacking extra adrenaline, you might try out this one. Once you invest the full five points in it and add up some extra bonuses on the top, the gains will become more or less noticeable. The question is, are they noticeable enough to be worth the investment? I don't think so, 5 ability points and 1 slot is too much for this kind of gain. Another thing is that the timing of this ability is somewhat clumsy. What I mean is that, at the time of its appearance, it's already too late for the early game sniping/luring (you could've used it to gain 3 adrenaline points and rush into battle fully-buffed that way) but it's too early for the late game adrenaline combos. And, in the late game, it's faster to gain adrenaline with your sword than with this. So there's just no time for this in the game.
whenever you're about to die, this ability consumes all your adrenaline point and restores from 5 to 10 percents of your maximum vitality per point consumed. So 5-15% to 10-30%. I'm not too sure on the exact numbers but it seemed like so. It's not a bad skill and, if you will earn another adrenaline point immediately, it might help you to last for quite a while, at least against slow & heavy hitting foes. The thing with this ability is that it doesn't develop that well – first level of it is really strong, rest provide much weaker returns on the invesment. So it's pretty much the only ability in the game where just one point spent is more than enough to use it properly. Maybe 2, just to reach the 20 points needed for the second tier nicely if you've taken a 3 point maximum 1-tier ability.
Keeping in line with the rest of fast/strong choices, Whirl is very potent and universal. It causes lots of rapid hits in a wide radius so it's great at clearing through the vast groups of foes, just as advertised. But, as the hits are applied really fast and count as your average fast attacks, it also works rather well against solitary targets once you have an enchanted weapon – stuns/freezes/burns are bound to happen so you can what at the poor boss until your stamina runs out. Which is why it works best in light armor and with the Tawny Owl potion imbibed. The adrenaline consumption is not as noticeable, by the way – you can barely feel it, actually. A really strong choice on the tier-3. Doesn't work for the hybrid sign users as well, though – it consumes too much stamina to be combined that way. Maybe with Rage Management this can work, but only with that.
Following the same logic, Rend is a potent but annoyingly narrow tool. The damage is great, no questions to this. However, it's even slower and more vulnerable than your ordinary strong attack and, to squeeze the maximum amount of damage from this, a rather specific timing is required so the full bar of stamina is consumed. Good luck landing that against any foe who actually tries to resist you. And, well, full bar of adrenaline is also recommended so even the Rage Management won't make this work for sign hybrids – this thing is for the ultra-late game alchemists/swordsmen only.
If you're good at countering, this skill becomes astonishingly good. It's not even about the damage bonus – it's about the chance to knock down your foe and automatic critical hit which appear at levels 2 and 3 of this ability. Though extra damage is always welcome, of course. Anyways, this skill is as good as your skill is. Just look at your own experience with the game – if you think you can manage it, go for it. If not, take something more reliable.
Now, criticals themselves are not that necessary on the crossbows as, I'll repeat, they are special purpose weapons. However, there is one very special purpose that only criticals can fulfill and that's enabling the Crippling Shot. Which is a rather potent tier-4 ability. However, until you are able to gain at least 3 ranks in it, I don't think you need the knowledge so, instead of developing properly, you probably just respec into it once you have the points. Outside of that, it's rather useless.
Great boon for all the adrenaline-hungry builds. Which is either Rage Management sign hybrids or Flood of Anger sworsdmen. Both will want 5 points here – it's not even about 1 starting point, pleasant as it is, it's about 5% of extra adrenaline per point invested (and that's not counting the basic bonus – with it it's actually 6%). If you don't want to play around adrenaline gains, this becomes much less desireable.
As if fast attacks didn't do enough damage already. Now, at the first couple of levels it might not be as impactful, but once the level 3-4 is reached your enemies will feel the sting. Of course, it's at its best against the boss-like foes – the fatter they are, the longer they bleed, the more benefit do you gain here. But even against the large groups of a smaller opponents this can be good if you manage to spread some harsh loving around – nick everyone once and watch them all going down under. Very good upgrade though not the first priority for the fast attack swordsman.
That's also a strong upgrade and, suddenly, it probably even equals it's fast attack counterpart. It's just that, once again, only hybrid builds are really interested in the strong attack and their chances of getting that high in the swordsman tree are rather low. You'll need to scour some crazy amounts of xp to do this. And you'll probably be already overpowered by that point. Anyways, the skill is strong, just way too specific.
So this is the first priority for the fast attacker. For the strong one too, even if it doesn't work as great with the slower rate of attacking. Fighting average foes might get a bit tedious at this stage of the playthrough and, well, this solves the problem rather nicely.
The main reason of Crippling Strikes existing. Score a crossbow critical against any foe with a pesky ability and, suddenly, all that peskiness is gone, it's all nice and smooth. Takes a bit of time to develop properly – the duration on first two levels is not that great, considering that even with 5 ranks in Anatomical Knowledge the criticals won't happen that frequently. Past that point, however, it becomes rather usable. If you like your crossbow, that's the way to go in the late game.
Flood of Anger
And now for something that allows entirely different build. Why go for the sign-swordsman hybrid when you can cast all those fancy signs without wasting a single ability point on them? Sure, you need a huge adrenaline generation to perform this frequently but, you know, the Ursine set, the Maribor Forest, the Razor Focus, the basic increase from all those points invested into swordsmanship? You can get this going if you wish to. And while you won't cast that often, you'll have incredible tactical flexibility this way – you're getting access to all the sign upgrades, alternative version included. Whatever you need, you'll get it. Initially your sign intensity will suffer, but that will cease to be a problem once you reach high levels of this skill. All in all, whether you build around this or just stick it on some common build, Flood of Anger is very flexible and fun skill.
Sign Skill Review
Following what seems like a tradition, signs are incredibly overpowered in The Witcher 3. They're so far ahead from the other trees that it's not even funny. Only Aard seems to be at least somewhat honest and everything else is so overwhelming it feels like playing with cheats enabled. So, if you wish to have some challenge in your game, it's best to either avoid developing signs or, at the very least, take the less disbalanced ones. On the other hand, if you don't care about difficulty and just want to experience the story or maybe if you like to humiliate enemies mercilessly, signs will definitely please you.
The only actual difficulty when playing a sign user is choosing which signs to put into the ability slot – since his abilities are much shallower (i.e., they require less points to get maxed out), mage Geralt will always feel constantly starved for the ability slots and you will have to choose which signs to choose for which battle. Now that's a horrible disadvantage, sure.
Aard / Igni / Yrden / Quen / Axii intensity: despite these being tier-3 skills, I'll start with them. Just to simplify some things. You see, early on, these look rather tasty. However, once you get to the point of their availability you'll see that your sign intensity is already way through the roof – blue mutagens and Griffin set alone will give you something like a hundred and a half of it (and in the late game that's gonna be closer to two hundred and a half). And while there is a lot of difference between 25% and 50% of sign intensity, the 200% to 225% gap is rather hard to notice. Especially when at the mark of 80% or so intensity your spells already become devastating. So, while you can put some accent on your most commonly used spells with these, you can also develop pretty much the entire two first lines to unlock tier-4 abilities. Great flexibility at no real cost.
Far-Reaching Aard: Aard is the only sign that is more or less honest. It still becomes insane once you develop it deeply but at least that takes some time and effort. Before that point, however, Aard suffers from being rather redundant – it's supposed to provide crowd control with some offensive potential via coup de gracing the knocked down foes, yet Igni generally provides the same measure of crowd control with greater damaging capability. Yrden provides probably even better pure crowd control. Axii is much stronger when disabling solitary targets. And Quen has bigger priority when you suddenly need some protection. Not to mention it also pushes & knock downs once upgraded properly. So where does this leave Aard? I guess it's main argument is the rather huge area of effect – once you level up this ability. And, of course, Aard is less about primary mode...
Aard Sweep: and more about secondary one. Yeah, sure, there is a penalty to the knock down chance but your ungodly intensity covers that up completely. So it's all about keeping the large groups of foes down and finishing them one by one. Not the fastest way to resolve combat but more or less safe one. Too bad that Aard doesn't work that well against some kind of foes.
Shock Wave: and once this puppy enters the ring, you don't even need to finish anyone. Just Aard Sweep them repeatedly until they all are dead. The initial damage is rather low but, once past level 3, it becomes acceptable. But so great are the signs' power that this constant and deadly lockdown is actually nothing amazing. It's more for the variety purposes than anything else and, honestly, Aard will be the last priority for your sign using Geralt.
Melt Armor: not that great for the pure caster builds as they tend to kill foes with signs entirely, hence they don't care about melting armor that much. Excellent for the hybrids – you can easily build an entire fast attacking build around this one ability. And Igni is a very good sign to focus on – it does everything. Deals damage, pushes the foes a bit back and will even set them ablaze, doing even more damage and disabling them for duration. It's only vulnerability is that some monsters are immune to burning. Not many, though.
Firestream: and the upgraded version of Igni is the most damaging sign in the game. Works like a flamer, you hold the cast button and the constant stream of flame annihilates your foe until your stamina runs out (generally it's the foe who runs out first). The damage is tremendous. Now, there is the chance that the foe will hit you, disrupting the casting, but there's also even greater chance that he'll get enflamed and will just shriek in pain helplessly. For those monsters who don't burn, you can cast some other sign to keep them in place – alternate Yrden does the trick wonderfully, that's how you dispatch many bosses.
Pyromaniac: this one is actually bad, however. It's redundant – your prodigious intensity (it's only sign 2 out of 5 and I'm already running out of decent “awesome” synonyms – that's how ginormous signs are) already almost guarantees your enemies getting scorched so this one is an absolute overkill. It's more for the Flood of Anger swordsman builds convenience (as well as the Melt Armor and all the sign intensity talents, I guess).
Sustained Glyphs: I've found the primary Yrden to be not that commonly useful. Yes, it lasts for quite a while, more so after you upgrade the duration with this skill, and at the second level of it you can put two fields at once, covering up a huge area, but thing is, why slow down foes when you can burn them to crisp? Sure, there are foes against whom Yrden is mandatory (wraiths, for example) and, when there is a horde of mobs or the combat promises to be otherwise very long (against overleveled monsters, for example), its great duration may prove useful but, all in all, it's not the best sign of them all. However, this skill is still pretty awesome as it also upgrades the alternate sign.
Magic Trap: and the alternate mode is a stupendous boss-fighting tool. As I've mentioned before, signs being nigh-broken looks to be some kind of tradition in these series. Take the infamous golem fight from the first Witcher – people who played swordsman Geralt often found the fight rather hard and daunting. There's even a steam guide dedicated to solely that bossfight. However, even on the highest difficulty all the mage Geralt had to do is to wait until it's near evening (so the rising moon is on), stroll up to the nearby place of power, charge up Yrden then kill the golem in four to five casts of the trap. None of that frantic running between the pillars required, just relax and watch the damn thing impale itself on your turbo-powered sign. And Magic Trap works exactly the same way in the Witcher 3 – many fights against tough singular monsters you can solve in a similar fashion. As if that wasn't enough, it also has the unique advantage of costing only half of your stamina bar, meaning it's extremely easy to cast repeatedly or in combination with other spells (Firestream being the main combo here). What's more could you ask for?
Supercharged Glyphs: more of a luxury skill, to be honest. As we've just figured out, best part of Yrden is its alternate mode. And this upgrades the primary only – bogus. Besides, the damage becomes notable only after three our four ability points invested – even then, considering we talk about rather late period of game, it's nothing impressive. Can safely pass on this one.
Exploding Shield: the basic Quen is just a tiny bit of extra survivability – not even that much of it. Take this upgrade, however, and it becomes a bit of everything – some personal protection added, some damage dealt and the chance to push back and knock down the foes around you. Yeah, who needs Aard? The attractive part of the deal here is that you can precast it before the combat, wait until your stamina replenishes (it's gonna take literally a second) then charge into fray. First Quen of the fight becomes free, pretty much. But that's almost fair, to be honest.
Sign Skill Review - cont.
The sleazy part begins here. A god-mode included, to be honest. Assaulting foes brought your vitality down – kk, just enable your alternate quen and watch it rapidly grow back. Battered once again? No big deal – dodge & evade until your stamina is full (shouldn't take long), then activate it to heal yourself up once more. Rinse and repeat. Once you have Active Shield at the maximum, it becomes almost impossible to lose a fight. Maybe by the lack of concentration but that's it. And it doesn't even matter what level your foe is – even the strongly overleveled foes can be brought down with this, as long as you're patient enough. There are all sorts of ridiculousness in midst of the signs, but nothing is as crazy as this skill is.
If you thought that Quen wasn't doing enough damage – here, even more damage! Because it needs even more buffing, right? Eh, after the previous skill, it's hard to be amazed anymore. Not that this upgrade is bad, mind you – it's very good, but we're already at the point where you can't make this sound much crazier.
All kind of mage characters will want it and I've seen people take it as a slight dip, simply for the sake of using it as a jedi mind trick. Yeah, being able to tell people that these are not the droids they're looking for is positively terrific. Often enough, it's one of the best dialogue resolutions to use so the logic of such choice is easy to understand. It's not an automatic choice, though – 3 points is a rather steep investment. But it's also quite useful as a combat tool – upgrades here make Axii much less unwieldier. Initially, it suffers from the very slow casting speed – when the enemy is closing to you, it can be hard to time it right so you finish before enemy hits & disrupts you. Once this is fully upgraded, that's no longer an issue. It even makes fails not as faily. Good skill.
The funny thing, it's not even that much about turning your foes against each other – it's another potent boss-fighting tool, first and foremost. You can actually charm many dangerous solitary foes to whack them without any fear of retaliation. That's dirty. Some are immune, though, but where it works it's golden. It's not that bad in the group fights, however, it can be quite helpful that way, it's just that the bosses is where it truly shines.
If you're really into that kind of stuff... Doesn't really amplify the boss aspect so it's whether you like to use this in ordinary fights or not. Double the fun, pretty much, and effect being weaker doesn't mean much in light of your vast amount of intensity.
Alchemy Skill Review
Out of all the archetypes, alchemist Geralt has the slowest start. Not that he's weak, don't worry, it's just that his true power begins at the tier-2 skills and, before that moment occurs, his tier-1 provides miserable returns on the ability points invested (the solutions here are the same as for the swordsman, btw). It's also the fact that the alchemist's power is directly proportional to the amount of decoctions & potions he possesses and, well, you start without much. The alchemist also demands somewhat methodical & thorough gameplay, at least in the early stages of the game – you want to explore all the question markers available, simply to find more recipes, reagents & places of power. Everyone loves free ability points but for the alchemist rushing past his teenage clumsiness is a must. Alchemy also rewards acting heartless towards monsters – why spare them when you can brew another decoction out of them?
Heightened Tolerance: the alchemic rewards are also not exactly obvious, at least not when you begin playing the game. So how does this thing work? Toxicity limits the maximum amount of potions and decoctions you can imbibe – you absolutely can't get past your limit. So the overdose condition is not having more than that number – it's having 95% of your toxicity filled. When that happens, you get poisoned (the poison is specific and can't be countered by the Golden Oriole) and lose vitality really quickly. That lasts until your toxicity gets back under 95%. Overdose is deadly and you absolutely don't want to get OD'd when fighting your foes. Now, early on that doesn't seem like a considerable threat – you start with 100 toxicity, you can get even more and filling it all seems like a very infrequent thing to happen. However, once you reach your full alchemical power, you will find yourself operating on the edge of OD pretty much on a constant basis. And that's where Heightened Tolerance comes into play – every rank of it raises the overdose threshold by 1%. Mind you that even when maxed out, the overdose will still happen at 100% - that's because there is 5 ranks and basic threshold consists of six numbers. 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100. But reaching said 100% perfectly is really hard and in my hundred of hours played that happened only once or twice. On the other hand, the times this saved me from the overdose were countless. So this skill, despite not looking big and doing more or less nothing for quite a bit of time, is actually one of the core skills of alchemist and you shouldn't really reach tier-2 spells without maxing this out.
Poisoned Blades: more of an early game utility skill, to get respecced out of later. Poison is a helpful tool and it's very potent against the right kind of foe, no doubt about that. However, multiple poison causes doesn't stack and your Devil's Puffball bomb is more than adequate at performing this task. If you think that the cloud it generates is unwieldy and it's easy to poison yourself – well, that is true, but that's why you always use Puffball in combination with the Golden Oriole potion. After that, you're immune and you actually want to fight in that poisonous cloud so the enemy doesn't stop suffering. Until you get that combo going on, this skill can be somewhat useful. Past that point, it becomes simply redundant, unfortunately.
Steady Aim: would've been really useful if not for the auto-aiming. Instead of manual targeting, it's much easier to lock on your target and auto-hit it with one quick push of your special item key or button. I guess if you don't like the entire auto-aiming thing and want to use bombs, then this becomes an absolute must as they're not easy to land that way. If you're using it, however, there are zero utility in this skill.
Acquired Tolerance: god-tier skill, desirable for almost all kinds of builds and archetypes. Once you learn all the available recipes, it alone will bring you about 160 extra toxicity – that's either 2 decoctions and a lot of space for the potions or even 3 decoctions with some room for light-toxicity potions available. Add the Metabolic Control on the top of it and you'll have 3 decoctions in combination with any kinds of potions you want. Well, other classes will get restricted by the slow decrease of toxicity and vast overdose threshold so it's probably two decoctions for them no matter what, but for the alchemist himself three of them is quite a late game reality. And decoctions can be really, really powerful. Note that you have to learn alchemical formulas to gain benefits from this skill – each of its three levels gives extra toxicity for the formulas of corresponding level. That means there's no incentive to rush this skill to the maximum – it's not like you're going to know much level 2 or any level 3 formulas in the early game. So yeah, great stuff and, thanks to it being the tier-1 skill, easily accessible for everyone.
Frenzy: cute but hardly mandatory. You see, whereas sign user is a freaking terminator and swordsman is a glass cannon, alchemist is a tank. His damage may suffer a bit, yet his durability is supreme. So, once you get your regeneration mechanism going, he will become really forgiving in terms of mistakes. You can totally afford to take a counterattack or two with him. So this thing is not as helpful as it seems. It's still nifty and you can take 2 points to reach tier-2 – your general early build-up is 5 Heightened Tolerance, 1 Acquired Tolerance and then there are 2 more points to put in either this or Poisoned Blades, both being fine early game choices. After all, you can afford to get countered only after you're getting your insane healing, not before that. Later on, however, you're likely to respec into the simple 5-3 points in both Tolerances.
Refreshment: the crux of the alchemist play. That's the foundation of his ultimate defensive capabilities – you'll have so many different potions at your disposal and so much toxicity for their usage that you'll be fighting as if you had 6x vitality, at the very least. You'll be gulping down even the useless in the current situation potions (i.e., black blood against non-ghouls or cat during the day) simply to get healed. And that's gonna be perfectly worth it. Refreshment starts a bit slow but put three ranks into it and your growing pains have ceased. Most pleasant thing is that it provides percentage-based healing, meaning it gets amplified by the large vitality bonuses that the alchemist will get from green mutagens and Tissue Transmutation. It also enables Water Hag decoction easily which provides big melee damage bonus as long as you're 100% healthy (which is your most natural state) – the perfect cure for the alchemist's lack of early-to-mid offensive abilities. As soon as you reach tier-2, you rush this thing with the speed of light.
Protective Coating: the second layer of your defenses. Yeah, alchemist's sturdiness is not about having 6x vitality only – it's also about this considerable amount being multiplied by a whole slew of other factors. You gain up to 2400 extra vitality from the green mutagens then you regen 25% of that all with each potion and, thanks to the additional 25% of resistances, that freshly restored health goes down very slow. Add in Bear Techniques heavy armor for even more vitality & resistances and you're all set. The 25% resistances at the rank 5 of this skill is a very solid bonus, btw, so you generally rush this after you've maxed out refreshment. Sure, you need to have a corresponding coating on your blade, but that's more of a micro-issue than anything else – it's easy to find the most basic versions of oils rapidly. Maybe the relic oil will get delayed, but you don't fight that many relics anyways. Everything else you will have by the time you invest into this skill.
Alchemy Skill Review - cont.
Another late game choice from tier-2. It's power depends on how many decoctions you've imbibed – with just one, it gives only 200 vitality per ability point invested and that's a really bad payoff. With two decoctions, it's mediocre – 400 hundred is not awful but not amazing either. Only at the maximal point of three decoctions it starts to shine – yeah, 600 hundred of extra vitality per point invested is a lot, especially when you restore 25% of that amount each time you drink a potion. But that won't happen for quite a while – I guess it's somewhere around level 24 where you will find free points and slots for tricks like this, maybe even more like 26. So you're unlikely to enjoy it for that long. Once it's running at the full strength, it'll feel pretty cool, though. White Raffard's decoction doesn't count, btw – only the full-pledged 80 toxicity ones do.
Description may look delicious but this owl is not what it seems. It only gets enabled when the overdose poison is doing its damage to you – so first, this thing is mutually exclusive with the Heightened Tolerance. That skill just makes sure that this one will never get enabled. Second, because the damage is so steep, this skill doesn't really make you beefier – it just negates said damage. You just endure pain, nothing else. So it's more of an alternative to the Heightened than anything else. And it's much worse because Tolerance is a tier-1 skill – not much competition on that level. However, once you reach tier-2 and above you're facing some tough choices about you ability point distribution. This skill, however, will never take part in them – it's horrible and useless.
This is a hipster kind of a skill. It ignores all the norms of the alchemist play and tries to set up its own. Not sure if they're that effective, though. Now, the good news is that, when fully upgraded, your potions never run out of duration as long as you have 70% or more potion toxicity. The timer still ticks down, but it freezes at 00:00 and doesn't vanish as long as you have the toxicity. The bad news is that the emphasis is on the word “potion” here – decoction toxicity doesn't count. And, the way the math works, once you gulp down even one decoction you're not able to enable this skill at all. So it's a choice – whether decoctions or this. And boy, decoctions are painful to lose. I guess the silver lining here is that once you stop using decoctions, you stop having much need in the Acquired Tolerance – but then, you still need to invest 8 points into your tier-1 skills and, well, apart from tolerances there's nothing great there. So you probably go the same route – at least with the tolerance you'll be able to use your refreshment relatively well. Without it, you'll be also starved for the healing. Another thing is that this skill is not that synergistic with the main alchemist bonus - I mean, each ability point invested gives you 5% of extra duration. Eventually, that adds up to a lot so your potions last incredibly long anyways. Infinity looks like an overkill. There is one exception here, however – Blizzard. It has a very potent effect (you're quickened, enemies are slowed – not to the point of slo-mo but it still makes the fights much easier) and, even with all the bonuses, it doesn't last that long. This skill, however, prolongs its duration for at least one minute per the light-toxicity potion invested – toxicity falls down at the rate of 1 every 4 seconds, it seems. Considering that, by the time you'll assemble this, you will have 30-40 potion charges in total (later it'll grow up even more), it's not that difficult to make that Blizzard last for, like, half an hour or so. More than enough to explore the majority of combat locations. Add up some strong attack focus and that can make for a curious alternate build, I think. Not sure if it's better than the standard one – probably not. But if you want to try something fresh... Witcher 3 is a huge game and respecs are almost free – why not experiment with them?
Purely for the sake of convenience. Oils are infinite anyways and you can apply them in the middle of combat – if you run out of charges, you just enter the inventory and reapply the oil. And the upgraded ones give 40 and later 60 charges so it's not even that much of a chore at this stage. Sure, this thing makes the game a bit less annoying for you (more so if you play with the gamepad – it probably sucks to play as an alchemist that way), but you know, filling your ability slots with the stuff that actually makes the enemies go down quicker also solves that issue.
Very efficient. Bombs don't really begin to shine until you get a couple of points in the next-tier Cluster Bombs (the damage dealing ones, at least), but once it happens this skill becomes superb – you can solve some very unpleasant encounters by just chaining Dragon's Dream into the Dancing Star rapidly. This skill gives you enough longevity to kill your foes by bombs and bombs alone. Also, once you're late in the game and somewhat tired of fighting the mob encounters, bombs allow to breeze past them rather fast, negating the tedium. Bombs are one of the main attractions of playing an alchemist and you really shouldn't skip them.
A choice for the hybrid builds. With the green mutagens it just doesn't give that much – even if you have 4 big ones installed, that's only 1200 vitality gained. Yeah, btw, the bonus here totally multiplies the on-color bonus – if you have a basic 150 vitality mutagen in your slot, max synergy makes it into a 225 bonus. If that bonus is multiplied into 600 by having 3 skills of the according color nearby, synergy makes that 600 into 900. But that's still hardly significant – compare the gains from here and from the Tissue Transmutation. If you want some extra vitality, go that route. On the other hand, if you're using red or blue mutagens and if you have some red or blue skills to amplify them – then this thing does wonders. Basically, 5 points invested here will give you from 20% to 50% of either sign intensity or attack power gained. That's some very good gains. Sure, you'll need to go into the somewhat late game to assemble it all but still, you will feel the benefits here.
An absolute necessity for the 3 decoctions build. See, let's say you have 270 toxicity in total and 240 of it is occupied by the decoctions. That leaves you only 30 toxicity to fill up with your potions – not a lot. And, considering that 1 light potion takes a minute to get digested, this turns your refreshment into something far less useful. On the other hand, let's say we have Fast Metabolism at the rank of 3. Now we digest a light potion in less than 5 seconds. Once we max this skill out, it's gonna be in less than 3 seconds. 2.85, to be precise. We go from 1 potion per minute to 21 potion per minute – yeah, that 30 toxicity become more than enough for almost all your needs. So that's the point here, as the enabler of the 3 decoction build. If you prefer to use only 2, this can be more or less skipped. It's also actually harmful for the Delayed Recovery builds – you want your toxicity to last as long as possible.
Really horrible. First, its effects don't get amplified by your alchemical duration bonus. You get the shortest duration possible. So, outside of the Delayed Recovery builds, it's rather pointless. But it's also useless with it as you will have all of your potions running anyways and, the biggest disappointment is, Side Effects provide you only the effect of most basic potions. No enhanced ones, no superior ones. And that's where the really fun stuff lies. You also can't get multiple bonuses from this skill – it gives you only one extra bonus running. So, if it's something useless like a 5 minutes of Cat, you're not getting anything from this skill at all. Yuck.
The requirements here are a bit too specific – you need to max out your adrenaline and you need to have a very good critical chance to enable the extra damage. Thankfully, we have just the right tools to achieve this – Maribor Forest & Ursine set resolve the adrenaline issue, Killing Spree gives us constant criticals. Of course, if you're using some other kind of armor (Cat alchemist, for example), you'll probably want to skip on this one, but for the Bear Techniques this skill is one of the main sources of late game damage.
That's where the damage dealing bombs truly begin to shine. First, thanks to the great area of effect, once you have 3 to 4 explosions going you almost never miss . Second, they can easily hit your foe 2-3-4 times – depending on luck and on the level of this skill. Obviously, this deals that many times more damage and, in the case of disabling bombs, has a greater chance to influence your foe. What else do you really need? Just max out this skill and you'll have a blast with your build (sic).
That's pathetically redundant. At this point, you've already invested 28 points into the alchemy. That's 140% to the duration of your stuff. Decoctions, btw, have a basic duration of 30 minutes. We're talking about the one hour and twelve minutes of duration here. Real-time. And it's not used when having dialogues, playing gwent or fast travelling. And you can just meditate to recharge the decoction. Honestly, why would you need any duration increases on the top of this? Even if you decide to go for something like a Nightwraith Decoction (which is not that great, actually – the gains are too small), your other alchemy will still run out before you go really late with it.
Excellent skill. The one minor downside is that, obviously, it does nothing against solitary foes – but many of the bosses have some kind of support going on and, against certain overworld solitary foes, you can lure a nearby trashmob encounter to empower yourself on them, then get to the mini-boss. Outside of that, it's an impressive amount of bonus damage dealt, something that an alchemist is really interested in. It also makes the choice between the Cat and the Bear technique rather painful – Bear has the greater defensive synergy, but Cat gives you ungodly offense with this. I guess it's about playstyle preferences. And note that you need to have potion toxicity running to enable it – decoctions won't work. Which is why I generally don't max out Fast Metabolism when I go for this – with 5 points there, it's just too hard to keep this thing enabled. 2 or 3 points are more convenient as you still can chug down lots of potions yet Killing Spree is constantly up. And once you have some spare ultra-late game points to develop Precise Blows & Crushing Blows...
Three Shades of a Duelist
Note that this game is a very open-worlded so we won't be orienting on a specific amount of points to build a character - I'll just develop them until they are distinct and focused enough.
Cat School Techniques
- 3 Lightning Reflexes > 5 Muscle Memory.
- Later on, respec into: 5 Muscle Memory > 3 Strength Training.
- 5 Fleet Footed > 1 Undying > 5 Precise Blows (add extra point to either undying or strength training to unlock tier-3).
- 3 Counter-attack > 5 Whirl (2 more points into undying to unlock tier-4).
- or 5 Whirl > 5 Anatomical Knowledge.
- or 5 Whirl > 5 Razor Focus.
- 2 Deadly Precision > 5 Crippling Strikes.
- 3 Crippling Shot > 2 Deadly Precision > 2 more into Crippling Shot.
- 1 Flood of Anger > 2 Deadly Precision > 4 more into Flood of Anger.
The tier-4 choice you prefer will dictate your tier-3 build-up.
You don't build up into this one – you respec once you have the points; this is also more of variety build.
Bear School Techniques
- 5 Strength Training > 5 Resolve.
- 5 Crushing Blows > 5 Fleet Footed or Cold Blood.
- 5 Razor Focus > 5 Rend.
- 5 Flood of Anger.
You can also try out this one with the Griffin.
Griffin School Techniques
- 3 Delusion > 5 Melt Armor.
- 5 Muscle Memory > 3 Strength Training.
- 5 Fleet Footed > 1 Undying > 5 Precise Blows (add extra point to either undying or strength training to unlock tier-3).
- 5 Razor Focus > 5 Whirl.
- 2 Deadly Precision > 5 Crippling Strikes.
Griffin School Techniques
- 3 Delusion > 2 Sustained Glyphs > 1 Exploding Shield.
- 3 Active Shield > 3 Magic Trap (if you want more challenge, skip active shield).
- 5 Strength Training > 3 Resolve.
- 5 Fleet Footed > 5 Crushing Blows.
- 5 Razor Focus > 5 Rend.
- 2 Deadly Precision > 5 Sunder Armor.
Griffin School Techniques
- 3 Delusion > 2 Sustained Glyphs > 1 Exploding Shield.
- 3 Active Shield > 3 Magic Trap > 3 Puppet > 3 Firestream (you rush the shield but the order with other three may be flexible).
- 5 in two of your preferred intensities.
Alternatively, you can work on your lower tiers:
- 2 more in Exploding Shield > 3 Far-Reaching Aard > 3 Aard Sweep > 2 Melt Armor
- 2 more in Exploding Shield > 5 Melt Armor > 2 Aard Sweep.
- 3 Domination > 5 Quen Discharge (though it doesn't matter a lot at this point – take what pleases you).
Griffin School Techniques
- 3 Delusion > 2 Sustained Glyphs > 1 Far-Reaching Aard.
- 3 Magic Trap, 3 Firestream.
- 3 Acquired Tolerance > 5 Heightened Tolerance.
- 5 Refreshment > 5 Protective Coating (2 more points in whatever you like – you won't have the ability slots for that anyway).
- 5 Synergy > 2 Fast Metabolism.
Past that point, develop signs at your leisure.
Cat or Griffin School Techniques
- 2 Poisoned Blades or Frenzy > 1 Acquired Tolerance > 5 Heightened Tolerance.
Later on, respec into:
- Alchemy tier-1: 3 Acquired Tolerance > 5 Heightened Tolerance.
- Alchemy tier-2: Alchemy tier-2: 5 Refreshment > 5 Protective Coating > 2 Tissue Transmutation.
- Alchemy tier-3: 2 Fast Metabolism > 5 Efficiency > 1 more in Tissue Transmutation.
At this point, you can respec into Bear Techniques if you have ursine set already and wish to go that way.
- 5 Cluster Bombs > 3 Killing Spree > 5 Hunter Instinct > 2 more in Killing Spree.
Max out Tissue Transmutation past that point.
Cat School Techniques
- 2 Poisoned Blades or Frenzy > 1 Acquired Tolerance > 5 Heightened Tolerance.
Later on, respec into:
- Alchemy tier-1: 3 Acquired Tolerance > 5 Heightened Tolerance.
- Alchemy tier-2: Alchemy tier-2: 5 Refreshment > 5 Protective Coating > 2 Frenzy.
- Alchemy tier-3: 3 Delayed Recovery > 5 Synergy.
- Alchemy tier-4: 3 Killing Spree.
- Swordsman tier-1: 5 Muscle Memory > 3 Strength Training.
- Swordsman tier 2: 5 Precise Blows > 5 Crushing Blows (2 more in Strength Training).
- Swordsman tier-3: 5 Whirl.