Why Some Might Dislike Witcher 3’s Combat

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I finally got back into The Witcher 3 with the Hearts of Stone expansion pack. Every time this game is discussed online you get people who couldn’t play it because of the “terrible combat” or “terrible gameplay.” I’ve been a defender of Witcher 3’s systems on this site but the expansion has made me think more on just why many people feel one way or the other way about the combat and other systems in this game. I think it’s biggest problem is the difficulty curve, which clouds the depth CDProjekt RED put into Witcher 3 for a lot of players.

Part of it is that Witcher 3 (and a lot of other recent western melee-focused games) doesn’t fully subscribe to the rules of Japanese games of the arcade tradition like Bloodborne or Bayonetta 2. Games like that have established a lot of people’s standards for what constitutes good melee combat in video games, and when western games try something different they’re often seen as inferior. If you dig deep enough into it, I think Witcher 3 has a pretty satisfying system that’s really based less on fast combos and more on spells and alchemy. It’s about knowing what spells, potions, and oils are right for each kind of enemy.

The only real problem I have with combat in Witcher 3 is the same problem I had with The Witcher 2 — that its difficulty curve is completely out of whack, which has far-reaching repercussions for how the entire game is perceived by many people.

I actually haven’t played Witcher 3 on normal mode at all, but I  heard that mode was entirely too easy throughout the game, so I started it on “Blood and Broken Bones” — one difficulty mode up from normal. If what I hear about normal is true, then you can probably make it through most of the game by simply slashing through all the enemies, which would make all the other systems seem unnecessary. It might even hide the fact that those systems exist for some players. This would bring all the attention on the dodging, blocking, and combo aspects of Witcher 3’s combat, which really don’t conform to the Japanese standards so many are used to.

Resident Evil 6 has the same problem. Lying underneath the surface of that game is one of the most unique and deep third person shooting systems designed in some time, possibly since the first Gears of War and Resident Evil 4. Its problem is that RE6 doesn’t actually teach players any of the more unique abilities and options available to players. None of its story campaigns does a good job of forcing players to explore those options either, many feeling like they were slammed together and Capcom didn’t have the proper time to balance or polish them because of the broad amount of content it had to lock down for release.

Another example: Dragon Age II. People seem to agree Dragon Age II is a huge downgrade from Dragon Age: Origins in many areas, including the combat system. The thing is, the mechanical system comprising Origins is more present in DAII than people realize. You can still meticulously plan out battles and position units in the sequel. The problem is that you never need to because battles in DAII aren’t balanced to require that level of planning like they were in Origins.

I think Witcher’s default difficulty setting might have this same problem. The harder modes overall aren’t much better though. The beginning of the game in Blood and Broken Bones feels overly hard because the player doesn’t have a lot of abilities unlocked, and the later parts begin to feel significantly easier after many abilities have been unlocked. It’s an inverted difficulty curve.

The difference with the expansion is its enemy encounters feel noticeably more difficult not due to their levels or stats, but simply because of their patterns or how their groups are set up. The fallen knights feel a lot tougher than common bandits in my experience because they’re more organized — they always mix together archers, shielded soldiers, and hammer wielders. An early monster encounter has a more difficult attack pattern than many enemies in the base game. Overall Hearts of Stone feels more properly balanced for someone who has been through the main game and has a fully specced-out character.

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