Like many RPG games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has extensive character development and levels. Unlike many games, however, gaining levels doesn't give very many character stat benefits by itself. Witcher 3's character development is almost entirely based on an unlock-by-level system; the higher your level, the higher the level (and therefore stats) of the equipment that you can wear and the more skill slots you unlock, on top of the additional skillpoint per level. So to understand this you also need to understand the Equipment, Abilities and Mutagens that fuel it.
Geralt's strength growth from equipment is fairly straightforward: the higher his level the higher the level of the equipment he can wear, and higher level equipment has better statistics. There are also several different grades of equipment for each level.
Your main tools for inflicting death on your opponents, and you'll be using them extensively.
- Steel Swords: Your primary weapon against non-magical enemies such as people and animals.
- Secondary Weapons: A mixture of weapon types including axes, staves and clubs, but despite the name you can't actually dual wield one of these with your steel sword; equipping one replaces your steel sword, and they often work differently.
- Silver Swords: Your primary weapon against magical/undead enemies. Going by the numbers these have significantly higher DPS values than equal level Steel swords, but undead enemies have higher health to compensate for this so don't expect to mow through them quickly.
- Crossbow And Bolts: You obtain your first crossbow during your hunt for the Griffin, and interestingly enough you can still fire it with no Bolts equipped; you have an unlimited number of basic Bolts available which add the lowest possible damage boost to your shots. You can craft/find/buy better Bolts and equip them for more damage to your shots but Witcher 3 does have ammo consumption for the special bolts, so once you run out you'll have to get more or rely on the basic bolts alone. This will be your primary ranged weapon, however note that in general the Crossbow even with good bolts does significantly less damage than your swords, and even several of your Signs. Note also that the Crossbow can be used while you are piloting a boat and swimming underwater, and is in fact the only weapon or Sign that you can use while doing so. It also gets a massive damage boost while you're underwater or on the boat, becoming a one or two-hit kill weapon against most underwater/boatfaring enemies.
- Bombs: You have inventory quickslots to equip two of them. Forged through Alchemy and thrown like a grenade, there are various types of bomb that can damage or stun groups of enemies. Once created at least once you can restore your quantity of equipped Bombs through Meditation if you have alcohol in your inventory, however you can never hold large numbers of them and therefore won't use them heavily in combat, but there is one other key note on them: the Grapeshot and Samum grenades are among the only things that can destroy a Monster Nest, so make sure to have at least one of them on hand.
Some more advanced weapons also come with upgrade slots, allowing you to put in one of the sign Upgrade stones (explained further in the Armor section below) or one of the more powerful Runestones that can have one of a much wider variety of effects. Be careful of this though; once set you can only get either the Weapon or the stones back and not both, the other gets destroyed. At a craftsman, Remove Upgrade destroys the stones but keeps the weapon and Dissassembling the weapon gives you the stones (and crafting ingredients) at the cost of the weapon.
You have 4 armor piece slots: chest armor, pants, gloves and boots. That by itself isn't particularly important; what really matters is which of the three armor Types each piece is and how this ties into your Abilities, since there are certain ones that when fully trained give you strong bonuses per piece of a specific armor type that you are wearing. Since you don't get enough ability points throughout the game to max out every ability nor enough slots to wear all of the skills you should pick one armor type based on your intended playstyle and stick with it to make it very strong; it will literally define how you approach every fight you get into.
- Light armor gives the lowest defensive boost, but when paired with the proper abilities gives the highest general combat damage boosts by heavily improving your quick attacks and critical damage. You will need to get quite comfortable with the dodge and roll moves to make up for the lack of raw protection, which makes this build and corresponding fast-attack-and-dodge fighting style surprisingly similar to combat games like Devil May Cry. You also get a small natural boost to Stamina regeneration with Light armor.
- Medium armor gives moderate defense and strong boosts to your Stamina regeneration and Sign intensity, making it an ideal choice for people who want a more mage-like build firing off strong Signs as often as possible.
- Heavy armor gives the highest defense, boosts your maximum Vitality and also boosts your Strong attacks, leading to a slow-but-steady tank-like style of fighting. Your Stamina regeneration is slowed down while wearing Heavy armor.
Armor also sometimes comes with enhancement slots, allowing you to insert one of the Sign Upgrade stones that are usually dedicated to improving a single sign intensity. Be sure of when you want to do this; removing an upgrade stone destroys either the armor (via Dissassembly) or the stone (via Remove Upgrade) at your choice.
On top of your armor and weapons you have an extensive array of supplementary equipment and items available to you, some of which actually get equipped on your horse Roach.
- Consumables: You have 4 quickslots available to you with hotkeys set on them for quick use, and you can equip any food or potions in them. This will be your primary source of healing for a fair chunk of the game.
- Saddle: Equipped on Roach and starting off with an initial basic one, this mainly determines the maximum Stamina Roach has when you have him go at a full gallop before he gets tired.
- Saddlebags: Also equipped on Roach, this mainly determines the maximum weight of items you can have in your inventory. Some items like herbs and quest items are considered weightless so you can have mountains of them in your inventory, but equipment isn't so you'll want a good set of Saddlebags to prevent yourself from having to go back to a merchant to sell your loot too frequently. If you are holding more weight of inventory than your max capacity you lose the ability to run and sprint while on foot; you can only move at a walk and do basic jumps. However, you can still ride and jump at full speed on Roach.
- Trophy: Usually a body part of some legendary monster that also gets equipped on Roach, fully visually rendered tied onto the side of your horse in all its gory glory, these give a variety of permanent passive effects such as increasing your chance of beheading enemies on a hit, boosting your experience gain, etc...you get your first one after defeating the Griffin.
- Horse Blinders: Somewhat obviously equipped on Roach, this headpiece primarily reduces how quickly your horse's Fear meter grows in combat.
Abilities And Mutagens
Abilities are a set of passive boosts that can affect every single aspect of your gameplay, and you purchase/upgrade them with Ability Points obtained through gaining levels and drawing from Places of Power, and fitted into Ability Slots. You unlock a total of 12 Ability Slots in sets of 3 throughout the game at levels 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 22, 26 and 30. There are three main Ability Groups of Combat, Signs and Alchemy that each have five Subtypes, and a fourth smaller group of General Abilities.
Mutagens are very rare Alchemy ingredients that are so strong they can actually be worn like equipment for permanent passive boosts. You unlock up to 4 Mutagen slots, one for each Ability set of 3, at levels 3, 9, 16 and 28. The connection with Ability sets is important; each Mutagen is a specific color matching one of the Ability Types (Red for Combat, Blue for Signs, Green for Alchemy. General has a unique color that doesn't match anything), and if you equip Abilities of the matching color in the same set as the Mutagen that Mutagen's effect is boosted by 100% each. Mutagens are also key ingredients of Mutagen Decoctions, which are like Potions but with stronger and much more long-lasting effects, but they also increase your Toxicity by a larger amount each time you use them. Some lesser magical enemies also drop lesser Mutagens that you can combine into stronger versions for a stronger effect. Note that the third upgrade level of the standard Mutagens (the Greater versions) usually seem to have a stronger effect than rare monster Relic versions, so you should consider trying to get a Greater version of the standard ones in your Mutagen equip slots.
The planning of your Ability build is one of the most important aspects of the game, as well as one of the trickiest. There are 70 Abilities in total; you get enough slots for 12 of them and you can't swap them in the middle of combat (note however that the Blood and Wine expansion changes this via the Mutation system). You would also need several hundred Ability points to max every ability; you can only get a total of 85 throughout the entire game in a single runthrough (more if you play the two expansions), and each of the three main ability Types has four Tiers that are only unlocked if you invest enough Ability Points in that group. So before you start investing points in anything, really read through the effect descriptions of every Ability (paying particular attention to the three General ones that boost depending on the armor you wear) and plan out what kind of a fighter you want to be. At an overall summary, Combat abilities improve your skills at raw continuous physical combat with the enemy, Signs are once-in-a-while skills with heavy instant effects, Alchemy focuses on healing, buffs, debuffs and ammo-based combat via Bombs, and General is a miscellaneous spread of passive effects.
- Cat School Techniques (1 level): Each piece of Light armor increases critical damage by 25% and fast attack damage by 5%
- Griffin School Techniques (1 level): Each piece of Medium armor increases Stamina regeneration by 5% and Sign Intensity by 5%
- Bear School Techniques (1 level): Each piece of Heavy armor increases maximum Vitality by 5% and strong attack damage by 5%
- Sun and Stars (1 level): During the day Vitality regenerates an additional 10 points per second out of combat. At night, Stamina regenerates an additional 1 point per second in combat.
- Survival Instinct (1 level): Increases max Vitality by 500.
- Steady Shot (1 level): Crossbow bolts do 25% more damage
- Rage Management (1 level): If your current Stamina is too low, Signs can be cast using Adrenaline Points
- Adrenaline Burst (1 level): Increase Adrenaline generation by 5%, casting Signs now increases Adrenaline
- Focus (1 level): Adrenaline Points also increase Sign Intensity as well as Weapon Damage
- Metabolic Control (1 level): Increase max Toxicity by 30.
- Muscle Memory (5 levels): +5% Fast Attack damage and +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Precise Blows (5 levels, need 8 points): +2% Crit chance, +15% Crit damage on Fast attacks and +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Whirl (5 levels, needs 20 points): Spinning attack that hits everyone in a small area. Maintaining the attack costs Adrenaline and Stamina. +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- ENHANCED WHIRL DESCRIPTION: While holding down the Fast Attack button Geralt starts whipping his sword around him at high speed in a very elaborate continuous combo attack while slowly moving forward. Each attack does less damage than a standard swing but their speed more than makes up for it. The move constantly drains Stamina first, then Adrenaline, and Geralt will stop once he runs out of both or you let go of the Attack button. Higher levels of the skill have a reduced Stamina and Adrenaline drain, starting at -20% at level 2 and an additional 10% drop per following level. Note, Geralt can't start this combo "cold", he has to do at least one Fast Attack before it can be started from holding down the attack button. In terms of effectiveness any enemy that can Parry, such as humans with Shields or heavy two-handed weapons and some of the larger tough enemies like Earth Elementals and Golems may be able to get a Parry off between the attacks of the combo and this will still stagger Geralt and stop the combo, so be warned when trying it against them. Against enemies that cannot Parry, and especially ones that also don't have some kind of mid-range Dodge move (or you just pin those ones against a wall), it can inflict catastrophic damage very quickly while simultaneously keeping the enemy too off balance to counterattack. It does, as mentioned, have a small-ish area of effect so if multiple enemies are close to Geralt he may be able to hit all of them simultaneously. Again, be careful of trying this if even one of the enemies within range is capable of Parry.
- Crippling Strikes (5 levels, needs 30 points): Fast Attacks now apply Bleeding effects. Hit enemies lose 25 Vitality or Essence per second for 5 seconds. +1% Adrenaline Point gain per second
- Strength Training (5 levels): +5% Strong Attack damage and +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Crushing Blows (5 levels, need 8 points): +2 Crit chance, +15% Crit damage on Strong attacks and +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Rend (5 levels, needs 20 points): Increases damage proportional to Stamina consumed. Ignores Defense and increases critical chance by 10%. Adrenaline Points increase total damage by 33%. +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- ENHANCED REND DESCRIPTION: While holding down Strong Attack Geralt raises his sword above his head, gathering strength. Stamina constantly drains during this. When Geralt runs out of Stamina or the attack button is released he does a single powerful downward chop for increased damage based on how much Stamina was used. Higher levels increase the critical chance and ignored Defense percentages. NOTE: Enemy attacks will still stagger Geralt and cancel the buildup so having Quen active before you try is pretty much mandatory to have any chance of it working.
- Sunder Armor (5 levels, needs 30 points): Reduces enemy damage resistance by 5% and +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Arrow Deflection (3 levels): +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level, and unique effects at each level.
- Level 1: Deflect arrows while parrying
- Level 2: A perfectly timed deflect sends the arrow back to the attacker
- Level 3: A perfectly timed deflect sends the arrow back to the attacker for double damage.
- Fleet Footed (5 levels, needs 8 points): Damage received while dodging reduced by 20%/level. +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Counterattack (3 levels, needs 20 points): After a successful counterattack damage increased by 30% per level, +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Deadly Precision (2 levels, needs 30 points): Each Adrenaline Point adds 1%/level chance of instantly killing an opponent, +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Lightning Reflexes (3 levels): Slow down time while aiming the crossbow by 15% per level, +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Cold Blood (5 levels, needs 8 points): Each bolt that hits gives 0.04/level Adrenaline Points. +1%/level Adrenaline Point gain
- Anatomical Knowledge (5 levels, needs 20 points): +5%/level crit chance with the crossbow, +1%/level Adrenaline Point gain
- Crippling Shot (5 levels, needs 30 points): Critical hits from the crossbow disable enemy skills for 5 seconds, +1%/level Adrenaline Point gain
- Resolve (5 levels): Adrenaline Point loss on taking damage reduced by 20%/level, +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Undying (5 levels, needs 8 points): When Vitality reaches 0, Adrenaline Points will be spent to restore Vitality. +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Razor Focus (5 levels, needs 20 points): Instantly gain 1 Adrenaline point when entering battle. The Adrenaline Point gain from sword hits is increased by 5%, +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
- Flood of Anger (5 levels, needs 30 points): When a SIgn is cast, 3 Adrenaline Points (if available) will be consumed to upgrade the Sign to its highest level and all upgrades, and Sign intensity will be increased by 25%, +1% Adrenaline Point gain per level
This is already covered in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Guide to Witcher Signs and will not be repeated.
- Heightened Tolerance (5 levels): Increases potion overdose threshold and potion duration by 5%/level
- Refreshment (5 levels, need 8 points): Each potion dose imbibed heals 5%/level of max Vitality, +5%/level potion duration
- Delayed Recovery (3 levels, need 20 points): Potion effects don't wear off until Toxicity falls below 90% of max level, +5% potion duration per level
- Side Effects (5 levels, need 28 points): Taking a potion has a 20% chance of gaining the additional effects of another random potion without additional Toxicity cost, +5% potion duration per level
- Poisoned Blades (5 levels): Oil applied to blades has a 3%/level chance to poison enemies on a hit, with a higher chance for higher level oils. +5% potion duration/level
- Protective Coating (5 levels, need 8 points): Adds +5%/level damage protection from the monster type the oil targets, +5% potion duration per level
- Fixative (3 levels, need 20 points): Blade oils have +33%/level more charges, +5% potion duration per level
- Hunter Instinct (5 levels, need 28 points): When Adrenaline Points are at their maximum, +20% critical damager against the target enemy type, +5%/level potion duration
- Steady Aim (3 levels): Time is slowed down a further 15%/level, potion duration +5%/level
- Pyrotechnics (5 levels, need 8 points): All bombs, even those that usually do not inflict damage, now deal +30 damage/level in addition to their normal effects, +5% potion duration time/level
- Efficiency (5 levels, need 20 points): Increases the maximum number of bombs in each slot by 1, +5% potion duration per level
- Cluster Bombs (5 levels, need 28 points); Upon detonation bombs separate into explosive fragments. Number of fragments: 2, +5%/level potion duration time
- Acquired Tolerance (3 levels); Every known level 1/2/3 alchemy formula increases maximum Toxicity by 1, +5%/level potion duration time
- Tissue Transmutation (5 levels, need 8 points): When consumed mutagen decoction increases maximum Vitality by 200 for decoction's effective duration, +5%/level potion duration time
- Synergy (5 levels, need 20 points): Increases bonus for mutagen placed in mutagen slot by 10%/level, +5%/level potion duration time
- Adaptation (5 levels, need 28 points): Extends effective duration of all mutagen decoctions by 10%, +5%/level potion duration time
Trial of the Grasses
- Frenzy (3 levels): If potion Toxicity is above 0, time automatically slows when an enemy is about to perform a counterattack, +5% potion duration/level
- Endure Pain (5 levels, need 8 points): Increases maximum Vitality by 10%/level when Toxicity exceeds the safe threshold, +5% potion duration/level
- Fast Metabolism (5 levels, need 20 points): Toxicity drops 1 point(s) per second faster, potion duration +5%/level
- Killing Spree (5 levels, need 28 points): If potion Toxicity is above 0, each opponent killed increases the chance for a critical hit by an additional 10%, potion duration +5%/level
No matter what type of build you eventually choose it is recommended to have at least one Combat ability-mutagen set and one Sign ability-mutagen set. Geralt will encounter a massive variety of enemy types and tactics, and various special non-combat situations, and will constantly have to adapt. Being able to use a broad mix of effective Signs and melee combat tactics will be critical.
Primary Sign Set
- Axii Delusion upgrade, 3 points. The improved conversation options with this are just too important to ignore
- Aard Far-Reaching Aard upgrade, 3 points. This is the only range upgrade you can get to any Sign. Being able to knock down mounted humans and flying enemies from a much larger distance, and the fact that the longer range will let you hit a larger number of enemies that like to attack in groups, is endlessly useful
- Igni Melt Armor upgrade, 5 points. The ability to permanently break the armor of strong, single targets cannot be ignored, and of all the available skills and items that can do this (like the Strong attack Sunder Armor skill) this is by far the earliest one you can get and the only one that can hit multiple opponents if needed.
- Greater Blue Mutagen for a total of a 40% Sign Intensity boost
Primary Combat Set
- Muscle Memory or Strength Training, 5 points, depending on if you use Light or Heavy armor respectively. If using Medium, take your pick.
- Arrow Deflection, 3 levels. Being able to block and even reflect arrows is very handy, plus you need 8 points in the Combat branch to unlock the next tier of skills
- Precise or Crushing Blows, 5 points, again based on your selection from the first one based on armor (or personal choice if going Medium). It is definitely best to pick one of the two main attack types that you like and enhance it in every way possible, so the crit chance and damage boost is definitely handy.
- Greater Red Mutagen for a total of a 40% Attack boost
For the other two sets, you're on your own to develop something based on your play style but note that the Generic skill by armor type wasn't listed. In the earlier levels you'll need to have it in one of the first two sets, eventually being able to move it to the third set to allow for the maximum boost to the Mutagens. Having the above two combinations for your first two sets gives an excellent spread of damage output, tactical defense, debuffing and the critical ability to influence conversations with Axii, and if you've been very avidly tracking down Places of Power for extra points you could potentially have most if not all of this set (and your Armor-specific General skill) in place by as early as level 12.