Surviving The Death March: Tips And Tricks For Witcher 3’s Hardest Difficulty

While Andrew will be handling our final review for The Witcher 3, we’ll both be posting articles throughout the next couple of weeks about CDPR‘s latest RPG. For my playthrough on PC, I’ve opted into the brutal ‘Death March’ difficulty, and while it definitely lives up to the name, I’ve found some tips that might help other players that are taking on the same challenge.


Prepare For The Worst


There’s no such thing as an easy fight in The Witcher 3, at least not when you’re on Death March. Even basic enemies can take half of Geralt’s health in a single swing; as a result, it’s critical to start your preparations before the fight even begins. Are your weapons and armor repaired? Are you fully stocked on potions? Be aware that once you’ve created a potion for the first time, you can refill every kind you own with only a single bottle of alcohol by meditating. Decoctions, which are essentially more powerful potions that last longer but raise toxicity much more, can be extremely useful for particularly hard battles. For monster hunts, read the bestiary and see if you have the materials to assemble a proper sword oil to boost your damage. If you know a boss is coming, making a visit to known Places of Power to boost your signs can be invaluable. Every advantage counts on this difficulty, and as Vesemir says, a Witcher survives on knowledge, not just combat skill.


Don’t Miss Those Sweet, Sweet Ability Points


Speaking of Places of Power, the first time that you reach one, it gives an ability point in addition to its Sign boosting capabilities. Considering that on higher difficulties, Geralt gains less ability points per level-up, it’s all the more important to not miss these extra goodies. Listen for their distinctive hum while exploring, and consider making sure you’ve cleared each map marker before moving onto the next region.


 Dance of Death: Know Your Dodges


Unlike Witcher 2 – unless you played with the PC Combat Mod released some time after the game’s release – Witcher 3 gives Geralt not one, but two dodge moves; his roll from the previous game, and a new quick-step that covers much less ground, but can be executed far more quickly. Both of these maneuvers are invaluable, but the quick-step is particularly useful during TW3’s punishing encounters. As long as a foe’s attack isn’t particularly long or sweeping, it can avoid most strikes, and its fast recovery time means that Geralt can immediately punish with a counter. Taking opportunities like this can be the only way to dish out damage during larger fights sometimes, but it’s important not to get too greedy; step back, get a couple of slashes in, then dodge again. Don’t go for long combos. As for the longer roll, it’s good for dodging attacks by massive enemies with long reach, such as giants and griffons, but against smaller foes, it’s best for avoiding being surrounded. Don’t use it to dodge attacks from humans or human-sized predators such as drowners. Instead, use it to position yourself so that enemies are never behind you, especially since attacks from behind do double damage.


Respect The Craft


Like with potions, it’s critical to keep up with crafting in The Witcher 3, especially on higher difficulties. Much of the best gear you can get is found not complete, but in the form of schematics, which list the materials needed to create a piece of equipment. After finding the materials, the schematic can be brought to a craftsman of sufficient caliber – some might not be skilled enough for your needs – and the equipment can be created. If you’re having trouble locating some of what you need, make sure you’re aware of the ‘dismantle’ feature. Almost everything you find can be broken into its base components, which can often provide otherwise difficult-to-find components.


What’s Your Sign?


When messing around on Normal difficulty, I found it very easy to get through most encounters with just smart dodging and combos; that isn’t the case on Death March. A Witcher’s signs are his only source of magic, and you’ll need to use yours well if you want to survive. Quen, the shield skill, will likely dominate your stamina bar early on; the ability to absorb a free hit is invaluable when many enemies can bring you down in two seconds. As you gain better armor and Geralt gets a few more skills under his belt, experimentation can yield interesting rewards. Against heavier, singular foes, I liked using Yrden – a magical trap –  to slow them enough to simply keep rolling behind them and tear them apart. Igni and Axii didn’t see much use from me, though their fire damage and stunning abilities can be useful; I just wasn’t lacking for damage, and felt it best to spend my stamina on defensive skills. Aard, the force push-like sign, often came in handy for staggering larger boss enemies that Yrden didn’t slow down. The best thing you can do is experiment to see what suits your playstyle, but it’s personally hard for me to recommend anything but Quen, at least early on.


With a few points in the Signs tree, however, this all changes. The alternate form of Yrden creates a small, bolt-firing trap that can stagger and disrupt even boss enemies, and Axii can mind control foes while turning them so strong that they will manage to kill each other in a single hit – or die trying. With high enough sign intensity, these let me breeze through even the hardest fights, and Quen’s alternate form, a dome that converts stamina to health when you take hits, can be a lifesaver.


And finally…




One of the nicest things about The Witcher 3 being open-world is that you have space to maneuver. Why not take advantage of it? If you’re really struggling with a particularly tough battle, just run away. Prepare a little better, gain a couple levels if you have to, and come back later. There’s no shame in it, and much of the time, whatever your enemies are guarding can be found elsewhere. Of course, if you’re really playing for a challenge, as picking Death March suggests…maybe another five tries on that damned bear wouldn’t be so bad.