Why Everyone is Wrong About The Witcher 3 Combat

While the title of the editorial is perhaps more inflammatory than it needs to be, the piece Rick Lane has written for GamesRadar about the combat system in The Witcher 3 is still worth a read.

Lane argues that many of the perceived flaws in The Witcher 3's combat system are a result of the developers' dedication to a certain level of realism:

To answer the obvious question this raises, no, The Witcher 3 does not provide a realistic representation of swordfighting. There are lots of reasons for this. To start with, it's impossible to depict a realistic sword style when fighting against creatures that don't exist. In addition, no matter how good a swordsman you are, fighting a coordinated group of opponents will almost certainly end up with you dead. Hence the moment you try to portray this, you instantly have to make concessions to realism. Lastly, while I like a lot of what the combat does, one criticism that does stand up is that it is unnecessarily flashy, with lots of impressive but impractical pirouetting.

That said, there are some authentic touches that help ground the combat. For example, an enemy holding a shield is very difficult to defeat using just your sword. You need to either wait for them to attack and counter it to create an opening, or use your Signs to otherwise disorient or disable them. Similarly, you can't use your sword to block a strike from an opponent wielding a poleaxe, which is sensible because it's a poleaxe.

Most of all, what I like about the Witcher 3's representation of swords is it recognises that they are sharp. One of the weirdest accusations I've heard directed towards Wild Hunt's combat was that it is lightweight. Swords aren't heavy. They don't need to be. A good longsword weighs around three to four pounds, and the length of the blade generates an incredible amount of leverage when swung. Consider how easy it is to slice carrots with a sharp kitchen knife, and then add a three-foot pivot to the handle. Yeah.

While I appreciated the editorial, I'll also say that I don't think this excuses the lack of polish in terms of controls and collisions, and the poor animation signposting, which to me are the biggest problems with the game's combat system. I'd even argue that, when they were designing the game's controls, CD Projekt made a number of fundamentally unsound choices that were detrimental to the achievement of the goals listed by the editorialist, but obviously there's room for debate. Either way, this is a good piece that offers food for thought.