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CD Projekt RED's senior game designer Damien Monnier has fielded some questions on his career and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on the game's official forums. There are a lot of good questions concerning the open-world RPG's gameplay in there, and thankfully the answers tend to be fairly exhaustive too:
I will answer the alchemy related questions in one go.
We have kept a lot of classic Witcher potions that you have used in the past, things like Cat (its effect being more similar to W2 than W1) and Swallow for example. Ingredients like rubedo are also still present.
Now as far as the system goes, it's pretty straightforward, once you make the potion it is yours and you can refill it automatically, or any empty potions in your inventory by meditating, assuming you have some alcohol with you (pure.don't go pour wine in there). There are however different types of alcohol for different potions types. It is automatic and only one bottle of alcohol can refill multiple potions.
One of the reasons behind this is that with the open world it quickly became a pain to go really far to grab that one plant you need for a potion. If it's a potion you use often there is no challenge in that, it's just annoying. So instead the challenge shifts to when you first make it, the ingredients are not easy to find, but once you have learned to make it you're good and you can refill it. This doesn't get rid of the challenge at all; like I said we've just shifted it to the initial crafting phase of the potion rather than have pointless repetitiveness. It's much better and fits our world.
As for being able to use the potions mid combat, this feature was praised during our hands on because due to the size of the world and the fact that it is an open world, you can walk around and suddenly you will be attacked by some monsters. Now, you could have some useful potions on you but you wouldn't be able to use them with the old system which was frustrating you would also sometime use potions, then have nobody causing you trouble, and thus you would have wasted a good potion for nothing.
You still have to be prepared and have what you need on you to go attack a specific monster. If you are going in the woods at night you better have the right stuff on you and make sure that you have meditated too of course (preferably in a safe spot). Going against bigger, unique creatures, the preparation also includes researching the creatures that you are hunting. Finding out its weaknesses, where you are likely to find it and of course having the right potion on you ready for when you find the creature (or it finds you...).
Overall the goal was to get rid of pointless repetitions whilst keeping the preparation aspect and even expanding it more (which is why we say that preparation is more important than ever) because by not understanding the monsters you are going up against, will cost you. On top of that, as I mentioned above, having the right potions will help. Personally I am a big fan of it, it allows me to be a bit more daring and more generous with the potions I use on myself and in some cases too generous and that's when the toxicity level kicks in. Some potions are amazing but they will take you close to the (danger zone) as soon as you drink it if you're not sure how you're doing you can check the toxicity bar or even Geralt's face.
Will we have all the essential combat abilities like: Parry from all directions, deflect arrows, riposte, group-style and the full variety of (all 90+) combat animations available from the very beginning of the game?
You can parry from the beginning, this is not something you need to unlock, but as for the others you will need to learn them.
Is it possible to kill anyone in game or did you decide to go with the way of immortal key characters?
Letting you kill anyone would cause too many problems and ultimately the game is not about going on a rampage. So when you're in town, whilst you can still upset guards by messing around with your spell or your sword we have opted for a more passive way for you to show your aggressiveness to NPCs (you'll see when you try it. As I am sure you will at some point. Everybody does
How do you balance the game? How do you prevent that someone who focused on the sidequests won't heavily outlevel the enemies when he continues with the main story?
We have a system so that if you out level a quest, it will be greyed out - pretty standard right? The twist though is that it will compensate for that and maybe give you more loot or money. Having said that, you can out level some main quests if you're really doing everything. You know, there is nothing wrong with it, you have trained hard you have fought a lot of monsters, you have some great gear and your reward is that you are hard as nails for a little bit.
How have you made sure the Witcher Senses don't end up turning into a «Press X to win» kind of feature?
Witcher senses are there to help you get more information or understand the surroundings - at no point does it help you to win, it's there for you to see and hear monsters into the distance for example, understanding what you're about to face (or avoid) or it will help you find surrounding herbs that you need for potions. It's a neat little tool basically and it all depends how you use it.
Do we have to use the 'witcher senses' mechanic creatively at any point in the game, or basically it will be just an improved medallion (from TW2) that's used for highlighting stuff and progressing during investigations? Can we examine clues without using the mechanic or we have to 'trigger' these objects, tracks or marks with WS to be able to examine them? Is mechanic now what it was intended to be when you first thought of the idea, or you had some more ambitious intentions with it?
It depends which quests because how you use it when exploring is up to you. In some sections you must use it as you cannot visualise things like smells unless you use the senses.