Sunday, July 26, 2015

Improving Witcher 3 would be Witchcraft (3): Alchemy Progression and Balance

I was very surprised after discovering that in Witcher 3 potions and other alchemical products don´t really go away when used and their charges can easily be refilled. Before I realized that, I was very hesitant to rely too much on alchemy. The thought of needing to pick empty one or two flower gardens after any serious fight sounded very tiresome in my ears. But alchemy in Witcher 3 works more like an unlocking mechanic and once unlocked, you can consume potions without much restocking. While not very realistic, it made the alchemy a whole lot more fun.

Geralt at the market of Novigrad, looking at some herbs.
Restocking potion ingredients sounded like a lot of work, but surprisingly Witcher 3 handled it completely different without the need to return to the market every other fight.

4. Alchemy: Progression and Balance

Random elements in progression

Unlike melee combat (relies on finding a good weapon and good reflexes from the player) or magic (always good), alchemy progression is a very unpredictable thing because you rely on finding good recipes which brings a big random factor in the equation.
For example, I was mostly using magic spells, but I was completely unaware of the existence of the magic-boosting potion Petri´s Philter. Only after finding the second upgrade for the recipe, I learned that I missed out on something. This happened although I virtually left no stone unturned, checked every question mark on the map and robbed every poor peasant´s house. Can´t imagine how messy the recipe issue may become for a player who does not do every side-activity.
Buying the missing recipes would be OK, but that would take away a reward for exploration, which is something I don´t want to miss. An intelligent loot system where you always find the currently needed upgrade version of a recipe would help a lot.

Alchemy recipe of Petri´s Philter from Witcher 3.
After reaching level 31, I still haven´t found the standard version of the recipe.

Superior alchemy products become too strong

Speaking of upgrades, I had the impression that the upgrade progression for the potions and weapon oils was a bit too steep. They start fairly weak, especially the weapon oils (+10% damage, 20 charges) and make a shockingly huge jump at the superior quality level (+50% damage, 60 charges): triple duration, five times the effect. Such big jumps are dangerous for game balance as they add up in different areas, ultimately leading to the feeling that combat is no longer challenging or even "broken". A more sensible progression would be +20% damage, 30 charges at standard and +40% damage, 50 charges at superior quality.
Similar issues arise for potions, where the superior quality introduces a new and extremely powerful effect. Superior Blizzard, for example, reduces stamina costs by 100% when you have 3 adrenaline points. From a balance perspective, reducing anything by 100% is even more dangerous for game balance than increasing something by five times of its original value (see the weapon oil progression). Now it is too late, but a more sensible solution would have been an effect like "reduces stamina cost by 15% per adrenaline point".

Alchemy recipe for Superior Blizzard in Witcher 3.
Superior Blizzard potion rises some balancing concerns.

Item quick-selection

I already talked about the power progression of potions and weapon oils. Now we move on to a minor complaint about ease of use. Geralt has a wide array of potions in his arsenal. Some are quite situational like Black Blood (damages undead and vampiric enemies). But the item quick-selection only has 2 slots for these consumables. And if you want to have food in the quick-selection, your available potion slots are limited to 1.

The quick-select wheel from Witcher 3.
The quick-select wheel is a way to comfortably pick spells or items, but there are only 2 slots for consumables and items.

Interestingly, it is possible to go to the menu during combat and consume any potion you like from your inventory. This does not work for weapon oils so I think using different potions mid-combat is working as intended. Browsing through your huge inventory in the middle of battle does work, but it is tedious and clunky. Even worse for weapon oils, where you theoretically have to reapply them after every battle. Another quick-selection wheel that includes all available potions and weapon oils would make the process less cumbersome.

That was another chapter entirely dedicated to alchemy. And since it is so much to talk about, the next one will also cover alchemy woes. But it will be the last one, I promise!

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Interesting links: 

Official website of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Buy the PC version on
Game review on YouTube by AngryJoe

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