The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a great game filled with small choices. Which kind of sword do you use? Which king or emperor do you support? What do you say to that tempestuous sorceress?

I’m here for you, friends. I’ve played all the way through the game and am in the midst of a second, more complete playthrough as I write this. My second time through has been instructive and has helped me come up with some useful tips for starting out in the game.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Brush Up On The Story So Far

There’s a lot of story stuff to keep track of in Wild Hunt. Woe to you if you start playing unprepared. Before you start, brush up on lore by reading through something like, say, the exhaustive lore-primer I wrote, just for this purpose.

In particular, take a look at the map above. Internalize where the various nations and cities are. (They’re explained in that lore primer.) After you finish the opening chapter in White Orchard, a character will talk you through the current state of the world and the war. It’s helpful to know where everything is in order to understand what he’s saying.

Read Quest Logs And Character Entries Regularly

The game’s quest logs and character entries are both written by the bard Dandelion, and can be really helpful for keeping track of what’s going on in the story. They’re updated as the story changes, so check in on them regularly to see what’s new.

Set The Game To “Blood And Broken Bones” Difficulty

Wild Hunt offers four difficulty settings. I recommend playing on the second-hardest one, which is dauntingly named “Blood and Broken Bones!” It may sound scary—and it can be tough—but it makes the game a lot more enjoyable. On the next-lowest difficulty, the game starts out a bit tough but you’ll be cleaving through bosses in no time, and you won’t even bat an eye at scrub enemies. You won’t feel like a Witcher—you’ll never have to use signs or oils, and your health will regenerate quickly out of combat. If you’d rather just have a chill jaunt through the game, by all means, lower the difficulty, but if you’re looking for a tough but rewarding experience, go for Blood and Broken Bones.

You Can Change The Difficulty Mid-Game

Of course, if you don’t like the difficulty you’ve chosen, you can always change it mid-game. If things are too hard, make it easier. If things get boring, make things harder.

Save Often

Sounds obvious, right? Still: Wild Hunt has an auto-save, but it’s worth manually saving as often as you think of it. On PC, quicksave is your friend. You can die unexpectedly in the game, and it’s always nice to know you just saved and don’t have to redo any exploring or fighting.

Steal Everything That Isn’t Bolted Down

In most houses, you can simply walk in, use your Witcher senses to highlight the various searchable things in the room, and begin hoovering everything that isn’t bolted down. People will only get mad at you for stealing if you rob vendors while in sight of the city watch. So! Do that old RPG thing where you walk into someone’s house, accept a quest from them, and then steal everything they own while making direct eye contact.

Loot Every Monster You’ve Killed

You’ll fight a lot of monsters over the course of Wild Hunt. Most of them leave behind bits and pieces you can loot, which you can then use for crafting or sell to vendors. Loot every monster you kill. It’s a pain in the ass, but it pays off. In particular, never leave a contract boss-monster, large roaming beast, or destroyed monster nest unlooted. Those give you the best, rarest stuff.

Turn The Music Off, At Least Sometimes

The soundtrack in Wild Hunt is often cloying and overwhelming. At times—usually in cutscenes—it can be just right, but when I explored the open world I sometimes wanted the damned cello solos and wailing combat-vocals-lady to chill the hell out. Try going into the menu and turning down the music entirely. The game feels different; there’s more space as you explore. Every time I do it, I almost immediately stop noticing that there’s no music. I usually turn it back on for main story missions. The problem isn’t really the game’s score but its implementation. Hopefully, someone will come up with a small mod that makes exploration music trigger much less frequently.

Experiment With HUD Settings

You can turn on and off every different aspect of Wild Hunt’s heads-up display. I recommend experimenting with what you like and trying to get as few things on the screen as possible. Most importantly, resize the HUD to “small,” unless you like the bigger text for readability. The HUD in the game can be crowded and cumbersome, so dig into the settings to get it out of the way as much as possible.

On PC, Turn Off HairWorks

Unless you’ve got a real Brawn-do rig, I recommend turning off the Nvidia-specific HairWorks setting. You’ll lose the game’s special magical hair but gain a bunch of performance in the process. I’m playing on a GTX970—when I turn HairWorks off, I get 60fps on near-Ultra settings. With it on, I dip down into the 40-50 zone, sometimes even lower. Good hair ain’t worth that kind of performance hit.

Explore Every Question Mark In White Orchard

The opening area in the game is a self-contained space surrounding the town of White Orchard. It’s a good microcosm of Wild Hunt. There’s a main quest, a monster to slay, a Witcher contract, and a bunch of unexplored locations which are marked by question marks. See if you can visit every one before you leave White Orchard. If you do, you’ll walk out with a good amount of XP, equipment and ability points for when you first arrive in Velen.

Visit Every Notice Board On The Map

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the size of The Witcher 3, particularly when you first arrive in Velen. Don’t worry, and definitely don’t rush. Go through every town, and read their yellow notice boards. They’ll open up new sidequests and will also make a bunch more unexplored areas pop up on your map.

Find Places Of Power

Places of Power are the most useful question marks on the map. They allow Geralt to briefly power up one of his abilities or increase the potency of one of his signs. They also give you an ability point to save or spend. If you visit as many as you can find, you can quickly become more powerful even before you level up.

Keep Your Gear Repaired And “Enhanced”

You should regularly stop by armorers and blacksmiths to get your armor repaired; weakened armor and dull swords can dearly cost you in battle. Stop at whetstones and armor tables to “enhance” your gear; it costs nothing and will give you a helpful short-term boost.

You Can Repair Gear In Combat

In a nice concession to video-game logic, Wild Hunt lets you repair your weapons while in combat. That means that if you’re in the middle of a 15-minute war of attrition with a tough boss and your silver sword becomes damaged, you can just pause and repair the sucker without needing to flail away with a weakened blade. It’s a godsend.

Pimp Your Horse

Buy saddlebags and blinders for your horse, Roach, as soon as you’re able to comfortably afford them. Saddlebags increase Geralt’s carrying capacity, and blinders make it easier for you to fight from horseback without Roach freaking out and throwing you.

Don’t Be A Walking Library

You’ll pick up a ton of books throughout Wild Hunt. Unfortunately, books go under the inventory tab with potions and other usable items, and your millions of books will make it difficult to navigate your inventory. At various points in the story, go through your books and get rid of any you don’t really want to read.

Start Talking Like Geralt In Real Life

After a while, you’ll develop an ear for Geralt’s husky speech patterns. Start talking like he does in real life. Charmingly grunt your way through your orders at the cafe down the street. Grumble at your roommates like a big, scary cat. Sink into the role. Love it, live it.

Buy Treasure-Hunt Maps From Vendors

As you find shops around Velen, you’ll see they’re selling mysterious maps for a low price. Every time you see one of those, buy it and read it. Each one unlocks a “treasure hunt” quest that lets you track down schematics to craft Witcher Gear. Witcher Gear is some of the best gear in the game. In fact…

Don’t Worry Too Much About Crafting Normal Weapons And Armor

There’s a complicated crafting system in Wild Hunt, but it’s not that important. The most important gear in the game is Witcher gear, and the rest of the stuff is kinda skippable. If you have the materials to make a better sword, go for it, but chances are pretty good that you’ll find an even better one in a chest somewhere an hour later.

Keep Your Witcher Gear Around

Speaking of that, even if you find a better piece of equipment than the custom Witcher gear you’re carrying, don’t get rid of the Witcher stuff. You’ll need that gear as a component for the higher-level upgraded versions you can craft down the road. (Note: Don’t sweat the stuff you start out with. You might as well hang on to the armor, but you’ll craft better Witcher swords once you do the first “Griffon” treasure hunt.)

Don’t Sell Off Your Rare Crafting Materials

Money is hard to come by in Wild Hunt. It can be tempting to sell the crafting materials you find lying around, but I urge you not to. Things like Dark Steel and Meteorite Ore come in very handy when crafting higher-level Witcher gear, and it can be expensive to buy new materials for crafting. As long as you’re looting every container you find, you’ll probably have ample crafting materials to make the game’s best gear without buying any. Don’t sell it; hang on to it.

Sell Extra Monster Parts And Plants

If you’re looting all the monsters you kill, you probably will wind up with an excess of monster brains, claws, eyes, as well as various plants and herbs. If you have more than 10 of something, sell your surplus to whichever vendors will buy.

Merchants Level Along With You

You don’t have to worry too much about which vendor has Silver Ingots and which sells Meteorite Ore. Merchants will actually “level up” along with you, meaning that once you need to craft more advanced stuff, all merchants will have the materials you need for sale.

Use Runes Or Lose ‘Em

You can add runes to any armor or sword that has a slot; runes have a variety of effects and can make you much more powerful. Sword runes also look cool. Be liberal with your use of runes; you’ll probably wind up sticking a rune in a piece of gear that suddenly gets outclassed by another weapon you found, but it’s a risk you’ll have to take. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a ton of underpowered, unused runes. (If that does happen, though, sell them. They’re worth a fair bit.)

Level Up Your Light Attack And Axii Sign First

When choosing where to spend your ability points, pick carefully at first. I suggest leveling up your “Muscle Memory” light attack boost a few points and putting one or two points into your Axii sign’s “Delusion” ability. It’s always worth having a stronger light attack, and Delusion can come in handy in dialogue.

Skip The “Sun and Stars” Upgrade

You can spend an ability point on a general ability called “Sun and Stars,” which lets you regenerate health out of combat. It makes the game much easier… but I say skip it. I kept it active on my first time through, and as a result never had to carry or eat any food or drink. I’m having more fun without it, using food and drink to regenerate health out of combat. That said, if you want to make the game easier or don’t want to deal with regenerating health the hard way, do the opposite of what I just said and get the ability.

Match Mutagens With Abilities By Color

As you level up, you’ll unlock more and more ability slots. You can assign different abilities to those slots, effectively customizing your character for whichever strengths you want. It’s a cool system. While you do that, be sure to put mutagens next to their like-color abilities, which will boost the power of the mutagen.

Plan your loadout according to maximizing your mutagen boosts, and Geralt will become much more powerful.

You Can Craft Better Mutagens

Here’s something I didn’t realize my first time through: You can craft better mutagens. You’ll wind up with a ton of low-level mutagens from various monsters you can kill; if you go into your Alchemy tab, you can combine a few of those into a single better one.

Make All The Oils And Bombs You Can

You should craft as many oils, potions, and bombs as you can. Crafting in Wild Hunt isn’t like some other games; you don’t have to re-craft items when you run out of them. Once you’ve made a potion, you’ve made it for good; you get three uses before Geralt has to refill his stores by meditating. That means you should craft everything you can, as soon as you can. The more oils you’re carrying around, the more prepared you are for any type of enemy. Don’t be hesitant about using the things you craft. You can always meditate to get more. In fact, let’s make a separate tip out of that.

Meditate To Refill Your Supplies

As long as you’re carrying around some Alcohest—and you almost surely will be—you’ll refill all of your potions anytime you meditate. That’s important, particularly on higher difficulty settings. Your Swallow potion is so useful for regenerating health, but you can run out of it quickly. Even if you’re in the middle of a dungeon, you can meditate to refill your stocks. Do so regularly.

Do Your Homework

Geralt’s bestiary is immensely helpful when taking on most beasts, particularly the larger boss monsters that come at the end of each Witcher contract. Never go into one of those fights blind, if you can help it. Do the research necessary for Geralt to unlock the bestiary entry before the fight, then check out the monster’s habits and weaknesses. Craft the oil you’ll need and memorize the signs and bombs that will be effective. Lean on that stuff hard in combat, and you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.

Prep And Cast Quen Before You Fight

In Wild Hunt, you’ll almost always see enemies before they see you. That means you can pause and prepare for each fight. Apply the necessary oil to your blade, make sure you have the right items equipped and, most crucially, cast a Quen shield before you enter combat. Once Geralt goes into “combat mode,” he’ll regenerate stamina much more slowly. If you cast Quen while out of combat, you’ll enter the fight with a shield and a full stamina bar, ready to cast another sign (or another shield) immediately.

Take Out Enemies One At A Time

An obvious tip, maybe, but a good one. You’ll often find yourself fighting a pack of enemies, be they ghouls, wolves, or humans. Focus on killing one enemy at a time. The fewer there are, the easier it is to manage the others, and the fewer teeth/claws/swords there are that can do damage to you.

ABP: Always Be Parrying

When in combat, you should almost always have the left trigger held down. That’ll set Geralt to automatically parry most attacks, from most angles. If you want to really duck in under a foe’s attacks, you can let your guard down, and if you’re feeling really confident, you can time your parries to stagger enemies. But I recommend a default parrying stance for the majority of fights.

If You Knock An Enemy Down, Kill Them Immediately

Sometimes, you’ll knock an enemy to the ground. Maybe you’ll unseat a horseman with a powerful sign attack or swat a flying beast to the ground. When that happens, close quickly and hit the light attack button. Geralt should stab the downed enemy and kill them outright.

Use Axii On Shielded Enemies

The Axii Sign is extremely helpful in combat, particularly against human enemies. Shield-bearing foes can take ages to whittle down, but the Axii will render them defenseless and open to a heavy attack or two. Some large bosses are similar; they’ll parry most of your regular attacks, but are weak to Axii.

Dodge, Don’t Roll

You’ve got two evasive options in combat: A quick dodge or a longer roll. As much as I love rolling in Witcher games, I suggest mastering the dodge whenever possible. If you roll too much, your stamina will drain, making it harder to keep casting Signs as you fight. Dodging, however, costs nothing. Some larger enemies have a big enough reach that you’ll have to roll to get alongside and behind them. Once you get a feel for combat, the quick dodge winds up being invaluable.

Get A Damned Shave, Hippie

Aside from one humiliating forced shave, you can rock a full beard for the entirety of Wild Hunt. Still, I recommend taking Geralt to the barber once and a while. It’s a lot of fun to watch his beard grow in, and nicely communicates how much time is passing as you play.

Own Your Decisions

Decision-making in Wild Hunt isn’t usually as obvious as it is in other RPGs like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. A lot of the time, you’re simply choosing how to respond to someone, whether to support their decision, or whether to be rude or kind.

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I don’t know how the branching story works, but I often got the sense that the story would branch based on the combined effect of a few small decisions I’d made at various points. Don’t agonize over your decisions; rather, go with what feels natural, and don’t second-guess yourself. You can’t make a “wrong” choice and lose the game, so just let the story unfold as it may.

Go Ahead And Don Juan It Up...

We’ve been trained by years of RPGs to think of romance as an either/or scenario. In the world of The Witcher 3, sex is more casual. Geralt can sleep with a number of different women over the course of the game, and the sex scenes are often a lot of goofy fun. Don’t worry too much about who you’re banging. With that said...

...Keep In Mind, “Love” Is Different From “Sex”

This second tip comes as a much-needed update to this article, which inadvertently contained some Very Bad Advice back when The Witcher 3 first came out. (If I led you astray, I sincerely apologize.) Without spoiling too much, Geralt does have to choose between his two great loves, and some choices you make in the heat of the moment can leave you feeling regret down the road. Here’s a good guideline to keep in mind: When you tell someone you love them, you’re committing. Don’t do it lightly.

Remember What You Know Of Each Character

Sometimes you’ll want to affect a certain outcome to a storyline or conversation. To that end, my main suggestion is to remember what you know of each character, and make whatever decision you think would best support them in that moment. Is this person headstrong and independent? Does this person get angry when you try to step in and fight their battles for them? If that’s the case, act like you would in real life—consider how the person you’re talking to might feel, and do whatever you think will be most supportive to them in that moment. Basically, use empathy, not cold video-game-decision-making logic. It’ll serve you surprisingly well.

You Can Go Back And Do Most Sidequests After You Finish The Story

Wild Hunt does come to a conclusion, but you’ll still be able to go back and mop up sidequests and contracts once you finish. If you decide that it’s time to see the story through to the end, you don’t have to worry about missing out on much.

Some Sidequests DO Get Locked Off

That said, there are some narrative sidequests that do get locked off at a couple of no-turning-back points in the story. The game is pretty good about warning you when that’s about to happen, though. If you want to see and do everything, make sure you finish all those sidequests before you progress the story.

Take Your Time!

There’s a lot to do in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Like... a looooooot. Picture a crapload of stuff; more stuff than you’ve ever had to do in a game. Now double it.

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More remarkable than the amount of stuff in Wild Hunt is how little of it feels like dull busywork. Most every sidequest has a fleshed out story, involves some sort of fun mystery, or has a goofy or heartbreaking twist. It’s worth clearing out your quest roster entirely. Wild Hunt is a hell of a game. Take your time and enjoy it.

And there you have ‘em; my tips for getting the most out of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It’s a fun, expansive game, and I hope you have a good time playing. I’ll update this post periodically as I find better or more refined tips, and if you have any tips of your own, I hope you’ll share them below. Happy hunting!

To contact the author of this post, write to kirk@kotaku.com.

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