The Witcher 3 might very well be one my favourite games of all time. It has an intricate and well thought out main plot alongside a myriad of other fascinating and engaging side stories. The combat is fun, reinforces the narrative of the game and who/what witchers are. I love it, and you should definitely play it, but I’m not here today to sell you on why The Witcher 3 is amazing – it does that all by itself. Instead, I’m going to try and convince you to replay this glorious game on its highest difficulty setting – Death March.
I just finished my playthrough on Death March, and it was like playing an entirely different game. The reason I restarted it in the first place was that I’d heard it changes how you play the game and how you approach any given situation, and hoo-boy was the ever the case. First off, let’s address what changed when I played on Death March. Obviously, enemies have more health and do more damage which by itself isn’t particularly impressive. Geralt also gains less XP from everything. The most obvious and defining difference is that health doesn’t recover from meditating. This meant that the only was the heal was through drinking potions and eating food. And all of these elements together massively altered the dynamic of the game.
From the start of the game Geralt had very few rations, so collecting chicken sandwiches and apples off fallen enemies was far more critical than looting them of their sub-par equipment. After every fight, I’d run around hoovering up any and all foodstuffs like a man in the desert with no water. Indeed, as the game progressed I’d have a Tesco Express’ worth of snacks, but the fear of running out was genuine. Admittedly this was far more impactful in the first half of the game as I often found myself running through the woods hunting deer and rabbits to recover a little before tackling the next bandit camp. By the second half though, Geralt has enough potions and nibbles that he doesn’t need to worry so much about his health between battles.
I say between battles because he really needed to worry once the fighting started. Geralt might be a Witcher and a total badass but on Death March if he was ever outnumbered or up against a particularly strong foe, then there were no guarantees. This simple fact changed my entire approach to the game because losing a fight was a very real prospect. A few lucky hits and Geralt was out of action. Taking on 5 people at once? Good luck with that. You’d better have a plan and be sure to dodge a lot because if one of them hits you into the other and then into another, you are likely dead.
This fear of fighting and subsequently dying meant that I approached conversations differently. If at all possible I wanted to avoid conflict. I’d use axii (mind control) to try and get people to do what I wanted, I’d try to talk them down from attacking me and just generally be less hot-headed than I would have been on a different difficulty. This shift in approach was fascinating and in my opinion, is far more authentic to Geralt’s character. Sure, he could probably kill everybody in any given room, but there is a chance one of them could get the better of him. He isn’t invincible and knows this, so he needs to pick his battles. The same was true when dealing with intelligent monsters. If they don’t intend the hurt other people then fighting them is an unnecessary risk, so why take it? Thanks to this approach, when a conversation did take a turn for the worse (axii backfired, or they were doing something entirely against my Geralt’s moral code), it made the fights that much more exciting and important. Fighting became the last resort and not an answer to all questions. I’d exhausted every avenue and this was all that was left. Whether it was ten opponents or one I had to keep my wits about me, drink a potion or two and slather some oil on my blade to give me an edge.
Speaking of potions, they were hugely important in Death March. Before trying this difficulty, alchemy was nice to have but not 100% needed. In Death March I would have died a thousand times over if it wasn’t for the likes of Swallow, Tawny Owl, the right class of oil or even the less combat oriented potions like Cat. When you can die in just a few hits, every advantage counts. I often found myself scouring the countryside for that final alchemy ingredient. Once again, this felt like something Geralt would be doing. He is a pragmatic man, he’d make sure he was as prepared as he could be for every possible situation. This is why I made nearly every decoction but only actually used a handful. It’s why I made sure to upgrade even the potions I rarely used. Preparation is key. Forewarned is forearmed. Or as my old boss used to say, Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance and the same holds true for Witchers.
This level of planning was also true when it came to selecting abilities, and Death March once again forced me to change my perspective. I discovered powers I’d glossed over before as being ‘useless’. One of the first abilities I unlocked was ‘Sun and Stars’ which meant that during the day I’d recover some vitality and at night would regenerate an additional bit of stamina in combat. It is easy to ignore this ability when I could just meditate to recover all of Geralt’s health, but in Death March it became a must-have. I also found myself focusing on quick attacks because it meant I didn’t have to risk being hit as much, quen because it acted as a second health bar, ard as it meant I could score knockdowns and dash in for a quick finisher and axii to help me in conversations. Whereas previously I’d found great pleasure in the alternate version of igni that cause a stream a flame or wild charging strong attacks, in Death March my entire idea of what a witcher is – a far more considered and careful individual who takes the path of least resistance.
Death March changed my perspective and approach to the game. It also subsequently changed my Geralt. Other difficulties don’t show the hardship or the level of planning needed to be a witcher. Other difficulties made my Geralt into somebody who could quickly deal with a given situation with violence, and because I could, I did. Other difficulties had me just taking a nap twice a day to recover my health, whereas Death March would cause me to up for days chasing monsters and only resting to brew potions. Death March showed me what it meant to be a witcher, and that is why you should play The Witcher 3 on Death March.