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A balanced look at the Naval Training Center
It's busted garbage.It's terribly designed. It's got issues.Third time's the charm. Alright. This is a volatile subject, and for good reason, but let's try to pull it apart a bit. For those that just rolled out from under a rock, the Naval Training Center (henceforth NTC) allows you to sell a line of ships and reset your research on them, and in exchange going back through them acquires tokens you can use to upgrade T6+ ships with statistical buffs permanently. You can upgrade a single ship three times, and you can only reset 3 lines every 3 months. That's the bones of it. Apparently, it costs 10 for the first upgrade, 30 for the second, and 60 for the third. You get 10 national tokens for one line and 2 bonus "universal" ones. This means it takes a minimum of ~7 months and 8 lines being replayed to fully upgrade asingleship. Grimacing yet? You're not alone. The worst part of this is buried in here there's some stuff most players will probably like-- a reason to play ships again that they've otherwise abandoned for a change of pace, and the ability to spiff up their favourite boats. Unfortunately, it is buried in a mountain of negative implications for game health. Let's break down some of the pros and cons specifically, along with clarifying the overall design goals, and see if there is a way for us to get the intended benefits without all of the unyielding sorrow those negative implications. Try not to pop a blood vessel before you get through the rest of this post; I will be listing some things that have both positive and negative impacts and trying to address both. Additionally, some details might be somewhat off-- the information is pretty hot off the presses and there are some conflicting accounts, so try not to get too hung up on any one thing and stay focused on the big picture. With that out of the way... Pros:
Play old ships you never had a reason to touch again, and make it worthwhile!
Something to do when you've already got the lines done that you care about while you wait for new stuff!
Get some neat buffs for your favourite ships!
Deflate the credit and free XP economies a bit!
Lose access to ships you enjoy and worked hard for until you go through the tremendous hassle of reacquiring them.
Lose access to ships you want to use for ranked or clan battles until reacquiring them, limiting the lines you can use.
A tremendous amount of effort stacked on top of an already near constant chain of other events.
Many of the ships you will grind through again are not applicable for most of those events, further dividing your time.
Buffs will become near-mandatory at upper tiers of any competitive environment.
Costs a tremendous amount of credits and free XP-- the only practical way to accomplish this for most players is converting regular XP. This creates a distinctly pay-2-win environment.
It is functionally impossible for a player to fully upgrade a ship in a tree that lacks tech lines. Fully upgrading the Blyskawica, for example, would require 100 "universal" tokens-- you acquire 2 per line and are slated to get 10 for free at the start. This means re-grinding 45 lines.
Based on this, it doesn't take a science rocket to conclude that the net negatives clearly outweigh the positives for most players, and if the options are scrap the systemorimplement it as described,scrapping the entire system is the only sensible choice. Thankfully, we're not limited to such a binary option, so we can explore it a bit further. I think most players realise that the nature of a F2P game is that there will be some impediments to progress by design, and we're all okay with that as long as they aren't unreasonable or punitive. If it took 5 times the XP it currently does to go from T9 to T10, it would be functionally pay-2-win, even if all else was equal. In conclusion, and comparing this system to commander skills/levels, upgrade slots, signal flags, unique upgrades... Gameplay buffs for effort and time invested aren't out of line. The issue here is that the buffs are not insignificant and they require such an incredible commitment that the only reasonable way to acquire them for the vast majority of players will be to dump a tremendous amount of free XP into them, and even that doesn't negate the other negatives like not having those ships necessarily available when you want them. It's a mess. So, ultimately, the question becomes "can we remove or mitigate those issues enough that the system feels fair and viable for the average player, even if they don't pay a cent?" And if so, how do we do that? To WG's credit, they already are aware that some extra consideration will be required for clan battles at least, and have stated these bonuses would be limited or excluded in some way. That leaves a lot of other problems, and I'd like to propose a few solutions keeping in line with the intended benefits of the NTC, while removing the bulk of the frustrating, daunting issues. Potential fixes:
When selecting a line, you acquire a camo-locked rental of the T1 and a personal mission for that vessel. It is provided with a port slot that is removed when the ship is removed. You do not lose any of your ships or sell them.
The personal mission for this rental is to earn XP equal to the amount it would take to research the following ship directly. Completion of all such missions for a given rental grants 1 token for that nation per mission, with even tiers granting a "universal token" instead, and then grants the following ship as a rental, similarly, with a corresponding personal mission foritsfollowing ship.
Completion of the Tier 5 and final stagesgrants a bonus "universal token".
Additionally, if in a clan, completion of the entire chain deposits an additional "universal token" into the clan treasury for distribution by clan officers.
Improvement of ships other than tier 10 require a value scaled to their tier. While a tier 10 requires 10/30/60, a tier 6 would require 6/18/36.
At the beginning of each "3 month season", any player that has at least 2 researchable tier 10s unlocked receives a number of "universal tokens" equal to their total researched ships (even if not currently in port) divided by 10, rounded up, plus 10. A player with five lines fully researched receives 15 free universal tokens every "season", while a player who has just unlocked the NTC with only 2 lines fully researched and nothing else would receive 12.
Finally, every player with at least a single tier 10 researchedcan select a single applicable ship in their port: this ship counts as being of the second upgrade level, minimum, irrespective of any other factors. This ship selection can be changed once per month.
Read over those again if you need to, as it's a bit to take in. Once you're done, let's get into the pros and cons of these changes relative to the base systems being proposed by WG, and see how they align with the goals of these features and mitigate the myriad issues. Pros:
You don't lose your ships. Because selecting a line simply commits you to a mission chain in rentals through that line, you won't ever be in a situation where you can't play a higher tier ship that you like because you committed to redoing its line.
The ship you're working with is a rental, and this means you can swap your commanders to it for free. This also means no fussing around with tons of commanders getting dumped off your line ships and everything getting shuffled around. It's a much neater, more obvious system.
Getting to T5 in a line is a fraction of the work compared to getting to the T10, but gives half the rewards-- players aren't signing up for a totally absurd triple re-tread of three lines in three months. Just getting to T5 or T6 in a few lines of their choice is enough to rack up a decent collection of tokens, allowing players with less time to play the game to realistically participate in the NTC while not punishing those who want to or can put in more effort.
Because the progress is tracked through personal missions, you can't just dump in free XP-- this removes any realistic way to whale through the NTC bonuses, limiting players to more traditional flags/premium/skill/time. While not 100% level for a free player, this ensures that players willing to flash their card aren't simply on a level completely unattainable for those that can't or won't.
Just over half of the tokens you earn will be "universal", meaning you can upgrade ships in trees without tech lines or more freely upgrade the ships of your choice in general, while still rewarding you greatly for working through the missions of trees the ships of which you specifically want to upgrade with the extra national tokens.
A small bump of tokens each season allows players to realistically upgrade some ships they like even if they can't commit obscene hours to the game.
Reduced prices for lower tier ships means a player isn't by default encouraged to only upgrade T10s to "get the most bang for their buck"-- you can nearly upgrade two tier 6 ships completely for the price of one tier 10.
A guaranteed level 2 upgrade means even the absolute most casual of players will always have at least one ship in their port ready to go out in peak performance, while limiting it to level 2 doesn't invalidate reaching level 3, and limiting changing of that selection to a monthly basis does not invalidate working on several different ships for upgrades.
For clans, dedicated players can fuel their clan treasury with upgrade tokens that will invariably be valuable to every player in a way coal/steel/doubloons aren't necessarily, and presuming clan battles limit upgrades to no more than (ideally) the first level as WG has hinted at, clans can reasonably help their members "prep" for CBs by doling out an allowance to help some members ready up ships or run events and internal contests with prizes virtually any player would be happy to receive.
This doesn't deflate the free XP or credit economies at all, meaning there will likely be other sinks for those later. Hopefully those will be cosmetic, or simply an increased selection of ships.
Your ship can be statistically worse than its red counterpart just because theirs is upgraded.
Rationally speaking, however, that's already the case in terms of commander levels and stock grinds and so on as previously mentioned. It's my belief that the nature of a few buffs (and it bears mentioning another user has calculated the buffs for many ships, and at least several of the stats calculated therein are wildly wrong-- the buffs are notable but not absurd) for some dedication is fair, but if it means locking people out of ships they enjoy and have worked to acquire or that it requires such an incredible amount of work that only those willing to pay to blow through the process (or even that that is an option) are the things that will raise the most ire. If the system is fair, accessible, but holds extra room for more dedicated players, then it's a reasonable, interesting addition to the game that doesn't impede gameplay or notably harm game health. I don't suppose my suggestions have covered everything here, but it's my hope I've echoed most major concerns and shown that the NTC doesn't necessarily have be so problematic. It is concerning these things weren't more closely scrutinized by WG-- I've been thinking about these issues for a few hours and they've had presumably months and I'd wager good money just about everybody would take my changes over their proposed system in a heartbeat-- but they're still deep in work-in-progress territory. Now isn't the time to start lighting things on fire. Now's the time to make sure the work goes in to fix the issues we can already see. In summary, the current system as proposed by WG isawfuland will almost certainly, without hyperbole, result in an exodus of veteran players and a huge wall for new players. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Let's not forget that alongside the NTC WG also announced a bunch of great stuff, like free premium consumables and vastly improved matchmaking.
An in-depth review of the "Ghost Mode" gameplay overhaul mod
As I'm sure you can all relate, the 10th Witcher Games Anniversary video brought a lot of feels. And with them came the itch to do yet another playthrough of my favourite video game. This time, to freshen up the experience, I decided to break from my tradition of only installing visual enhancement mods and look into the gameplay overhauls recommended on the sub. To my surprise in-depth assessments of these mods were nowhere to be found. True you can look up detailed descriptions of what they change, but that won't give you an impression of how the changes work in practice nor an objective look at how they impact the overall experience. Thus the goal of this thread is to help you decide if you would enjoy using "Ghost Mode" for your next playthrough and to serve as a resource for posterity. Note: the title of this post is no misnomer. This is a long read. If you already have an idea of what the mod is about and are just wondering "if it's any good", then feel free to skip to the TLDR rating section at the bottom.
First thing first, all the changes introduced by the mod remain true to the vanilla feel, flow and story of the game. There is no need to worry that the game you know and love will suddenly be unrecognisable, that you won't know your arse from your elbow. Secondly, I do not plan to rehash the full changelog in this review. Changes from Vanilla will only be mentioned if they are relevant to the point I am making.
Started playthrough on version 2.6, updated to 2.7 when it was released and finished the game on it. No other gameplay altering mods installed
All mod configuration options left at author intended, default, values
Full 148 hour run including all DLC, side quests & question marks (minus Skellige smugglers' of course)
Death March difficulty throughout with a light armour sword & alchemy build
Dsiclaimer: this review is written with the above in mind. I do not claim my experience to be completely exhaustive. For example, things which were difficult or annoying for my setup might be trivial for others and vice versa. Your mileage may vary.
The mod has been implemented in a competent way. I did not notice any performance decrease compared to Vanilla and encountered no game breaking bugs. There was only a single major issue in 2.6 which was repeatable and highly annoying, but thankfully it seems to be fully fixed with version 2.7. Immersion has been improved and the game world is more believable. Some examples:
You are more likely to find regional alcohol in its respective area, such as Redanian Herbal in Novigrad and Oxenfurt or Temerian Rye in Velen.
Bucketfuls of Alcohest are no longer found in every crate, nook and cranny. There is a new type of strong alcohol - "homemade pepper vodka", which is reasonably cheap and perfect for potion replenishment. It is sold by all innkeepers which gives you an actual reason to stop by your roadside tavern, aside from buying gwent cards of course.
You no longer find rare crafting materials such as dimeritium bars, runes & glyphs in peasant hovels.
Geralt can now actually perform normal daily activities in game, which would be quite useful on the Path, such as cooking food or shaving himself with a razor. The latter is especially great because it also solves the issue of enchanted beard sprouting during cutscenes.
You now get new books and notes during certain quests which enrich the stories and are lore friendly. If you've always wanted to read the letter Vlodimir penned for Olgierd now you can! The writing quality is a bit inconsistent in some of them, but overall they are a good addition.
The amount of coin you naturally accrue is a lot more reasonable. For example the Taxman Cometh at 15 000 crowns, instead of 35 000. Previously it felt a bit weird to run around with more wealth than Hierarch Hemmelfart in your pockets without even trying.
Quests and Experience
Quest level requirements have been reworked. No longer do you get quests which are of a lower level requirement compared to their predecessor. Some quests are moved later in the story to fit better with the narrative. One example of this is "Following the Thread". In the vanilla game this is a required level 11 quest, when sailing to Skellige requires level 16. In GM its level requirement has been increased to 17.
Quest rewards have been rebalanced. Experience rewards are more evenly distributed among main quests and "main secondary" quests (e.g. contracts), so you no longer feel like you get nearly nothing in terms of character progression by doing them. Gold rewards are also more appropriate to the task and the social status of the quest giver. Haggling has a much bigger impact on your final reward.
The stats on all monster trophies have been reworked to be more unique and have a greater impact on your character. This is a good change which will see you tailor your trophy choice according to your build and/or according to the enemy you are about to face, rather than all of them being practically useless homogeneous stuffed heads.
The way the experience penalty works has also been changed. Previously you would get 100% of quest experience if you were at most 5 levels above the quest level, and basically 0% if you were 6 levels above or more. Now for every level you are above a quest the experience reward is reduced by 16%. This also works the other way around, you will receive an experience bonus for doing quests which are higher level than you.
Experience rewards no longer vary with combat difficulty, which is a nice change. Total amount of experience seems to be slightly reduced overall. I would finish my Vanilla DM runs at level 52 and, playing the same quest order, finished GM at level 49.
Overall, I don't believe the new experience penalty system is an improvement over the original for one simple reason: it encourages more meta-gaming. Previously you could delay the main quest for a while because you knew you had a 5 level cushion before you would get punished. Now you are pushed to do the main quests as soon as possible because every single level difference brings significant experience penalties. Given that the main quest is where you obtain the bulk of your XP, GM tries to force you into a specific quest order which never feels good. Not to mention that losing 16% of the experience for gaining a single level is questionable, when very often that level brings an insignificant increase to Geralt's power.
The best experience system in my opinion would consist of:
GM's total experience amount, distribution and reworked quest level requirements
No experience penalty for overlevelling quests and no bonus for being underlevelled
This way you get the best of both worlds. You get to tailor the quest order to your liking, without having to suffer meta-gaming pressure, and at the same time Geralt will not end up overlevelled.
This is usually the number one reason why people recommend this mod and it is clear to see why. The author has implemented a great number of improvements to nearly all of the vanilla systems. Combat is more challenging and rewards players for their skill and preparation better. Geralt's overpowered traits and abilities have been toned down and your specialisation makes a much bigger difference to how you approach fights. Overall, most battles are more fun with GM compared to vanilla. However this comes at a cost: namely the "realism", feel and flow of combat have all decreased to facilitate the above. Let's examine the 4 main areas where GM changes combat and evaluate them in detail.
The first thing you will probably notice is that "all enemies have a reduced reaction time". The reason I put quotes around that phrase is because I don't know the actual inner workings of the mod and precisely how it has modified the AI scripts. Therefore I am just calling the effect as I saw and experienced it during my playthrough. The easiest way to describe it is: the time frame between you being in range of an enemy and the enemy starting their action is now much lower. The primary effect of this change is an increase in difficulty. You now have to have faster reflexes in order to be able to dodge enemy attacks. Additionally, enemies will spend significantly less time in a hit recovery state after you land a blow. Which means that you won't be able to chain as many attacks as you could before, since your enemy will dodge/retaliate much more rapidly. This change really shines when it comes to boss fights. The faster enemy reaction time forces you to play by the boss' rules and pay attention to their mechanics, rather than treating them as a higher health & damage generic enemy. To give a concrete example, let us look at the Olgierd fight at the burning manor. In Vanilla you can easily beat him on Death March by ignoring the fight's mechanics. You simply position yourself slightly outside of his melee range and start a rend which he walks into. Then you follow this up with a quick dodge to the side to avoid the sand in the eyes and immediately start another rend. The boss gets locked in the above AI loop and you win pretty easily. The reduced reaction time in Ghost Mode counters this perfectly. By the time you are winding up your rend the boss, instead of walking into your sword, starts his own attack which targets where you will be after you swing and hits you before you can deal any damage. So to beat him I had to actually play by the rules, which means conventional sword swinging is out of the question, especially as you also leave yourself open to a quick counter attack which kills you in 2-3 hits. The rules in this case are: counter his attack, swing once and go on the defensive. There are three different attacks he throws at you:
The red charge: when you are far away from him, it is the easiest to counter and the bare minimum required to win. If you can only counter this then you will win, but it will take ages.
The phase charge: is when he turns semi transparent and steps side to side. He only does this if your are slightly outside of melee range, so you have much less margin of error on your counter. If you are quick enough you can counter this type of attack with a close to 100% success rate, which means that a better player can defeat him much more rapidly.
Finally we have the slash combo, which he does when you are in melee range. This one is also counterable, but the reaction time is so small I didn't feel it was worth the risk. Especially because if you fail it and only parry you will be locked in that stance for a few of his hits which will drain your stamina significantly (and you cannot counter without stamina, but more on this topic later).
So as you can see from the above GM makes you pay attention to the intended mechanics and rewards skilled play. The change to reaction time also has its downsides however, and they are major ones. Most notably, enemies which have extremely fast attack animations by default become unfair in melee combat. Especially if they are in a group. The best example of this problem are all of the insectoid type enemies like the endregas and the kikimores. Their attack animation is fast and when you pair it with an increased aggression and run speed it means that you literally cannot attack them preemptively. If you start any type of attack (without dodging one of their attacks or parrying first) they will strike you first, even if you were outside of their melee range when you initiated your swing. As you can probably tell fighting groups of these enemies is extremely annoying especially early on. Later you can cheese them by unloading your entire reserve of Dancing Stars & Northern wind bombs for some semblance of crowd control, but even that is like putting a plaster on an amputated leg. What's strange is that looking at past feedback numerous people have complained about these enemies, throughout the mod's life cycle. Yet the author has failed to address the problem, which is that they shouldn't have reduced reaction time in the first place. Such empty difficulty, only for its own sake is never good. Another downside is that early on you cannot take on groups of certain enemies, like wraiths, nekkers or insectoids for example, without resorting to AI abuse. This probably only applies to the higher difficulties, but when the best way of beating groups in the early game is dragging enemies one by one to the edge of their AI leash it doesn't feel good. No matter how skilled you are in melee combat you cannot defeat such packs head on without numerous deaths, which doesn't make you feel like a witcher at all in those encounters. Finally, GM also implements monster "dodge" with a much more heavy handed approach compared to Vanilla. All sorts of enemies will now dodge your attacks more frequently. This is yet another example of where combat quality was sacrificed in order to increase combat difficulty. I write "dodge" in quotation marks because normally the word implies that the enemy sees your attack and reacts to it by getting out of the way. This mod makes the enemies which "dodge" the most feel like blatant AI bots with rigid if-then logic in their script, which harms immersion. Some examples:
Enemies dodging mid attack, when it makes no sense for them to do so
Werewolves dodging while airborne in the middle of their lunge
Humans dodging attacks that come from behind them and they cannot see
Shrieker glitching into its "on the ground" dodge animation while flying, after being shot with a crossbow
Occasionally enemies dodging attacks while burning, sirens dodging when knocked down etc.
Skill Balance changes
A lot of adjustments have been made to the skill tree in order to improve how balanced Geralt is in combat. The changes can mostly be summed up by saying "baseline Geralt was nerfed". What that means in practice is that witchering aspects you do not invest points into will be significantly worse compared to vanilla. For example the signs, crossbow and damage bombs are a lot less useful for my mainly sword focused build. This is a good thing as specialisation encourages more diversity in your playstyle. Here are some examples:
Quen no longer always blocks at least 1 attack, regardless of how much damage it's supposed to absorb. Now it's no longer the combat crutch it used to be in Vanilla as it will only absorb the value of the shield and the rest of the damage will go through.
Poison and bleed effects are no longer extremely overpowered boss monster killers. Their duration and damage are significantly reduced to the point where 1 poison application is equal to about 2 additional sword attacks. Still good, but now balanced.
Crossbow & Bombs now only deal half damage if they were auto aimed. And of course manual aiming during combat is way too slow unless you have invested into the related skills. There seem to be a few minor bugs related to these items. For example manual crossbow shots sometimes don't bring big flyers down despite hitting them successfully. Superior Samum, manually aimed, dealing 5 (yes five) damage on kikimores.
In general overpowered skills have been nerfed (rend, whirl, euphoria etc.) while underpowered abilities have been buffed (crippling strikes, undying, counter attack etc.).
Overall the skill tree feels significantly more polished and we now have a lot more viable choices to pick from.
The way dodging and rolling worked in Vanilla was a simple binary check. Did you press the appropriate button before the attack connected with your character? If yes then avoid all damage, regardless of where your character ended up going (for attacks which can be dodged). And while this was still a big improvement from the second game, the i-frames were way too generous and the moves lacked any stamina cost. Which made it all to easy to just spam the dodge button and be invulnerable. GM changes this behaviour by also taking into account the direction Geralt moves in when dodging/rolling with respect to the enemy attack. Now if you dodge in time but still end up connecting with the attack, depending on the angle, you will take partial damage and debuffs based on what direction you were going in. Parrying and countering have been significantly enhanced compared to the base game. Essentially now you can parry/counter nearly all attacks, those coming from monsters included. Taking counters as an example, you may counter light attacks just like before - by reducing all incoming damage - but now you retaliate against monsters with a "counter slash". This also applies to heavy attacks (including hammer and spear wielding humans) except that damage is reduced only by 50%. Both parry and counter now have a stamina cost depending on the attack you have deflected. This is a great addition to the game in my opinion. It plays perfectly with the risk and reward scale. Countering carries a greater reward because you spend your time negating the monster attack and dealing damage on your own, instead of just negating as you would with a dodge. However the risk is also greater because you confusing monster light and heavy attacks means you will take significant damage, especially if your build is not prepared for it. Yet another gameplay element where skill is rewarded.
Armour, stamina and different playstyles
Stamina management is now a big part of combat, rather than a mere afterthought with Tawny oil. The base regeneration rate is significantly reduced, all combat actions pause this regeneration for a short while and counter and parry stamina costs are increased. The armour you are wearing now also affects your stamina more than the Vanilla regeneration penalties. Light armour has no penalties and increases stamina regen, medium armour introduces a stamina cost for rolling & sprinting and heavy armour has stamina costs associated with rolling, dodging and sprinting. Armour now plays a much bigger role in the game thanks to its significantly increased damage absorption capabilities. Plenty of enemies now have high armour values which also makes the armour penetration stat on swords better. To help with this, your heavy attacks now have a significant amount of armour penetration by default. This means that quick attack spam is no longer maximum dps against all enemy types and you will have to mix in heavy attacks much more frequently. Some enemies like golems are so heavily armoured that using quick attacks against them is basically pointless. Similarly, high armour values on your gear now make a big dent in the incoming damage whereas in Vanilla they were useless and the only thing that mattered were the resistances on the gear. Both of these changes together translate into very distinct melee combat playstyles depending on which Witcher set you are wearing, which is one of the best features of GM for me.
Light Armour: the Cat set provides the combat experience which is closest to Vanilla DM, with a few important tweaks. Firstly, because you have very little damage reduction, Quen is practically useless. It won't even fully absorb a light attack from a drowner. This combined with the change to the defensive techniques means that you actually have to be quick on your feet and good at dodging, you can only rely on your own skill. Secondly you can also mix in counters for increased dps once you are familiar with the attack patterns of the enemies. However you still have to dodge heavy attacks due to your lack of defence. This makes the Feline armour playstyle a skillful dance combining counters & dodging which is extremely fun, especially against bosses and small enemy groups.
Medium Armour: the Wolf set is a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none. It has less damage compared to the Cat but more defensive stats and armour. This essentially means that your playstyle is similar to the Cat but you reduce some of the risk and settle for a lesser reward. You still can't afford to counter heavy attacks, but at the same time the stamina penalties for sprinting and rolling are mostly irrelevant as the latter is only necessary to get out of the way of enemy AoE attacks. As a result you will be safer against large groups compared to the cat but will have to settle for reduced offensive capabilities.
Heavy Armour: the Bear set in GM presents a markedly different combat experience compared to vanilla. The quickest way to describe it is as an "immovable object". The stamina cost for dodging means that you will spend all of your time holding your ground and countering ALL enemy attacks (apart from AoE). The high armour value and damage resists mean that you can shrug off heavy attacks with ease. Combine this with talents that use adrenaline to heal you and an Ekkimara decoction to create a true tank build. However, due to the slow stamina regeneration signs are pretty much out of the question because every sign costs 10+ counter attacks leading to a big dps loss. This playstyle is extremely fun against groups of enemies because it allows you to combine defense with offense and simultaneously negate enemy damage. It also has its weaknesses - namely big enemies and bosses who make heavy use of area effect attacks, such as Griffins and Imlerith for example. Overall I didn't spend much time testing this playstyle in my run, but I found it very satisfying and fun. Definitely keen on using it for a complete playthrough in the future.
Another highlight of the GM combat enhancements are the 1v1 fist fights (seriously). They are much more challenging, fun and skill intensive due to the reworked stamina system. In Vanilla these were pretty formulaic - keep your distance from the opponent so that they only lunge with a heavy attack, which is easier to counter compared to the fast jabs. Counter it, throw a one-two and then rinse and repeat. In Ghost Mode you no longer have the stamina to consecutively counter all attacks and must spend some time in between counters to recover, which introduces a great deal of tension and makes the fights more skillful. Remember, dodging pauses your stamina regeneration so you don't have an easy way around this. Especially as many arenas are quite small which make this process challenging. Furthermore blocking jabs costs significantly less stamina, so if you're confident in countering the opponent's fast attacks you have a great opportunity to skill display. In addition group fist fights are a lot easier compared to Vanilla, because the opponents aren't health sponges. This is another great change in my book as those were pretty tedious and the fist fight system doesn't really work great for group combat.
Finally, to finish off this section, I would like to spend some time looking at enemy balance in the Blood & Wine expansion. There were several problems with it in my opinion, which overall decrease the quality of the experience.
Giant centipedes deal too much damage. Yes they are generally easy to avoid, however them one shotting a character in master crafted Feline Gear + Quen + Superior Insect Oil + Protective Coating + 600 hp green mutagen at full life seems excessive. I'd suggest a 30% damage nerf. For comparison, level appropriate Giant Centipedes hit harder than red skull cyclopses and werewolves.
High concentration of monsters which work badly with the reduced reaction times due to their instant attacks.
Arachnomorph damage seems to be balanced against them hitting you once when most of the time they double tap you, which enables 1 small spider to pretty much instantly kill you from full life if you make a mistake. Damage should be reduced by at least 40%.
The two Guardian Panthers in the Professor Moreau quest are extremely overtuned for when you face them and, as a consequence, require extremely cheesy strategies to beat.
Alps are probably the hardest enemies in the whole game. Thankfully you only have to fight them twice. The first one's alone and she's manageable, but the second involves you getting tag-teamed by a Bruxa as well and that one is quite painful. It's a good thing Dettlaff can mind control other "lesser" vampires, because otherwise one of those ginger vamps would easily wipe the floor with both him & Regis at the same time.
Items and crafting
Witcher set bonuses now scale with the number of pieces equipped rather than being binary. Bonuses also apply from the lowest set tier and not just Grandmaster level. This is a good change in my book as they diversify your combat style from an earlier stage of the game. Set swords are no longer the best weapons for their level requirement, so exploring the world and doing contracts for relics feels much more rewarding.
The weapon & armour upgrade kits, sold by master craftsmen, are a great addition to the game. They allow you to increase the base damage/armour of your equipment by increasing its level requirement by 1 (i.e. the Aerondight effect). This enables you to make use of those special relic swords like: Hjalmar's Steel Sword, Pang of Conscience, Blade of the Bits, Winter's Blade etc. from the moment you obtain them to as long as you wish. This means that you must only pick a weapon based on if its secondary stats have synergy with your build, and this opens up a lot of choices and min-maxing.
Speaking of special relic swords, these now have significantly improved secondary stats which makes them stand out from the generic random relics. Depending on your build you will probably end up using one of these for most of your playthrough. It feels great to get a "special" sword reward for a quest which is actually useful and not vendor fodder like in Vanilla.
Equipment crafting now requires significantly less materials, so you are no longer forced to dismantle an entire army's worth of arsenal to craft something. Unfortunately the craftsmen will now rip you off much harder, comparatively to Vanilla, with their fees. So if you want to unlock all the levels of the Runewright and deck out Corvo Bianco in the various Witcher sets you will still have to pick up and vendor massive amounts of loot.
Crafting costs of random weapons in the early game, before you can access sets and contract relics, are prohibitively expensive.
White Gull isn't so difficult to produce anymore as it doesn't require Redanian Herbal and you can craft the Mandrake Cordial yourself, white honey now comes with more charges - both are nice QoL changes.
Potions and bombs require significantly less ingredients, so theoretically you would need to spend less time picking flowers. However considering that you could buy most of these cheaply from herbalists in the vanilla game (and still can) this change is more or less irrelevant in practice.
Cooking recipes are a good addition to the immersion in my experience. A witcher on the path should be able to cook himself a meal while squatting in some untamed wilderness. Unfortunately, in practice I did not use these recipes at all after leaving White Orchard. There are a few problems with the current implementation:
Food & drink healing is not balanced according to the amount of ingredients required to produce. For example, right at the start of the game you can learn how to make apple juice which is in the top tier of drink healing and costs next to nothing to make, in contrast with other much more expensive drink recipes which very often heal for less. Food recipes require way too many ingredients (the vast majority of which must be bought) and offer sub par healing in comparison.
Human enemies in Velen and onwards drop way too much food, often between 2-3 pieces each. Why should I waste money buying ingredients and cooking when I could obtain something nearly as good for free?
Coking recipes are too expensive for what they offer. They could use a 50% coin cost reduction across the board. Food recipes should require less ingredients. There should be more distinct healing "tiers" for different food & drink, less total recipes and bandits should drop less grub to incentivise people to interact with the system.
Enemies focusing more on NPCs during combat (if present) makes certain escort quests significantly more annoying on Death March: namely the Black Pearl and the Skellige mine clearing duo. Those NPCs could use a buff to their survivability.
All wolves/dogs & boars are significantly weaker compared to the vanilla game. Probably a design decision, but it feels out of place since all other enemies are harder. Wolves in the Land of a Thousand Fables do have level appropriate stats unlike all their siblings for some reason.
Kinks to the extra books/notes feature: fist fight quests keep giving you the same note after a brawl for every brawl, many texts are given out at weird times. For example, right at the beginning of some action sequence.
Early game bosses and contract monsters (level req < 15) could use a modest health reduction to prevent boredom. Later on the only enemy that felt too "health spongy" was Iris' nightmare. Those Olgierds could use a health reduction because at the moment the fight is quite repetitive, lacks the atmosphere of the burning manor fight and so becomes a bit tedious.
The base Yrden duration is too short and makes fighting Wraith bosses extremely tedious early on, until you get Enhanced or preferably Superior Moon Dust.
Superior Cursed Oil now requires berserker skin which is not obtainable in Skellige if you investigate the massacre with Ceris. Previously there was a bug where berserkers spawned near Kaer Morhen, but this seems to be fixed in the newest version. The only place I found berserker skin in the whole game was in the Borsodi vault (?), dropped by one of his guardsmen (??). Either put a copy of the ingredient somewhere in the Vildkaarls' village, or change it to some other more lore appropriate place. The current location makes no sense.
The inventory weight system is at best a sidegrade to Vanilla. Yes, it is unrealistic that Geralt is able to hold all these weightless ingredients in Roach's saddlebags. So this mod now gives them weight and forces you to regularly deposit all your ingredients in the stash. Then to access them more conveniently every time you are at an appropriate vendor (alchemist/blacksmith/armourer) Geralt is able to telepathically access said stash to obtain the ingredients. To me it seems like one unrealistic element was simply replaced with a different one equally as unrealistic, so what's the point?
In all fairness you can reduce the weight of all items from the mod options, but that slider leads to even more immersion problems. Because if you wish to compensate for the weight on all the ingredients you have to turn up the slider so much that all the swords and armour now weigh practically nothing as well. A better solution would be keeping the weight slider and adding a check box for "Zero ingredient weight", or just using the vanilla weight system because the current implementation isn't a clear improvement.
I find the name of the mod to be a bit unfortunate, since it has nothing to do with any of the content. Makes you wonder if it's one of the reasons why it is not more popular.
Grapeshot seems to deal insignificant damage to higher level enemies. Superior version of it hits arachas for 5 damage with an aimed shot for example. Even without bomb talents it shouldn't be this weak.
Aerondight has lost a great deal of its unique flavour (all items can now be upgraded) and the nerf to its secondary stats was too great. Before it would give 10% attack power per stack, up to 10 stacks, now this has been reduced to 5% crit damage. For comparison, random relic swords can spawn with 60%+ critical damage and have 4 other secondary stats as well. Not to mention free sockets, which cost ~8000 gold for Aerondight. Finally, while the bonus at maximum stacks is still great it's now harder to maintain due to the decreased enemy reaction time, is basically non-existent against all the instant attack foes (and for heavy armour builds) and has overlap with several consumables (thunderbolt potion & oils now give crit chance) and talents which reduces its effectiveness even further. Overall the sword feels underwhelming and not worth using.
Olgierd's sabre, Iris, no longer gains charges when enemies block your attacks and doesn't buff the damage of the fast attacks. To compensate it now deals 10% of target's maximum life in addition to the other bonus damage when charged. I was very excited to use this sword with the new item upgrade kits and was left moderately disappointed. The life loss penalty is still too big and basically forces you into using Katakan decoction which doesn't feel great. Furthermore, to charge the sword you must deliver 3 successful fast attacks in succession. Against armoured enemies this feels horrible as you're effectively whacking them with a wet noodle until you can charge the finisher. In addition, humans are much more likely to dodge your attacks compared to before causing you to often whiff on the charged strong attack while still paying the health cost. Overall the sword is still worth using and feels satisfying with the Severance runeword, however I would like to see some quality of life change: for example halving the health penalty.
This mod breaks the following achievements: equipping a full witcher set (Armed and Dangerous), equipping all the grandmaster set pieces (Dressed to Kill), equipping Aerondight (Embodiment of the Five Virtues). Tested on GoG. Probably irrelevant for 99% of people, but worth mentioning.
The Undvik set has less armour than the basic Feline set, despite having a higher level requirement and being heavy armour.
Superior Full Moon heal, based on current toxicity, either does not work or heals a minuscule amount.
Kill count bestiary section feels a bit too arcade-y and gimmicky for my tastes. Would prefer it hidden at the bottom of the list and collapsed by default or, better yet, an optional toggle in the mod options if possible.
I will now attempt to rate this mod based on an arbitrary scale I just made up. A score of 5/10 means that overall the mod neither improves nor deteriorates the experience when compared to the original game. A higher score than that is good, lower is bad.
-1 for the fast reaction times on enemies with instantaneous attack animations (and the fact that this hasn't been fixed for so long) and the balancing issues of Blood & Wine.
-0.5 for the overall lowered quality of the combat experience: namely its feel, flow & realism.
-0.5 for all the points listed in the Nitpick section.
-0.5 for the experience penalty system which promotes meta-gaming and for the subpar support of the NG+ mode
Overall: 7.5/10. Despite the occasional hiccups I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough with Ghost Mode. I found the mod to be an overall improvement to the base game and definitely recommend it.
Never Asked Questions
Q: What difficulty should I play on? A:
You are looking for a similar challenge to vanilla Death March or early game B&BB, to see if you like the other gameplay changes? Story & Sword. If you don't care about the combat then I would suggest that you also reduce monster damage from the mod options.
You played on Death March from level 1 and found it too easy? Blood and Broken Bones.
You played on Death March from level 1 with self-imposed limitations such as: no Quen, not using set swords, deliberately skipping some of the best talents and found it too easy? Death March.
Q: What build did you use? A:Combat/Alchemy - GM Death March I went for delusion & poisoned blades first. Muscle memory & strength training second, then back to alchemy for protective coating, afterwards filled out the combat tree. Undying was only equipped once the first B&W skill slot was unlocked and I could move an alchemy skill there, on lower difficulty levels I would replace it with Razor Focus. Delusion is optional. I pick it mostly for RP reasons although the extra stamina regen is nice, especially early on. If you don't want to use it then replace it with the Synergy skill from the alchemy tree.
Q: Any other interesting stats/tidbits from your run? A:
Hardest 1v1 fight: werewolf outside of the Whispering Hillock, ~10 deaths.
Other boss fights with number of deaths in parenthesis: WO Griffin (1), Imlerith (2), Toad Prince (0), Olgierd (3), Caretaker (1), Olgierds (2), Caranthir (0), Eredin (1), Dettlaff (0)
Hardest group fight: arachas cave south west of Harviken on Faroe, 8 deaths.
Found the "Tor Zirael" sword for the first time ever in 4 playthroughs, not sure if finally lucky or spawn chance increased in the mod. Unfortunately, stats wise it's still rubbish.
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