The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t just a video game, it’s a lifestyle. By which we mean, the dang thing is so long that entire trends will have come and gone in the time it takes you to finish the story.

When you’re sitting down with the intent of investing that much time in a game, it’s good to know a few things when you’re first starting out. Fortunately for you, we’ve already run the gauntlet. Seen the sights. Slain the toothy, drooling beasts. And we’ve got some tips to make your time doing those things just a little bit easier.

So here it is, your spoiler-free rundown of handy tips and tricks to make your first steps in The Witcher 3‘s vast world a little bit easier.

1. Grab all the loot you can.

There is so much loot to be collected in The Witcher 3. It’s everywhere. And the only time you can’t rob it out from under every villager’s nose is when a little text pop-up appears to let you know that nearby guards are watching, and they’ll be pretty annoyed if you steal something. Even then, just run away until they stop giving chase and everything’s okay all over again.

Given all of that, the advice should be obvious: rob ’em blind. Grab everything that isn’t nailed down. Whatever you don’t have a use for, sell. Merchants tend to pay more (or outright only purchase) the types of things that they sell, so if a blacksmith isn’t buying a stack of books from you, it’s got nothing to do with the fact that they’re stolen. The blacksmith just has no use for such things.

Use your hard-earned, ill-gotten monies to buy alchemical ingredients, crafting supplies and recipes/diagrams for new items. Note that Crowns are the main form of currency in The Witcher 3, but you might also sometimes collect Orens and Florens. Swap these out for proper useful money at Vivaldi’s Bank, which is right near the Hierarch Square fast-travel point in the city of Novigrad.

2. Get the hang of fast-travel.

Fast-travel is always an option in The Witcher 3, provided you’ve discovered the right locations. You can only travel when you interact with one of the signposts scattered throughout the world (at which point the world map pops up), and you can only use them to travel to other signposts.

They’re marked on the minimap as green, sign-shaped icons, and there’s one to be found near just about every major landmark (and many minor ones as well) in the game. If a “New Marker Found” message appears on your screen, you’ve discovered a new fast-travel location.

That’s not all. Boats also allow for fast-travel to any harbor location. Just board a boat, take control of it by interacting with the rudder, and open up the world map. Hover the pointer over the harbor you’d to travel to — harbors are represented by little, white anchor icons — and click on it. Very simple. Very handy.

3. Your horse has equipment slots, too.

Geralt’s horse, Roach, is like a four-legged utility knife. He does horse things, of course. Press and hold X (PlayStation 4 controls) while you’re cruising along on a road and your horse will follow it automatically. You can nudge the control stick at any time to change course (handy when you come to a crossroads) and then let go to let horse auto-pilot take over again.

Summon Roach at any time and from virtually anywhere by giving a whistle (click L3 twice on a gamepad). He gallops in out of thin air, appearing on your minimap as a little horse head icon.

Roach also has equipment slots: for saddlebags (increases Geralt’s carry capacity), blinders (improves Roach’s fear level), saddle (increases Roach’s stamina), and monster trophies. The last of these apply an assortment of different buffs depending on the monster they come from, but the other three are typically found in treasure chests or for sale by merchants. Prioritize getting yourself some new saddlebags, as there’s a lot of loot to collect in The Witcher 3 (see tip #1), and the more you can carry, the longer you can go before you need to start selling.

4. There’s an in-game GPS, but it’s just for quests.

The Witcher 3‘s quest tracking system isn’t the best, so it’s a good idea to learn what the in-game map and journal can and can’t do as quickly as you can. All quests are tracked in your journal, filed under Story Quests, Secondary Quests, and Witcher Contracts. Most of these, when selected, highlight the next quest destination on your world map.

Sometimes you’ll find that one of the more broadly worded Story Quests doesn’t have a map destination; that simply means there’s a different task you need to complete in connection with the general task. It’ll also be listed under your available Story Quests.

It’s possible to place custom markers on the map wherever you like, but the in-game GPS-style system only traces a path to whichever quest destination you have highlighted. Custom markers are visible on the minimap so you always know which direction they’re in, but there’s no course mapping like there is for quests.

5. The basics of alchemy and crafting.

The abundance of loot that you can collect in The Witcher 3 feeds into an elaborate pair of crafting systems. For fans of alchemy, it’s possible to brew up an assortment of potions, oils, and other substances that help Geralt in a number of ways. There are healing potions, elixirs that let you see in the dark, oils you can coat your blade with to increase damage output and quite a bit more.

To brew something up, you must first obtain its recipe, either from a loot drop or a merchant. Each substance is made up of several ingredients, which you can either buy or collect out in the wild (green leaf icons on your minimap mark the location of ingredients to harvest). Once an alchemical formula’s been produced, Geralt automatically rebrews more using existing materials whenever he meditates.

Just be aware of toxicity when you start guzzling down potions. The more you drink, the more tainted Geralt’s blood level becomes. This can have both positive and negative effects, depending on how you’ve upgraded your skill tree. It’s possible to ignore alchemy for much of the game, but it’s a more technical approach with wilder cost/benefit swings as you learn to harness it.

Gear crafting is functionally similar to alchemy in that each creation is made up of ingredients that you either purchase or collect as you adventure. The difference with crafting is you’ve got to talk to a blacksmith to get something made, and only after you have both the diagram and the necessary materials collected.

There’s some useful gear to be acquired in this way, provided you find the right diagrams. If you’re grabbing everything you can and selling it regularly, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to get spendy with custom equipment.

6. Tips for your first steps on the skill tree.

Geralt’s skill tree breaks down into four categories: combat skills, signs (magic), alchemy skills and general skills. The game does a good job of explaining how upgrades work in tutorial pop-ups, but there are definitely some upgrades that are worth prioritizing over others. Like the Survival Instinct general skill, which gives you an immediate 500-point boost to your Vitality stat (health).

No matter how you intend to get through the game, it’s best to start upgrading inside the signs tree. Two spells in particular to focus on: Quen and Axii.

Quen is Geralt’s magical shield, and the second tier upgrade for it is an alternate sign that allows you to hold down the R2 button to create a sustained bubble shield that only chips away at your stamina (which governs magic) when it absorbs damage. Even better, the shield heals you as it takes damage, and it’s one of the most effective methods in the game for healing quickly.

Axii, on the other hand, is the witcher equivalent of a Jedi mind trick. Certain dialogue options appear throughout the game with the little, triangular Axii symbol next to them. Put three skill points into the first tier of Axii and that’ll be enough to unlock any specialized dialogue. You earn a new skill point with every experience level, but you also get a bonus point whenever you discover and interact with rarely seen “Place of Power” stone out in the open world.

7. Learn how fighting works.

Witchers tend to draw their swords an awful lot; it’s just what happens when you’re a monster hunter. Geralt carts around two swords at all times: a steel one for taking on human foes and non-magical beast and a silver one for pretty much everything else. The game is thankfully smart enough to draw the right sword automatically based on the enemies arrayed in front of you… usually, so it’s still a good idea to remember how steel and silver differ.

Effective combat comes down to a mix of dodging, rolling or parrying, then responding with a light/heavy attack as soon as you see an opening. Dodging is a sidestep that doesn’t create a lot of distance, but it doesn’t chew up any stamina at all; rolling creates that distance, but at the cost of stamina. You can block by holding down L2, but parrying is a timed challenge wherein you press L2 just as the enemy is swiping. Pull it off to stun the enemy and create an opening.

The trick is to get behind whatever it is you’re attacking, as strikes from the rear do considerably more damage. Use repeated dodges to circle around your target and make your move as soon as you’re in position. Just be sure to dodge or roll away after two or three chops, as most enemies recover and strike back after too many successive hits.

Also be sure to read up on the more unusual enemies you encounter in the bestiary (accessible via “Glossary” in the game menus). Once you’ve defeated a monstrous foe, an entry for it appears in Geralt’s journal. In addition to offering basic details about what the creature is, the bestiary entry also lists which signs and/or consumables are particularly effective against it.

Once the fight is over, take a peek at your minimap. See all those little “x” markers with circles around them? Those are dead foes that were carrying loot. Be sure to scour the battlefield after any encounter and rifle through your downed opponents’ pockets. There’s some great stuff to be found, especially if the group you faced off against had an obvious leader figure.

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