Combat in the Witcher 2 is difficult. This is no Hack&Slay, blindly wading into a group of enemies and attacking them will result in a quick death. The difficulty is increased to frustrating levels by the tutorial, which doesn’t explain much and just drops you into difficult fights without telling you how to fight. I’ve summarized some basic combat tactics here that should make the initial fights less frustrating. I’m not assuming any investment in advanced talents, all the tactics here are valid for a low-level witcher.
Geralt can perform a fast attack by left-clicking and a slower, but more powerful attack by right clicking. You can see which enemy Geralt is targeting by the yellow cross on it. To change the target you need to change where you are looking at, the enemy is selected from the middle of the screen. You can lock your target by pressing the Alt key.
The fast attack has a pretty good range, if you attack an enemy that is a bit further away, Geralt will leap towards this enemy and attack. You can chain the attacks somewhat, making Geralt leap from enemy to enemy, but there is no additional damage for attacking in a certain rhythm. The slow attack is really slow and has only a short range, many enemies are able to avoid it. Use it on slow enemies, or enemies backed to a wall that can’t evade it.
You can parry attacks by pressing the E key. Be aware that this consumes Vigor, which you also need to cast signs.If your vigor bar is empty, you won’t be able to block the enemy attack and will take damage.
The better way to defend against an enemy attacks is to roll and avoid it. You can do that by double-tapping the movement keys or by pressing Space. There is a talent that increases the distance you roll which makes this even more useful. Rolling away is better than parrying if you have enough space, if you’re in a small room parrying might be necessary.
Some enemies have shield that block your attacks. You need to attack those either from behind, or parry their attack and directly counter with a few fast attacks. I usually leave those enemies until I killed all other enemies, attacking them in a group is extremely difficult.
Geralt can cast five different signs and you need to make good use of them to win many fights. All signs are available from the beginning, you select a sign by holding Ctrl to open a menu and then clicking on the sign you want to use. Time is slowed significantly while the menu is opened, you can easily switch signs in combat and you certainly should do that. The currently selected sign is cast by pressing the Q key.
One of the most important hints I can give you is to use your signs! Using them effectively is the difference between a tedious and frustrating battle and a merely challenging one.
The Aard sign
This sign can knock down or even stun enemies. Taking out an enemy for a short while is very useful, but the real power of this sign comes into play when you stun an opponent. When attacking a stunned opponent Geralt will perform a finishing move, which will instantly kill the opponent. This is extremely powerful, but limited by the relatively small chance that the basic Aard sign will stun an opponent.
The Yrden sign
A magical trap that harms and immobilizes an enemy. This is a very important sign, the immobilization can last for a long time on some enemies. The damage is a nice side effect, but the real use of this sign is that it takes an enemy out of combat for a short while.
The Igni sign
It’s a fire sign that harms enemies. I found the non-upgraded sign not very useful, the damage it causes is just too small.
The Quen sign
A protective sign that absorbs damage. This is probably the most important and useful of all the signs. The damage absorption is great, but it additionally prevents Geralt from being staggered or interrupted by enemy attacks. The drawback is that you don’t regenerate vigor while the Quen sign is active.
The Axii sign
A mind-control sign that makes an enemy fight on Geralt’s side for a short time. This sign needs to be charged up, you need to hold the Q key for a while for it to work. You need some distance between yourself and other enemies, the one enemy you use the sign on is immobilized for the casting duration, but the others are free to close in and attack you. This sign also doesn’t always work, but if it works the temporary ally can distract the other enemies so that you can attack them more easily yourself.
Potions, oils and bombs
A witcher is a bit like Batman, he needs to be prepared to fight with full effectiveness. You can craft a variety of different potions, oils and bombs by meditating (Hold Ctrl and click in the middle of the radial menu). During meditation you can use alchemy to craft new potions and you can select which potions to drink. You cannot drink any potions in combat, you need to prepare before starting the fight.
Fighting multiple enemies
Most of the time you will be fighting multiple enemies at the same time. What makes these fights difficult is that you receive doubled damage when hit from behind and that you are staggered for a moment when you’re hit and unable to do anything. The most important thing by far is to never get surrounded! Once you’re surrounded you will take double damage from the enemies behind you and the enemy attacks will stagger you and preventing you from escaping quickly.
You should always stay on the side of the battle if possible, not in the midst of it. Use a light attack from the distance to close in on an enemy, preferable one a bit isolated from the group, and roll away before the other enemies can surround you. Hit and run tactics are very effective in this game.
To fight multiple enemies at the same time you should always open the combat with a sign from a safe distance. Using Axii to turn one enemy to your side is a very good opener, it means you have one less enemy to fight for a short time, and this enemy will distract other enemies and allow you to attack those.
Another very good option is to set one or two Yrden traps to immobilize enemies. Once you immobilized one, you can attack a different enemy without being in danger from the immobilized one.
Once you’ve used your signs and decide to attack with your sword, use the Quen shield on yourself. This means you don’t get vigor regeneration, but it will protect you from damage. Even more important it will prevent you from getting staggered while attacking an enemy, which makes it far easier to roll away after your attack. This sign probably makes the biggest difference in combat, always shield yourself with Quen when you’re attacking.
Using Aard from the sidelines and then leaping in with a light attack is also an alternative. If you get lucky the Aard sign stunned the enemy and you’ll perform a finishing move and instantly kill the enemy.
If all this isn’t enough, you need to be prepared better for the fight. Drink some potions before the fight, you have some Swallow potions from the beginning and you should use them for the difficult fights. Set some traps if possible and throw your bombs or daggers (if you have the required talent). You’re meant to use all these consumables in this game, don’t hoard too much.