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The Witcher 3 made a small change that causes huge ripples

Sign of the times

Geralt starts a mighty swing of his sword against a foe in the woodlands of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Image: CD Projekt Red

The new version of The Witcher 3 comes with major graphical upgrades, a photo mode, new content inspired by the Netflix show, and a raft of quality-of-life improvements, tweaks, and fixes. Taken together, the update is a welcome and compelling reason to revisit this modern classic, but in all honesty — as our review pointed out — few of these changes have a massive material impact on the experience. As you play, the last seven and a half years melt away, and the game’s inherent quality asserts itself above all else.

You may also find yourself, as I did, quickly turning off new features like the close camera angle, which looks cool, but is clearly not tuned to the game’s combat style or movement speed. There are a few updates that have a lingering effect, however. The swift loading times and performance mode on console make this occasionally ponderous game more slick and manageable, while the addition of cross-platform cloud saves has been a game-changer for me personally, allowing me to transfer my progress between PlayStation 5 and Steam Deck.

But there’s one small update — not enabled by default — that has a profound, positive effect on The Witcher 3’s actual gameplay: the new Quick Sign Casting option.

Signs are the magic spells of the Witcher universe, and Geralt has five at his disposal at all times: a fire attack, a force blast, mind control, a magic trap, and a magic shield. Each is particularly useful against certain enemy types, but they have overlapping utility, too; Quen, the shield sign, is invaluable in any combat situation, while Axii’s mind grip is particularly handy for crowd control when mobbed by human enemies.

Previously, Witcher 3 players who wanted to swap signs would need to pause midcombat and use a radial menu to switch between them. With the new option, signs can be cast by holding down the right trigger and using the four face buttons, and the left trigger, to fire them off.

Once you’ve learned the button assignment, this proves to be a far more frictionless way to play. In fact, it’s so much more fluid that it encourages you to play differently, mixing signs more often rather than, for example, setting up a Quen shield before entering combat and then sticking with Igni, the fire spell, for the rest of the encounter. Now, you can easily and smoothly alternate between refreshing Quen, picking off strays with Axii, and blasting groups with Igni.

Without technically adding new content to the game, Quick Sign Casting unearths a tactical and situational approach to The Witcher 3’s combat that was always there, but disincentivized by the control scheme (in much the same way that Death March difficulty brings out the buried focus on the game’s character builds). It doesn’t magically make a Signs build the best way to play — this will never really be a game for fans of the glass-cannon mage archetype — but it does more fully realize the fantasy of a monster hunter for whom facility with magic is just another tool in the toolbox. It’s a tiny tweak that hugely changes the game for the better.

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