Geralt can cast a number of spells - or Signs - and although you can technically focus Geralt’s talents on building up Signs, the rate of talent point accumulation renders Signs much weaker than Geralt’s swords until mid-way through the game. Geralt has signs that deal direct damage (Ingi), allows him to set disabling and damaging traps (Yrden), knock around debris and enemies-potentially setting up even stronger enemies for one-hit kills (Aard), create time-buying defensive barriers (Quen), and charm enemies (Axii). It’s a versatile group, and although it might seem limited, it really covers most of the basics without undue repeatition.
Still, Geralt’s main tools are swords. You’ll constantly find enemies resistant to status effects (like most undead), and your Endurance level will limit the frequency with which Geralt can fall back on his Signs. Granted, with some Gold Talents invested into Endurance and Intelligence his Endurance level and Endurance regeneration rate removes this limitation to a large degree, they’re still limited in a way swords simply aren’t. Signs are wonderful-and employing a healthy mix of both swordplay and Signs will result in a supremely potent Witcher-but you’ll suffer more if you neglect your swords than you will if you neglect Signs.
Once Chapter 3 starts Geralt can level quickly, easily, and often. With the investment of four Gold Talents and a dozen Silver Talents (ideally purchased between levels 30 to 35) they can go from enemy softeners to downright fight winners. No Sign shows this progression better than Igni. In Chapter 1, it’s best used to light fires so you can rest. In Chapter 2, its inceneration can speed up select fights, but by Chapter 3 it can be used to clear out groups of enemies by itself-and rather economically, too.
This spell is essentially a telekinetic blast, useful for dislodging rubble and knocking down enemies for a coup-de-grace. It’s the first Witcher sign you learn, and it’s also one of the best. You should still put it behind your Sword Styles in priority when it comes to leveling, but it’s a handy ability to be able to get pressure off, knock down singular strong enemies, or disarm attackers. If you invest in charging the Sign up it’ll gain a greater radius, which is nice for dealing with groups of humanoid elements-especially if you focus on improving the Knockdown, Stun, and especially the Disarm properties of the spell. It might seem like a waste to do this (after all, no matter how many foes you effect, you’ll only have to time to coup-de-grace one or two of them) the fact that you can disable large groups gives you time to eliminate a few to take the pressure off, and while they’re down you’ll be regenerating Vitality and Endurance. Ultimately Igni is a better crowd control spell, but the fact that Student, Apprentice, etc. increase your Sign intensity for the Aard spell make them worth getting. In fact, if you’re a fan of Aard, there really aren’t any bogus talents in the tree.
Quen is a handy little sign that creates a protective barrier around Geralt. Although not initially impressive, Geralt learns the sign late enough that it can be quickly upgraded to absorb a fair amount of damage. It’s not, however, a defensive compliment, as attacking or casting another Sign will terminate your current barrier. It’s therefore meant to buy you time to apply buffs, such as potions and oils, or to get into better position. Honestly, on the default difficulty it’s not a terribly useful spell, and many of its upgrades aren’t terribly necessary. For example, the "Barrier III" ability improves your Stun and Knockdown resistances while protected with Quen… but you can gain plenty of resistances to these and other status effects in the Attribute trees-and these ones are permanent. On the other hand, the Acid and Fire Resistances aren’t something that can really be replicated otherwise. The charged-up version of the sign causes enemies to take damage when they attack you, and can even knock them down, making it an interesting passive-aggressive option that’s surprisingly hard to find a good reason to use.
When Geralt casts Yrden he’ll scribe a symbol on the ground, which then becomes a magical trap awaiting enemies foolish enough to tread upon it. Once they do, the Sign triggers and the enemies take some minor damage, as well as being subjected to a host of status effects, including Pain, and (with upgrades) Poisoning and Blinding, as well as inflicting attack and dodge penalties. It’s a decent spell, and really, nothing else fills its niche. It’s best used before you enter combat-cast the spell on a bottleneck, doorway, or other narrow path and lure enemies onto it.
A few things prevent it from being great, however. First, many enemies are immune to its effects, and if you’re dealing with humanoids, you might as well just use Aard. Second, although it has multiple charges, its radius is rather small, and it will usually only effect an enemy once as they cross it. It would be infinitely more useful if it consistently attacked enemies standing upon it-and sometimes it does, if you stand behind the Sign and force them to attack over it-but most of the time it will not. Third, it just doesn’t do enough damage. If you want to harass enemies, Aard is better, if you want to damage them, Igni is better. If you charge the spell up, Geralt will stomp the ground, causing the Yrden Sign to automatically trigger and harm all enemies within a larger radius. It’s a nice area of effect attack, but it’s much, much weaker than Igni, and once maxed Igni itself has a 360-degree radius… without charging.
One more minor gripe is the fact that Yrden takes longer to cast than Aard and Igni. Still, its utility as an ambush-Sign gives Geralt a tactical option otherwise unavailable… without Bombs, anyways. You can cast a Yrden before a big fight, wait for your Endurance to regenerate, lure the enemies onto it, and begin the fight at a decided advantage. You can only have one Yrden Sign active at once (although using the charged, area-of-effect form won’t dispel an active normal Yrden Sign.)
Igni shoots a cone (or a bolt, if you charge it up and have the right talents) of fire. It’s pretty weak at a first, but at higher levels its damage can get high enough to down Drowners in one shot. The real fun part is the inceneration, which can deal heavy, persistent damage to enemies. At higher levels, it’s often worth blasting a strong enemy before going at them with your sword in the hopes of setting them on fire… or as a parting shot before running away to regroup. It won’t get you coup-de-graces like Aard will, but it still comes in handy.
If you diligently level Endurance and Intelligence, Igni can become the best crowd-clearing attack at Geralt’s disposal. It can become so powerful that two shots can down even moderately powerful enemies, and Geralt’s full Endurance bar can dispatch even the strongest of non-boss monsters. Last but not least, you can also use it to light campfires, which eliminates the need for Flint entirely.
The Axii Sign is a pure status-affecting spell with a few dubious qualities. The base spell which causes "Hex" essentially gives you a chance to inflict the enemy with several incompatible statuses. Temporarily making the enemy an ally, for one, and on top of that putting them to sleep or blinding them. If you convert an enemy, why would you want said convert to be sleeping or blind? On top of that, you can only affect one enemy at a time with Hex-targeting a new enemy dispels the Hex on the previous one. With the investment of a gold talent you can inflict another enemy with Hex. On the other hand, the powered-up version of the spell can cause fear in a large radius around Geralt. Also, unlike the Hex function of the spell, causing fear doesn’t render the affected foe(s) immune to your attacks-especially follow-up Igni blasts. Overall, it’s hard to recommend investing the points required to make this Sign powerful enough to use.
Circle of the Elements
Circles of the Elements are handy little stones that teach you new spells. Once you’ve learned the spell that circle teaches, it’ll persist as a replenishing power-up that will enhance the effectiveness of the related sign for a duration. It can be a pretty handy to activate a circle to empower your Igni or Aard sign before an engagement.
Places of Power
Places of Power are areas of extreme magical intensity, where even novices like Geralt can draw power to enhance their spell-casting powers for a rather generous duration. You can initially perform the "Ritual of Magic", which increases your base sign intensity by 100% for five hours-a whopping bonus.
If you advance through the Intelligence tree and purchase the talents "Knowledge of the Cleansing Ritual" and "Knowledge of the Life Ritual", you’ll gain the ability to perform those at Places of Power, too. If you perform the 'Ritual of Purification" you’ll reduce your toxicity, and if you perform the "Ritual of Life" you’ll gain increased Vitality regeneration for an hour and a half. All in all, Places of Power are pretty cool, especially since their best ritual doesn’t require any talents.