3 years since my last attempt, I finally beat the hardest boss in The Witcher 3 and realized I'd been doing it all wrong

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
(Image credit: CD Projekt RED)

Some people get adrenaline from going for a jog, but I felt sick with it after besting Dettlaff in The Witcher 3 for the first time. The high vampire boss fight has been the thorn in my Mastercrafted Wolven Armor since 2021, when I caved and finally bought all of the game's DLC after coming down with COVID. Dettlaff quickly became the cause of all my witchering strife, and the very reason I have opted to just start a new playthrough time and time again rather than put myself through the shame of it. I've spent three years resolutely avoiding that final rendezvous at Tesham Mutna, and for three years, I've lived with my private shame.

This week, I decided that I'm sick of giving up on a game I adore because of my own frustrations. At first I toyed with starting a Blood and Wine-only new game slot, but my abandoned save file from May 2021 taunted me like a playground bully, daring me to finish what I'd started. Imagine my surprise when I loaded back in and realized that maybe Dettlaff wasn't the problem, and my terrible build was.

Skill tree issue 

The Witcher 3 Dettlaff fight build

(Image credit: CD Projekt RED)
Walking the Path

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

(Image credit: EA)

The Witcher 3 is among the best RPGs ever.

The fight against Dettlaff feels almost like a Soulslike for how punishing it is. Playing The Witcher 3 on regular mode had never posed too great (or little) a challenge up until the late-game stages of Blood and Wine, where I found myself feeling totally terrible at a game I thought I enjoyed. As a result, I never did get to see Geralt retire to his quiet life at Corvo Blanco with Yennefer – and that fact has haunted me ever since.

I honestly have no idea what I was thinking back in 2021. Having loaded back into an autosave file just before intervening between Regis and Dettlaff, I see that I have all my best gear equipped – the Manticore Armor set, superior vampire oil for my silver sword, plenty of decoctions and potions at my fingertips. But as I throw myself once again before Dettlaff, only to quickly die again and again during his second phase, I finally think to check my skill tree and mutations. And oh boy, okay, now I see the problem. 

My abandoned Geralt still had 23 ability points to use. Apparently, at some point during this epic 140-hour playthrough, I'd simply stopped acknowledging Geralt's skill tree and decided to just wing it. Again: what on earth was I thinking back in 2021? No matter, I tell myself. I can fix him.

Following hours of trial, error, and YouTube videos, I formulate a plan for each of Dettlaff's three stages. First, I make sure to swig both a Leshen and Griffin decoction as well as a Tawny Owl potion. I also make sure I have Enhanced Black Blood at my fingertips, just in case. When it comes to the build, I opt for something very sign-heavy. Igni, Yrden, and Quen will be key for me in each respective stage of the fight, so Supercharged Glyphs and Quen Intensity are mandatory. I also activate the Euphoria mutation to increase my sword damage in line with each point of toxicity – and given all the witcher potions he's ingested, Geralt is looking pretty toxic. Pair all this with the best (and least-broken) sword in my inventory and that Manticore Armor set, and I'm actually feeling half okay about my chances against Dettlaff three years later.

En garde

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine - Dettlaff final stage

(Image credit: CD Projekt RED)

Maybe Dettlaff wasn't the problem, and my terrible build was.

With the power of Igni, I dance through the first round by dodging Dettlaff's attacks and chucking fire in his eyes. I seize the opportunity to get a few healthy stabs in while he's grumbling about his burning peepers. This stage was never the issue for me though, if I recall correctly; it was all about the second. 

As Dettlaff transforms into some fleshy bat-monster thing, I back myself right up and quickly switch my sign to Yrden. From here, I need to think fast: Dettlaff has a three-part attack pattern, usually kicking off with his extremely tricky to avoid barrage of bats. It tends to knock about 60% off my health every time and I absolutely hate it. He then follows this up with either a rush attack or an aerial one that seems to stake you with a pillar of blood.

Yrden is my absolute savior here. Thanks to Supercharged Glyphs, I am able to quickly chuck down a protective warding right before Dettlaff rushes me, knocking him to the side and causing him to lose extra health while I chip away at him with my sword. The bats are by far the hardest to dodge, and to get the timing right, I find myself having to count out loud. But between the Yrden strategy and these carefully timed dodge-stab-dodge patterns, something incredible is happening: a cutscene. A merciful cutscene, signifying the start of Dettlaff's third battle stage. My heart is in my throat, and I can feel my hands getting shaky. I've never been so close to defeating this bastard of a vampire. Now, victory is in sight.

The first time I reach Dettlaff's third stage, I die in one hit. Typical, but understandable, since I'd forgotten to swap over to Quen. I take a more aggressive approach in this round compared to the last two, focusing my attacks on the three pulsating hearts while ignoring the bloody visage of Dettlaff that follows me around. My Quen shield lets me tank it through his powerful blows, and I can just recast it again and again as needed. Amazingly, this actually works. I spam Quen and keep wailing on the hearts, angling myself so that my sword strikes might also hit Dettlaff as well as my main targets. This goes smoother than I'd expected it to, and within a minute, it's all over.

Defeating Dettlaff was a dizzying experience after all these years, especially after being confronted with my unspeakably bad build. Even more fulfilling, though, was the chance to see Geralt finally get a happy ending. I'd never gotten to see the true ending of Blood and Wine before, and yes, I managed to get the good endings for both the royal sisters and Geralt himself. I too feel ready to resign myself to a vintner's life in Toussaint after all the emotional, mental, and psychic damage that Dettlaff has dealt me over the years, but at the same time, I'm struck by an emptiness. What is life without the challenge of a great foe lingering overhead, after all? I guess I'll have to set my sights on a new unbeatable nemesis. Malenia, you're probably next.

Playing a drunken Geralt in The Witcher 3 is actually OP? Apparently so.

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.