I think what's really important to note here is the goal of the combat. The goal in The Witcher 3 (TW3) is to make you feel like you are Gerald from the books. He's a brutal swordsman with a genetics edge on regular humans, but he's no Superman.
The whole game's emphasis on monster hunting and combat with them is - imo - very well done. A generic player will just run at a beast and either die or win, but a good player will use the game's lore-mechanics. They'll read up on its beastiary to get a better understanding of the monster (sometimes doing sidequests to get this information), use the information to learn weaknesses such as potions, oils etc. You'll make those oils, the potions, prepare for the fight, make sure it is the right time of day so you have good visibility, kill off any nearby enemies so you have a clear room of engagement, and then you go in the cave or area and fight the beast.
Technically that's the combat. The fight itself isn't that 'deep' or impressive other than it looks impactful and shiny (good sfx on hit, enemies visibily react well timed to your attacks etc). I also like that there are two dodges (sidestep and roll), gives you plenty of options without messing with weapon styles or directions or lockon things like in Bloodborne and Nioh. Fights against humans are fast, brutal and bloody (lots of screaming). The spells are okay, they are more suplementary. I do feel it could've been done better, as right now you can easily spam it to hell and back.
But that's what I really like about the game, the whole fight before it. As such though, the game shines best under certain handicap runs. Doing things like Deathmarch No-HUD already breathes new life into the game.
To react to some of your points:
> soft lock
Ninja Gaiden did this too, and worse I feel. It is fine here and I never had any issue with it. If you cannot press a direction on the stick, that's your incompetence.
Some trees are a bit too good (potions), but all in all you're just very powerful. Sure you can use the most imbalanced build around, but again, you can do this too in DMC4 (DRI4), Bayonetta, Nioh, Ninja Gaiden Black (UF-spam).
Hardly. It's an extra shield. When upped it can be really good though, but it doesn't make you immortal as most note.
> Dark Souls
Hilarious, just shows how little action games these people play. Dark Souls is the only game in the genre they touched so if it has a sword, it must be Dark Souls. Otherwise it is Bloodborne.
Just a different style of game. It is more slow, but it does suffer (on consoles) from dropped inputs at times.
> Too easy
Most that say that used overpowered builds on Normal, so I don't see that as true. If you play on Deathmarch from the start the game gives plenty of hard fights. It is just easy to ignore those and level up a bit and then just gimp the enemy with your high level gear.
I feel adding stats here was a mistake, at least the whole level-concept.
> Basic sword attack animations vary depending on where the enemy is/distance. The pirouette animations.
That is just incorrect. They vary, yes, but they always do the same thing depending on what you are doing and where you are. Once you know that, you can always predict what type of slash you'll get. Metal Gear Rising had the exact same system and it never got a single complaint about it.
PS: I just know now that I want to write a Stinger article on this game too...fml.