When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was originally released in 2015, it set a new standard for action-oriented role-playing games. It was markedly better than the first or second Witcher game, had a large and open world which was filled with content and quests, and looked really amazing whether players were enjoying it on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or the PC. Our reviewer at the time, Billy White, gave the game 4.5 out of 5 GiN Gems in his review, and the title went on to win several Game of the Year awards, not just for Gameindustry.com but with many other publications as well.
The DLC follow-ups to the core game, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine were also well received, with both earning perfect 5 GiN Gem overall scores. In addition to the paid DLCs, developer CD Projekt RED also released about two dozen free DLCs which covered everything from offering new adventures to a choice of new hair and beard styles for our perennial hero Geralt of Rivia.
The Witcher 3 was memorable for a lot of reasons including the amazing characters, great plots and sub-plots, fluid battle actions, complex character building and leveling, and a genuine desire by players to help Geralt and Ciri reunite and save the world. But even so, after almost eight years, most players had moved on. On the PC side, unofficial player mods were created to fix minor bugs and improve the graphics, but for console players, other than a small uptick in performance when first playing it on a next generation Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, the game world remained pretty static. Now, CD Projekt RED has done it once again, releasing a fully next generation upgrade for the complete edition of the game (which includes all previous DLCs) that converts The Witcher 3 into a truly modern title. And it’s free, so it’s doubly great.
By now, the new version of the game has rolled out for all platforms, so all you need to do is download it to get started. You can even transfer your saves over from previous generation games if you want to play without starting a whole new run. CD Projekt RED provided GiN with an advance copy of the enhanced game, so we were able to explore the world for a couple weeks before the official launch. And although there is a lot in the revised title to enjoy, the core of what everyone will see, at least at first, is obviously going to be the graphical improvements.
In general, everything is going to look more detailed, right down to the scratches and scars on Geralt. His armor sets have also gotten a considerable upgrade so that leather looks like real material now in a variety of dyed colors, his chainmail is beautifully rendered, and the plate mail is shiny and looks like the heavy armor that it is. In addition to general graphical improvements, the developers also incorporated a fan mod by HalkHogan which reskins almost the entire world in 4K textures so that everything from Roach’s tail to small patches of grass along the side of the roads looks like you would expect in a fully modern game with 4K textures. Another mod by Denroth does the same thing for the monsters so that they all look extremely scary now. But even with their visual upgrade, the monster modder did a good job of preserving the original artist’s work for most creatures, so it maintains the same Witcher 3 feel. Even the world map has been beefed up and decluttered for easier viewing, and it makes it a more practical tool for finding your way.
Character models all look great now, even though they were not bad before. But where you will likely see the most improvement (if you can remember what the old world looked like) will be in cluttered cityscapes like Novigrad or rolling countryside areas where the draw distances for distant objects have increased, tiny landscape details like cobblestone streets or forest foliage are more detailed, and there is less blur or distortions even for parts of the world which are really far away from the player’s position. To help visualize those differences, take a look at the following screenshot of a wilderness area captured using a PlayStation 4.
It looks pretty good, right? But it’s not exactly NextGen. And now, here is the same area rendered on a PlayStation 5 with the new next generation upgrade applied.
Clearly, the PS5 screen with the next generation upgrade is much more detailed, with players able to see farther into the distance. Note the realistic water textures too, which received a huge upgrade that is extremely noticeable in places like Skellige which are surrounded by water in most locations. You might also notice fewer fog or smoke effects in the upgraded version. While those did help to set the mood, in reality they were used by the developers to hide some of the visual flaws of the original game. Now, the developers clearly want players to gaze at the world, so much of the foggy covering has been eliminated.
On the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, players have a choice of two different game modes. The first is called Ray Tracing mode, which enables more realistic lighting while traced ambient occlusion makes surfaces seem more real. However, the second mode, called Performance, works to keep it running at 60 frames per second at all times (which can’t be done on console hardware with active ray tracing). In truth, the Performance mode works better in most cases. Taking a still picture in photo mode might look slightly better using Ray Tracing mode, but Performance still looks amazing without sacrificing gameplay performance, even in densely packed areas. PC players also have a few exclusive graphical extras now including DLSS, which uses artificial intelligence to boost framerates while keeping visual fidelity, and ray traced reflections and shadows.
The new upgrades are more than just graphical up-skinning, however. Besides numerous bug fixes and tweaks (thanks again to player mods that are now included in the game), it runs much more smoothly overall. You can now run through Novigrad without a hint of slowdown. The developers put out a video to explain some of the other improvements that they made to the NextGen version of the game which is pretty interesting. Watch it below if you want to know all about the tiniest improvements.
The interface improvements are really well done. You can now quick cast Witcher signs without having to open up the radial menu. This makes heavily sign-based builds (which I like to personally use) much more viable with instant quick casting. And it frees up and declutters the radial menu so that using other tools like bombs is also much easier. Those interface changes are also optional, so if you like the old control scheme better, then feel free to keep using them.
Other improvements include things like reduced fall damage, so Geralt can tumble down from greater heights. And you can now precisely control your walk speed with the controller, so you are no longer limited to either running, stopping or slow-walking through towns. Tapping the left stick now makes you begin to sprint right away too, which is a nice touch. And thankfully, inventory management has also been greatly improved. When picking flowers and plants (something that you will likely do a lot if you are into brewing potions or just want to make a little extra cash) is now instant. No window opens up when harvesting, and you don’t have to select which leaves or petals to grab. You tell the game you want to loot a plant and the contents instantly go into your inventory.
On the PlayStation 5, where this review was conducted, the game now also makes use of the haptic feedback functions of the PS5 controllers. That makes combat and other activities a lot more immersive by adding another sense for the players to experience.
As a final little goody, the title also makes a nod to the excellent Witcher series on Netflix. You can equip many of the silver and steel swords from the television series onto your character in the game as well as outfits and armor sets as seen on TV. You just need to go on a short new quest to find them. Favorite characters like Dandelion also get a makeover with outfit choices from the Netflix series available as an alternative look for our amazing bard and sometimes sidekick. And Nilfgaardian soldiers also get some cool new armor sets featured in the show, which makes them look even more royal and formidable.
The enhancements in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are very impressive. Although it does not quite upgrade the game to the level of a just-released next generation title, it’s pretty close. Anyone who has not yet played this incredible series now has one more excuse to jump in and give it a try. And for those like me who have already played through the title and all its DLCs at least once, the level of improvements found in the new next generation upgrade certainly make it worthwhile to jump back into this amazing world one more time. It’s easily one of the best free upgrades that you could possibly ever get, and a great final send off for this deep and enjoyable RPG.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X