Now that The Witcher 3 has been out for more than seven years, CD Projekt RED’s decision to revisit the game and give it a slew of graphic updates came as a pleasant surprise. First, we’ll examine the PC build, which offers the most improvements over the original release, and then we’ll go on to the console versions. Put simply, the ray tracing improvements are great and completely game-changing, however, there are obvious performance issues that must be fixed.
While the majority of our performance testing was done with the first release code, we held off on publishing until we had retested with the hotfix update, and we’re sorry to report that any changes CDPR has made do not address any of our key criticisms.
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To start with the bright side, the developer’s backing for ray tracing features is amazing. An RT global illumination solution that relies on probes is provided in the form of RTXGI. Furthermore, real-time ambient occlusion helps objects feel more integrated into their surroundings. Last but not least, RT reflections and shadows are introduced, rounding out a wide variety of visual enhancements.
Improvements that do not rely on RT are also available. If you don’t use the RT reflections, we add screen-space reflections for bodies of water and provide a number of ‘ultra plus’ quality settings. Two of these, in particular, stand out: increasing foliage density and distance substantially improves far-off detail, making the default extreme setting look almost comical by comparison.
Also, the numerous tufts of vegetation are denser and reach further into the distance as a result. The NPC density at ultra-plus settings has also increased, and this is most noticeable in massive cities like Novigrad.
The new update doesn’t stop with the ultra plus settings; there are more improvements to be found throughout. While I can’t comment on the quality of other cutscenes, I was pleased to discover that the subpar film from the game’s introduction had been replaced and now played in what seems to be real-time, looking much better.
Patch 4.01 for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is being rolled out on PC, PlayStation and Xbox. It improves the overall stability and performance of the game on next-gen consoles and PC, and brings various fixes to all platforms.
— The Witcher (@witchergame) February 2, 2023
In addition to this polish, the next-gen upgrade introduces a variety of new assets and better-res textures, while features that were previously textured, such as the cobbles of Novigrad, are now full 3D geometry. The level of realism for NPCs has been increased, and the hero characters, such as Geralt, now cast detailed shadows even when not in cutscenes. Even torches can be seen casting shadows now around the game environment.
The new release has a significantly higher default mesh LOD level, which is not modifiable in-game. None of the ultra-plus options are responsible for this; it’s a feature of every default configuration. Outside the RT enhancements, the boost in detail is one of the most noticeable changes to the game.
If you’re wondering why ray tracing is so revolutionary in the 2015 edition of The Witcher 3, it’s important to understand how it’s implemented. Artists in the original game sparsely placed cube maps about the environment to handle bounce lighting for reflecting and drab surfaces, leading to a flat, blue-ish monotone look to lighting.
As you can see in the video and screenshots on this page, RTXIGI, and RTAO make a huge difference in terms of realism by introducing a lot of light bounce and color, which greatly improves the illusion of realism.
It depends on the context, but any additional RT impacts are a plus. Example: ray-traced reflections substantially enhance water surface rendering, again providing a massive improvement over a non-RT method. Seaside coves, ground-level puddles, and even the world’s little fountains all get a more polished appearance because of this.
One place I haven’t found this to be true is on the streams in the center of Skellige, where the RT reflections look a little shaky and static even if the water is moving. Tiled floors, armor, and weapons are not the only smooth and reflective objects to which RT reflections apply.
Screen-space shadows for tufts of grass give them a darkened and shadowed aspect that was otherwise absent in the original game, while ray-traced shadows do their usual job of providing distance and different degrees of sharpness based on their distance away from the shadow-casting source.
This is a huge improvement in my opinion, as the lack of shading in the original game made the grass appear flat and two-dimensional. But, there are some issues that need to be fixed; for example, I’ve seen RT shadows appear and disappear at odd periods for no apparent reason. I’d also like it fixed if RT shadows were interactively broken with Nvidia Hairworks.
The Witcher 3’s visuals seem to have gotten a lot better thanks to the game’s enhanced lighting and increased draw distances. It’s simple to get sucked back in and spend hours just exploring the game world for the sake of appreciating its visuals and atmosphere.
Indeed, it is a pleasure to return to the game world and experience it once more, this time in a different light. How much of a thrill it is for you will depend on your computer. Even without RT enabled, it is quite evident that the DirectX 12 version of the game has serious performance limits.
At the same time, the next-gen update has been released for the Origin version of the game.
— The Witcher (@witchergame) December 19, 2022
In comparison, The Witcher 3 was a DX11 launch title. The next generation upgrade is compatible with DX11 and DX12 modes, however, you’ll need DX12 for RT features, DLSS, and FSR2. Despite CDPR’s assertions to the contrary, I find it acceptable to make direct comparisons between the DX11 and DX12 versions using the same settings, since they seem identical in both cases when RT is disabled.
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You should expect a 45 percent performance boost in a busy Novigrad area when using DX11 instead of DX12, and that’s without RT being on. Hence, DX12 without RT is 54% faster than DX12 with RT enabled. It’s important to highlight that the GPU was significantly underutilized, hence the observed performance differences.
From what we can tell, the game is more CPU-intensive at maximum settings than Microsoft Flight Simulator or Spider-Man Remastered. Even though the CPU load drops dramatically in the countryside, the point is that a Ryzen 5 3600’s inability to keep up with a 12900K coupled with ultra-fast 6400MHz DDR5 is unacceptable.
DX12 and a mysterious under-utilization of the processor, where it seems that one or two threads are more completely busy, but any others aren’t affected to anything like the same degree, are the most major factors contributing to performance issues.
Nvidia DLSS 3 frame creation is the only option to overcome the CPU cap. Although it may appear counterintuitive, The Witcher 3’s frame generation is a game-changer if you have a powerful enough central processing unit (CPU). With DLSS 3, the frame rate is maintained, the frame time variance is reduced, and the latency impact is negligible.
— IGN (@IGN) April 13, 2022
Another thing I want to bring up is that there are other problems with the game. The shader compilation stutter is really frustrating, and I also noticed a stuttering effect on the camera’s panning action. All in all, CD Projekt RED has a long list of fixes to make to the PC version of The Witcher 3 in order to get it ready for the next generation of gaming hardware.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this new offering. I enjoy the enhancements, but there are several annoyances as well. The game looks fantastic, and the world is more detailed than ever before, but the performance hit from utilizing the new features is really high.
The CPU drain caused by using the DX12 route is intolerable and must be fixed immediately. The most recent hotfix patch did not resolve the underlying issues, thus it’s clear that a deeper dive is needed to get the game in shape.
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Frequently asked questions
Is The Witcher 3 next gen update on PC?
Finally, the time we've been waiting for has here! The Witcher 3: Next-Gen has been released to the public. With breathtaking visuals, brand new missions, and equipment inspired by the Netflix adaptation, PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series XIS users may relive the fantastic experience of The Witcher 3.
Will The Witcher 3 next gen update be free?
Everyone who already owns a copy of the game can download the next-gen upgrade for free.