The Witcher 3 next-gen review: Customize one of the greatest RPGs ever


The “next-gen” upgrade for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is almost here, and I spent a few days playing the first few hours of the game (very relaxed) to see what it’s like. I have good news: it is, in fact, a complete one Witcher 3 experience with some slight quality of life improvements and a substantial graphics upgrade. It also still serves as a high-water mark in RPG design, to the extent that other games still look bleaker by comparison.

The update, which I played on PlayStation 5, rests on three main pillars: visual upgrades, several fan mods integrated into the actual game, and some new DLC that integrates the Netflix aesthetic. The witcher series in the game.

The visual updates offer a performance mode that locks the game at 60 frames per second. They’re good frames, and while I know PC players have been living in this world for a while, the experience of kicking back on the couch and watching Geralt of Rivia pirouette while cutting Drowners in half can’t be beat. It’s also great outside action. Watching Geralt’s facial expressions at 60fps on a large 4K television is mesmerizing. His characteristic “hrmms” and “uh-huhs,” with their accompanying minor expression changes, were always at the core of his character; there’s a purity to the game’s lines and motion in performance mode that brings those things out and makes them all the more stylized, with well-defined edges and a slightly softer palette in between.

Image: CD Project Red

It also doesn’t hurt that performance mode never put the fans in my PS5 to work. By contrast, every time Geralt thought of talking to townspeople or galloping Roach through a monster-infested swamp during my last-gen playthroughs, it sounded like my PS4 was going to be launched into orbit.

I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the update’s 30fps ray tracing mode, though. I’m not sure if it was an interaction with my TV or a real frame rate issue, but turning on the fidelity-focused mode seemed to introduce real stuttering. Stranger still, in an early cutscene featuring the sorceress Yennefer, it seemed to completely break the audio sync with the character models (pausing the cutscene and switching back to Performance immediately fixed it). I didn’t leave it up much other than to just see how things looked with the big changes in lighting.

As I continue to replay the game on this newer console, I’ll continue to keep it in performance mode, if only because it allows the game to lean to its strengths. Geralt’s world is a world, and the new 4K textures, with their luscious greens and churned browns, create a beautiful backdrop against which Geralt and crew stand out. Whatever light beam tracing is used here, it’s just the right amount, without compromising the motion of it all. Velen was always largely swampy, but in The witcher 3‘s new 2022 incarnation, the swamps take on an ethereal look – almost as if globs of Vaseline are being poured over the wilderness. Fantasy Vaseline.

Geralt of Rivia takes on a minotaur-like monster in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's next-gen upgrade on PS5

Image: CD Project Red

Improved graphics, mods that make inventory management and map navigation a bit easier, and some throw-in DLC are all good. But I’m not sure they’re the explosively exciting thing to return to The witcher 3 in 2022. These are elements that could lure you in for a replay or, if you’re lucky, your first foray into the interlocking worlds of commoners, creatures, immortals, and lords that Geralt weaves through. Maybe they’ll make you come in, but they’re not side.

The party – by which I mean the vast political and interplanar story that takes place within The witcher 3 – is still incredible and still manages to make the vast majority of other open-world RPGs (most other spellreal) seem to be lacking in comparison.

Take White Orchard as an example. It’s the first part of the game, and it acts as both a catch-up for veterans of the franchise and a tutorial for new players. Geralt and his pseudo-father Vesemir try to meet their old friend Yennefer in the middle of a war zone, and she wasn’t where she told them she would be. Wary, they’re immediately drawn into things witches do: there’s a griffin to hunt and local politics to navigate, and the hunters must find a solution that satisfies both. The White Orchard portion of the game is less than two hours long (faster, for others), but it’s absolutely packed with information about the world and the goals of its characters, big and small. We get to know the nations that are at war. We learn about their policies and who could gain power if the invaders win. We see inefficiencies and hopes for a better future, and we see old prejudices persist and new ones emerge.

The Witchers Ciri and Geralt of Rivia rest against the trunk of a tree in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's next-gen upgrade on Xbox Series X

Image: CD Project Red

Geralt lives in a place as fleshed out as any game location has ever been, and more than that, he’s tired of it. Through him we learn to get enough of it ourselves and we can get angry at the short-sightedness of the residents. I was amazed at how quickly I got back into this fantasy world after thinking I was done with it and completely over it, having (I thought) played it for the last time a few years ago. The upgrades help with this sense of character alignment and being in the fiction – the UI is now more unobtrusive and there’s a new efficiencies in menus that make it all much faster to navigate – but that’s not what will keep people engaged for the foreseeable future weeks or even months. That magic was there all along.

Oddly enough, the prevailing thought that haunted me as I played The witcher 3 again was actually about another game. i was thinking about Cyberpunk 2077which I played earlier this year, and how little it played the successes of The witcher 3. A strength of Geralt’s adventure is how little it really has to do with him. He is in some important rooms and he meets movers and shakers, but warriors live and die without him. Dynasties fall. Monsters kill the weak. The mechanics of life happen, and he doesn’t have to be there to watch it all unfold – that’s what makes his story so compelling. He’s a hero when he’s around, and he’ll move or shake when he needs to, but his world isn’t driven by a protagonist. It is a humble fantasy, or at least pretends to be a fantasy, and vice versa Cyberpunk 2077 was so self-centered on the player’s part that it seemed like people didn’t exist if they weren’t in my line of sight. In that game, history happened so that protagonist V could be there to inherit it. Geralt is almost anonymous by comparison.

The next-gen upgrade will make that available to more people, and I’m excited about that. But it did make me feel melancholy about where we’ve been and, given the future of The Witcher franchise, where a post-Cyberpunk Witcher game could disappear. Here’s hoping CD Projekt Red’s RPG from 2015, rather than the one released in 2020, is the base to build on.

The next-gen upgrade for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be released on December 16 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC and Xbox Series X. The game has been reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code from CD Projekt Red. Vox Media has partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy here.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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