The Witcher 3 Next-Gen Review: One of the Best RPGs Ever Made

Published on December 12, 2022

The “next-gen” upgrade for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is almost here, and we’ve spent a few days playing through the first few hours of the game (very leisurely) to see what it’s like.

We’ve got good news: It’s a complete Witcher 3 experience with some light quality-of-life improvements and a considerable graphical boost. It also still serves as a benchmark for RPG design, and as a result, other games seem dull in comparison.

I tried out the update on PlayStation 5 and found it to be based on three major topics: visual enhancements, fan modifications that have been integrated into the game itself, and some new DLC that adds aesthetics from Netflix’s The Witcher series to the game.

Image: CD Projekt Red

A performance mode that keeps the game running at 60 frames per second is available, and I have been aware that PC players have been living in this world for quite some time, but Geralt of Rivia cutting Drowners in half while dancing is one of my favorite things. Outside of the action, Geralt’s facial expressions are also fascinating to watch at 60 frames per second on a big 4K television. Geralt’s ‘hrmms’ and ‘uh-huhs,’ which are expressed with minute changes in expression, are at the core of his personality, and the cleanness of the game’s lines and motions are emphasized in performance mode, along with well-defined edges and a slightly softer color palette.

The fact that the performance mode didn’t make the fans in my PS5 spin is also a bonus. On my prior-generation playthroughs, whenever Geralt attempted to converse with townsfolk or ride Roach through a monster-infested marsh, it sounded like my PS4 was about to launch into space.

Image: CD Projekt Red

The 30 fps ray tracing mode in the patch update didn’t impress me nearly as much as the lighting adjustments. It’s possible that my television or an actual frame rate issue was at fault, but turning on the fidelity-driven mode seemed to introduce a stutter. It also seemed to break the audio syncing between character models in an early scene with sorceress Yennefer (switching to Performance mode immediately fixed the issue). Although I didn’t play for very long, I simply wanted to see the effects of the major lighting changes.

I will keep playing the game in performance mode because it allows the game to play to its strengths. The world of Geralt is a real world, and the new 4K textures allow it to be seen as such. The light ray tracing in this game is subtle but effective, enhancing the exciting motion rather than distracting from it. The swamps of Velen are otherworldly in The Witcher 3’s 2022 rendition—they appear almost like Vaseline that has been spilled across the landscape. Fantasy Vaseline, in other words.

These days, graphics are better, and mods that simplify inventory management and map navigation are great. What I’m not convinced about is whether or not they’re the exciting thing about returning to The Witcher 3 in 2022. If you’re lured in by these elements, you might want to replay the game or, if you’re lucky, experience the interconnected worlds of commoners, creatures, immortals, and lords for the first time. These are what get you in the door, but they’re not the party.

The Witcher 3’s story, which encompasses a huge amount of political and interplanar events, is still wonderful, and it makes most other open-world RPGs (and most other games, for that matter) seem inferior in comparison.

Image: CD Projekt Red

The first area of the game, White Orchard, serves as a catch-up for veterans and a tutorial for new players. The game begins with Geralt and his pseudo-father Vesemir hunting a gryphon while pursuing their friend Yennefer, who has disappeared. When Geralt and Vesemir are unexpectedly dragged into the world of witchers, they must solve the problem of satisfying local politics and hunting a gryphon at the same time. Because the game takes less than two hours (for some people), it’s packed with information about the world and the goals of its characters, big and small. We discover what nations are battling and how they operate, as well as who might seize power if the invaders win. We see issues and the hope for a brighter future, as well as old prejudices that remain and new ones that arise.

Geralt is so sick and tired of his home that we can sense his displeasure and anger through his eyes. We learn how to feel the same way from him, and we may be stunned by the short-sightedness of its inhabitants. The moment I realized I had finished with The Witcher and was no longer interested in it, I was surprised by how easily I became absorbed in this fantasy world again. Despite improvements to character alignment and immersion (the UI is less noticeable now, and the menus are smoother to navigate), that is what will keep players fascinated over the next few weeks or even months. That magic was always present.

Although I was playing The Witcher 3 again, I was strangely preoccupied with another game, Cyberpunk 2077. I thought about how little it evoked the success of The Witcher 3 while playing Cyberpunk 2077 earlier this year. The Geralt story has little to do with him personally. He is present for some crucial moments, but warriors live and die without him. Dynasties fall, monsters kill the weak, and life goes on without him as well. He is a hero when he is present, and he acts when necessary, but his world is not driven by a protagonist. The humble fantasy world he inhabits contrasts sharply with the over-the-top emphasis on the player character in Cyberpunk 2077, a self-centered game in which it seemed like people weren’t present unless they were visible to the player. In that game, history was purposely arranged so that the protagonist V could inherit it. Geralt is virtually invisible in comparison.

I am looking forward to the next-generation upgrade because it will enable more people to experience it. However, I was saddened by where we have been and, given the future of The Witcher series, where a post-Cyberpunk Witcher game might go. I hope CD Projekt Red builds on its 2015 RPG rather than its 2020 iteration.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s next-gen upgrade will be available on Dec. 16 on PlayStation 5, Windows PCs, and Xbox Series X.

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