February 5, 2023

Geralt looks at a village in the distance.

Screenshot: CD Project Red/ Kotaku

Nearly seven years later, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt doesn’t just hold up: it still stands head and shoulders above most competitors. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla maybe bigger, and Horizon Forbidden West may be prettier, but practically no other game unites magic, monsters and gritty politics into a meaty open-world adventure where every character and conflict gets to be the master of its own truth. A free new one “next-gen” upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S doesn’t fundamentally change that calculus, but it repackages it into something easier than ever to fall in love with.

The witcher 3 is now almost as old as Halo 3 was then Halo 5 launched, and has become an equally important touchstone. An adaptation of the fantasy series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the game is ostensibly about a mutant monster slayer named Geralt who hunts down his magical surrogate daughter named Ciri to save her from alien ghosts called The Wild Hunt. It’s just as much a work drama about a middle-aged parent tying up loose ends and reconciling with past friends before backing away from the one thing they’re good at. Two huge expansions after the game’s launch, its size doubled and yielded even bigger payouts.

Save data transfers

I couldn’t use my old save data because a new cross-save feature isn’t live yet. Once it hits December 14, CD Projekt Red says players will be able to transfer files without any issues, including between the PS4 vanilla version and the full edition, which is currently not the case.

While the exploration and RPG crafting are great, it’s the top-notch writing and performances that capture resigned dignity in the face of endless hardships that have led to widespread critical acclaim, tens of millions in sales, and the coming creator CD Projekt Red is regarded as a first class studio. “This land never flowed with milk and honey, and now it flows with blood,” says a disposable figure early on. It is characteristic of an acceleration The witcher 3 shifts from.

Read more: A year of articles left The witcher 3

So what about the upgrade 14 Dec. from? The first time I booted the next-gen version of Lot 2 on PS5, I was rightly surprised. Bungie’s beautiful alien sandbox, which I had played for hundreds of hours over several years, felt like a whole new game. That’s not at all the reaction I had when I started the PS5 version The witcher 3, a game I’ve also put a lot of time into on older hardware. It looks better and flows better – the scenery is fuller, the puddles bigger, the frame rate smoother – but it feels a lot more like staring at a new paint job than driving around in a brand new car.

A screenshot shows a river in Novigrad from The Witcher 3 on PS4.

Novigrad as seen in the PS4 version of The Witcher 3.
Screenshot: CD Project Red/ Kotaku

A screenshot shows a river in Novigrad from The Witcher 3 on PS5.

On PS5, the water and lighting effects have been improved, as well as background visual details.
Screenshot: CD Project Red/ Kotaku

The most important part of the free upgrade is a new performance option mode. On Xbox Series X and PS5 (which I play on) you can switch between ray-tracing or 60fps. While ray tracing is great for capturing photos in the new photo mode, slightly but noticeably improving light contrast, reflections and the overall sense of fullness and vibrancy in the scene, it’s also a bit broken. Having ray tracing leads to a fair amount of stuttering, frequent frame rate dips, and an overall more jarring experience.

60fps, on the other hand, keeps everything from combat to cutscenes looking sharp without sacrificing too much graphical fidelity. Players on PC have been living this way for a while, but it remains the biggest benefit of “next-gen” gaming to date, and the Witcher 3 console experience benefits greatly, especially when so much of the game’s charm and personality rests on a world that feels like it goes on uninterrupted even when you’re not there.

You can finally run around Novigrad like a kid coming home from school without the game itching.
Poison: CD Project Red / Kotaku

The next step is the addition of fan mod 4K textures and other additional visual details. Smoke rises from village chimneys in the distance. Foliage of all types is thicker, down to random patches of roadside grass. Cobblestone streets look a bit grittier, while bodies of water seem to splash and flow a bit more naturally. These are all minor differences. Some of them were obvious thanks to all the time I spent with the original version of the game. Many were collected only by pouring over comparative screenshots.

They do produce a small but cumulative effect, though, and perhaps nowhere is it more pronounced than in Novigrad, a seaside fortress city that is home to some of the game’s most memorable characters and missions. In the old version of The witcher 3the framerate can really start to drop if people and streets jump in and out of sight. In the PS5 version, that is no longer a limitation. Geralt can sprint through alleyways in Achievement mode without any problem, while wet cobblestones and additional NPCs make the commercial center livelier than ever.

Image for article titled 'Next-Gen' Witcher 3 is a nice upgrade whether you're new or coming back

Screenshot: CD Project Red/ Kotaku

Elsewhere, inventory adjustments and draw magic hotkeys continue the long process of clearing out The witcher 3once notoriously arcane RPG systems. There’s also a new armor quest sequence that I haven’t gotten to yet, and some updated alternate looks for a few of the characters. Most of the time I just enjoy tinkering with the UI display settings to keep the screen as minimalistic as possible while once again hunting for ghosts at dusk. The main map, once besieged by quest icons, is now thankfully mostly blank by default outside of the main points of interest.

The Crows Perch in Velen, a notorious pain point for fast travel early in the game, still remains baffling outside the The fortress of the bloody baron. The third-person camera also remains picky at times. And while it’s hard not to pull out the new photo mode every 10 feet while replaying one of my favorite games, there are few options to tinker with compared to the ones you’ll find in a Sony first-party game. Otherwise there is little room for improvement at the moment.

I felt the same way when I last put the game down in 2019 on my second playthrough. And while I wouldn’t pass up CDPR to come out with a few more patches also to address things like some of the stuttering in ray-trace mode, the dwindling revenue means that the upgrade of the new generation feels like a deserved victory lap rather than something closer to a 2.0 refresh. I’ll take it. It’s free after all, and three hours of testing the update was all I needed to lose myself in 2015’s GOTY all over again.

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