Following our look at the PS5 and Series X versions of The Witcher 3 Complete Edition, we’re rounding out our coverage for this year by looking at the only version of the game we’ve yet to cover: Xbox Series S. Tempered of course, as we’re looking at a four-teraflop GPU at the heart of the console in a world where even the 12TF Series X rendering hasn’t run smoothly, so the omission of the ray tracing mode on Series S is hardly a surprise. The advantage? Series S still offers a 60fps performance mode and also a higher resolution 30fps ‘quality’ alternative – so how do they work?
Obviously the resolution targets differ for each: in performance mode we’re looking at a native 1080p target, and in quality mode CD Projekt RED targets 1440p. Dynamic scaling is possible, but in the case of the Series S it’s frankly been rare in testing; that’s how often each mode hits its resolution goals. As we compare the two modes, there are a few other differences to note above the pixel count and frame rate differences. First, to hit 60fps in performance mode, the leaf pull distance resets to a preset value, which essentially means more pop-in closer to the screen on the Series S at 60fps, while the quality mode attracts more plant life to the far distance .
Otherwise, every other setting between the two modes seems to match. Reflection quality, textures and even world shadows are all exactly the same. In my experience, the drop to 1080p and the lower leaf pull setting are really the biggest sacrifices to hit 60fps. Still, 60fps is the right choice for this one, even with its blurrier image. The main reason for this is that Series S, like PS5 and Series X, suffers from noticeable input latency issues in 30fps quality mode. I recorded a response time of 157ms on PS5 in RT mode – or 145ms if I subtract my TV’s own latency – and Series S has a similar level of latency for any input you make. The fact is, camera movement is noticeably slowed down, and the improved resolution and settings just aren’t worth that trade-off.
Taking a closer look at the Series S in relation to the Series X, the obvious loss is the lack of ray-traced ambient occlusion and global illumination. Interiors lack realistic shadows and light bounce isn’t as accurate. It’s a big difference indoors, with the shade of materials from the Series S appearing flatter, although in fairness to the Series S, outdoor areas are pretty similar in broad daylight. Even the resolution isn’t hugely different between the two, as both sides largely run at a native 1440p.
One of the bigger losses on Series S – a feature I’d hoped we’d still see despite the dropped RT features – is the updated screen space reflection technique. Unfortunately, the new SSR is completely missing from Series S as well, leaving us defaulting back to the more basic method of the last generation. It looks good, but we miss the puddle reflections and the reflections on armor that work so well in the PS5 and Series X RT modes. On a side note, the Series S’s quality mode actually runs at a higher leaf pull setting than our Series X run, making it comparable to PS5. But honestly I suspect this is a bug with Series X that will be fixed soon.
Speaking of the last generation, the older PS4 Pro version might be a more realistic point of comparison. After all, the PS4 Pro isn’t far off when it comes to raw power specs on paper: 4.2TF compared to Series S’s 4TF. It’s clear there’s a huge architectural difference between the two – not least a higher clocked Zen 2 CPU – which gives the Series S a crucial advantage in visual setup. Stacking Pro’s 30fps output with the Series S’s quality mode puts the character spacing way ahead. That drops a setting when you switch to the Series S performance mode, but in either mode it’s a huge upgrade over the previous generation.
Likewise, the texture quality and models have all been updated on Series S, in line with the other current generation machines. In addition, the shadow resolution is being improved all over the world. The final point here is that the number of NPCs on Series S is also typically similar to PS5 and Series X, meaning areas like Novigrad are packed with a bustling crowd, which PS4 Pro lacks.
Elsewhere, differences in image quality are all you need to consider. Series S renders at a native 1440p, while PS4 Pro targets 4K, recreating a base 1920 x 2160 image using checkerboard rendering. For my money, PS4 Pro ultimately delivers a sharper image. It’s a more linear scale to 4K, but on balance the boosted foliage, higher resolution textures, shadows and increased number of NPCs make the Series S more representative. It’s a similar story to the older One X version – which also targets 4K – generally producing a sharper image than what we get on newer machines. But again, One X lacks a huge list of other visual tweaks and upgrades.
In terms of performance, the Series S initially impresses with a rock-solid 30fps, no matter what I threw at the console and whichever of the classic stress points I used. Even on Heirarch Square, a true CPU stress test for PS5 and Series X, there are no issues. Series S has the same high NPC count as those much more powerful consoles, albeit without the ray-tracing features, and it definitely sticks to 30fps, unlike the two more expensive machines. The only performance flaw comes from autosave hiccups. Considering Series S’s similarity in CPU performance to PS5 and Series X, we can assume that the RT effects have a significant impact on sustaining 30fps on the other machines.
For improved input lag and smoother response, 60fps mode is the place to be, targeting 1080p and 60fps. Unfortunately, it’s not a solid 60fps lock by any means. For most wilderness riding, Series S is best suited, but there are significant drops all around the center of Novigrad, with swings reaching around 40° as we go over Heirarch Square. This is far worse than PS5 and Series X in their own performance modes, and really is the worst performing part of the game we’ve found. Even in other areas, however, there are problems: the fight with the bandits has sub-60 drops similar to PS5, while Crookback bog also has its moments.
Overall, the performance at 60fps outside of Novigrad is good enough, especially on a VRR-supporting display, but the heavier city drops could use addressing, for example. Between the sub-60fps drops in Performance mode and the higher latency of Quality mode, there’s no 100 per cent perfect way to play on Series S – although Performance mode is recommended. There are benefits to the full edition update in general regardless of mode. Load times are fast – almost identical to the Series X – while the foliage and texture quality improvements are fantastic in their own right. The absence of ray tracing features is a loss, but again, the upshot is that the Series S’s 30fps mode ultimately works better than the PS5 and the Series X’s more ambitious RT mode.
It’s an odd situation, but the verdict is similar to the verdict we had on the two premium machines. The Series S Complete Edition needs a little more time and a little more work to smooth out its rough points. Essentially, there’s a great release of The Witcher 3 for Series S owners here, and it might just be a patch or two away from where we need it.