The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the finer games from the past decade and it is well loved by PC gamers all over. With the release of its patch 4.0, also known as “the next-gen edition” – it has received massive upgrades to its graphics, performance, balance, and even some new content, as well as fixes and new features. Today we will be taking a look at this new update to see if CD Projekt Red has managed to craft a great upgrade for the PC version of the game.
The new content – “In the Eternal Fire's Shadow”
As a celebration for the game’s update and its official re-release on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the game received a brand new quest in Velen that explores some of the darkest secrets of the Church of the Eternal Fire. I do not want to spoil this quest, but it can lead the player to finding information on one of the new suits of armour, the same piece Henry Cavill wears in Seasons 1 and 2 of the Witcher TV show. With that aside, the quest itself is legitimately very good and quite macabre. It is definitely worthy of your time. Its only real issue in my opinion is that some of the voice acting is obviously different to the base game – especially for Geralt. This is probably due to CDPR having new tools and recording equipment, plus Doug Cockle being slightly older than he was before.
The other piece of new content is tamer, but still quite interesting. Two new armour pieces are available to the player from Vizima. They are relatively low level but darn do they look good and will help new players look cool while in Velen and Novigrad, at least until they get to the upgraded Griffin or Cat school sets. Oh, and a new Roach gwent card too!
One thing that is not new but does ‘de facto’ represent extra content, is that certain mini quests and cut scenes are now added back into the game. Nothing major or super notable, it seems that they were just bugged before or were cut for no real reason. Some mods restored all of these quests and interactions but it is good to know that CDPR decided to reactivate them for the new versions of the Witcher 3 – officially!
Graphical fidelity – DirectX12, DirectX Ray Tracing (DXR), FSR 2.1, TAAU, HD Textures and more!
The new update introduced a new API for the game – DirectX12 as an upgrade over the original DX11 version of the title. Alas, this is the one part of the new update that CD Projekt Red basically failed at. And they failed *hard* here. DX12 is made to be superior in terms of performance, especially in CPU-bound scenarios to DX11. That is its original intention. Everything else it may offer came later. Under equal settings and graphics, a decent DX12 implementation should always defeat DX11 in terms of frame rate and general performance. However, that is not the case in the new patch for The Witcher 3. In fact, under equal settings the DX12 version can run up to 30% slower than the DX11 version.
Novigrad and other larger settlements destroy CPU performance in DX12 mode…
As per the developers, it should be better looking than the original DX11 renderer in general, but try as I might, I cannot find a real difference. This means that even if there is one indeed, it is so small, so tiny, that it should not matter and definitely not be enough to make an excuse for a 30%+ drop in performance.
Do note – the initial reports that the game is not using DX12 natively seem to be somewhat true. The developers have managed to improve DX12 performance noticeably since release, but it is not enough. It comes of as being very poorly made. Perhaps this is fully fixable, I do hope so. But as it is, unless you are brandishing monstrous Zen 4 / Zen 4X3D or Zen 3X3D chips, or perhaps Intel’s newest 13th gen chips – stick to the DX11 version.
The next upgrade to the game is in its Anti-Aliasing and thankfully it is actually a great change compared to how the original worked. The original release up to version 1.32 of the game had a very poor type of TAA based on modified FXAA. Yeah, it was basically FXAA with a temporal pass. Either way its results were quite poor.
The new edition has the addition of actual, good Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TAA). And quite good TAA at that. The difference in shimmer and image clarity is there, this is a pure upgrade. However, do note that as with all types of TAA – it is best with higher resolutions and frame rates. At lower resolutions, it is often not optimal. The fact that it can be freely enabled or disabled is also a plus for people at these low resolutions, and for 4K or above users – this is a huge deal and it works in both APIs.
The next notable upgrade for the engine is FSR 2.1 – it is one of three ways to upscale the game (others being DLSS and TAAU) and it does a decent job in this title. I would have wished for FSR 2.2 integration to be honest, since it is better still, but this is better than nothing. Techniques like FSR 2.0+ do allow a wide variety of gamers to get better or playable performance on their cards. The only issue is… it works only in DX12 mode and as we discussed before – DX12 is semi-broken in this version of the game.
Remember, DX12 should run BETTER than DX11… Many thanks to Digital Foundry for this one!
The next and perhaps best upgrade over the base game in terms of visuals is the integration of a fair few HD Texture mods into the base game. Yes, mods. Namely for the environment and the monsters, plus some weapons and armour. They are now officially a part of the game and their visual impact is very significant. Do note – they do not really affect performance, but they do require video RAM. Thankfully, even with them The Witcher 3 is relatively light on VRAM requirements and this works for both DX11 and DX12.
The last major upgrade to the game is its ray tracing mode. I am generally a huge proponent to ray tracing in games, especially if it is done well. Alas, the situation here is complicated. There are real visual gains to be had with Ray Traced Global Illumination, Ambient Occlusion, and Reflections being on. Not the best implementations, but they do work wonders overall on an open world game with dynamic time of day and weather like The Wild Hunt. The issue is… performance. It is terrible. And it isn’t terrible just because it is at times GPU limited in very odd situations, even though that is a part of the issue. I believe that the game’s terrible DX12 implementation is to some extent hampering CPU and GPU performance with ray tracing enabled. In fact, in certain scenes I am absolutely certain that DX12’s insane CPU performance impact is for sure hampering DXR as well. So for now at least, few GPUs’ will be able to pull it off at higher resolutions. I really hope the situation improves though, because while DXR is a big upgrade to the Witcher 3, the specific effects on display here are not as good as they were in Cyberpunk 2077… which is an easier to run game (!!!) and prettier too.
Finally, there are two more minor but still good improvements to the game’s graphics. The new Ultra+ settings offer a higher tier of settings over the base game. It is 5% better visuals for a fair bit bigger performance impact, but I do like these extreme settings. Ultra alone is still great, but now you can mix and match even better – a 6700 XT has 12 GB of VRAM, it can easily do Ultra+ textures for example.
And lastly – new weather modes and cycles. Small thing, massive impact on atmosphere on a 200-hour game! Combined with more advanced foliage physics (it can react to Geralt now) and better texturing, the atmosphere is indeed enhanced.
The minor stuff – fixes and rebalancing.
The Next Gen patch has also fixed many older bugs and made numerous rebalances to the game. Many of these changes were inspired by some of the bug fix or rebalance mods that came out since the game’s launch and they do add up. One of the more notable changes I can attest to is that the Grandmaster Wolven Armour got better set bonuses. Still somewhat weak to be frank, but a lot better than it used to be (though the game is easy so go for fashion always!). Others are quest fixes, bigger or more sensible rewards for certain quests, price adjustments, damage and adrenaline and runewright rebalances… it does add up for sure.
New camera modes are available and customizable. I do not like them to be honest, but some people will for sure love them. Also, the photo mode which you can clearly see me using for this article – it is an excellent feature for sure!
Dandelion got a new look inspired by the Netflix TV series. I personally like it, though the original one from the game is still the one I prefer. Thankfully it can be toggled at will. The funny looking Nilfgardian armours from Season 1 are also an option. I have no idea who would want to use them unironically, but they are great for the memes!
Netflix vs CDPR… yeah
Finally, there is new voice acting in Korean and Chinese as well as improvements to certain older VOs. I cannot attest to the quality of these voiceovers, but I am happy that those nations will get to experience a fully voiced experience.
The Next-gen edition of the Witcher 3 is honestly very good, but it still needs work. In fact, I love almost everything about the patch except for the lack of FSR 2.2 and XeSS, and the abysmal DX12 performance (which also makes ray tracing needlessly hard to run too!). If CD Projekt Red can fix these issues, they will be golden, so here is to hoping they can iron out these problems soon! They already did show some tangible progress on the DX12 front, but it is far from enough.
Oh… and functioning HDR too? But perhaps that ship has sailed. I will take the fixed DX12 renderer please!
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