The Witcher 3 next-gen update review - Mixed mutations for a masterpiece

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Geralt fighting a possessed witcher in The Witcher 3.
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The door to an inn creaks shut. A white-haired man strides towards the bar, leaving muddy footprints in his wake. “Ain’t seen you around here in a good while,” remarks the innkeeper, adding: “Your armour looks a bit different.”

Geralt of Rivia, known to some as The White Wolf, others as The Butcher of Blaviken, and some as that fantasy bloke from Netflix, tries to respond, but as he does so, he finds himself frozen in place. This is only a momentary thing, but it’s clearly enough to be an annoyance to the witcher, who growls: “I’ve not even got the ray tracing on any more, this is the medium graphical setting."

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Taken aback, the innkeeper offers to pour old Gerry a drink, but the monster slayer clearly needs some time alone, making a beeline for the door and transitioning between three useful walking cadences as he does so. Outside, he locates a fast travel post and, having selected the familiar destination of Kaer Morhen, activates it. He then spends a good five minutes waiting for his beloved home to load up.

Loading and gooseberries

As you might have gleaned from the introduction, The Witcher 3’s next-gen update on PC suffered from a few performance issues during my time with it. While being able to whack all of the sliders up to max and enjoy the sights of The Continent as rendered via the ultimate in ray tracing magic, I felt that I couldn’t really get into the rest of the content offered by the update without discussing the elephant in the room. Even if CD Projekt Red is already working on, and deploying, some fixes to rectify it.

In the iteration of the update I played, sometimes turning on any of the ray tracing settings at any juncture would cause an instant crash, sometimes it’d slow load times to the point that you’ll be able to leave, make a cup of tea, and return without missing a beat. Other times it’d work just fine and look pretty spectacular, even if, assuming that you’re not rocking top-of-the-range equipment, the ray tracing will tank your framerate no matter whether you’ve engaged ‘ultra performance’ mode.

Kaer Morhen in The Witcher 3.

None of this would be too much of an issue were these problems completely eliminated by simply returning to the default graphical settings which don’t use ray tracing, but some of the issues, namely stuttering, extended loading times, and texture pop-in seemed to have leaked into these default options.

Playing on the regular ultra setting, I found that, in highly populated areas, my frame rate would regularly experience rapid drops to numbers as low as 15 and otherwise bounce randomly between about 40 and 25, with wall and building textures often popping in at the last minute. Load times when fast travelling to different points in the city were also of a similar length to when I had ray tracing switched on, albeit with fewer crashes hiding behind them.

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That said, in place of many of these crashes were periods when the game would freeze for a time while in the final stages of loading up, maintaining the dark hue of the loading screen over the semi-loaded location, before springing into life as normal after a couple of minutes. Going down to medium and low did mostly get rid of the latter three issues and increase the threshold of numbers the frame rate was bouncing between as I pottered about the city, but there were still periodic sudden drops accompanied by stuttering.

While Novigrad was the worst location for getting these drops, I also experienced a couple when exploring locations like Beauclair, Oxenfurt, and Kaer Trolde. Thankfully, rural surroundings and small villages, such as those in Skellige, were a lot more stable, even if they did still suffer from the freeze-upon-load issue and FPS drops upon fast travelling or leaving a cutscene. Blaming my own hardware is always my first instinct in these kinds of situations, but I’m reticent to do so, as others with beefier machines are reporting similar issues and I can’t recall the game running this badly when I replayed The Witcher 3 on the same PC earlier this year.

Wandering in the dark

Reinald in The Witcher 3.

Putting these graphical issues aside, if you’re a seasoned player using this update as an excuse to return to the game, the addition it makes, which you should definitely check out, is the new quest that ends with you getting a Netflix-inspired suit of wolf school gear. I came into this little adventure with low expectations, thinking that the armour itself would be the main draw and getting it would only involve a short jaunt packed with a couple of references to tossing coins at monster slayers.

Instead, I got to scythe through a lengthy dungeon that had its own uniquely creepy atmosphere and was populated by enemies I hadn’t fought a thousand times before. The story that drew me in as I ventured deeper and deeper into the plague pit that is Devil’s Pit mine was just as interesting and well-crafted as those accompanying the vanilla game’s beloved side quests and monster contracts.

Centering around a disease-fuelled spectre that’s possessed both the sufferers locked up in the pit by priests to stop the spread of their illness and a witcher sent to save them, this tale is dripping with moral quandaries and even ends will some great choice and consequence once you’ve dealt the creature a killing blow. At this point, you’ll earn the diagrams required to craft the armour, with dialogue between Geralt and the ghost of the possessed witcher even helping to provide lore explaining why the Netflix armour looks different to Geralt’s gear from the games.

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The quest also helps turn Devil’s Pit, which is a rather forgettable bandit camp in the vanilla game, into a location with its own story that you’ll probably return to every playthrough from now on, which is exactly the kind of thing these kinds of updates should aim to do.

Master armourers

Geralt in The Witcher 3.

Once you’ve crafted the Netflix set and its swords, which are dubbed ‘forgotten’ witcher gear, you’ll find they resemble what you’ve watched Henry Cavill wear pretty well, offering the perfect getup for those who enjoy the darker look. That said, if you’re after something more colourful, you should take a trip to Yennefer’s quarters in the Nilfgaard-occupied palace of Vizima.

Here, you’ll find a chest containing two other new armour sets, dubbed ‘armour of a thousand flowers’ and ‘white tiger of the west’, both of which also come with a pair of blades to match. The former is my least favourite, exhibiting rather muted naturalistic tones and basic patterns that might provide good camouflage, but lack much pizzazz. The second is much more interesting, with its bold red and gold tones and tiger-inspired designs really helping you stand out from the crowd, while its sabres offer a more practical-looking alternative to Olgierd Von Everec’s Redanian blade, which might be my favourite sword in the game.

While there’s no quest attached to these sets, they do come with a note from Yen explaining where in the world of the witcher they came from and how they came to be in the palace, showcasing the exact kind of attention to detail that made the base game so immersive.

Features of fury

Geralt from The Witcher 3 fighting some bandits.
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Outside of these larger additions, the update also boasts a menagerie of smaller-scale tweaks and features, many of which function a bit like the updates that arrived in the game during the first couple of years following its launch. For those who don’t get enough Netflix vibes from the armour, there’s the option to equip both Dandelion and all of the game’s Nilfgaardian soldiers with alternate gear that resembles their getups from the show.

For those who want something more practical, there’s the option to enable quick casting, a mechanic which changes up the way Geralt dishes out his magic by eliminating the need to open up the radial menu in order to switch up which sign you’re currently casting. This is one of those changes that’ll likely be more useful to newer players or those who’ve previously been put off by the game’s rather convoluted control system, as, in my case, I found it to be fighting a losing battle against years of built up muscle memory and combat instinct.

The same is true of the tweaks made to the radial menu itself, though I did like the additions of an alternate sprint button and three different walking animations, all of which help make movement more fluid, spicing up the act of going for a stroll through the forest. Said excursions are also made more immersive by the ability to instantly pick herbs and flora without having to go through a loot menu.

While you’re chilling in the countryside, you can also try out the new photo mode, a feature that I’ve always found it bizarre wasn’t included in the game at launch given the array of breathtaking vistas it chucks at your eyeballs on a regular basis. Well, it’s here now, and it’s definitely a photo mode, offering pretty much all of the options you’ll have come to expect from the versions of these modes included in games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2.

You’re also less likely to have a photo ruined by some bad clipping, with the likes of hair, armour, and swords now being slightly more well-behaved in this regard. That said, don’t go trying to grab some snaps of Geralt jumping across some Novigrad rooftops unless you’ve saved recently, as, despite the update seemingly including some changes to make fall damage less lethal, I found that most plunges from a few storeys up still resulted in an instant kill and a crowd of onlookers gasping at a Geralt-shaped pancake.

Oh, and you can also now pet Roach by holding down the jump key as you approach your trusty steed, which I assume is some news equestrian enthusiasts across the world have been waiting years for.

A mod-sterious passenger

Geralt from The Witcher 3 at Kaer Morhen.
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Finally, some of the other changes you’ll find mixed into the update are there courtesy of a group of five mods CDPR has integrated into the main game. Many of these will have likely been a staple of your load order for a good while if you’re a PC player and they can be neatly divided into two categories.

First up are Terg500’s ‘World Map Fixes’, chuckcash’s ‘Nitpicker's Patch - various visual fixes’ and Andrzej Kwiatkowski’s ‘FCR3 - Immersion and Gameplay Tweaks’, all of which make subtle tweaks or visual fixes to the game. Next are a couple of graphical overhauls in the form of HalkHogan’s ‘The Witcher 3 HD Reworked Project’ and Denroth’s ‘HDMR - HD Monsters Reworked mod’.

How much these additions affect your next playthrough will likely hinge on how much time you’ve spent playing the game over the years and how much of an eye for detail you have, though, in the case of the latter two, CDPR have at the very least saved you from waiting on some pretty hefty downloads.

Something ends, something begins

Overall, The Witcher 3’s next-gen update has a lot to offer both those who’re returning to the game for the thousandth time and those who might not have given it a proper go yet.

The quest surrounding the Netflix armour is definitely its strongest aspect and something I’d recommend anyone who’s had even a fleeting interest in the game to check out. How much you get out of all of the other tweaks and inclusions will likely vary depending upon your specific playstyle and what you enjoy most about the game that lies underneath.

That said, I know that in my game, Geralt’ll largely be staying away from civilisation until the performance issues have all been rectified. Given that the process already looks to be underway, this exile likely won’t last all that long, though it might lead the white wolf to be roped into a few more fishing trips with Lambert than he’d have liked.

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I just hope that he can head back to that inn and wash away the taste of loading screen soup with some Redanian lager sooner rather than later.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (next-gen update)
The Witcher 3’s next gen update adds a great new quest, some snazzy armours, and litany of interesting tweaks to the game, but, on PC, it’s undermined by a parade of performance issues.
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