Can the Xbox Series S still deliver the next-gen Witcher 3 experience?
After taking a look at the PS5 and Series X versions of The Witcher 3 Complete Edition, we’re rounding up our coverage for this year by taking a look at one version of the game we haven’t covered yet: the Xbox Series S. Obviously, we’re looking at a quad-teraflop GPU in Flip the console in a world where the 12TF Series X didn’t run flawlessly, so the Series S’s omission of ray tracing mode isn’t a surprise. The upside? The Series S still offers a 60fps performance mode and also a 30fps quality alternative at a higher resolution – how does it work?
Obviously, the resolution targets for each are different: 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 was a rarity in testing; Oftentimes each mode hits its own accuracy targets. As we compare the two modes, there are some other differences to note above the pixel count and frame rate differences. First, to hit 60fps in Performance mode, the leaf-drawing distance is again pre-dropped, in essence, which means more pops up close to the screen in the Series S at 60fps, while Quality mode draws more life. vegetation at a distance.
Otherwise, every other setting will appear identical between the two modes. The reflection quality, textures, and even the shadows of the world are all quite similar. In my experience, going down to 1080p and setting up lower foliage clouds is the biggest sacrifice to get to 60fps. However, 60fps is the way to go for this, even with its blurry picture. The main reason is that just like the PS5 and Series X, the Series S suffers from noticeable input latency issues in quality mode at 30fps. I recorded a response time of 157ms on the PS5 in its RT mode – or 145ms minus my TV’s latency – and the Series S has a similar level of latency for every input you make. The truth is that camera movement lags noticeably, and the enhanced resolution and settings aren’t worth the trade-off.
Looking at the Series S more closely in relation to the Series X, the obvious loss is the lack of ambient ray-traced occlusion and global illumination. The interiors lack realistic shading, and the light bounce isn’t subtle. It’s a stark difference indoors, with the Series S’s shading of materials appearing flat, though in Series S justice, the outdoor areas in daylight are reasonably comparable. Even the resolution doesn’t differ much between them, since both sides run at 1440p for the most part.
One of the Series S’ biggest losses — a feature I’d hoped we’d see despite the dropped RT features — is the updated screen-area mirroring technology. Sadly, the new SSR is also completely missing on the Series S, defaulting us back to the more basic last-generation method. It looks good but we miss the pool reflections and the reflections on the shield that work well in PS5 and Series X RT modes. As an aside, the Series S’s quality mode actually runs with a higher foliage graphic setting than the Series X’s on – putting it on par with the PS5’s. But honestly, I suspect this is a Series X bug that will be fixed soon.
Speaking of the last generation, perhaps the older PS4 Pro is a more realistic point of comparison. After all, the PS4 Pro isn’t far behind in terms of raw power specs on paper — 4.2TF vs. Series S’s 4TF. There’s clearly a huge build difference between them — not least the speedy Zen 2 CPU — which gives the Series S a critical advantage in visual settings. By stacking the Pro output at 30fps with the Series S quality mode, the draw distance is on top. This drops the setting if you switch into Series S performance mode, but in either mode it’s a huge upgrade over the last generation.
Likewise, texture quality and patterns are updated on the S Series, in line with other current-generation machines. In addition, shadow accuracy is enhanced around the world. The last point here is that the number of NPCs in the Series S is also on par with the PS5 and Series X, which means that areas like Novigrad are full of rowdy crowds, which the PS4 Pro misses out on.
Elsewhere, differences in image quality are the only other thing to consider. The Series S renders at native 1440p, while the PS4 Pro targets 4K, reconstructing a base image at 1920 x 2160 using a checkerboard display. For my money, the PS4 Pro actually ends up producing a sharper picture. It scales more linearly to 4K, but in balance, the enhanced foliage, higher resolution textures and shadows, and the increased number of NPCs make the Series S look a lot more eye-catching. It’s a similar story with the older One X — which also targets 4K — and generally produces a sharper picture than what we get on newer devices. But then again, the One X is missing a huge list of other visual tweaks and upgrades.
Performance-wise, the Series S impresses at first, hitting 30fps, no matter what I threw at the controller and no matter what classic pressure points I used. Even at Heirarch Square, a true CPU stress test for the PS5 and Series X, there are no issues. The Series S has the same high NPC count as more powerful consoles, despite the lack of ray tracing features, and it has exactly 30 FPS, unlike the two more expensive machines. The only performance flaw comes from the autosave hiccups. Considering the Series S’s similarity in CPU performance to the PS5 and Series X, we can assume that the effects of RT have a significant impact on maintaining 30 FPS on other devices.
For better input lag and smoother response, 60fps mode is where you’re at, targeting 1080p and 60fps. Unfortunately, it’s not a solid lock-on 60fps by any means. For most prairie rides, the Series S mostly hits the mark, but there are great dips anywhere around the center of Novigrad, with churches dropping into the low 40s as we pass through Heirarch Square. This is much worse than the PS5 and Series X in their respective performance modes, and it’s really the worst-performing game department we’ve found. Even in other areas, there are issues: the battle with bandits has seen drops of less than 60 like the PS5’s, while the Crookback bog also has its moments.
In general, performance at 60fps outside of Novigrad is good enough, especially on a VRR-enabled monitor, but heavier drops inside the city, for example, could use addressing. Between drops of less than 60fps in Performance mode and higher latency in Quality mode, no way is 100 percent perfect for playing on the Series S — although Performance mode is recommended. There are benefits to a full version update in general, regardless of the situation. Load times are fast – nearly matching the Series X – while boosting foliage and texture quality nicely in their own right. The lack of ray tracing features is a loss, although the upshot is that the Series S’ 30fps mode actually ends up doing better than the PS5 and Series X’s more ambitious RT mode.
It’s an odd situation but the verdict is similar to what we had on the two premium devices. The full Series S release needs more time and some extra work to iron out its tough spots. Basically, there’s a great version of The Witcher 3 for Series S owners here, and maybe just a patch or two away from where we need it.
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