The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – PS5 & Xbox Series X | S Review | Sixth axis
The Witcher 3 is another in a long line of modern classics to get a current public upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series X | S. You could argue that it needs less such treatment than many other games, but since the update is completely free if you already own the game, you probably won’t complain as much.
It’s been a few years since I last rebooted The Witcher 3, but only because I’ve been waiting for the full version to get back to it. Almost two years later than originally expected, was it worth the wait?
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The upgrade brings with it many of the improvements you’d expect, though it’s missing some if you’re on a console. Yes, you have global ray tracing lighting and ambient locking to make the lighting in general look more natural, and it does a great job, but without ray tracing reflections or shadows, the effect is somewhat reduced. This just makes it easier to switch back to performance mode for the improved frame rate – you can always switch back before using the new photo mode anyway.
There are also some extras you might not have been expecting, with CD Projekt Red relying on community-made tweaks to upscale models and textures for 4K, so you can really see all the botchling teeth in excruciating detail. There are also some tweaks to the world map, some balancing of skills and items, and some visual overhauls, as CDPR carefully weaves these tweaks into the game overall.
This is more than just a community effort, and CDPR has made a number of quality-of-life improvements themselves. From an alternate camera and a new, faster way to change markers in combat, through to further improvements to models and environments, reduced fall damage and improvements to the radial menu. It amounts to a lot of small changes that should improve your gaming experience quite a bit.
One of the main factors returning to the game, though, will be the promise of a new mission and new items inspired by the Netflix series The Witcher. This new mission has you delving deeper into the mines below the Devil’s Pit, which were previously almost mysteriously locked. Now, however, there is a mysterious plague that you have to detect and solve. If you’re starting the game over, you can handle this once you get to Velen, although you might want to level up and prepare a bit because the final boss is a bit tricky. I’d recommend getting to at least level 8 with some decent weapons and armor, as I struggled at first and had to come back later. It’s also an engaging quest with a couple of unique enemies and a usually harrowing backstory, so it’s worth tackling even if you’re not into the Netflix series.
It won’t necessarily feel like a huge leap forward between console generations, but it sure looks nicer, and the PS5 version also gets haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and game-assisting activities/gameplay. The character models, Geralt in particular, are still impressive for a game that debuted seven years ago, and Kaer Morhen’s premiere made me gasp at how detailed everything was. I’m still a little disappointed that we don’t have ray tracing for reflections and shadows, which basically led me to only experiment with Quality mode for a relatively short time. The lighting looks more natural with it on, but without shadows and false reflections to add that extra depth to the scene, it just doesn’t seem worth the lower frame rate to me.
At the end of the day, it’s still The Witcher 3. It’s been around long enough for me to forget the specifics of why it’s such a good game, but diving back in reminded me that it’s unparalleled in its genre in how it tells its stories. While the overall plot isn’t all that special, the ways in which it’s presented certainly are, and the stories of the two expansions only serve to improve what’s in the main game. The characters are well rounded, well done, and engaging, and the game isn’t afraid to take the time to add real depth to them in often unexpected ways. Even when they are terrible people, you can usually find a little sympathy among their atrocities.
Most importantly, this also applies to the side missions, each of which is its own story, adding to the world in some way. Some of the best missions in the game are side missions. Even the game’s Witcher Contracts, where there’s a post on the job board to help deal with a monster, are fantastically detailed, and often involve not just defeating a powerful creature, but discovering why it’s there, who caused it, and any number of others. details. These contracts could have been simple “go here, kill this” missions, but as with most missions, the level of interest and detail to the story is above and beyond.
Of course there are some quirks that remain. The only consistent thing about how Roach, Geralt’s horse automatically tracks roads is how inconsistent they are, and the poor thing still sometimes has trouble reaching you when whistling. Dog fighting is still annoying too, there are countless side content scattered around the world that are cut and simple, and there are still some nice fetch missions too. They’re flaws, but they didn’t taint The Witcher 3 when it was first released and they won’t now.
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