After seven years and three playthroughs later, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is still more compelling to me than almost every other game I’ve played since 2015. I’m even more convinced than ever now, too, having enjoyed its long-awaited next-generation update on PS5. The patch adds a final sheen of polish to further elevate CD Projekt Red’s magnum opus, which still feels to me like a benchmark of quality not only for RPGs but video games in general.
Sure, it’s true that The Witcher 3 shows its age even with the extra visual fidelity, new exploration camera angle, and one or two small quality-of-life improvements. The combat is just as clunky; traversal across the open world doesn’t flow smoothly as in contemporary games, and Roach is still occasionally stubborn. The next-gen update is not a transformative change by any stretch of the imagination, but then it was never billed as such.
What it does do, though, is further enhance that powerful assault on the senses the experience of playing The Witcher 3 always has been. The colors, the music, the sound of the wind gently swaying the wildflowers of White Orchard or zipping across the frigid shores of Skellige as Geralt and Roach trot from one contract to the next.
Every location is soaked in an ambiance that feels so palpable. If you’ve played The Witcher 3 before, you’ll know exactly what I mean, and if you haven’t, then now is the time to saddle up and get questing. The Continent has never lived and breathed in such a believable and captivating way as it does now.
This is, of course, owing to the extra performance available on current-generation hardware. It’s night and day from the PS4/Xbox One versions of the original, now in higher resolution across both its performance and fidelity modes. The difference between the two is a choice of either 60 frames-per-second or ray-tracing, with the former being a clear winner.
I didn’t find the juice worth the squeeze in fidelity mode; the stuttering, slower framerate isn’t worth enduring. Especially with the sharper 4K textures added throughout the game (which are actually community PC mods), the performance mode is a massive upgrade in fidelity on its own. In combination with the new close-up exploration camera mode, the environment appears chunkier and more realistic than before, particularly when exploring crowded urban areas.
As alluded to earlier, the new content included in the next-gen update is rather thin. The highlight is a new quest that can be undertaken as soon as you reach Velen.
It isn’t particularly substantial but does involve a fun twist at the end that links CDPR’s Witcher universe with that of Netflix’s popular adaptation. Elsewhere, there are some cosmetic items from the TV series, too, including Geralt’s Season 1 armor and medallion, as well as the infamous Nilfgaurdian “ballsack” armor, which is rather amusing to switch on if only for a quick giggle.
According to the developers at CD Projekt Red, there are also some other easter eggs and secrets to discover throughout the rest of the game. I must admit I haven’t found many, but I’ve not completed my playthrough yet. What I have noticed most are the small quality of life changes, like the more convenient Crow’s Perch fast travel points, easier sign casting, and rebalance to weapons such as the Winter’s Blade.
All modest touches, but again, new content was never the big draw here. The free next-gen update is designed to put a finishing touch on one of the greatest games ever made, and it certainly proves the definitive version that everyone should experience. Even as a veteran of so many playthroughs, I’ve found enough to halt my holiday gaming plans; rather than ticking off one of the dozens in my backlog, I’m sticking with The Witcher 3.
In truth, that decision is bitter-sweet. I’ve been reminded once again what a special game it is, but also how excited I was back in 2015, contemplating where gaming experiences might be five or ten years down the line. The reality is that there’s been little progress since, and The Witcher 3 still outshines others in its class more or less across the board.
Do we really have to wait another five or so years until The Witcher franchise’s next big chapter to deliver a role-playing game as rich and compelling as The Witcher 3? Let’s hope not.
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