Expected by fans as if it were a new game in the saga, the next-gen update of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is finally ready to arrive. For the occasion, thanks to CD Projekt RED, I was able to return to explore the continent a week before the release, set for December 14th. The time spent together with the Strigo di Rivia allowed me to focus attention on the innovations already widely heralded by the Polish studio, to discover new ones and to evaluate the adventure trying to contextualize it to today's standards, since new players, attracted primarily from the Netflix show, they could also find themselves lovers of the videogame counterpart. So, old and new fans, follow me in this article as I tell you everything, absolutely everything, about the new and full-bodied release of The Witcher 3!
Geralt gets a makeover!
For the occasion, still having no way of recovering my old save from the PlayStation 4 version (I trust it will be possible starting from December 14th), I started a new game, finding myself in the rooms of the Kaer Morhen fortress and face to face with some of the most important characters in the plot. Already from these very first bars, from the now iconic scene of Geralt taking a bath while conversing amiably with Yennefer, it is possible to notice a series of rather evident technical improvements: some of these improvements come from the PC version of The Witcher 3 (vanilla); the others are the result of work done over the years by some of the best modders in the community. Obviously there are also the hands of CD Projekt RED, which has improved shadows, ambient occlusion, revised the entire lighting sector and climatic conditions. All these improvements used by the Polish studio can be encapsulated in two simple words: Ray Tracing. This technology, in fact, as long as you select the graphic preset from the settings that pushes on visual quality, gives the game a very different look, sometimes even transformative. You will notice it more and more as the hours go by, especially once you reach places like the Skellige Islands, the city of Novigrad or the beautiful Beauclair, the capital of Toussaint. In these environments it is also possible to appreciate a drastically improved draw distance, with most elements in the background much more in focus, and reduced element pop-up.
The uploads, thanks to the presence of the SSD, they have been speeded up a lot. Also, all the filmed sequences, even the pre-rendered ones, are now in real time, therefore maintaining the frame rate and resolution we see in-game (unlike the old version, it is now possible to pause the game during cutscenes and choices).
So, although we notice the seven years on the rump here and there (especially in some interiors and during close-ups on secondary characters), it must be admitted that, especially on consoles, The Witcher 3 has never looked so good. And I emphasize console because, although the PC version will also receive a substantial graphic update, it is obvious that these improvements have a significant impact especially on Microsoft and Sony hardware, with players finally able to enjoy the experience with models and textures in 4K (most, not all), thicker vegetation and with the other improvements mentioned above. Too bad, and my only big regret remains, that there isn't a graphic preset that combines the addition of Ray Tracing with 60 frames per second. I am more than certain that most players, although they will find the graphics preset appetizing, will not think twice and will jump on the performance mode. And it is impossible to blame you: the fights, the responsiveness to the commands and the entire control system of Geralt and Rutilia benefit from it. Fortunately, I find it fair to specify it, most of the corrections and technical changes also find space in the performance mode, but the new goals achieved in lighting, some reflections on surfaces and shadows remain outside. Among other things, and here I conclude on the technical issue, since the game uses AMD's FSR technology, replacing the classic antialiasing previously used by CDP, I'm more than certain it was possible to find a compromise in the resolution and give life to a more balanced graphics preset.
A refined and improved experience
As widely announced by CD Projekt RED, graphical improvements aside, the next-gen release was also an opportunity to add, modify or correct some aspects related to the gameplay or, in general, to the gaming experience. The most interested will have already been informed, and therefore will know of the possibility of casting the signs without necessarily having to open the inventory wheel every time, of being able to hide all the information related to the hud, and other little things of this type.
In particular, in my opinion, it is really worthwhile to dwell on two improvements: the new camera, which affects combat, exploration and the horse phases, and the new setting linked to the filters and icons to be shown on the map, already selected default by developers. Here, these two improvements, then combined with the new graphic look of the game, succeed in the difficult aim of creating an experience with a new flavor even for the most hardened veterans.
Personally, scattered between the PC, Xbox and PlayStation 4 versions, I have accumulated more than 700 hours of gameplay on The Witcher 3; surprising me, therefore, is not easy at all. Yet again, the additions were able to make me savor the experience in another way. The new camera, more intimate and close to Geralt's back, moves the character to the left side of the screen and leaves the player with ample frontal visibility, making crossings on foot or on horseback much more immersive. The same happens in combat, although, on more than one occasion, I admit that I preferred to go back to the old setting, mostly to be able to easily deal with enemies lined up on the sides. In general, however, it is a setting that I recommend everyone to try, because although it may seem marginal, it actually hides unprecedented sensations ready to be discovered by veterans of the Strigo di Rivia.
The most significant of the improvements, however, is precisely the one linked to the new filters, to a rather substantial reduction of the icons shown on the map. In the previous version of The Witcher 3 (moreover on the developers' own admission), the amount of question marks on the screen was rather overwhelming; almost daunting for a player with a completionist soul. In this way, by displaying only the primary objectives, some missions and the various shops and shopkeepers on the screen, the experience not only becomes more enjoyable and relaxed, but pushes the player to explore. This time, you're not going to browse a specific portion of the map just because you want to sweep away all the little question mark icons; no, you will because, in the middle of a ride, you sharpened your eyesight and discovered a secret; because walking through the desolate lands of Velen you heard a commoner in danger. What a good open world should do, in essence: let the player's gaze or curiosity choose the next adventure. No icon has to tell us what to do.
And all this, because it is right to specify it, comes from a very simple modification: the removal of some icons on the map.
For the rest, as already stated, there are no major changes to the game gameplay: the mechanics remain the same, with all the pros and cons of the case. This is news that could discourage someone, since The Witcher 3, you know, is known for some problems related to the combat system, which have always been much discussed among critics in the sector and the community.
From my point of view, more than defects related to the combat system, Geralt's third adventure is suffocated by some very simplified behavioral routines of the enemies, which reduce most of the fights to a simple one: dodge backwards and hit forward with a heavy attack. A pity, today like yesterday, which however does not completely ruin the enjoyment of a fight which, with the exception of the rolls, which are really slow and imprecise, responds well and even manages to satisfy, appearing to the player as a lethal dance.
The PlayStation Dualsense accompanies Geralt's adventure with a very interesting haptic vibration and with intriguing pressures on the triggers while using the spells. Nothing incredible, but certainly appreciable and far superior to what you can experience with other controllers.
However, and newcomers to The Witcher 3 will be happy to know, the problem related to enemy patterns has been cleverly fixed by CD Projekt RED in the expansions, which respond to the name of Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. In these contents, especially the boss fights, they are more refined and relegated to more limited arenas. The end result, while it may seem trivial, is actually remarkable, and I'm sure many of you will notice it.
This new release of The Witcher 3 also includes a slew of bonus content: there is a new quest, which unlocks swords and armor inspired by the Netflix television series; two more complete sets that can be unlocked from the game menu through the "my rewards" item and, finally, the much desired photo mode. Addition, the latter, actually rather hasty, since it is not possible to retouch your shots too much, or change Geralt's expression or pose. In any case, better than nothing!
On the new quest, however, I think it is appropriate not to anticipate anything, and not because it is particularly successful, but because, since it is the only truly unpublished content of the package, it is right to leave the pleasure of discovery to you.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, especially with its two expansions, it was and still remains a cornerstone of the video game, an indispensable product for all Action RPG lovers. The next-gen version does nothing but allow CD Projekt RED's masterpiece to shine even more: with 4k models, with reflections and global illumination in Ray Tracing, or at 60 frames per second. Of course, some issues, above all a control system that is a bit too heavy and too simplified enemy patterns, are still in place and will continue to annoy the most demanding players. And yet, trust me, even if you are not the number one fan of The Witcher, try to give this title a chance. Maybe don't do it starting from the beginning, therefore playing Wild Hunt, but from the DLC.
A bit like what happens in the first two volumes of the literary saga created by Andrzej Sapkowski, in fact, the Blood and Wine and Hearts of Stone expansions can also be approached by the player in a standalone way, although the main client is always required. You will certainly lose some references or links to the main events, but you will enjoy two essential experiences for the quality and amount of content, writing and exploration. Better than nothing, some would say; at least, you will have a taste, the best, of one of the experiences which, despite the many defects, remains among the most exciting, well-finished and engaging of the entire gaming market.