The Witcher 3 is another in a long line of modern classics to get a current gen upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. You could argue that it needs such a treatment less than many other games, but since the update is completely free if you already own the game, you probably won’t complaining too much.
It’s been a couple of years since I last replayed The Witcher 3, but only because I’ve been waiting for The Complete Edition to get back into it. Almost two years later than it was originally expected, has it been worth the wait?
The upgrade brings with it many of the improvements you’d expect, though it also misses a couple if you’re on console. Yes, you’ve got ray-traced global illumination and ambient occlusion to make lighting in general look more natural, and it does a great job, but without ray-traced reflections or shadows, the effect is lessened somewhat. This only makes it easier to switch back to performance mode for the improved frame rate – you can always switch back before you use the new photo mode anyway.
There are also a few additions you might not have expected, with CD Projekt Red leaning on community made mods to upgrade models and textures for 4K, so you can really see all of that botchling’s teeth in excruciating detail. There’s also some tweaks to the world map, and some balancing to skills and items, and some visual fixes, as CDPR carefully weave these mods into the game at large.
This is more than a community effort, and CDPR has made a number of quality of life improvements themselves. From an alternative camera and a new, quicker way to change signs in combat, through to further improvements to models and environments, reduced fall damage and improvements to the radial menu. It’s amounts to lots of smaller changes that should improve the gameplay experience quite a bit.
One of the main draws back to the game, though, will be the promise of a new quest and new items inspired by the Netflix The Witcher series. This new quest has you delve into the mines beneath The Devil’s Pit, which had previously, almost mysteriously been locked. Now, however, there’s a mysterious plague for you to uncover and solve. If you’re starting the game fresh, you can tackle this as soon as you get to Velen, though you might want to level and gear up a little as the final boss is a little tricky. I’d recommend getting to at least Level 8 with some decent armour and weaponry, as I initially struggled and had to return later. It’s an engaging mission as well with a couple of unique enemies and the typically macabre backstory, so it is well worth tackling even if you aren’t that keen on the Netflix series.
It won’t necessarily feel like a huge leap forward between the console generations, but it definitely does look nicer, and the PS5 version also gets haptic feedback, adaptive triggers and activities/game help baked into the game. Character models, and Geralt in particular, are still impressive for a game that first debuted seven years ago, and the first view of Kaer Morhen made me gasp at how detailed it all looks. I’m still a little disappointed we don’t have ray-tracing for reflections and shadows though, which has basically caused me to only try the quality mode for a relatively short time. Lighting looks more natural with it on, but without the un-erring shadows and reflections to add that additional depth to the scene it doesn’t seem worth the frame rate drop to me.
At the end of the day, it’s still The Witcher 3. It had been long enough for me to forget the specifics of why it’s such a good game, but diving back in has reminded me that it’s unequalled in its genre in how it tells its stories. Whilst the overarching plot isn’t that special, the ways it’s delivered definitely is, and the stories of the two expansions only improve upon what’s in the main game. Characters are well rounded, well performed, and engaging, and the game isn’t afraid of taking the time to add real depth to them in often unexpected ways. Even when they’re terrible people, you can usually find a little sympathy amongst their awfulness.
Most importantly, this is true of the side missions as well, each of them being its own story, adding to the world somehow. Some of the best missions in the game are side missions. Even the game’s Witcher contracts, where there’s a posting on a job board for help dealing with a monster, are fantastically detailed, very often involving not just defeating a powerful creature, but discovering why it’s there, who caused it, and any number of other details. These contracts could have been simple “go here, kill this” missions, but as with most of the quests, the level of attention and detail to the story is above and beyond.
Of course there are a few quirks that persist. The only thing consistent about how Roach, Geralt’s horse, automatically follows roads is how inconsistent it is and the poor thing still occasionally has trouble getting to you when you whistle. Fighting dogs is also still annoying, there’s countless pieces of side content dotted around the world that are brief and simple, and there are still some bland fetch quests as well. They’re flaws, but they didn’t tarnish The Witcher 3 when it first released and they won’t do so now.