What can we expect from next-gen The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt?

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CD Projekt Red announced that an enhanced version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will arrive on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series S and X later this year. The announcement arrived as part of a wider press release around the studio’s plans to develop Witcher and Cyberpunk properties side by side.

CD Projekt Red discussed the update briefly in a Strategy Update uploaded to YouTube. The company mentioned that the upgrade would " take advantage of the most powerful gaming hardware." Rather than a simple remaster involving a higher resolution and a more stable framerate, it would seem CD Projekt Red is planning a major overhaul for the smash-hit action adventure.

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But just what could CD Projekt Red bring to the almost 16-year-old game?

Ray-tracing

I’d be willing to bet money on the fact that the development team is probably working on integrating ray-traced lighting and reflection into the game as we speak. Considering the size and complexity of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, running it with ray-tracing turned on is going to be no easy feat. You’re likely going to need an RTX 3080 or 3090 to run it at any kind of decent framerate. 

On the console front, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are still yet to receive a ray-traced upgrade for Cyberpunk 2077, so it’s difficult to predict how well the game might run. Fortunately, The Witcher 3 is an older game than Cyberpunk 2077, so both consoles shouldn’t have as much of an issue running it. As with ray-tracing on PC though, there will be a trade-off on performance. Any console ports featuring ray-tracing will take a hit in performance and resolution. CD Projekt Red will probably allow users to turn Ray-tracing on and off. A ray-traced mode on The Witcher 3 would likely run at 1080p, depending on the what preset the ray-traced reflections are at. 

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You can get an idea of how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt might look based on this video below which shows a fan-made ray-tracing mod.

In terms of raw performance, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are closest to the RTX 2080 Super and RTX 2080 TI, respectively. Using this information we can look at how we might expect The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to perform with ray-tracing based on how each card handles Cyberpunk 2077. On the PS5, we can probably expect to see The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with ray-tracing on to run at around 40-60fps at 1080p with maxed graphical settings. The Xbox Series X will probably run it at around the same, but with a slightly more consistent frame-rate, staying closer to 60fps.

These are of course purely speculative figures based on how the graphics cards closest to both consoles handle ray-tracing in Cyberpunk 2077. 

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Framerate 

Ray-tracing isn’t the only way CD Projekt Red can improve The Witcher 3. Upping the game’s refresh rate would allow gamers with high-refresh rate monitors to run the game at 120 or 144hz. Increasing a game’s refresh rate leads to clearer animations, and reduced input time, leading to a more immersive experience overall. 

After picking up my RTX 2060 and a high-refresh rate monitor last year, the first thing I did was boot The Witcher 3 up and play it at 144hz. Truthfully, it’s difficult to put into words just how much of a difference playing the game at 144hz makes, but once you’ve experienced all those extra animation frames, it's difficult to go back. While it doesn’t objectively make the game better, it’s just a more enjoyable experience overall as those extra frames really breathe new life into the world. 

This is another upgrade that makes a lot of sense as we’ve already seen several last-gen games receive FPS boosts. There are many gamers - myself included - who will always take more frames over increased resolution or ray-tracing.

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Draw Distance

One option that was absent from the PC release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was the ability to change draw distance and LOD. Most PC games allow users to change the distance at which the game streams in high-quality assets. The game streams assets in as the player approaches them and will replac them with low-quality assets once the player is far enough away. PC games typically allow users to turn this setting up, presenting a much more detailed environment. 

Unsurprisingly, It didn’t take long for PC players to mod this option in. You can see the results for yourself below. 

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It’s possible the next-gen update might not only increase the draw distance, but could finally offer PC players the option to change the option as they see fit. With cards like the RTX 3090, it really shouldn’t be too much of an issue for players to render those extra details. 

Native 4k 

This only really applies to the PS5 version of the title, as the PS4 Pro only managed to render a checkerboarded 4K resolution. The Xbox One X runs the title at an impressive native 4K. We can probably expect native 4k with maxed graphical settings on both consoles when the updated edition releases. 

There’s still a while to go before we see next-gen Witcher, but much like everyone else, I’m more than happy to get stuck in again. 

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