the witcher 3 ps5 review

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s PS5 And Xbox Series X|S Upgrade Is Massive And Transformative

There's never been a better time to experience, or re-experience this grand adventure.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a fantastic open-world action RPG more than worthy of the novels its world and characters are based on. Of that, there are few arguments.

CD Projekt RED had a lot to prove with its 2015 epic, following on from an already-excellent but mostly linear adventure in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, but it clearly nailed the assignment as it became a pivotal point in the franchise that’s since spawned DLC expansions, a Netflix live-action show and even an anime adaptation.

It’s hard to believe, but that was over seven years ago now, a hallmark amongst the last generation of console hardware and games. With the studio’s next big title, Cyberpunk 2077, not enjoying the same level of near-unanimous praise as Wild Hunt, fans have quickly become eager to step back into the shoes of Geralt of Rivia and relive the gigantic journey all over again. Thankfully, CDPR was listening and won’t see its community suffer the admittedly-wonky performance or somewhat aged designs decision of the original flavour of The Witcher 3 – instead blessing patient players with a remastered and reinvigorated new-gen version of the game built with PS5 and Xbox Series X|S in mind.

the witcher 3 ps5 review

I’ve had a number of days to spend some early time with The Witcher 3’s PS5 update, which is free to existing owners of the game, replaying the adventure from a fresh save file (although you will have the option of transferring existing saves to this one) in an attempt to gauge whether or not diving back into Wild Hunt is worth the time of anyone who’s already invested 200+ hours into it in the past. The short answer? Absolutely.

That recommendation comes with a few caveats, of course, like do you have the time to replay The Witcher 3 right now? I certainly don’t, but for those of us still hanging onto our old physical discs or who’ve picked it up digitally through some sale or subscription in the past, it’s worth the low admission price of free to spend at least a few hours back in its world. If you’re totally new to the game and have even a passing interest in massive RPGs or caught the books or Netflix show and developed an interest in the franchise, even better, you’d do well to pick up a copy now and play it through in the best state it’s ever been.

the witcher 3 ps5 review

Right off the bat, the most noticeable improvements in this new-gen SKU of The Witcher 3 come in the form of its visuals. CD Projekt RED has taken to the game’s core graphical feature set with an angle grinder and a fresh coat of paint, smoothing off the rough edges of the existing console release and then dialling the quality of just about everything up a fair few notches.

On PS5 and Xbox Series X, this starts with the choice between two distinct visual modes – a ray-traced mode that targets 30fps and a “performance” mode that sits closer to 60fps. Both options utilise AMD’s FSR 2.1 upscaling tech to produce a dynamic 4K resolution. I initially thought I was going to have a hard time choosing which mode to play in, especially because the difference in the quality of the lighting and shadows and the way everything comes together in the ray-traced mode is so incredibly stark. After trying both though, the 60fps target in the performance mode is definitely the real winner. There’s a natural beauty and wonder in the game’s world that comes through most in movement, whether it’s the remarkable weather and time-of-day effects, the way that foliage sways in the breeze and bends under foot, or just the scenery rushing by as you dash through on your trusty Roach. Running at high frame rates simply sells this better than ever before on consoles and really elevates the experience of just exploring and enjoying the massive open world.

the witcher 3 ps5 review

Outside of the technical improvements, CDPR has also retooled a ton of the game’s assets, making use of a combination of community mods and in-house updates that have a pretty transformative effect on the game’s overall look. It’s great seeing a lot of cutscenes that were originally pre-rendered now produced in real time, and with character model and texture bumped up significantly, and a lot of the higher-quality models and shadow effects previously reserved only for cutscenes now carry across into general gameplay as well. Just about every object out in the world looks nicer, either because of added detail or just by way of the tweaked environment lighting and optional ray-tracing. I’m not someone that’s able to pick apart every pixel of every frame and discern what’s new or better, but it’s easy to appreciate the game’s image quality as a whole, now that it’s all a lot more cohesive with vastly bigger draw distances and object density and much-improved performance.

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I only wish that CD Projekt RED had taken ideas from other, recent AAA titles and offered some kind of VRR/120Hz options for those with the display hardware capable of it. After enjoying God of War’s highest-fidelity visual mode at an unlocked framerate well above 30fps it’s just too much of an adjustment to play The Witcher 3 at 30fps in its ray-tracing mode. It’s unfortunate, because the game looks stunning with ray-traced global illumination and ambient occlusion implemented, but it just doesn’t feel anywhere near as good. In the end I found myself switching over to ray-tracing every time I reached a new area, just to see what it looked like and snap some gorgeous screenshots in the robust new Photo Mode. I imagine many will do the same.

the witcher 3 ps5 review

Of course it’s not just visual improvements that make this the definitive version of the definitive open-world RPG. Taking a similar tact, CDPR has revamped many of the game’s underlying mechanics as well as implemented a number of welcome quality-of-life features, once again including some help from community-developed mods. Many of these go a long way to making The Witcher 3 feel more “modern” again, like the new cinematic camera that puts in more effort to frame Geralt’s heroic stature and all of the action he finds himself in. I occasionally found it awkward during fights or certain bits of navigation, more than likely just down to the fact that these encounters and environments were built with the more pulled-back view in mind, but overall it’s a nice way to replay the game from a slightly new perspective that looks a lot more impressive in the moment.

Also adding to this are changes to things like Sign casting, which lets you cast any of Geralt’s Signs by holding R1 and pressing the relevant face button, rather than having to pause the flow of battle to select a sign in the radial menu. It’s one simple tweak but it radically changes how fights feel once you’re used to it, and definitely has encouraged me to use more of the signs that I largely ignored in my original playthrough. CDPR says it’s implemented a lot of combat balance changes based on mods and feedback as well, and although it’s been too long between plays for me to really understand where those can be felt I’m already feeling a lot more confident in battle just because of how much more responsive everything is.

the witcher 3 ps5 review

If you’re playing on PS5 you’ll also have the added benefits of console-specific features like adaptive triggers and haptic feedback, which while not overly game-changing have been a nice extra touch so far, as well as Activity Cards and other UI integrations that should help make the whole thing a lot more accessible. At the time of writing the UI features like Activity Cards hadn’t gone live yet, but I’m very keen to make good use of them for jumping straight into specific content as I keep playing.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to this hugely comprehensive upgrade to The Witcher 3, and probably a lot I’m yet to see first-hand in the gargantuan game, but I’m confident enough already to say that what you’re getting here is a lot for free. Even if you’re new, the game now comes with all of the excellent expansion content and improvements made to the game in the years since its original release, so it represents great value for money even before the new-gen upgrades. Without a doubt, if you’ve been on the fence about giving The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt another go around or dipping your toes in for the first time – now is your moment.