It's been a very long road to the release of The Witcher 3 Next-Gen. It was early September 2020 when CD Projekt RED first announced to fans that its most successful and acclaimed game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, would receive an update dedicated to enhancing the experience on next-generation consoles and PC. Here's the official blurb from that announcement:
Developed to take advantage of the most powerful gaming hardware, The Witcher 3 Next-Gen will feature a range of visual and technical improvements — including ray tracing and faster loading times — across the base game, both expansions, and all extra content.
At that time, CD Projekt RED said the update would land sometime in 2021. Early that year, The Witcher 3 Next-Gen was confirmed to be coming in the latter half of 2021, but in October 2021, the Polish studio was forced to delay it by at least six months, with a new expected launch window of Q2 2022.
The development of this next-generation update for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had been assigned to a third party, Saber Interactive, which had already taken care of the Nintendo Switch port. However, in a surprising turn of events, CD Projekt RED announced in April 2022 that it would take the development back into its own hands, which also meant that The Witcher 3 Next-Gen received an indefinite delay.
The news inevitably worried investors, so CD Projekt RED had to quickly reassure them that the new edition hadn't somehow entered development hell. Any lingering doubts were likely dispelled the following month when the studio reconfirmed The Witcher 3 Next-Gen for Holiday 2022. Then, in November, we got the definitive launch date of December 14th.
The free The Witcher 3 Next-Gen update is finally here, at last, featuring a host of quality-of-life and gameplay improvements in addition to all the technical enhancements. On PC, players can enjoy a brand new Ultra+ graphics preset. Then, on top of that, they can enable four ray traced effects: global illumination, ambient occlusion, shadows and reflections, with the latter two unavailable on consoles.
With everything turned on, the game looks absolutely fantastic. Granted, it had a great base to begin with, but the textures are clearly higher quality here (partly thanks to the integrated mods), and the draw distance is massively improved, just like the accuracy and sharpness of reflections and shadows. The star of the show is the ray traced global illumination, though, which elevates the game's lighting to new heights.
Walking through Toussaint's capital of Beauclair provided stunning vistas left and right. At first glance, the game performed rather nicely on a high-end rig (Intel i7 12700K, GeForce RTX 4090), delivering around 120 frames per second with DLSS 3 enabled. However, the problems quickly kicked in, from the annoying stuttering that temporarily halves frame rates to a seemingly unending series of crashes. Seriously, it felt like The Witcher 3 Next-Gen crashed every two or three minutes or so, making our test a real pain. We had to stitch three different sessions together to gather the thirteen minutes of gameplay embedded above, and you can actually see a crash coming up right at the end of the video.
Unfortunately, it looks like both problems are very much widespread. The official Twitter account acknowledged the many such reports, adding that an update on specific issues will be shared as soon as possible by the developers.
We are aware of the issues PC players have been reporting since last night's release of the update. We are actively investigating all of the reports and will be providing an update on particular issues as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience!
— The Witcher (@witchergame) December 14, 2022
To put it bluntly, it is not the flawless showcase that fans, or indeed CD Projekt RED executives, were hoping for after the infamous Cyberpunk 2077 launch issues on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It's even more aggravating when you consider that the game was delayed for a good year from its originally scheduled release window. Granted, these issues may prove to be far easier to fix than those seen in the previous debacle.
As a side note, we also noticed that The Witcher 3 Next-Gen does not support High Dynamic Range (HDR) displays after all, despite previous claims to the contrary. We recommend keeping HDR turned off in Windows for the time being. On the bright side, the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers available in the PlayStation 5 version can be experienced on PC as well if you have a DualSense controller. This implementation is rather subtle but remains a welcome addition.