The Witcher 3 next-gen: ray tracing modes and performance tested on PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Seven years after its first release, the new The Witcher 3 Complete Edition aims to enhance an already iconic game with a huge set of add-ons. On PS5, Xbox Series X and S, and PC, it’s a free update listed as patch 4.0. The visuals have been improved, quality of life improvements have been added, and extras have been obtained to link to the Netflix TV show. We knew this a lot from our preview after visiting the CD Projekt RED offices – but now it’s time to put the console code to test in all of our applicable test areas. We’ll start by analyzing the Series X and PS5, which covers performance and RT modes, with a non-RT Series S version to follow. First impressions? Neither mode on either console was the final article, but for now, we’d recommend Performance mode on both of the main consoles.

The original version looked fine, but the next-gen patch – the full version – really benefits from massive improvements. Much of the textures and models have been reworked, with CDPR PC contractor Halk Hogan – who produced the HD Reworked Project mod – incorporating new and updated assets into the official release. Foliage has also been improved, populating the landscape with more plant life. There are smaller touches too, like all-new sky cans, weather conditions, and lens effects, which add variety as Geralt travels the world.

Performance and RT modes on both Series X and PlayStation 5 feature a consistent visual setup in terms of base artwork and engine “settings”, differences down to native resolution and the optional inclusion of ray tracing features. Putting the PS5 vs. Series X in their RT modes first, they each target a native 1440p resolution, rebuilt to 4K using FSR 2.1, with dynamic resolution scaling that takes the pixel count to 1080p at its lowest point. However, a large number of pixels max out at the highest figure of 1440 pixels. Meanwhile, Performance mode hits a higher target on both, aiming for native 4K — with 1080p remaining as the lower limit. The end result is that both the PS5 and Series X look, on average, sharper in Performance modes than they do in RT mode.

Everything you need to know about how the PlayStation 5 and Series X versions of The Witcher 3 Complete Edition compare, including the latest head-to-head generation and in-depth analysis of both RT and performance modes.

There are key visual differences between the PS5 and Series X. First, it’s clear that the Series X often runs at higher pixel counts on average than the PS5, within its dynamic range. Particularly in performance mode, running Novigrad puts us at 1440p on PS5, and closer to 1800p on Series X for a spell. Secondly, there are very clear differences in the distance of drawing foliage and shadow. Oddly enough, the level of detail on the PlayStation 5 has been ramped up in a way that the Xbox Series X wasn’t – certainly noticeable in head-to-head comparisons of grass density to far distance – and also the series’ shadow maps.

The star of the show is the ray tracing mode. The PS5 and Series X’s ray tracing mode lowers the resolution and sets the target frame rate to 30fps – and similar to the effect on PC, the transition is fantastic. Ray-traced ambient occlusion and RTXGI global illumination replace the more approximate dicing map-based illumination, radically transforming scene resolution. Light bounces off more realistically, dark areas lack the blue glow of the original lighting and the end result is often unusual. In keeping with the AO and GI features, CD Projekt RED has brought the best PC upgrades to console users.

Of course, not every effect makes it to the PS5 and Series X. There are no RT shadows for the PC version (and as it is, they’re mistaken, according to Alex’s technical review), while the PC’s RT reflections are replaced by a screen-alternative to space, only present in mode RT at 30 fps. This SSR solution is vastly improved over what came before: it’s a higher resolution and now applies to more materials in the game, including shields and water bodies. Previously, The Witcher 3 used simpler cube mapping to create a basic reflection of the pools, but now we’re getting a much improved effect. It’s no ray tracing, then – sadly – but the SSR upgrade is huge compared to Performance mode, which still uses the old technology.

The Xbox Series X can have higher resolution and performance advantages over the PS5, but it has a notable level of detail drawback against the competing console.

The full version offers a fair visual interface and deals between RT and performance modes. However, in terms of actual performance, both modes have issues and I would say that the ray tracing mode simply doesn’t perform well enough to make it worth considering. Overall, I’d recommend Performance mode for both Series X and PS5 users. Up front I will say that most regions are locked at 60fps; It is really excellent. White Orchard and even the Crookback Bog run surprisingly well at 60fps on both the PS5 and Series X – barring the single frame hitch or auto stutter. However, there are points of tension, and some – like Novigrad City – are integral to your enjoyment of the game. As for Novigrad, the PS5 is consistently ahead of the Series X around the Hierarch square — with a 6-7fps gap in the PS5’s favor at times.

It’s not clear why the Series X had larger drops here. However, the PS5 can suffer its own performance deficit against Microsoft’s console elsewhere – Fighting Thieves Before the Blood and Wine expansion kicks off, the PS5 lags below its frame rate target while the Series X clears it to a perfect 60fps lock. The Series X’s performance benefits need to be taken in context, however, as tow distances are significantly reduced—a difference that CDPR will certainly have to address at some point. Regardless, the game plays better in Performance mode and both consoles have VRR support to make the little drops you see irrelevant if you have the right HDMI 2.1 display.

However, ray tracing mode at 30fps is problematic. The addition of new features to the PS5 and Series X such as RTAO and RTXGI make this more taxing for both consoles. And to be honest, in my experience playing the PS5 to begin with, this mode isn’t just about locking 30fps. Even basic horseback riding modes, fights, and scenes slide into the high 20s and hit 25fps at points. It sticks particularly well with switching from mostly smooth performance mode at 60fps, and even the old PS4 Pro version ran more smoothly at its 30fps target. The harsh truth is that for all the benefits that RT mode brings, it’s pretty unpleasant to play like this. Novigrad is particularly rough on the PS5 in this case, and any motion blur – especially without motion blur enabled – makes for difficult viewing.

In performance mode, the Series X has a frame rate advantage – albeit with a more limited draw versus the PS5. In RT mode, the Series X is also a bit more performant, only having issues in CPU-intensive scenes like Novigrad, where the PS5 also struggles.

The Series X delivers much better overall frame rate at 30fps. In fact, a large portion of the gameplay locks onto the target with no problems whatsoever. The Series X in RT mode performs better than the PS5 in almost every case. There’s one area of ​​the Series X that buckles in Novigrad, where it drops as low as 23fps – a seriously choppy area – and where the PS5 performs equally poorly. The most likely culprit based on PC testing is a lateral CPU bottleneck on both sides, though the Series X is usually a frame or two to better here, reflecting its higher clocks. Quite simply, RT mode struggles to work well in the big city for either the PS5 or Series X. Out of town though? The Series X has a 30fps level of much more than that.

However, there are other issues. Similar to what we saw with Cyberpunk 2077’s RT mode when the next-gen patch came out, input lag is an issue – gameplay appears to be noticeably worse. Taking the camera at 120fps and measuring from pushing the right analog stick, Performance mode takes 92ms to respond to the first frame of camera movement, while RT mode runs at 157ms. These numbers include a rendering lag of 22ms – which means that’s 70ms responsiveness in Performance mode and 135ms in RT rendering. Either way, the bottom line is that RT mode adds an extra 65ms of latency compared to Performance mode, one feels intense and affects the enjoyment of the game.

The verdict on which version is better is hardly straightforward. You get better foliage and shadow on the PS5, but worse performance in its RT mode – and to be clear, no console in RT mode feels good due to higher input latency. The 60fps performance mode certainly improves choppy frame rates and higher latency. In my case, I actually ended up using Performance mode exclusively, if only because it reduces those aberrations — but it’s a shame I lose out on the ray tracing features. There is no perfect solution now.

If you missed it, here’s a Digital Foundry video breakdown of The Witcher 3 Complete Edition running on PC.

I’ve had stability issues while gaming too, with front-end crashes on both the PlayStation 5 and Series X consoles. Even loading a game save caused lockups on the PS5, forcing me to close and restart the app. Addressing issues like this should definitely be on CDPR’s radar for the next patch – and I hope it lands sooner rather than later. Again, this is a sign that this update just needed a little more time in the oven.

Finally, load times are greatly improved over last generation versions. This is a huge positive for the end. For example, loading a save in Velen Village PS4 Pro takes 1 minute 35 seconds, but if we switch to new generation hardware, this wait will be reduced to just over 13 seconds on PS5 and 16 seconds on Series X. The Witcher 3 is even faster The loading times rank as a huge step forward in terms of the game’s playability, regardless of your choice.

Overall, The Witcher 3 Complete Edition is an ambitious next-gen release, and it’s great that CD Projekt RED is giving away an update for free when it does so much more than many paid releases. Likewise, being free does not exempt him from criticism. The main issues with it at the moment are related to stability – it crashes on PS5 and Series X – and also performance struggles to hit a locked 30fps in RT mode, particularly on the PS5. Feature-wise, it’s also odd that the Series X isn’t as detail-dense as the PS5, which should be a huge advantage over the last-gen version.

More positively, the load time boosts are great, as are the additions of ray tracing and updated foliage, shadows, models, and textures. However, the basics of hitting a stable and smooth frame rate is a must, especially after you’ve played the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X versions – which run just fine on these newer hardware. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine more being added to The Witcher 3 via a free update. After all, it’s a seven-year-old game, using the same engine as before; It’s just that these few remaining issues introduced by the patch definitely need to be fixed.

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