The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a GOTY frontrunner when it first came out in 2015. Seven years later, its new next-gen update for PS5, Xbox Series X and PC has arrived to suck up all your free time over the holiday season. And you'll likely still be playing this one well into the new year.
The last 12 months have seen some seriously high quality titles, including Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarök. And yet this polished version of the Witcher 3 stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best games of 2022. Even back in 2015, the game seemed primed to stand the test of time, and this refreshed version only cements how gracefully the Witcher 3 has aged.
Remarkably, the Witcher 3’s next-gen update is completely free for current owners of the game. And when you consider that the game has been available for as little as $5 numerous times over the past few years, this free upgrade has to rank as one of the biggest steals in gaming history. This update is of such high-quality (on console at least) that I’m genuinely shocked developer CD Projekt Red didn’t opt to charge a fee for it.
After spending half-a-dozen hours with the Witcher 3 on PS5, I’m completely enamored with this epic RPG all over again. I spent more than 200 hours with the game on previous-gen hardware, and thanks to this next-gen update, I'll surely be doing the same all over again.
Geralt is back and looking better than ever
Unsurprisingly, the most striking aspect of the Witcher 3 next-gen update is its visual facelift. The Witcher 3 has never looked better on console. Textures are improved, draw distances stretch for miles and the lighting appears to have been completely overhauled. The first time I took control of protagonist Geralt of Rivia, I spent a good few minutes just goggling at the stunning mountain vista in front of me.
Granted, even with these visual upgrades, the game is unable to compete with the best-looking modern releases. The likes of The Last of Us Part I and The Callisto Protocol are graphically superior, but neither one matches the larger scale of Witcher 3. And, even if it’s not quite the most visually stunning game on the PS5, Witcher 3 doesn’t look out of place next to games released in 2022.
The Witcher 3 doesn’t just look better; it’s also received a massive performance boost. Certain spots in the Witcher 3’s massive map were infamous for frame rate drops. Being able to return to these areas with buttery smooth 60 frames-per-second performance truly showcases the power of the new consoles. There is also a mode that offers ray-tracing if you're willing to endure a 30 fps cap.
For comparison's sake, after a couple of hours playing The Witcher 3 on PS5, I jumped back to my PS4 save file via the PS5’s backwards compatibility mode. The difference was immediately apparent. It’s a cliché, but there’s no denying that once you’ve experienced the Witcher 3's next-gen update, you simply won’t be able to return to playing on older hardware. Of course, Witcher 3 didn’t need improved visuals to be a masterpiece, but the bump in visual quality has made the game’s immersive world even more bewitching.
More than just a visual upgrade
If CD Projekt Red had opted to give Witcher 3 a fresh coat of paint and call it a day, I’d still have been excited to jump back into this dark fantasy world. However, the company has gone a step further and treated this as an opportunity to sand down some rough edges. This decision elevates the upgrade beyond a mere next-gen port.
Perhaps the closest comparison would be Persona 5 Royal. Just like Persona, the Witcher 3's next-gen update makes a whole host of small quality-of-life improvements that all add up to make this the most refined version of the game yet. Unfortunately, unlike Persona 5, there is no significant new content here. Still, if you’re intimately familiar with the original Witcher 3 game you will notice the many differences and likely appreciate them.
For starters, the new over-the-shoulder camera angle brings you closer to the world of the Witcher. I also love that you can set the game to automatically switch back to the default camera when in combat. The new perspective is wonderful for exploration, but it makes fighting multiple enemies a chore, as you’re unable to get a good view of the entire battlefield. Plus, the ability to quick-cast sign magic is a small addition that improves the flow of combat, as you no longer have to frequently pause the action to switch between spells.
Other QoL changes include reduced fall damage, integration of popular PC mods, streamlined herb looting, a fresh round of bug fixes and a fast travel post within the Crow’s Perch settlement. To new players, that last one probably means nothing, but veteran players will appreciate it. Oh, and you can now pet your horse. It has no gameplay function, but it’s always nice to be able to show Roach some affection.
There's also a small smattering of fresh DLC that pays tribute to the popular Witcher Netflix series. This includes a short-but-satisfying new quest that unlocks an armor set inspired by Henry Cavill’s Geralt. You also get an alternative look for Dandelion (aka Jaskier) and the Nilfgaardian Army — the latter, surely just for the memes.
The Witcher 3 has aged like fine wine
The most wonderful thing I’ve found in my return to Witcher 3 is just how well the game has aged. Some of its familiar sore spots remain — the combat still feels like a slightly wooden imitation of FromSoftware’s work — but the core of the experience is as high-quality as ever.
The world is overwhelmingly vast. Whenever I set an objective for myself on the mini-map, I’ll get distracted three of four times along the way. During my most recent play session, I swore I would focus only on story progression, but instead ended up spending more than forty minutes trying to complete a tricky side quest.
Witcher 3 remains one of the best-written video games ever, with a morally gray world and a story that is both compelling and thoughtful. The strength of the optional content is also still praiseworthy. There are few other games where side quests feel this vital to the overall experience.
Kudos to CD Projekt Red
Other publishers, such as Sony and Atlus, have opted to either charge a fee or not give players any upgrade path for the next-gen versions of their games. That's why it’s all the more impressive that CD Projekt Red has put this much work into the Witcher 3 without charging existing owners a dime.
It's worth remembering that CD Projekt Red is still dealing with the reputational damage from the disastrous launch of Cyberpunk 2077 almost two years ago. Perhaps the Witcher 3's next-gen update is just an attempt to win disgruntled gamers back. But as someone who felt extremely burned by Cyberpunk 2077, even I must admit that the Polish developer deserves credit for giving out a product of this caliber for free.
The biggest compliment I can give the Witcher 3 next-gen upgrade is that I haven't enjoyed writing this article at all. I’ve spent the entire time wishing I was exploring the swamps of No Man’s Land or walking the cobblestone streets of Oxenfurt instead. And now that I’ve said my piece, you’ll have to excuse me, as I’ve got some monsters to hunt and an ashen-haired girl to track down.