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The Witcher 3: Next-Gen Update - Review

The end of `the time of axe and sword' has come back for another round.

Console: PlayStation 5

I know, I know. The free next-gen update of The Witcher 3 for the PS5 and the Xbox Series dropped a while back. The Nintendo Switch version, the version I played and reviewed, however only got the update last week (time of writing). I did buy the PS4 Game of the Year Edition when the update dropped but I didn't find the time to really dig into it.

Thanks to the Switch finally getting the update and the cross-save feature now being up and running I'm finally able to experience all the update has on offer. Play through the new quest, try out the cross-save feature and make a 1:1 comparison between my trusty old Switch and the PS5. 

Without further ado, let's dive in and have some fun with these new features and see what they're all about. 

The main focus of the update is to make use of the ninth-generation power to bring the new features of those consoles to The Witcher 3. Ray-tracing, 4K support, 60 fps etc. The game now has all of these things though with some caveats. The game splits the 60 fps and the visual stuff like ray-tracing between two modes: performance and quality. Performance targets a solid 60 fps and quick load times while the quality mode is all about the ray tracing and making the game look as detailed as it can. 

It's standard practice, Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarök do the same, but I felt I had to mention it regardless. Especially since the quality mode can be too much to handle for consoles at times. It can be choppy and cause framerate dips. On the Xbox Series S ray tracing is absent altogether and all console versions lack the "Ultra+" graphical setting of the PC release. Not a big deal in my opinion since the latter requires, as far as I know, a truly heavy and expensive build. Even with these hiccups both modes are welcome additions and bring the game up to the current standard in those departments. 

Compared to the Switch version these differences are like night and day. So much more detail. So much smoother gameplay. I still have a fondness for the Switch version but if I ever find the time to replay The Witcher 3 again it will be through the PS5 I can tell you that now. 

A comparison between the Switch (l.) and PS5 (r.). Note the different lighting, yes, but also the increased foliage, textures and such. 

The game running and looking better is arguably the meat of this update but CD Projekt Red didn't call it a day after that. No, they made use of this opportunity to bring in a multitude of changes and additions to improve the game even further. You can find a full, detailed list on the CD Projekt Red's own website but the big things are the integration of multiple fan-made mods from the PC space for not only HD textures and such but also gameplay and quality-of-life changes. We have new alternative appearances for characters based on their Netflix looks, new armour sets and, the cherry on top, a brand-new fully-voiced quest that rewards you with Henry Cavill's Witcher gear. 

It's this last addition that made me wait until the Switch got the update. I didn´t want to write this review without experiencing this quest but to get to it back then I would´ve had to put in quite a bit of time into my PS5 version. Time I didn´t have at that time. Now I could finally use the cross-save feature to get my old save file to the PS5 and dig right in. 

Said quest is a good one. It's decently long, 30-60 minutes depending on if you take your time. It's a very typical 'Witcher 3' quest and all the better for it. Makes it so that it doesn't stand out in a bad way with the rest of the content. That said the Netflix additions are neat. The armour and swords (well the season 1 iteration) look and fit the game's aesthetic quite well and their unique set bonus I can see lead to some fun, new builds. 

I also like how it uses stuff from the series to deepen its own lore a bit. By giving us a look into the earlier days of The Witchers and Kear Morhen in the game universe. Plus: it has some interesting subtext and inspirations. The quest features both a plague and possession: a meta-commentary on the pandemic, when this update was amde, and Netflix series itself. Neat if you catch on to it. 

In the gameplay department, we have two noteworthy changes. The first is the quick sign casting. Instead of having to go into the inventory wheel to switch between signs, a tedious process, you can use button combinations to cast your signs. A very welcoming change that makes casting signs, and thus the gameplay, a lot more streamlined. The other gameplay change is actually a whole bunch of small combat changes designed to make it less slow and clunky and better for the very experienced player. Not a huge difference but I still find it welcome.

Other quality-of-life changes include that you can now run indefinitely when not in combat, improved looting, an over-the-shoulder camera perspective like in the original trailers and upping the height you can fall before receiving fall damage and a new signpost within Crow's Perch (thank the stars!). All things that address minor complaints and make the game better. 

And the best thing is that all versions, including the Switch version, get all the gameplay and quality of life changes. For. Free. If you have any compatible version of the game you can download the patch now and enjoy all of this content for free. If you've never then you can pick up native PS5 and Xbox Series versions. 

Conclusion

The Witcher 3 on the PS5 and Xbox Series X are the best versions of The Witcher 3. It's the best-looking and smoothes-playing version of the game. One that comes with some fancy new armour, a brand-new quest that's quite fun and lots of gameplay and quality-of-life improvements that make the game all the better. That makes this the definitive version to experience The Witcher 3. 

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