The Witcher 3 next-gen update is great – when you disable ray tracing

The Witcher 3
(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

After much anticipation, The Witcher 3’s next-gen update has finally been released. As promised, the free update has brought with it a wealth of visual upgrades and quality-of-life updates, but there are some caveats to watch out for. 

I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 next-gen update on PS5 and found the experience to indeed be definitive – when you disable ray tracing that is. There are two new modes specifically made for the now-current generation of consoles, including the Xbox Series X and PC: ‘Quality Mode’ and ‘Performance Mode’. The former targets 30fps with ray-traced shadows and ambient occlusion in a dynamic 4K resolution, and the latter keeps it locked at 60fps without the use of the lighting technique. There are no ray-traced reflections, only what the game calls ‘higher-quality reflections’.

In my testing, I found that enabling the Ray Tracing option in the graphics menu made for an ultimately more unpleasant gaming experience that wasn’t worth the performance hit. That’s because The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt targets 30fps in this mode, but didn’t appear to be consistently outputting at this rate as there were noticeable stutters and moments of slow down which came through in most situations.

Whether I was riding through one of the many gorgeous landscapes on Roach in the early hours of the game, fighting off both humans and beasts alike with swordplay, casting signs, or just walking around a tavern, enabling the Ray Tracing option just didn’t play as well as it should. In contrast, disabling this mode and opting to prefer performance was a silky smooth experience. This was most noticeable during the Royal Griffin fight in one of The Witcher 3’s early missions; the way Geralt was able to dance around with the smooth frame rate in mind was genuinely game changing and made the encounter a thrilling experience.

It was after this moment with The Witcher 3’s next-gen update that I made the decision to forgo the Ray Tracing Mode and the substantial performance impact it brought with it. It’s ultimately disappointing that a game released back in 2015 is having these kinds of hiccups on cutting-edge console hardware. As this is an update, however, it’s entirely possible that we could see a hotfix for this issue in the near future, or even another update down the line which goes harder on ray tracing.

Geralt of Resolution 

Geralt in The Witcher folding his arms

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

In addition to the specific issues with Ray Tracing mode, The Witcher 3’s new modes have another problem: the dynamic 4K resolution that both target. 

Dynamic 4K is not the same as native 2160p resolution. This essentially means that while the console may output in 4K at all times, the game itself will render at differing resolutions to scale with the performance onscreen. 

This isn’t exactly uncommon for either the PS5 or Xbox Series X, as many PS5 games and Xbox Series X games work like this, too. However, when you consider that God of War Ragnarok can run at native 4K at 30fps and 60fps with dynamic 4K, The Witcher 3’s latest upgrade doesn’t seem quite as impressive as what we could have gotten. 

I believe in the sword 

The Witcher 3

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

It’s worth remembering that The Witcher 3 next-gen update is free for the newest consoles and PC, so you aren’t having to pay for this improved experience regardless of console choice. Really, it’s not the visuals that are the biggest reason to jump back into CD Projekt Red’s opus in my view, but the other inclusions that Patch 4.0 brings with it, such as the new content based upon The Witcher Netflix show – which is also available on Nintendo Switch version of the game, despite it not benefitting from any of the visual overhauls otherwise. 

The update also adds cross-progression, which means you can load your save from another platform and pick up where you left off. As someone who originally played The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt on both PC and PS4 around the time of release back in 2015, I definitely appreciate this addition. What’s more, there’s a wealth of accessibility and customization options that are backed by the official implementation of many different community mods which were originally developed for the PC version over the years. 

Some of the most notable community mods to make the cut in the console version include  HalkHogan’s The Witcher 3 HD Reworked Project, Denroth’s HD Monsters Reworked, and teiji25’s Immersive Real-time Cutscenes just to name a few. You can view the full list of mods that work with the next-gen update through CD Projekt Red's compatibility list

While the ray tracing may ultimately disappoint, there’s certainly more than enough here to justify giving The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt another playthrough, especially if you’ve only played it on older consoles before. As a free update to one of the best RPGs ever made, there’s a lot to love here, just remember to keep Ray Tracing Mode off for the time being. 

Aleksha McLoughlin
Hardware Editor

Aleksha McLoughlin is the Hardware Editor for TechRadar Gaming and oversees all hardware coverage for the site. She looks after buying guides, writes hardware reviews, news, and features as well as manages the hardware team. Before joining TRG she was the Hardware Editor for sister publication GamesRadar+ and she has also been PC Guide's Hardware Specialist. She has also contributed hardware content to the likes of Trusted Reviews, The Metro, Expert Reviews, and Android Central. When she isn't working, you'll often find her in mosh pits at metal gigs and festivals or listening to whatever new black and death metal has debuted that week.