The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has two things going for it. It’s one of the best RPGs ever made (some would say it’s the best), and it was made by CD Projekt RED, a developer that has never wavered from its abiding commitment to providing value for players as opposed to profits for investors.
The latest example of CD Projekt RED’s player-focused ethos is the recently released Xbox One X enhanced edition of Witcher 3. Worldwide sales for Witcher 3 reached $280 million by the end of 2016 and the game sold more copies in Q1 2017 than it did during the same quarter the previous year. Witcher 3 was a resounding success long before the One X released and yet the developers put in the time and effort to build an enhanced version that offers options no other console can match. They then immediately put the enhanced game, including the outstanding Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions, on sale for $20 for Xbox Live Gold members and $23.99 for everyone else. This is not a company that lusts after profits extracted from loot boxes.
I’ll focus on the One X and PS4 Pro versions of Witcher 3 in this article even though the game looks and plays best on PC. ElAnalistaDeBits offers clear visual comparisons of the PC, One X and PS4 Pro versions, if you’re interested.
The One X enhanced version of Witcher 3 is the best looking and playing console version of the game. However, players are faced with a tough choice on the One X. You can have superior performance combined with inferior visuals, or superior visuals combined with run-of-the-mill performance. It’s not an easy decision.
The One X enhanced version of Witcher 3 includes a 4K mode that focuses on resolution and graphics, and a performance mode that targets a 60 fps frame rate. The good news about the performance mode is that the One X is the only console that allows you to play the game at frame rates higher than 30 fps. The bad news is that the One X fails to reach 60 fps in busy areas of the game.
Digital Foundry, NX Gamer and VG Tech all found frame rates in the 40 to 50 fps range with occasional drops into the mid-to-high 30’s when galloping through the bustling city of Novigrad. Crookback Bog, another high-demand area, produced frame rates in the 50 to 60 fps range. While that’s not good, Digital Foundry reported that outside of these high-stress areas, the game plays at, or very close to, 60 fps in performance mode. For example, the boss fight against the griffin early in the game is locked on a smooth 60 fps.
Frame rate is capped at 30 fps in the 4K mode and Witcher 3 nails it even when riding through Novigrad. The PS4 Pro version is also capped at 30 fps but, unlike the One X, it falls into the 20 to 30 fps range when stressed. For example, riding through Crookback Bog plays at frame rates in the mid 20’s on the Pro and is a solid 30 fps on the One X.
Resolution and graphics
The 4K mode relies on dynamic resolution scaling to preserve its 30 fps frame rate. Digital Foundry recorded resolutions ranging from 1800p in Crookback Bog to a full native 4K (3840 x 2160) in less demanding areas. This is a massive increase in sharpness and detail over the 900p produced by the vanilla Xbox One.
The PS4 Pro version of Witcher 3 relies on checkerboard rendering without dynamic scaling to produce 2160p throughout the game. Side-by-side comparisons on ElAnalistaDeBits and VG Tech show a sharper and more detailed image on the One X in 4K mode. However, the resolution differences between the One X and the Pro that are obvious in still images may not be as noticeable while playing the game.
Improvements to textures, texture filtering, and ambient occlusion that CD Projekt RED added to its upgrade for the Pro are carried over to the 4K mode on the One X. The only graphics differences between the two consoles are HDR support and sharper, more detailed shadows on the One X. CD Projekt RED has said HDR support for the Pro is coming soon.
Resolution and graphics quality are cut back in the One X’s performance mode in favor of an uncapped frame rate. Performance mode uses dynamic scaling with resolutions that ranged between 1920 x 1080 and 2368 x 1332 in Digital Foundry’s tests. Resolution tended toward the higher end of this range, but 1332p is not an ideal resolution for a large-screen, 4K-capable TV.
Textures, draw distances and HDR support are the same for the 4K and performance modes on the One X. However, texture filtering, ambient occlusion and shadow quality are cut back in performance mode. The bottom line is that the visual differences between the performance and 4K modes on the One X are more noticeable than those between the One X’s 4K mode and the Pro.
The Xbox One X enhanced version of Witcher 3 offers console players a unique opportunity and a difficult choice. Performance mode is the only console version of the game that plays at frame rates higher than 30 fps. The downsides are a widely variable frame rate and visuals that are inferior to those seen in the One X’s 4K mode. If you want the best performance on console, the One X enhanced version is your game.
If you’re already playing Witcher 3 on a One X, or you have a One X and don’t have the game on console, the enhanced version is a no-brainer. It’s the best looking and playing console version on the market. However, you’ll have to choose between the 4K and performance modes.
The Witcher 3 doesn’t look as good or play as well on the PS4 Pro as it does on the One X. However, the visuals on the Pro are almost as good, and the frame rate drop is only around 5 fps compared to the One X. As this was written, the One X has the distinct advantage of HDR support, but CD Projekt RED promises HDR for the Pro in the near future. Each player’s love of the game and desire for quality and love of the game will determine whether the improvements in performance and visuals on the One X are sufficient to motivate starting the game over from scratch if they’ve been playing on the Pro.