Review: ‘The Witcher 3’ next-gen update polishes an all-time classic to a mirror sheen

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Nearly a decade ago, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt took over my life. CD Projekt’s epic tale of prophecy, monster-hunting, and being a decent dad was a quantum leap forward for RPGs, with its vast world combining fantastical creatures with dowdy, muddy, and very human drama.

By the time the final DLC, Blood and Wine, wrapped up, I’d spent over 150 hours trudging around in Geralt of Rivia’s boots, explored every corner of the map, made the world a safer place for scared villagers (for a handful of crowns, naturally), and nicely resolved Geralt’s and his friends’ stories.

Six years later, I’m back. Since then The Witcher 3 has cemented itself as one of the greatest games of all time, made the unlikely jump to the Nintendo Switch, and now has a superb (and free) next-gen update that future-proofs it for the indefinite future. On PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, the game now features both a silky-smooth 60 fps performance mode and a dazzling ray-traced mode that dials things back to 30 fps. Most textures have been given a significant upgrade to make them look great at the higher resolutions, there’s new haptic feedback on the DualSense, and CD Projekt also threw in a photo mode, animation tweaks, and various UI upgrades for good measure.

It’s worth underlining that this is an update, not a remaster or remake. Back in 2015, The Witcher 3 was a truly dazzling title, boasting some of the best open-world graphics to date with an uncannily impressive facial animation system. Seven years of technological progress have inevitably seen some of the shine come off that and, compared to something like God of War: Ragnarok, it now looks its age.

The Witcher 3 Next Gen Update
Screenshot via CD Projekt

Still, CD Projekt’s art direction remains as strong as ever, and, particularly when using the ray-tracing mode, it’s never looked better. These days it’s difficult to stomach 30 fps, but riding Roach through a torchlit village at night is now way more atmospheric than it’s ever been before.

But this update isn’t all about the graphical tweaks. As a way to finally say goodbye to the game that propelled them to stardom, CD Projekt has added a new quest dubbed ‘In the Eternal Fire’s Shadow.’ Going in, I expected this to be roughly equivalent to the brief, free DLC quests released around the time of the game’s launch. It quickly proves to be so much more, and over the space of about an hour, it encapsulates everything that made The Witcher 3 such a great game.

No spoilers here, but it’s a classic Witcher adventure in which a monster hunt proves to be more than meets the eye, complete with new voice-acting from the impeccable and gravelly-voiced Doug Cockle, multiple endings, neat links to the Netflix show, and a story that rewards critical thinking and careful observation.

Getting new Witcher 3 content so long after its release feels like a genuine treat. Plus, even if you’re coming to this next-gen update without an existing save, it’s very easy to access. If you begin a new game of Blood and Wine, you’ll start with a decently leveled character and the main quest completed. From there, it’s simply a matter of fast-traveling to Mulbrydale in Velen, heading to the nearby Devil’s Pit, and speaking to the cleric outside. To reiterate, this is a free update for anyone that already owns the game, so this is a perfect time to reinstall it and check out this dreamy, hour-long slice of Witcher action.

The Witcher 3 Next Gen Update
Screenshot via CD Projekt

Having said all that, there are a couple of additions that rubbed me up the wrong way. You can now choose an over-the-shoulder camera view when on foot and riding. While this lets you appreciate the fine texture work on Geralt’s armor, it didn’t feel quite right in combat and removes a lot of spatial awareness. Riding with the close-up view also felt clumsy, so I quickly reverted to the old zoomed-out camera.

Returning to the game after so long (and after spending countless hours spent in Elden Ring) also underlined that The Witcher 3‘s combat isn’t its strongest suit. There’s a slight clumsiness to both attacking and using items and magic, which makes bigger fights feel more chaotic than they should. Perhaps some of that is down to my monster-fighting skills being a bit rusty, but I’d be curious how new players are going find it, now that there are so other third-person action RPGs on the market.

Quibbles aside, returning to The Witcher 3 will remind you why this game is a classic. The writing remains leagues beyond what most major games attempt, with a depth and sense of lyricism that was strangely absent from CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077. The new quest in particular underlines what makes Geralt such an attractive character, showing off his intelligence, no-nonsense attitude, and the innate kindness buried deep underneath his gruff exterior.

The Witcher 3 Next Gen Update
Screenshot via CD Projekt

Having already played this game to death, I was planning to take a whistle-stop tour through the game to see the next-gen improvements. After all, there are so many amazing games out there to play that replaying something as lengthy and epic as this is time that could be spent experiencing something new.

But by the time I was out hunting down a Griffin in White Orchard, figuring out the right decoctions and oils for my sword, contending with suspicious villagers, and knowing that there are so many wonderful experiences out there in the game (The Bloody Baron! The Witches of Crookback Bog! The stuffed unicorn! Removing the enchantment on Yennefer and Geralt’s relationship! Gwent!), I’m sorely tempted to relive the whole story all over again.

With this update, The Witcher 3 is as good as it’s ever going to be, and I’m newly excited for both the remake of 2007’s The Witcher and the mysterious Project Polaris. Revisiting the game has been an absolute treat, and providing a next-gen update of this caliber for free clears away a lot of the bad blood felt towards CD Projekt after the Cyberpunk launch debacle. If you’ve somehow been putting off playing this, now is the time to leap in, and I envy anyone who gets to experience it for the first time.

Now, it’s time to climb on Roach once more and see what else Velen holds for me.

This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by CD Projekt.

The Witcher 3 Next-Gen Update
Top Honors

This free update delivers on all counts, with not only a substantive graphical upgrade but an entirely new quest that's worth the price of admission alone. If you've played before, we still recommend heading back. If you haven't, you're in for one of the best games of all time.