UPDATE June 1, 6:00pm: We've had some requests to test performance in The Witcher 3 in a number of stress points, including the swamps. We tested Crookback Bog and can confirm that there are still serious issues here, especially on PlayStation 4 - though Xbox One remains affected to a lesser degree. You'll find that video at the end of the article.
Original story: CD Projekt Red's latest patch 1.03 is a must if you haven't already downloaded it, with The Witcher 3's frame-rates tweaked for the better on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One over its day one state. Counting in at 500MB, a 30fps cap is crucially also added to Xbox One with this update, at last evening out its frame-pacing to give smoother results. We've seen miraculous improvements to games like Borderlands: The Handsome Collection thanks to patches late in the day, but is this the one to fix The Witcher 3's rockier stretches of performance?
A look at the patch's changelog shows a focus on various bug fixes, plus adjustments to minimise shadow pop-in. However, it's fair to say the core visual setup on console isn't much different. LODs are perceptibly the same as before, still borrowing from PC's medium and high settings for foliage and shadows, while post-process effects are left as-is in quality. Resolutions are unchanged too; PS4 makes the most of a native 1920x1080 frame-buffer, while Xbox One upscales from 1600x900 in most areas.
Performance is another matter though. On Xbox One especially, we see the addition of a proper 30fps cap giving us a far more consistent rate of motion in play. Where before it ran unlocked between 30-40fps, causing stutters as frame-rates lurched up and down the graph, patch 1.03 forces all motion to a single rate of refresh. The end result is exactly as you'd expect; battles and fast gallops across The White Orchard benefit hugely by running at a straight 30fps - a smoother ride, only dropping frames as heavy transparencies enter the picture.
The improvement is felt in practice. Though far from perfect, Xbox One's updated performance has most frames arriving at set 33ms intervals while avoiding any sudden spikes above. Single frame drops are an issue in busy areas like Novigrad City, where streaming textures, world geometry and NPCs still cause the console to stutter. However, it's much more refined compared to what we had before - if still let down by serious texture pop-in around this area while on horse-back (a likewise issue on PS4).
PS4 performance is improved too, if not to quite the extent we had hoped. Compared to patch 1.01, the latest update lowers the frequency of stutter as we wind through Novigrad's marketplace, with hiccups cut down by a noticeable margin - though they're still an issue (you can see this visualised by the frame-time graph in the video - there are fewer latency spikes above 50ms). An early griffin battle also shows a cutback in frame drops on average, and likewise for chasing through foliage-heavy areas. In other words, it's a step forward in the team's optimisation process for PS4, but it's still hard to ignore its stuttering stretches of play.
In terms of direct platform-to-platform comparisons on patch 1.03, PS4 and Xbox One are both capped to 30fps now, but Microsoft's console does hold a steadier line on balance. In almost every segment of gameplay tested, the performance overhead on Xbox One prior to the patch now translates to a confident 30fps cap - and with far fewer stutters below. It's possible further optimisation on the Sony release could bring it up to speed, but for now Xbox One enjoys a noticeable advantage in terms of overall consistency.
It's an advantage also seen in The Witcher 3's in-engine cut-scenes. As before, PS4 automatically locks to the 20fps line at any sign of dropping below 30fps. By comparison Xbox One lurks at the 25fps mid-point, freely updating with frames as and when they become available. The net result is that PS4 typically runs at a slower, more sluggish rate in every scene tested. Where performance goes below 30fps on Xbox One, the read-out is also identical to its results before patch 1.03 - meaning no performance boost is apparently made to these stress-points. The only difference here is that it now hits a 30fps ceiling.
On balance, it's an improvement on both sides but Xbox One owners have a bigger reason to celebrate this update. Though it struggles to match the clarity of PS4's native 1920x1080 output, the 30fps cap is better adjusted for Microsoft's platform in practice, with fewer stutters during play giving it a tangible performance advantage. Neither PS4 or Xbox One releases are perfect, and pop-in is still a major issue in built-up areas - plus a jitter (also seen on PC) when changing the speed of camera motion. We hope these are the focus of the next patch, but in the here and now, The Witcher 3 is at least in a better state now than on release.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry