Skip to main content

Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

The Witcher 3's latest patch delivers the best console performance yet

The recent 4.02 update tested on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series hardware.

The 2022 revamp of The Witcher 3 set out to be the best version of game possible, tapping into the performance and features of the new consoles and modern PCs - except, this next-gen release also brought its own issues. Performance problems and crashes proved problematic and since then, CD Projekt RED has been intent on gradually ironing out the kinks and getting the game into shape. It hasn't been a smooth sailing, though: the last patch 4.01 actually worsened the frame-rate in the performance mode, while at the same time improving frame-rates in the RT quality mode. The good news is that the recently released 4.02 update now delivers the best experience we've seen yet. It's not quite the finished article, but it's much closer to the ideal.

Developer CDPR's patch notes are as exhaustive as usual. Right at the very top - for console - we have a note that performance mode frame-rates are improved, which we can confirm. Other highlights include the return of the HBAO option on PC, and improved CPU optimisation on DirectX 12. There's a motion blur intensity slider on all formats now, as well - which solves another problem at launch with the sheer intensity of the effect when enabled. Lastly, there's a subtle improvement to screen-space and ray-traced reflections on all formats, with the addition of refraction to reflections across water bodies.

Looking at PlayStation 5 to begin with, the good news is that the hit to performance in the 60fps mode has been reversed. I wish I could say it's a perfect 60 across the board now, but some areas do still consistently drop beneath the target - so yes, Novigrad City still has trouble locking to 60. On balance though, for PS5 it's a net improvement overall, putting Novigrad aside at least. The optimisation is achieved with no noticeable hit to the game's visual feature set, either.

It's taken months with set-backs along the way, but the fact is that patch 4.02 is the best shape The Witcher 3 has ever been in.Watch on YouTube

Xbox Series X is where there's an even bigger uptick in performance gains. In every area it's an outright improvement: from battling to horseback riding, the new patch restores us to 60fps. But what's especially encouraging is that Novigrad city is also clearly improved in the same breath, unlike the PS5 version. It's worth saying that Series X started at a far worse point here, performance-wise, and so there was much more ground to cover. So again, the latest update puts The Witcher 3 in a better place than ever before. Performance mode at 60fps is still my recommended way to play - by a long stretch - even sacrificing the ray tracing features at 30fps. For Xbox Series X users it was a shame to see frame-rates struggling to hit 60fps before, where it often fell below PS5's level, but now it's a much easier choice to make.

So where does that leave us in the console comparisons? Bearing in mind both premium consoles get an upgrade here, how do they rank side-by-side on the latest patch? Interestingly the game is now 60fps locked for a bulk of play on both PS5 and Series X and where it dips - Novigrad, again, in particular - the two are practically matched in their readings. And, if we're to split hairs on this, Series X does run marginally worse in a horseback run across Heirarch Square - by 2-3fps on average. Series X also plays with infrequent flashes of screen tearing, right at the top of the frame, unlike PS5. But in general? It's a decent turnout if you have variable refresh rate support - VRR - on your TV. VRR deals with these 50-60fps readings nicely. The only other thing to note is that select cut-scene's run better on Series X, interestingly - so it's not an absolute case of one being better or worse.

Our original look at console performance when The Witcher 3: Complete Edition first launched.Watch on YouTube

All of which leaves us with a quick note on the state of the 30fps ray tracing mode. In a nutshell, there are no obvious improvements on the latest patch. On PS5 it still broadly hits 30fps, though sub-30 drops stay in place in Novigrad. And it's the same story on Series X - no change whatsoever from patch 4.01, though this RT mode was always a more consistent 30fps on that machine anyway. In comparison between the two on the latest patch, then, Series X retains its lead all round. In Novigrad, PS5 drops as low as 26fps for consistent stretches, in the Heirarch Square, where Microsoft's machine pushes through at 30 without much issue. It's even the case for GPU-intensive cut-scenes, where Series X takes a lead again.

So, if you do want to see ray traced ambient occlusion, and global illumination in effect, Series X is still the better performer as of the latest patch. Combined with motion blur the RT mode is much more palatable to use, too. But I will say - on PS5 or Series X - the input latency using this mode is still noticeably high, and personally that's been a dealbreaker in using the mode at all. Even on patch 4.02, latency comes in at 140ms on PS5's RT mode for example, compared to a much lower 74ms using its 60fps performance mode. That's a huge difference, and it's immediately felt in the camera movement while switching between the two.

Is this the ultimate version of The Witcher 3 then? Well, we're not 100 per cent there, let's be honest, but it's great that the effort from CDPR continues unabated. Performance mode receives all the love on patch 4.02, and it pays off - especially on Xbox, where frame-rates are boosted by as much as 10fps. The Complete Edition has never performed better on Xbox. As for PS5, it's again promising, restoring it to the launch day frame-rate level, or better. The only lingering issue is the ray tracing mode: a mode that looks gorgeous, benefits from a new motion blur slider - but still suffers sub-30fps drops on PS5. I'd say the game's in very good shape now, overall, and I'll be intrigued to see if it's 'job done' from CDPR or if there's more to come.