Earlier today, I drove to a place in North Dublin called Tower Bay, which is about five minutes from my house in Donabate - a small seaside town in Ireland.
"Come on. Lighten up. Have a whiff."
Almost 10 years ago to the day, CD Projekt launched the online digital game store Good Old Games. The operation and scope was small - a handful of people salvaging iconic old PC games for modern operating systems - but the prices, customer service and DRM-free message were right, and slowly the service grew. And grew, and grew. And today things are different.
Summer landscapes can be taken for granted as bright and breezy backdrops to games. However, what spring started, summer finishes. Following on from the rebirth of spring, summer further fuels and invigorates the landscape. Lands become majestically colourful, gorgeously lush and bursting at the seams with life as the peak of the growing season and life cycle are hit. Bright sunlight basks the land in glorious light and stretches the days, while vivid foliage spreads as far as the eye can see, punctuated by glorious flowering plants, laying a carpet of life over the land. These are the hazy days of summer, indeed. Life breeds life and swathes of landscape are transformed, covered in lush foliage and colour, while the land becomes more productive, increasing interaction and function.
Glaives, pikes, bardiches, halberds, partisans, spears, picks and lances. Javelins, arbalests, crossbows, longbows, claymores, zweihänder, broadswords and falchions. Flails, clubs, morning stars, maces, war hammers, battle axes and, of course, longswords. If you ever played a fantasy RPG or one of many historically-themed action or strategy games, you'll already be familiar with an impressive array of medieval weaponry. The medieval arsenal has had an enormous impact on games since their early days, and their ubiquity makes them seem like a natural, fundamental part of many virtual worlds.
CD Projekt RED's The Witcher 3 has recently received yet another upgrade, with patch 1.61 bringing high dynamic range support to PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro - a welcome bonus for a game swiftly approaching its third anniversary. With the release of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X enhancements, this vintage 2015 title has never looked better on consoles. This HDR upgrade for PlayStation 4 users should have been the icing on the cake, but something's not quite right here - and it looks like the PS4 version needs one more patch before it's everything as it should be.
Let's kick off with the positives. The high dynamic range support is a real positive for PlayStation 4 consoles, and combines beautifully with the 4K checkerboarding on PS4 Pro. It gives it parity with Xbox One X in display support, and there's no question the new Toussaint area from the Blood and Wine expansion shines in particular. But the price to pay on PS4 Pro for this upgrade is significant: curiously, draw distances for foliage and shadows are visibly dialed back on 1.61 - notably on the console's 4K output mode. This leads to more pop-in of grass - almost as if it's sprouting from the ground a few metres ahead, while more shadows visibly fade in ahead of Geralt during traversal.
In the video embedded on this page, you'll see that we grabbed some fresh Witcher 3 capture from patch 1.61, and stacked it up against our library 1.50 captures - the degraded LODs are fairly easy to pick up on, and it's certainly been noticed by the game's dedicated community. And there's more - shadow draw distance in 4K mode has also been cut back compared to the original 1.50 patch the debuted Pro support.
Mention the city in the middle ages, and you likely either conjure images of streets awash in faeces and offal, or of a cosy collection of quaint houses reminding people of gallant knights and ladies. Even though cities harking back to medieval times have been a staple of fantasy games ever since the inception of the genre, they usually do little to challenge the clichés presented by Renaissance fairs or grimdark pseudo-realism. To make things worse, those sterile spaces function primarily as pit stops for the player, a place to get new quests, to rest, or to trade. It's difficult to imagine everyday life in those places once the hero is out of town. They're little more than cardboard cut-outs (I'm looking at you, Skyrim).
"We had Communism and we had Cyberpunk."
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be enhanced for Xbox One X and PS4 Pro.
"I can confirm that we are working both on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro patches for The Witcher 3," CD Projekt Red told me this afternoon. "No extra details at this moment. More info is coming."
The Witcher 3 was one of the games shown on Microsoft's stage as 'Xbox One X Enhanced" last night.
Whether you're traversing an expansive open world, climbing crumbling ruins or sneaking between shadowy city corners, the landscapes and environments we see in games have never been better. Gone are the days of miracle-growing trees popping up at certain draw distances. Instead, we have places and environments deliberately and carefully designed, and landscapes so realistic we can relate to them, be astonished by them, even yearn for them. Naturally, ever-improving graphical capabilities have a lot to do with this, because as environments get more realistic, we increasingly experience them as 'real', but there can be, and often is, so much more to it than just the technical ability to crank up the aesthetics.
Andrzej Sapkowski has something of a reputation.
Few video game protagonists keep to strict working hours, and how could they? When there's a war to win, a world to save, a lover's heart to ensnare and all the other grand and arduous problems that a game designer asks us to solve, it would be practically irresponsible to clock off a five for a pint of lager, a packet of crisps and a prestige TV box set. Even if they did have time to unwind then, just as we rarely see Tony Soprano bobbing away at the urinal, or Donald Draper questingly exploring a nostril, surely these parts of the game would be first for the editor's chop. What Lara Croft does to relax (eating caviar off her butler's extended arm while listening to Brahms, I like to imagine) is rarely relevant to the story at hand. Aside from the indulgently barmy Final Fantasy XV, what your character eats for dinner rarely has a place in the core gameplay loop.
It's the middle of December, 10 days away from Christmas. I'm on a train chugging along the south coast of England, across chilly countryside under a darkening grey sky. It's almost idyllic but mostly bleak, and so very ordinary - I've watched industrial estates and small villages like these roll by a hundred times before. This isn't where you'd normally go looking for a superstar.
His smile fair as spring, as towards him he draws you. His tongue sharp and silvery, as he implores you
The thing that The Witcher 3 does best, better than most other games, is war. This doesn't sound remarkable until you consider the huge number of games that are specifically about war - that make you do war and be in it - and that war itself never appears in The Witcher, at least not directly. We see battlefields and garrisons, occupations and barricades, but never open conflict. War is in a constant state of passing through, enormous and unseen, always at some distant proximity, but written into the land of The Witcher 3 and the people on it, in magic and misery.
There are few things less surprising about most fantasy games than how they portray magic, which is a pretty depressing state of affairs given that magic is, by definition, the art of doing the impossible. The impossible, it turns out, has a fairly limited set of applications. By and large, it means hitting foes with elementally-flavoured balls of fire, turbo-charging your stats or zapping wounded allies back to fighting fitness, in accordance with a collection of tactical rule sets derived from the works of Tolkien via Dungeons and Dragons.
The new Toussaint region of The Witcher 3's Blood and Wine expansion looks stunning on PC, but its delivery on console has - until now - been a mystery. To benefit the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One delivery of this new area, developer CD Projekt Red states a more memory-efficient approach to streaming in assets is in effect here - in theory helping to improve frame-rates over the base game. But how does either stack up to the PC release, and are there any lingering performance troubles?
The basic setup remains from the original The Witcher 3 content, in certain respects. We get a full native 1920x1080 on PS4, while Xbox One typically runs at 1600x900. For the most part this defines the rift in visual quality between the two; an upscaled image causing details to blur on Xbox One - while texture quality is identical when viewing the console outputs up-close. Each also matches PC's best quality texture maps, and thankfully the layout of geometry across Toussaint is unchanged, meaning consoles get this beautiful new area in all its glory.
There is a visual advantage on PC, and the differences between the three versions of Blood and Wine largely come down to draw distances. For example, PC's overview of Toussaint's main city reveals a broader draw distance for shadow detail, while more trees also render in across its far hillsides. This only occurs at extreme range however, and PS4 and Xbox One tend to produce the same density of foliage and NPCs while in the city's main plaza. Each is rife with detail, but it's only in moving to PC that we realise what the ultra setting for terrain brings to the table.
The upcoming Blood and Wine expansion for The Witcher 3 has some of the most striking areas seen running on REDengine 3, and for those who felt The Witcher 3 fell short
of its ambitious E3 showings, it marks a strong comeback. Set around the richly detailed, rose-adorned kingdom of Toussaint, its central castle has parallels with the bustling Novigrad city of the main game. That original Novigrad area came under scrutiny at the game's launch - serving as an example of how CD Projekt Red's vision had changed by release. Can Toussaint be a redemptive moment for the studio?
Turn back the clock to E3 2014, and Geralt took us on a horseback tour through the incredible Novigrad hub - a vibrant, colourful harbour brimming with NPCs. Much of this promise came to bear in the final product, but it was hard to overlook some of its omissions. Lighting became visibly flatter in the transition from the showfloor to the home experience - and missed the crisper, saturated look we enjoyed on first sighting. Assets were also notably changed too; we got lower-resolution floor textures, and draw distances were reined in across the city. A compromise was apparent.
This is more like it. The Witcher 3's second expansion, Blood & Wine, is a treat - as welcome a return to the adventures of monster hunter Geralt as you could ask for. It's even bigger than we've been led to believe. More than 30 hours of content - not 20 as we've been previously told - in a new region the size of No Man's Land, but at very different ends of the visual spectrum.
Whereas No Man's Land is ravaged by war, the new region of Toussaint is untouched by it, an idyll reminiscent of Southern France that's bursting with life and colour, a whole new palette of crumbly old buildings drenched in golden sunlight and wrapped in ivy. It is distractingly beautiful - a fairytale land of knights and chivalry, the ornate palace of Beauclair jutting like a Disney centre-point in the middle. But it's also a region stalked by a mysterious and merciless killer, one who turns out to be far more complex than you at first imagine.
But arguably the two standout features in Blood & Wine are its new Mutation character development system, and how it gives you - Geralt - a vineyard. Yes that's right, no more sleeping on the road: a place to finally call your own. And you can upgrade it, eventually unlocking buffs applied when you sleep there. These buffs range from extra health for Geralt to extra stamina for his horse Roach, extra potion uses or extra experience point gain.
Bang! I'm woken up from a deep sleep in the middle of my first night at Witcher School by the sound of explosions in the castle courtyard below. Witcher masters yell as they stamp up the stairs and open the heavy wooden doors to our dormitory tower to wake us. I find my uniform - rough tanned trousers and shirt, padded brown gambeson fastened over the top - and throw it on. It is freezing.
Win my heart and I will forgive you: it's so simple. I don't mind the niggling bits if I love something overall - I can even write them off as charming quirks of character. But abuse my heart and upend my smile and the flaws, well, they become sprouts in my Christmas pudding: disgusting.
This is the big one for The Witcher 3. Measuring in at 15GB on console, update 1.10 arrives with an essay's worth of patch notes - easily the biggest to date from CD Projekt Red. Among its 600 plus entries, we're mostly looking at bug fixes and gameplay tune-ups, and curiously no performance boosts are noted at all for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. But with each update comes a huge expectation that console frame-rates will - at last - see improvement. And after so many false dawns, we can safely say patch 1.10 is finally the one to deliver - for PS4, at least.
The good news first. PS4 benefits hugely from the update, and our first stress-test in Crookback Bog shows the biggest gains in the shift to patch 1.10. This area's fog and water transparency effects push the engine hardest, and notoriously, prior versions of the game locked PS4 to the 20fps line here. But with everything updated fully, frame-rates now stick closer to the 30fps line across the entirety of our run. At points this gives The Witcher 3 a boost of 10fps overall on PS4, and it overtakes a fully-patched Xbox One version in direct comparison.
Drops are still felt, and the graph hits 28fps at points - sometimes lower. But it's fair to say it's a step forward, and a much smoother gameplay experience overall in what were previously troublespots. As one of the worst case scenarios, Crookback Bog doesn't fairly represent frame-rates across the breadth of the game. Nevertheless, for the missions that include it, we're looking at a far more stable read-out.
By calling Hearts of Stone an expansion, Polish developer CD Projekt Red set an expectation - an expectation of something grand, and something extraordinary. Ordinary, you see, is downloadable content. Expansions are rarer, bigger beasts. But in the case of Hearts of Stone, 'expansion' is misleading. Sure, it's £8, so it's not comparable to a £35 World of Warcraft expansion, and it has only been in development for around five months, but still: it doesn't quite live up to the billing.
Hearts of Stone is for level 30 characters, and there's one provided gratis if you don't have one. The main focus is a 10-hour story, which you begin by heading to a notice board marked on your map, and everything that then unfolds takes place in the same world you've already explored, albeit in less-trodden areas. As such it never feel as shiny and new as the best expansions do, and it takes a while to stand apart and resemble something more than yet another quest in an already abundant game. But Hearts does get better.
Two characters in particular stand out: the two key figures of the Hearts story. One you've met before, and I certainly never expected to see again, and the other is an immortal - something CD Projekt Red has already announced (I don't want to spoil more than that - look away from the gallery at the bottom of this article to preserve secrets). Discovering their motivations and their secrets pulls you along. There's also another romance to pursue with a character old Witcher-game fans will recognise, and doing so doesn't affect your relationship with Yennefer or Triss - it's guilt-free in that regard. And when these stories warm up, Hearts really gets going. This is CD Projekt Red relaxing after the serious work of the main game, playing around with what you think you know about how certain characters behave, particularly Geralt. At points, Hearts hits genuinely funny notes.
I was there when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched. For three days I was in the eye of the storm of perhaps the biggest game launch I'm ever likely to personally see. And what follows is my account of it - an account first published 20th August 2015.
What I didn't know back then was the impact The Witcher 3 would have. But a year later, as the ever-so-appropriate Game of the Year Edition arrives, the impact is clear: The Witcher 3 has become a new benchmark, for role-playing games and beyond. So enjoy a trip down memory lane in celebration of it.
Don't do anything silly, I'm told, or they'll probably shoot you.
UPDATE 13/8/15 10:15am - We've updated this piece with a full analysis of how disabling post-process blur effects can improve performance, most noticeably on PlayStation 4. The video is embedded at the foot of this piece.
Original story: Rolled out to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners last weekend, patch 1.08 puts frame-rate tweaks at the top of the bill, with its notes stating
"improvements to performance, including some issues that may have been caused by 1.07". To recap on this point, the last patch introduced some surprising downgrades in frame-rate - most alarmingly a hard 20fps cap on Xbox One in the Crookback Bog area where before it ran in the region of 28fps. Fortunately, having tested the latest patch in the same areas, we can confirm a definite frame-rate gain once the new update is installed.
It's the biggest update so far for The Witcher 3, with patch 1.07 demanding chunky 7.3GB of space on your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. With that HDD footprint comes some suitably big features - most anticipated of all being a new stash system for your inventory, and an alternative animation system designed to make control of Geralt more responsive. But contrary to expectations, its touted benefits to performance aren't apparent on close examination. In fact, frame-rates in many areas are noticeably worse on both platforms once the patch is installed. Suffice to say, we weren't expecting that.
Let's start with Xbox One. Our analysis shows Microsoft's console retains its advantage in frame-rate over the PS4, but there's a downgrade in effect with the transition from patch 1.05 to 1.07. A horseback tour around Novigrad city remains largely stutter free on the latest update - as was the case before. However, charging through Crookback bog during heavy rainfall tells another story as we stress the engine to its fullest.
Essentially, gameplay on Xbox One now appears to rely on a similar double-buffer v-sync set-up to the PS4 game, locking its frame-rate to 20fps during these lulls in performance. This means that the reading on our graph is consistently lower on patch 1.07 as compared to 1.05, where it was free to waver between 20-30fps freely. On a matching route through the bog, frame-rate can be up to 8fps slower on the latest version of the game.
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
Mere weeks away from E3, developers and publishers are working flat-out behind the scenes to make this the show of their lives. There will be new game announcements, surprise reveals and eagerly anticipated re-reveals. In many cases, it'll be our first opportunity to see some of the biggest titles of this year and the next. Doubtless, we shall see some amazing software running on console and PC - but at the same time, we strongly suspect that there'll be a vast array of marketing materials that end up bearing little resemblance to final software, or at the very least misrepresent the quality of the featured game. Even with the very best intentions, it's a situation that can backfire badly, as CD Projekt Red has discovered over the last couple of weeks.
I can't really put into words the joy I felt while watching my colleagues discuss the merits of horse farming versus grain harvesting, so you'll just have to catch this week's Eurogamer Show to experience that particular delight for yourself.
In the wake of poor performance on Project Cars, AMD's GPU drivers are once again under scrutiny with the release of CD Projekt Red's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The game runs in a sub-optimal state if Nvidia's HairWorks fur and hair rendering technology is active - and AMD isn't happy about it.
The Witcher 3 is a roaring success
in the critical sphere, and despite some rough technical points
it's one of the finest RPGs of this generation to date. However, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One each throw a curve-ball in their delivery of the game, particularly when it comes to the subject of performance. For those still mulling over which console version to go for, we can confirm both consoles offer world detail, shadows, lighting and alpha effects to a matching standard - but it's resolution and more importantly frame-rate that sets the two apart.
While open world role-playing game The Witcher 3 has been met with critical acclaim, including receiving an Essential award from Eurogamer, its launch has been marred by discussion of a graphical downgrade.
UPDATE 19/5/15 14:03: We've now had the opportunity to test the 1.01 patch on PlayStation 4, and can report that the FMV stuttering issue introduced in the Xbox One day one patch is much less of an issue on the Sony platform - video playback is much more consistent. Engine visual settings appear to be a match between the two consoles but curiously, the PS4 version does appear to run with a capped 30fps, giving a more consistent update than its Xbox One counterpart. We can also confirm native 1080p resolution throughout. We'll have head-to-head performance tests online as soon as possible.
Original Story: After a weekend of testing The Witcher 3 on Xbox One, it's fair to say installing its day one patch (version 1.01) is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the 588MB file improves frame-rates slightly during play, while fixing minor bugs scattered across the game. In many ways it's a more polished experience with the patch - notably we have less geometry pop-in during cut-scenes, fewer instances of flickering shadows, and a great many more tweaks elsewhere.
But the downsides pack a punch too. It's apparent after switching between the game's default and patched states that these improvements come at a cost. Chief among these is the aggressive stuttering during pre-rendered cut-scenes. Essentially, encoded video files are used to portray the game's bigger plot points - such as the opening scene, re-caps after loading a save, and the dramatic end to the tutorial - while the game's engine is used for smaller beats in the story.
Editor's note: This is an early impressions piece based on our first week with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. We'll bring you our full review by the time of the game's launch on 19th May. We're taking the extra time to explore this vast game to the full - and to test a final, retail version, as per our reviews policy.
It's always been about how well The Witcher 3 occupies an open world that really mattered. That's the big differentiator, where the game will achieve greatness or become, simply, nice. We know from The Witcher 2 developer CD Projekt Red can serve up delicious chunks of game across several acts. But when the walls come down and everything, whoosh, spreads out - what happens then?
Ranking among the cream of the crop of PC developers working today, CD Projekt RED has shown a no-compromise approach to every project it's set its mind to. Case in point: the sublime Xbox 360 edition of The Witcher 2 didn't simply cut back the original PC code, but instead had code rewritten from scratch to push the console aesthetic in a new, arguably improved direction. But with The Witcher 3 being developed on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, can we once again expect an off-shoot of the PC experience, or something closer to parity? And indeed, how is the team looking to get the most out of PC development?
The Witcher 3 is out today, and so we've hauled another exciting Witcher-related article out of the Eurogamer archive for you to read again or enjoy for the first time if you missed it. Here, Robert Purchese reveals the story of the Witcher game that never was in an article first published in June 2014.
We've had our say already, and typically we were probably well wide of the mark, so it's now your turn to let us know what games you're looking forward to over the next 12 months. Thanks to all who voted (but no thanks to whoever suggested Pong, and to the handful of people who put forward Half-Life 3, well... I'm sorry). The top 10 are presented in reverse order below - and it was incredibly tight out at the front, with the top result beating out the runner-up by only a couple of votes. We've also included some of your comments, although since the submission form was anonymous we can't say exactly who made which point. Sorry about that - if you feel particularly proprietorial about one of your insights that we've highlighted, tell the world in the comments. Onward!
2014 is upon us, and it promises riches and glory unlike any year before it. With their launches under their belts, the next generation of consoles will, hopefully, show us what they're made of. Virtual reality headsets may make their mark on the mainstream. And with a raft of crowdfunded games due out over the next 12 months, 2014 should tell us whether all that money we pumped into promising projects on Kickstarter was worth it.
I flew to Poland to visit CD Projekt Red, home of The Witcher, recently. I've told the studio's story but that wasn't all I found out. I interviewed at least half-a-dozen people, all from different areas of The Witcher 3 team, about the new game they are making. Here's a rather large dump of all the stuff I found out.
The Witcher 3 comes out on Tuesday, 19th May, and so we've hauled an exciting Witcher-related article out of the Eurogamer archive for you to read again or enjoy for the first time if you missed it. Here, Robert Purchese reveals the story of Witcher developer CD Projekt in an article first published in November 2013.
Xbox One has a mammoth 23 games confirmed for release on day one in November, more than many expected - but there's a distinct lack of role-playing games available to play.
CD Projekt Red didn't have a presence on the E3 2013 show floor, but it didn't matter a jot. The Polish developers stand alone and do things their own way, financed by their parent, a local distributor, and their subsidiary, the digital games platform GOG.com. They've made an international success out of games based on Polish culture - the Witcher series of dark fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski - and developed in Warsaw. They'll choose a publisher for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt when - or if - it's convenient to them. They certainly didn't need anyone's help getting their next-generation, open-world role-player into Microsoft's Xbox One showreel, or attracting journalists and executives to the small, buzzing suite upstairs at the LA Convention Center where they were happy to serve beers (Tyskie, naturally) at 10am.
The bombastic E3 show floor was packed with open-world games.
The open world RPG yardstick is Skyrim. That's the game, the series, the success that The Witcher 3 has in its sights. And to listen to CD Projekt Red, you'd believe the Polish studio could better it.