Last week, I travelled to CD Projekt Red to play the long-awaited next-gen update for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which will be released 14th December - AKA next week. I spent a few hours with the update, playing with the new graphical options, the quality of life improvements, and the quest tied to unlocking gear from the The Witcher Netflix show. And I talked to acting narrative director Philip Webber about it, too.
I've written more flowerily about what it's like to go back to the game with all these bells and whistles on, but here, in what I think is a more easily digestible form, is everything I learned about it.
- There are some hidden surprises in the next-gen update that won't be detailed in the patch notes, including some new animations for Geralt and, more importantly, his horse Roach. "So we hid lots of new secrets and lots of new little details that we want people to find," said Weber. Geralt now snatches herbs from plants, for example.
More importantly: "Roach can walk backwards now. Or actually, if Roach is standing there's even now a hidden button that you can kick. Or I think Roach now lifts her head if you're in the water. We tried to put in lots of these small things for people to just find, that we won't even put into the patch notes." I didn't get a chance to test these after I spoke to Weber.
- This will likely be the last update The Witcher 3 will get and all of it will be free. "Pretty sure there will be patches, probably, to fix things, but I think in terms of content, I would say it's probably the plan," said Weber. "But then again, this is what we said for [second Witcher 3 expansion] Blood and Wine [in 2016] as well.
He added: "I can't talk about it but we are working also on the new saga right now," referring to the project codenamed Polaris that will begin a new trilogy of games. He's the acting narrative director on that game. "So I do think for Witcher  Wild Hunt, this is, let's say, our big final present/celebration of that game that we want to give. And that's also why we wanted to make it free. This is, let's say, our thank you to the fans. Also, we all have lived through the last two years," which I took to be a reference to the Cyberpunk 2077 launch troubles. "It was very affecting people in the studio. So it felt also good for us to make sure that we do this well and we make it for free, as this nice package for people."
- The next-gen update is made up of a curated selection of community mods for The Witcher 3, plus updates (and bug fixes) CDPR has made and the new DLC.
Mods made by the community include World Map Fixes by Terg500; Nitpicker's Patch - Various Visual Fixes by chuckcash; The Witcher 3 HD Reworked Project by HalkHogan; FCR3 - Immersion and Gameplay Tweaks by Andrzej Kwiatkowski; and HDMR - HD Monsters Reworked Mod by Denroth.
Content additions by CDPR include: Quick Sign Casting; Alternative Camera; Dynamic Toggle for UI Visibility; New Default Map Mode; Character Model Improvements; Environmental Improvements; Environmental VFX/Tech Art; fall damage alteration; instant herb looting; slow walk with controller (three walk speeds are now available depending on how hard you push analogue stick); alternative sprint mode (tap left stick); radial menu improvements (you can switch inventory from the radial menu).
- Only the new Witcher Netflix DLC items and quest, and the bug fixes, will be available on last-gen machines and Nintendo Switch.
"Visual improvements, as well as mods and new gameplay additions, are only accessible on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. The new quest, Netflix-inspired items, and bug fixes will be available for the previous generation of consoles," CDPR told me in a follow-up comment.
- The Switch update will arrive later than 14th December. There is no specific release date yet.
"Regarding a date," Ryu Underhill, producer for the next-gen update told me in a follow-up comment, "I can say that we are working hard to bring it to players as soon as we can. Rest assured we will share more information when we are able to.
"Regarding the contents, we are aiming to bring the same fixes and additional content to Nintendo Switch that we are bringing to both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 - so that means the update to Switch will not include next-gen features such as visual/technical/gameplay improvements, mods, or other additions exclusive to the PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S versions of the game."
The Switch will, however, get cloud-save and cross-progression features, as all the other platforms will. "Our cloud save feature and cross progression will indeed be able to be used from Switch to other platforms," said Ryu Underhill.
- The Witcher Netflix DLC is a new scavenger hunt-style quest that takes place inside The Devil's Pit in Velen. The Devil's Pit is the place you find yourself immediately after leaving the starter zone of White Orchard. It's that big, circular, wooden-fence-ringed place where nothing seems to actually happen. Currently, there are only some humanoid enemies in there, and the big door to the mine is closed. This DLC opens those doors.
The DLC is enjoyable but don't get your hopes up for something super substantial. It's just one quest. The mines are spooky and the showdown at the end is memorable, but it's about half-an-hour's worth, plus a bit more for a follow-up step. It was flagged as level 15 for me. I'm told there are a few ways it can end.
The crafting diagram you're rewarded for finishing it is the Forgotten Wolven Gear, which looks like Henry Cavill's armour from the first season of The Witcher on Netflix. Philipp Weber told me that if you upgrade the armour to its mastercrafted version, its appearance changes to the look of Cavill's armour from season two.
- The alternate Netflix appearances for Jaskier/Dandelion, and the wrinkly Nilfgaardian armour, can be turned on and off in the game's menu (they're off by default). And CDPR is well aware people refer to the latter as "the ballsack armour". Weber laughed knowingly when I mentioned this. "We could guess how it would be," he said of the reaction. "We also know that the armour was changed in season two, but it is an iconic part now.
"The intentions behind the armour were good. I know it turned into a meme and everything, but we also wanted to make sure that we put it into the game, because some people might want to play with that. It was also important to make it a choice, so it [isn't] active by default. If you play the game normally, you have the Witcher 3 Nilfgaardian armors. But you can activate it if you want it."
- Whether this crossover Witcher content signals anything more significant between the Netflix show and CR Projekt Red, Weber couldn't say. "To be honest, I'm not sure," he said. Netflix showrunner Lauren Hissrich did visit the studio in 2019, but nothing much has happened since. Apparently CDPR started talking about making the DLC last year. "I think it's cool to share stuff but we also want to make sure that we also stick to our universe overall," Weber said.
- There are two new graphical modes: Performance and Ray-Tracing. In RT mode, you get ray-traced global illumination, ray-traced ambient occlusion and improved screen-space reflections. You also get 30 FPS.
In Performance mode, you obviously don't get the ray-traced additions but you do get 60 FPS, plus a host of graphical tidy-ups and resolution and texture upgrades as mentioned further up. Digital Foundry has gone into detail on all of the graphical changes in the video above.
- The new, closer, over-the-shoulder camera angle makes the world feel bigger and chunkier on newer machines, but it's not included on older machines for draw-distance and frame-rate reasons.
"This one is available only on next-gen and PC because it changes the FOV [field of vision] of the game, as it zooms in further so you see the distance more," Weber explained. "And actually, we had to make sure that for the old-gen versions, we do not break the frame rate. So all the updates that would essentially break the frame-rate of the old variants, we didn't do. But smaller quality of life stuff we did also give to these versions, and of course, the Netflix content as well."
- Fall damage has changed slightly. It triggers slightly later so Geralt can jump from higher without taking damage. His glass legs are now less glassy.
- Signs can now be cast without the radial menu, by pressing face buttons in conjunction with, on PS5, the right trigger (this was the platform I played).
- Many elements of the HUD can now be switched on and off and rescaled, such as the mini-map but also enemy health bars and so on. This includes subtitle and dialogue text, which can be altered on a 1-10 scale. It goes quite big.
- Haptic feedback is being added to PS5. It picks out elements like horses hooves as you gallop along, as well as, obviously, combat impact and miscellaneous impact as you journey around the world. It's nice.
These are the elements I wanted you to absorb at a glance - the newsier takeaways of the next-gen update. Again, I've also written my fuller impressions of what it's like playing with the new graphical improvements, and what it's like going back to a superb game. You can find those elsewhere on the site.