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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

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Graphics:

There is a part of me that wants to just say "beautiful" and move on, but I do not think I can get away with that.

I have already said that the game is beautiful, so now to discuss where the beauty lies. Textures are amazing almost everywhere. You can find some places where they appear to be stretched, as you can in any open world game, but it is rarely all that apparent. In fact, thinking back on the textures now, and looking through the screenshots, I have to struggle to find anything of significance to complain about. Except for that issue I mentioned, which I only recall observing on some rocks, the textures not only are highly detailed, but possessing of great character. Armor, for example, has cracks in the leather and areas where paint and dye have worn off. Metal features also have some tarnish and even some dings in them. The detail is to the point that I am glad I am reviewing the game, because it is giving me a chance to analyze these screenshots and see just how work was done on them.

The textures for the environment may not be quite as sharp as those for Geralt and other characters, but they are still very detailed. Looking at one screenshot now, the ground looks about as detailed as it does outside, if I were the proper distance away.

One issue with the textures is that some can be so finely detailed that they can cause shimmering, like they were aliasing. I played on Ultra and found this to be evident with chainmail, but I kept that setting because the quality was still just so amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adding to the detail of the textures is how they are affected by things like water. If it rains or if you go for a swim, you and your armor, and everything else, will actually look wet and reflect some light as is appropriate. This is definitely a neat way to add more visual detail to the game, but there is one thing that seemed to be missing, and I would probably only notice it missing in this game. People do not react to the rain by trying to get under cover. The reason I would notice this in this game is because NPCs did go for cover when it rained in the original Witcher game. I could go on about the weather, but I want to cover some other things first.

Models are just about as sharp as the textures are, although the variance may be a bit more obvious. Some objects, including some faces, can have visible vertices to them, but nothing too horrible. When you then consider how much is also being rendered in the frame, there is really little to complain about. Just go stand in a forest or by a cliff, and keep thinking things are not highly detailed, then look to the horizon and everything visible.

By the way, you will see people repeated. I am not sure how many faces and bodies there are in the game, but there are few enough that you will notice. Not a significant issue by any stretch, but one I think is fair to mention.

 

I remember at one point the developers said that they had a goal that if you could see a place in the game, they wanted you to be able to get to it. Well, there are edges to the world, so that is not completely true, but within those walls, yeah, it is completely true. Sometimes I would look around, and spot a tower or mountain in the distance, and think about how I was there just a few hours ago, and what it looked like on the ground. If there is one thing, beyond all others, that Wild Hunt does spectacularly well, it is giving you a vast atmosphere.

Continuing on from this point, I played for several hours in the Velen and Novigrad territories, which border each so you can walk between them. After a while, they kind of seemed to look the same, with grassy fields, hills, and the occasional stream or swamp. Of course there were also ruins, cities, and villages across the landscape, but it kind of ran together for me. Then I went to Skellige, a group of islands and my eyes almost melted; it is so beautiful. The land is so filled with forests, snow, mountains, and water that you practically have to be inside a sealed room or cave to not have a beautiful view. I am not suggesting anyone rush to this region, just that it is amazing when you do arrive.

Animations overall are quite good, but there are definitely some exceptions. Most of them have to do with scenarios I am not sure the game quite has the logic to properly react to. Probably the best example of this is that if you are running up or down a slope on a horse, there is a chance for its head to become buried in the ground. It looks like the angle of the horse just does not update to follow the angle of the terrain often enough. Another issue with the horse is that either jumping from high enough or sliding down a slope (not running, actually sliding) can cause the horse's legs to fold up into its body. It is a completely harmless issue, but is still weird to see.

 

Facial animations could be smoother in my opinion. What I mean by that is I can see the inflection points where the movement changes from one action to another. This is not true of all faces, but I am not sure if that is because the animations for some are better than others. The faces that looked better tended to be rounder and fuller, so I think the different shape just helped to obscure what I was noticing.

The animations for combat I found to be very good as a rule. Whether it is a standard attack or a decapitation, it is of pretty high quality. It can also be very gory, with blood spurting out of wounds, cutting people's sides off, and bifurcation. Adding to the gore is that heads on the ground can be walked into, and will actually disrupt your movement. It is not like Geralt will trip and fall over, but stubbing his toe on a skull does impair him. One issue with some of these animations is that the blood can just spontaneously and instantly appear. More specifically, if Geralt cuts someone in half, the two parts will become covered in blood immediately. It is just a little jarring to see a character suddenly go red, but at least it lets you see you killed them, even before you finish slicing through them.

Now, can I just say the lighting is beautiful? I mean, it really is. I have not categorized the screenshots, but I would not be surprised if the majority is just of the lighting. Certainly the plurality is because it is just so excellent to my eyes. Near you, you can have corpuscular rays as the light shines through trees, characters, and even your swords. Over great distances, covering landscapes, the lighting really makes it all look so much more real.

 

 

Shadows are also pretty good, but there are some things to mention about them. One is that character shadows can appear to be floating off the ground, because the terrain you are standing on does not always cast a shadow. This is not uncommon in a number of games, so it is not a big deal. It is also worth mentioning that all of the shadows have their edges blurred, and I do not believe this is based on distance. They still look good, but it does not appear to be using the systems some games do to soften edges based on distance. One more thing I should bring up is that at times the shadows appeared to be broken as they were being projected onto surfaces as a matrix of dots. This only happened in some places and was very rare, but it did happen. If the developers are aware of this issue, I do not doubt it will be fixed in a future patch.

 

It seems appropriate to talk about the weather here, because I would say it most affects the lighting. The weather definitely and decidedly alters the appearance of the world, with clear days being just wonderful, and storms making you want to wait them out. Seriously, a storm can make the world so dark that you may want to just meditate until the next day to escape it. Also, when it is storming you can watch lightning striking and illuminating the clouds. On its own that just looks cool, but the thunder actually was so correct it made me wonder if it came from outside. (To be fair, it was raining where I live, so the prospect of lightning was very real.) In Skellige it can also snow, which does a good job obscuring vision, but does not darken the world as much as rain does

 

 

Water looks fantastic when it is actively rolling over itself and churning. It does interact with characters fairly well, in that it is more than just a simple ripple effect travelling away from the character. It is still a ripple effect mostly, but it looks very good. It is too smooth to be realistic, but is still a step up from many other titles. That is for character interaction, because driving a boat through the water is a little bit different.

As a boat moves across the surface, it will leave a wake behind it that looks like a bunch of small ripples in a column, as well as larger ripples along the sides. This column of ripples does look a little weird to me because I am fairly confident reality looks nothing like that. Also the boat does not greatly disturb the surface geometry of the water. Yes, it does create the large ripples, but the level of the water against the boat is consistent across the boat's length, even at top speed. That should be changing along the length and directly behind the boat; the water level should be lower as it moves, until the water fills in the void the boat left. Granted, these are specific quibbles I have and probably the only reason I even thought of them is because it already looks so good, why could it not be that extra step more?

 

 

By the way, one other thing about the water's surface is that it can be really eerie when the surface is as smooth as glass. Once you get used to a constantly broken surface, to find yourself at a smooth one can be really weird. Still looks good, but it made me wonder if the water was suddenly bugged, which it was not.

Since Geralt goes diving under water a few times, it is probably worth mentioning that and how it is appropriately darker. Also your vision through the surface of the water is disrupted by the surface geometry. One thing I spotted that was interesting was that the shadow of my boat was actually cast on the water, and I could see it while diving.

 

 

Sadly, fire is not comparable to the water. It very much looks to just be a flat animation placed in the proper spots when it is a continually burning fire in something like a brazier. Enemies aflame look a little better, because of how the effect appears on their body, and lights them up. Plus the writhing animations help add to the realism. While the fire may not be some gorgeous volumetric effect, the flames themselves do still look very good, as in good enough that the developers may just be using carefully edited videos of actual fire. Really, as far as liveliness goes, these flames are excellent; it is just that they look to just appear on objects instead of realistically consuming them. Perhaps someday we will see that happen, but we are not there yet.

 

Time to talk performance, so here are my specs:

  • Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
  • Cooling: Corsair H110
  • Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 980 4 GB
  • PhysX: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
  • PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
  • OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit

With a GTX 980 to drive the display, I decided to crank everything up to Ultra, with the only exceptions being for personal choice. Motion Blur, Blur, Chromatic Aberration, Depth of Field, Vignette, and Sharpen were all turned off. I did later turn on the Sharpen option, to see how it looks, and I am glad I left it off. The sharpness it added was fairly jarring and hurt the look, in my opinion. Might be different for your eyes and/or monitor. I did play the entire game with HairWorks turned on and while it very possibly reduced performance, I did not really notice it that much when I tested. That could have been because I did not have the proper subjects in view. In any case, the GTX 980 appeared able to push it out, so I let it.

 

 

Even at such high settings, and on a single GPU, the game maintained an average a little above 40 FPS I would say. It did definitely drop down to 30, and even a little lower at times, but there were also times it pushed up to 60 FPS. The latter tended to occur in places that there was little environment to render. Except when the framerate dropped to 30 or lower, the game was completely and comfortably playable. When it did drop that low, it would noticeably stutter, but usually recovered soon thereafter.

There were some issues I experienced during the playthrough that I do want to mention. One is that the video driver crashed quite a bit and I have not really been able to nail down the cause. Playing in Fullscreen, as opposed to Windowed or Borderless, appeared to help, but even then it would still crash. Turning off the various tools that hooked into the game to capture content, like ShadowPlay, OBS, and the Steam Overlay also seemed to help, but there were still occasional crashes. With the newer patches, the problem has gotten better, but is not completely fixed yet. If not for these patches, I probably would not have been able to record much of the video I have.

 

 

Another issue I had that may be somewhat unique is that the game had a tendency to change settings on me. After each patch it reset the Texture Quality setting to Low, and typically after a driver crash, the window option got changed to Borderless from Fullscreen. Now the latter makes some sense, as Borderless is the default, but I have no idea why successfully installing a patch would change any setting.

One final issue to mention is that there are times that assets can be seen to stream in. To keep the resource requirement low, Wild Hunt streams in assets as needed, which is fine, but when it does slow enough that you can see it that is a minor problem. This is not necessarily common, but it happens.

I would like to talk some about HairWorks, but it gave me no problems and I do not think I had the right subject, or number of subjects, when I tested it for performance. Close up views of Geralt's head with it on and off do show the differences though, at least for him:

 

 

Altogether, Wild Hunt is an amazingly beautiful game. I think it would be a bright future for games if this could become a standard for graphics quality in the future. Of course, I may be a little bias as I was able to play at Ultra settings the entire time.




  1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Introduction
  2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Graphics
  3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Story
  4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Gameplay
  5. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review - Conclusion
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