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The Witcher 3: How it holds up on PC

After many delays, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt finally released yesterday. Reviews have been out for a while, but they’ve all been based on the PS4 version of the game, leaving fans of the series and newcomers alike (if they aren’t already playing it) with one question on their minds – How does it run on PC?

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For veterans of the series, this is an important question to ask. The Witcher 1 and 2 weren’t very well optimised at launch, only for CD Projekt to patch them over time to get them running as intended. The games were then re-released as Enhanced Editions with all patches included. Those new to the series would have heard about how both previous games pushed the limits of PC performance. With that in mind, I played through the first ten-odd hours of The Witcher 3 on PC and I’m happy to report that Geralt’s latest outing performs far better at launch than either of its predecessors, and for that matter, better than most triple-A PC releases over the last couple of years.

Before I get into more detail, here are the core components of the PC I’m using to run the game. The complete rig is listed at the end:

  • Intel Core i7 4790K @ 4.00 GHz processor
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics card
  • 16 GB RAM

On starting the game up for the first time, it automatically set all my graphics and post-processing settings to High, with resolution at my monitor’s native 1920×1080 (1080p). The Witcher 3 features massive landscapes filled with dense vegetation, wildlife, and architecture, while indoor areas utilise multiple lighting sources with lots of reflections and a variety of detailed textures.

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At the default High setting, the game ran comfortably in the 50-60 fps range, but there were occasional drops below this range when panning the camera in crowded areas. There was also often a drastic, albeit momentary, drop in framerate when moving between indoor and outdoor areas and during some cutscenes. Since The Witcher 3 doesn’t have loading screens, even when you’re at most indoor areas, like an inn, it still renders the world outside.

The game offers several settings for post-processing – ambient occlusion, chromatic aberration, anti-aliasing, bloom, and vignetting, to name a few. Dialling down these settings delivered no real improvement in performance, so everything was left on, with ambient occlusion dialled all the way up to HBAO+.

In the graphics options, I once again left most settings at High since lowering them didn’t deliver any perceivable performance boost. However, there was always a random dip in framerates every now and then for no apparent reason. It was Nvidia’s HairWorks technology to blame. As it turns out, the controversial hair and fur simulation feature – which doesn’t support AMD hardware – doesn’t support Nvidia’s too well either. Turning it off resulted in an immediate improvement in framerate to a steady 60 fps with Vsync turned on.

Screen tearing doesn’t bother me quite as much as it does many other gamers, so I did try turning it off and disabling the framerate limiter. There was just a bit of stuttering but nothing overly off-putting, and with Vsync off, framerates fluctuated between 60 and 75 fps – mostly in the high 60s. Personally though, I would rather game at a smooth and steady 60 fps than have it fluctuate; even if that fluctuation is on the higher side. So I’ve locked the game to 60 fps with Vsync on, and couldn’t be happier with the results.

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The Witcher 3 is quite easily one of the best looking games out there and it’s even more impressive when you consider that there are almost zero loading screens throughout. From skin textures to foliage to lighting to shadows, there’s barely a pixel out of place. Any notions of the PC version being buggy have been dispelled. In my 11 hours of gameplay, I haven’t face any glitches or bugs in the game, aside from the odd awkward animation when Geralt dismounts from his horse.

So with HairWorks out of the way and the game running flawlessly at High settings, I decided to ramp things up into Ultra territory. To my surprise, with all settings dialled up to Ultra, Nvidia HairWorks turned off, and Vsync on, the game ran consistently between 50 and 60 fps through a variety of environments, times of day, and weather.

Having played the first two games on PC and experiencing the issues both had for months post-launch, I’m pleasantly surprised by how well The Witcher 3 runs at launch itself. It’s also worth noting that dropping the settings down from Ultra to High didn’t improve performance or reduce visual fidelity by a whole lot. The only sore spot as far as performance on PC goes is Nvidia HairWorks, which is really best turned off. It’s an especially pointless feature considering that the hair effects are pretty good even without it.

So if you have a reasonably beefy PC with the latest generation of Nvidia cards – or AMD for that matter, you should be able to max out The Witcher 3 quite comfortably. I’ll also be putting the game through its paces in our older GTX 660-powered mid-range PC pretty soon to get a better idea of how well the game scales across different hardware. We’ll update this piece with our findings soon. We’ll also be bringing you our impressions of the PS4 version of The Witcher 3 in the coming days.

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For those gaming on PC though, rest easy. CD Projekt RED has put those months of delays to good use and the end product is – at least in terms of performance – as good as you could have hoped for. As for the game itself, we’ll have our comprehensive review (based on the PC version) once we’ve played through it thoroughly.

Test PC:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7 4790K @ 4.00 GHz
  • Cooler: Cooler Master Seidon 120V Plus
  • Motherboard: MSI Z97 Gaming 5
  • Graphics: MSI Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G
  • RAM: Kingston HyperX Fury 1866 MHz – 16 GB
  • OS: Windows 7 SP1
  • SSD: Kingston HyperX 120 GB (OS)
  • Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200 rpm 1 TB (Game install)
  • Case: Cooler Master N600
  • Display: AOC i2769VM
  • Keyboard: Ducky Shine 3
  • Mouse: Logitech G400

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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