Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Gameplay Performance Review

We take The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, using the 1.08.2 patch and latest drivers, find the highest playable settings and examine apples-to-apples performance with and without GameWorks across 10 video cards. We put a focus on NVIDIA HairWorks and how it impacts performance and find out which video cards provide the best gaming value.

Introduction

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, an action role-play open world environment game, was released on May 19th, 2015 on the PC. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the long awaited sequel to The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and continues The Witcher series of games as the third installment. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is developed by Polish video game developer CD Projekt RED and distributed in North America by WB Games.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was an instant success among gamers and fans of the series. Currently this game holds a Metacritic score of 94 and a User Score of 9.2, quite high ratings. The gameplay cannot be questioned, this is a fun game and fits in well continuing The Witcher series. If you are a Witcher fan, your time is well spent in this game.

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And then there was Controversy

While gameplay is solid, this game has spawned its own halo of controversy and debate among gamers on the PC. While there have certainly been worse games released in the last year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not among this category. For example Batman: Arkham Knight released in June (also a WB Games distributed game) was literally a nightmare. The game was so bad it was recalled on the PC to be released at a later time when it was ready.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the more solid games that was ready for launch. This game thankfully did not feel "un-finished" when it launched, like so many games this past year have. While this game did feel finished, and had a solid launch it wasn't long before some issues cropped up. Most of the issues were performance related but most of these issues have also been addressed now thanks to a multitude of patches in the last three months.

The GameWorks HairWorks Controversy

There was however one particular controversy that sprouted up specifically around the game's usage of NVIDIA's GameWorks featured called HairWorks. First let's just list all the webpages you can visit yourself to read about the issues and draw your own conclusions from that. Then we will briefly talk about it on this page, and go into more depth in the conclusion based on the testing we found.

You can read about these issues: [Here], [Here], [Here], [Here], [Here] and [Here].

When the game was originally released there were reports of very slow performance, especially when HairWorks was enabled. What's more, there seemed to be odd performance behavior between last generation GPUs, current generation GPUs, and AMD GPUs that didn't make a lot of sense to many people.

The Start

The controversy started when Marcin Momot at CD Projekt RED posted that performance optimizations of HairWorks for AMD GPUs could not be made. Here is a link to the post, and the full quote below:

Many of you have asked us if AMD Radeon GPUs would be able to run NVIDIA’s HairWorks technology آ– the answer is yes! However, unsatisfactory performance may be experienced as the code of this feature cannot be optimized for AMD products. Radeon users are encouraged to disable NVIDIA HairWorks if the performance is below expectations. Hope this information helps.

Tessellation Factors

From there, allegations were made that HairWorks was rendering way more Tessellation factors than what is actually needed to allow the visual differences experienced in this game. The controversy alleged that this was done so that past generation GPUs would not perform well with HairWorks, thus creating a need to upgrade to new generation GPUs that handled Tessellation better. This also translated into worse performance on AMD GPUs that struggle with high tessellation factors versus current generation NVIDIA Maxwell series GPUs.

GameWorks

This sparked a wide array of debate across the Internet about the validity of GameWorks features in games and how GameWorks could be used to alter performance in a manipulative way. There are certainly proponents of GameWorks features, and there are those that oppose the graphical effects based on the potential for performance manipulation from poor business practices.

Patch Improvements

To address concerns about NVIDIA HairWorks performance, CD Projekt RED released a new patch version 1.03 and 1.04 that specifically improved HairWorks performance.

It wasn't however until patch 1.07 that finally improved NVIDIA HairWorks options in the game in a big way. With patch 1.07 gamer's were given more control over HairWorks performance features. With the new patch 1.7.0 gamers could now select the AA level, from no AA to 2X, 4X and 8X AA applied to HairWorks. In addition, the patch added the ability to select a lower quality HairWorks setting that alleviated many of the performance concerns the high quality mode demanded. The gamer also has the ability to select HairWorks "On" for HairWorks on all things, or just "Geralt" for HairWorks just running on the main character.

With all three of these options HairWorks can now be tweaked, and less demanding options can be used while still running HairWorks. This so far has seemed to satisfy most. Since then, newer patches have come out as well, such as patch 1.08 and then a hotfix 1.08.1 and 1.08.2.

Now that the game has been out a few months, and there have been many patches released, we can finally bring you our full evaluation of gameplay performance and IQ. We can finally see, after all of these patches, how AMD and NVIDIA GPUs really compare in this game with and without HairWorks.

We are using the latest patch 1.08.2 for all testing and the latest video card drivers.


Game Features

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is based on the REDengine 3 by CD Projekt RED. This is a modern game engine utilizing DX11 and DirectCompute. To no surprise this game features NVIDIA GameWorks features which are carried out via DirectCompute.

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NVIDIA HairWorks - HairWorks in The Witcher 3 uses DX11 Tessellation technology and is able to render the thousands of hairs and fur on creatures and Geralt, the main character. There is a level of detail system in place that changes the density as needed up close and far away. The affect of HairWorks is a secondary motion. In fact, you will find without HairWorks hair and fur does have physics to it and is able to move without this feature.

NVIDIA HBAO+ - HBAO+ is an extension of HBAO (Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion) which is an NVIDIA developed method of Ambient Occlusion. This newer version is more efficient in performance and image quality with improved accuracy. You can select between standard SSAO or HBAO+ in the game's settings.

PhysX - PhysX requires hardware support via GeForce video cards. It supports cloth and destruction. This adds secondary motion to Geralt's clothing, and monsters and some NPCs. Destruction such as fences, barrels, wood piles are destructible with particles.