On March 13, CD Projekt released the second big patch for The Witcher 3's somewhat-beleaguered next-gen update. "Among various fixes, it also improves the overall stability and performance of the game," the patch notes begin, burying the lede. A little further down, you can find The Whopper:
"Restored horizon-based ambient occlusion. Players who had previously turned Ambient Occlusion off will need to do so again. You can find it in Options → Video → Graphics." We're saved. They fixed the grass shadows.
The next-gen, 4.0 version of The Witcher 3 has been a confounding thing. The new quests, gear, and zoomed-in camera especially are game-changers, but its implementation of DX12 graphical features is sloppy at best. Turn ray tracing on, and the eight-year-old game brings everything but the mighty RTX 40-series GPUs to their knees.
Loading into update 4.02, that much hasn't changed. Unless you've got a brand new GPU that accepts plutonium fuel rods, a stable 60 fps probably just isn't in the cards with RT enabled. I did notice a more evenly-spread utilization of all my CPU cores, matching the patch notes and addressing a major issue noted by Digital Foundry, for what it's worth. After some initial stuttering, possibly due to the shader cache getting wiped and needing to compile, my performance has been stable.
A much more welcome change for the everyman gamer is the aforementioned return of HBAO. For those of you who have never been shoved in a locker, ambient occlusion more broadly is a shadow rendering technique focused on small detail, soft shadows that really help lend 3D models visual depth.
The original release of The Witcher 3 carried both screen space and horizon-based AO, with the latter generally heralded as the superior option. The initial 4.0 next-gen patch, vexingly, did away with HBAO as an in-game option, leaving only the inferior SSAO or the gorgeous-but-GPU-grinding ray traced AO option. Here's another gallery for comparison:
The Witcher 3's AO makes a particularly noticeable difference in its foliage, with HBAO adding in a little more shadow and pop. The ray traced option looks incredible, naturally, but I'm not Mr. Moneybags over here! The RTX 3070 is a fine card, an honest, yeoman GPU that I will be proud to use for years to come. But The Witcher 3's ray tracing serves the 3070 its own teeth at 1440p.
If you could reconcile yourself with not tracing all the rays, The Witcher 3 4.0 was already a fine update as a whole, and 4.02 rights the historic wrong of HBAO's eradication. My beloved grass shadows are back, and we can finally take some time to heal. I've also included the full (console-excluded) patch notes below:
- Improved CPU core utilization in the DX 12 version.
- Restored horizon-based ambient occlusion. Players who had previously turned Ambient Occlusion off will need to do so again. You can find it in Options → Video → Graphics.
- Fixed an issue where the "My Rewards" section was not localized in REDlauncher.
- Fixed an issue with a flickering landscape in Toussaint that occurred when NVIDIA HairWorks was disabled.
- Fixed an issue related to particle optimization which could result in temporary stuttering.
Visual - PC and Next-Gen Exclusive
- Improved immersion of water appearance by adding refraction to SSR and ray-traced reflections.
- Fixed a visual issue with brick textures where black artifacts covered stone arches.
- Added a Motion Blur slider. It can be found in Options → Video → Graphics.
Quests & Gameplay - Available on all platforms
- Battle Preparations - Fixed the lack of a dialogue option that would progress the quest during the objective "Let Avallac'h know everything's ready."
- Reason of State - Fixed an issue where the door to the warehouse could become permanently locked if the player knocked, entered and then immediately left the building.
- Scavenger Hunt: Cat School Gear Upgrade Diagrams Part 1 - Fixed an issue where the quest could stay active even after the diagrams were looted.
- Fixed an issue where trying to start a New Game+ on an incompatible save would block the player from starting the expansions in standalone mode until the game was restarted.
Localization - Available on all platforms
- Fixed an issue with the Korean localization of Ciri's and Geralt's Gwent card descriptions.
- Fixed punctuation issues in Arabic localization.
- Updated Traditional Chinese font.