Can the Xbox Series S still deliver a next-gen Witcher 3 experience?

Following our look at the PS5 and Series X versions of The Witcher 3 Complete Edition, we’ll complete our coverage for this year by taking a look at the one version of the game we’ve yet to cover: Xbox Series S Expectations needs to be met to be tempered of course, as we’re looking at a four teraflop GPU at the heart of the console in a world where even 12TF Series X playback wasn’t flawless, so omitting ray tracing mode on Series S is hardly one Surprise. The top? The Series S still offers a 60fps performance mode and also a higher-resolution 30fps quality alternative – so how do they fare?

Obviously the resolution targets are different for each: in performance mode we’re looking at a native 1080p target, and in quality mode CD Projekt RED targets 1440p. Dynamic scaling is possible, but in the case of the Series S this was frankly rare in testing; that’s how often each mode hits its resolution goals. As we compare the two modes, there are a few other differences to note above the pixel count and frame rate differences. First, to achieve 60fps in Performance mode, the leaf drawing distance is essentially backed off by a preset, meaning the Series S at 60fps means more pop-in appears closer to the screen, while Quality mode pulls more plant life further away .

Otherwise, every other setting appears matched between the two modes. Reflection quality, textures and even world shadows are all exactly the same. In my experience, going down to 1080p and lower leaf drawing setting are really the biggest sacrifices to get to 60 fps. Still, 60 fps is the way to go for this one, even with its blurrier image. The main reason for this is that just like the PS5 and Series X, the Series S suffers from noticeable input latency issues in 30fps quality mode. I recorded a response time of 157ms in RT mode on PS5 – or 145ms if I subtract my TV’s own latency – and Series S has a similar latency for every input you make. The fact of the matter is that camera movement is noticeably lagged, and the improved resolution and settings just aren’t worth the compromise.

To complete the set, here is Digital Foundry’s video breakdown for The Witcher 3 Complete Edition on Xbox Series S.

Looking more closely at the Series S versus the Series X, the obvious loss is the lack of ray-traced ambient occlusion and global illumination. The interiors lack realistic shading and light reflection is not as accurate. Indoors, that’s a noticeable difference, as the Series S’s material shading appears flatter, although in fairness, the Series S’s exteriors are reasonably comparable in broad daylight. The resolution doesn’t differ much either, since both sides mostly run at native 1440p.

One of the bigger losses from the Series S – a feature I was hoping we’d still see despite the dropped RT features – is the updated screen space reflection tech. Unfortunately, the new SSR is also completely absent from the Series S, which brings us back to the simpler last-gen method. It looks good, but we miss the puddle reflections and the reflections on the armor that work so well in the PS5 and Series X RT modes. That being said, the Series S quality mode actually runs at a higher leaf drawing setting than our Series X run – bringing it to PS5. But honestly, I suspect this is a bug with Series X that will be fixed soon.

Speaking of last-gen, the older PS4 Pro version might be a more realistic point of comparison. Finally, the PS4 Pro isn’t far behind in terms of raw performance metrics on paper – 4.2TF vs Series S 4TF. Obviously there’s a major architectural difference between them – not least a higher clocked Zen 2 CPU – that gives the Series S a distinct advantage in visual settings. Stacking the Pro’s 30fps output with the Series S’ quality mode puts the draw distance way ahead. This erases a setting when you switch to the Series S performance mode, but in either mode it’s a huge upgrade over the last generation.

RT is off the table, but this shot – featuring two machines with a 4TF GPU – shows that The Witcher 3 inherits most of its next-gen improvements from the Series S.

Likewise, the texture quality and the models of the S series are updated in line with the other machines of the current generation. Also, shadow resolution will be improved globally. The final point here is that the number of NPCs on Series S is also usually comparable to PS5 and Series X, meaning areas like Novigrad are bustling with busy crowds missing PS4 Pro.

Elsewhere, only differences in image quality should be noted. Series S renders at native 1440p, while PS4 Pro targets 4K, reconstructing a 1920 x 2160 base image with checkerboard rendering. PS4 Pro actually produces a sharper image for my money. It’s a more linear scale to 4K, but overall the boosted foliage, higher resolution textures, shadows, and increased NPC count make the Series S more presentable. It’s a similar story with the older One X version, which also aims for 4K and generally produces a sharper image than what we get on newer machines. But again, the One X is missing a huge list of other visual tweaks and upgrades.

Looking at the performance, the Series S initially impresses with a rock-solid 30 fps no matter what I threw at the console and no matter which of the classic stress points I used. Even in the Heirarch Square, a real CPU stress test for PS5 and Series X, there are no problems. The Series S has the same high NPC count as these much more powerful consoles, albeit without the ray tracing capabilities, and it holds an absolute 30fps unlike the two more expensive machines. The only performance bug comes from autosave hiccups. Considering the similarity of Series S CPU performance to PS5 and Series X, we can surmise that the RT effects have a significant impact on maintaining 30fps on the other machines.

Everything you need to know about comparing the PlayStation 5 and Series X versions of The Witcher 3 Complete Edition, including a last-gen head-to-head run and an in-depth analysis of both RT and Performance modes.

For improved input lag and smoother response, 60fps mode is the place to go, aiming for 1080p and 60fps. Unfortunately, it’s by no means a solid 60fps lock. For most wilderness horseback riding excursions, the Series S mostly hits the mark, but there are significant dips throughout central Novigrad, with fluctuations down to the low 40s when we cruise through Heirarch Square. That’s a lot worse than the PS5 and Series X in their own performance modes, and it’s truly the worst-performing section of the game we’ve found. But there are problems in other areas too: the fight with the bandits has sub-60 drops similar to PS5, while Crookback Bog also has its moments.

In general, performance at 60fps is good enough outside of Novigrad, especially on a VRR-aware display, but the heavier drops inside the city might require addressing, for example. Between the dips below 60 fps in performance mode and the higher latency in quality mode, there’s no 100 percent perfect way to game on the Series S – although performance mode is recommended. Regardless of the mode, the Complete Edition update generally offers benefits. Load times are fast – nearly identical to the Series X – while leaf and texture quality increases are excellent on their own. The lack of ray tracing capabilities is a loss, but again the result is that the Series S’ 30fps mode actually performs better than the PS5 and Series X’s more ambitious RT mode.

It’s an odd situation, but the verdict is similar to the two premium machines. The Series S Complete Edition needs a little more time and a little more work to iron out its major points. Basically, here’s a great release of The Witcher 3 for Series S owners, and it’s maybe just a patch or two away from where we need it to be.

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