Yesterday’s announcement that CD Projekt RED was working on a new title in The Witcher series came as no surprise. The big studio is working on a sequel to their hugely successful game, isn’t an earth-shattering headline. However, one element of the announcement came as a surprise: an engine change.
This next Witcher – let’s just call it The witcher 4for the sake of simplicity and to appease the Google gods – will be developed with Unreal Engine 5. That comes as a shock, in large part because CD Projekt spent a lot of time building REDengine, their own proprietary technology based on it from the ground up with the kind of games it has in mind.
It supported most of the studio’s games. The original Witcher ran on the Aurora Engine, a BioWare creation that also powers Neverwinter Nights and became the basis of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic engine. But with The Witcher 2, CD Projekt had moved on with great ambition. Since then, every subsequent game from the studio has run on a new iteration of REDengine.
To be honest, I’m a bit of a fan of REDengine, as much as one can be a “fan” of the technology that makes games possible. The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk were both – when run properly – great looking games with a tremendous amount of unique graphical character. When things were going right with this engine, it looked the best in its class. as DigitalFoundry’s John Linneman noted this on Twitter, on PC REDengine has often outperformed Unreal; a wild feat given CD Projekt’s relative size compared to Epic.
One of the most exciting things about the engine for me as a big RPG genre nerd was that it was a custom engine built for roleplaying. This was the opposite of BioWare trying to retrofit RPG systems into Frostbite, an engine designed for FPS titles – and that opened up possibilities. It’s easy to see how the work on the REDengine in The Witcher 2 (then the console and final edition versions) formed an important foundation that helped make The Witcher 3 an all-time classic. The engine has also proven to be something of a modder’s paradise, which ultimately is great for gamers too.
Obviously, Unreal Engine can deliver great RPGs. That is not the problem. UE4 has been used in everything from Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Borderlands 3 to Torchlight 3, The Outer Worlds and Octopath Traveler. The Witcher 4 is the second major RPG to be announced as being built with UE5, after Dragon Quest 12 – and it seems likely that BioWare will return to the engine as well the rumor mill and job postings The suggestion that the next Mass Effect will drop Frostbite for UE5. This engine has the technology to create a truly stunning RPG experience.
And yet… I’m saddened that an independent studio that has proudly built its own technology that allows it absolute freedom and control might seem to be beginning the process of abandoning that in favor of an affiliation with Epic. Maybe it’s about distancing yourself from cyberpunk technology and memory and keeping shareholders happy by licensing technology rather than spending oodles of money to build it. Maybe it’s about working in an internationally known engine that accelerates the hiring and onboarding of more development staff. There are many reasons that make perfect sense. But it still makes me a little sad.
REDengine has a lot to offer – and I don’t think it has been to blame for many of Cyberpunk’s failures. It might find itself the scapegoat now, but as the ever-increasing quality of Cyberpunk 2077 proves here and now in 2022, the engine was never the problem: it was about time. The game was rushed; as simple as that.
And then there’s that question – that of Cyberpunk 2077 itself. It will continue to be improved and CD Projekt is committed to at least one major DLC release. But when I see a studio starting to switch to a different engine, I wonder if maybe Cyberpunk is lagging behind.
I really hope that neither Cyberpunk nor REDengine will end up in the dust. Of course I really want a new Witcher. I’m not stupid. But I also really enjoyed a lot of what Cyberpunk was up to – warts and all – and I really hoped that it would grow, continue and improve over time. Here we hope that is the case.
https://www.vg247.com/witcher-4-unreal-engine-cd-projekt-red-cyberpunk I’m excited for the Witcher 4 and CDPR engine change, but I really hope it doesn’t kill Cyberpunk and REDengine