Next-gen before their time? There’s an elite selection of technologically advanced titles that appear towards the tail-end of any given generation, where developers are upping their game, experimenting with the kinds of techniques we’ll see in the era to come – and it’s typically on PC where we tend to get these nascent next-gen experiences. CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 2 – released in May 2011 – is one such release, a game that required a radical process of re-architecting before arriving on Xbox 360 almost a year later. But what made The Witcher 2 so special, how did it push PC hardware and can even today’s mainstream graphics tech handle the game’s legendary ubersampling?
Of course, the profile of The Witcher 2 is especially heightened at the moment with the recent series release on Netflix generating unprecedented interest in Geralt of Rivia’s escapades – but it’s not just the story and the world presented in these games that has driven their popularity. Starting with The Witcher 2, we’ve seen CD Projekt RED deliver some hugely ambitious, game-changing technology. The fact that the studio targeted PC – a format ‘apparently’ in decline back in 2011 – was remarkable in itself but without explicitly targeting mature (ie old) console hardware, CDPR pushed its game to the next level. Alongside titles like Far Cry 3, Battlefield 3 and Crysis 3, the PC showcased visuals much closer to those we would see in the now current generation of console hardware and it did so two-and-a-half years before they would arrive.
The Witcher 2’s next-gen credentials are first established when it comes to characters and environments. In 2011, CDPR’s new showcase pushed geometry count beyond the capabilities of the consoles meaning that edges on models were much smoother than the average AAA game, and the amount of detail on models (represented by real geometry instead of just textures) was much higher than typical high budget releases. Take the opening scenes of the game in the Timerian Dungeon – if you look across many of the surfaces and individual assets, you see almost unprecedented levels of detail. Outdoor scenes thick with undergrowth and dappled lighting look even more beautiful.