While the patch notes for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s 4.01 update claim it "improves the overall stability and performance of the game", if you’re not using the recently added ray tracing settings, it might well do the opposite. I gave the patch a whirl to try out its PC-specific changes – namely a new 'Performance' setting for RT global illumination and a fix for the broken screen space reflections setting – only to find that non-ray-traced, DirectX 12 performance has been utterly knackered. Again.
Funnily enough, the new global illumination setting works well, and even using basic ray tracing settings means you avoid the sudden performance drop that rasterised settings now endure. More on that in a bit, but when I benchmarked the non-RT Ultra and High presets, it became clear that something about this patch is seriously broken.
Back on the 4.00 patch, and following December’s significant hotfix, my RTX 3070-based test PC averaged 105fps on Ultra quality at 1440p. On version 4.01, that drooped to 63fps: a 40% collapse. On the High preset, 117fps on 4.00 became 65fps on 4.01, or a 44% drop.
A small degree of these downward trajectories is owed to the aforementioned screen space reflections fix. Basically, The Witcher 3 was previously failing to activate its High-quality SSR setting correctly, so always showed Low-quality reflections. The High setting now works as it should, complete with its own performance hit, so that 63fps with the Ultra preset becomes 74fps when going back to Low-quality SSR. The latter isn’t as bad of a drop from the original 105fps but… is still a really, really bad drop.
I’ve checked that it’s not just me, but I do remain baffled. The downgrade only takes effect when playing in DirectX 12, the game’s default, and I’m not of the mind that SSR changes are causing the problems directly. Enabling ray tracing effects essentially fixes everything, bringing performance back in line with how it was on 4.00 (and post-hotfix), but it’s not just ray traced reflections. Using RT global illumination is enough to prevent the unexplained drop, and that leaves SSR in use, so it’s not simply a case of the newly fixed screen space reflections killing your FPS.
For now, if you don’t have the graphics card power for ray tracing, my advice is to roll back to 4.00 or launch The Witcher 3 using DirectX 11 – both are easy to do using the Manage installation > Configure menu in GOG Galaxy. Reflections are still broken on DX11, though, so you are a bit damned if you do and all that. Fingers crossed CD Projekt Red fix their fix, sharpish.
What makes this a particularly intense shame is that the RT global illumination change is actually quite good. This setting now has a faster Performance mode, in addition to the original Quality mode , and it’s worth using when you’re a few frames shy of ideal smoothness. With RT global illumination on Quality mode, plus a full set of other RT and Ultra-level graphics settings, my test rig averaged 46fps at 1440p – then jumped up to 54fps on Performance. That’s a visible FPS improvement for a lighting quality change that’s easy to miss in motion.
Still, this patch is ultimately two steps forward and nine drunken stumbles back, not to mention the second time in less than three months that The Witcher 3's non-RT performance has suffered after an update. Roll it back (or don’t download it at all) unless you’re going to be tracin’ them rays.