The Witcher has come a long way. Originally released in 2007, the game was powered by BioWare's Aurora engine, the same used in the popular role-playing game Neverwinter Nights. For the sequel, CD Projekt Red opted to build the game with an engine of its own design, Red, and the results are spectacular. For a genre that rarely pushes graphics, The Witcher 2 features numerous options that really crank up the visual fidelity: ambient occlusion, dynamic lighting, depth of field effects, and a little something that’s unique to The Witcher 2, Ubersampling. Ubersampling basically takes antialiasing, the effect that removes jagged edges, to a whole new level.
Characters and faces appear much more believable in the sequel. The original game didn't look bad at the time, but The Witcher 2 has quite a bit more technology behind it. Looking at the main character's appearance in The Witcher 2, we noted that his clothing reacts to lighting in a detailed manner, and you can see numerous shadows across it. The buttons shine brightly, and the leather takes on a glossed look when illuminated. By comparison, in the original, his clothing looked just as dull when under full sunlight. His hair also flows much more easily in the sequel, and the movement is far from the wooden animation of the original.
Indoor scenes look similar when still, and that's largely due to the sunlight coming from windows, but in motion, the game behaves very differently. Lighting barely affected environments in the original, and the number of lighting errors you might find was tremendous in certain parts of the game. Looking around a castle, you see point lights emanating from areas that are in different rooms entirely. The Witcher 2 also gets a large boost in the variety and quality of its textures.
When we wander outside, the sequel really shines. CD Projekt did a spectacular job giving the landscape a lifelike feel. The original feels almost dead by comparison. Lighting and various postprocessing effects have a great deal to do with this change. When the game is in motion, depth of field and blur effects definitely give the game a much more polished look.
The Witcher 2 Settings
The Witcher 2 is a demanding game if you crank everything up. Only the most modern and powerful of rigs can run Ultra spec without hiccups. But most users can get close simply by disabling the Ubersampling setting. Ubersampling ups the visuals by applying very high-quality antialiasing to everything on the screen, but the performance hit is tremendous, pulling even a GeForce GTX 480 SLI setup down into the mud at times. Flipping between the various settings, you might want to try to get the game to run on high settings. Dropping down to medium causes you to lose lots of eye candy--light shafts, shadow quality, motion blur, and distant rendering. One thing is for sure, even at the lowest settings, the game never looks bad. The more demanding settings simply make it look better.
With The Witcher 2 receiving such rave reviews, we wouldn't be surprised if a sequel were planned. We can't wait to see how CD Projekt ups the ante on the visuals in a few years' time.