Building the Best PC for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Last updated: August 2016
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks stunning. Playing as Geralt of Rivia, you are taken on a journey through the Northern Kingdoms of a fantastically well-realized fantasy world. It is an open-world roleplaying game that has won numerous 2015 Game of the Year awards from organizations such as Gamespot, Golden Joystick Awards, and The Game Awards.
Visually, it is simply one of the best looking games ever released. Though open-world role playing games often skimp a bit on visuals, this is not the case in The Witcher 3.
This guide will take an in-depth look at The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s graphical demands, and what type of PC hardware you need to play the game to your satisfaction. If you just want to know what to buy without all the in-depth analysis, you can skip to the recommendations sections.
The Witcher 3 runs in REDengine 3, which was developed by CD Projekt for the purpose of creating massive open world games.
Wild Hunt is currently one of (if not the) prettiest games available on PC. This, in turn, means it requires some serious hardware to get it running at maximum settings.
Let us take a look at what Logical Increments tier you should build to play Witcher 3.
What to Buy
We recommend PC builds in "tiers," with each tier containing the most powerful, most reliable, and least expensive combination of parts for that price. We don't list the individual parts in this guide because they change frequently based on local prices and new releases. You can see the latest individual part choices for each tier at the main guide page, which is updated regularly. Open it in a new tab to compare: Logical Increments PC Parts Guide.
These benchmarks assume that all of the graphical settings in the game are set to their highest or turned on. You can get even better performance out of your PC if you adjust some of the graphical settings, but we explain that in more detail below.
|Very Good ($530)||Smooth||Playable||Borderline||Unplayable|
|Great ($630)||Very Smooth||Playable||Playable||Unplayable|
|Superb ($750)||Very Smooth||Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Excellent ($1000)||Very Smooth||Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Outstanding ($1100)||Silky Smooth||Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Exceptional ($1400)||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable|
|Enthusiast ($1600)||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable|
|Extremist ($2500)||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable|
|Monstrous ($3,500+)||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth|
|Below 20 FPS||Unplayable||Jerky animation, "lag" and "stutter".|
|20-30 FPS||Borderline||Ok for some, too "laggy" for others. AKA "Cinematic".|
|30-45 FPS||Playable||Acceptable to most people. Not very good though!|
|45-60 FPS||Smooth||Fluid animation, no "lag".|
|60-90 FPS||Very Smooth||Very smooth is very smooth to almost everyone.|
|Above 90 FPS||Silky Smooth||Criminally smooth. For hardcore and professional players.|
A Note About Frame Rate (FPS)
Frames per second (FPS) measures the number of images your computer can produce every second. Higher frame rates mean that your screen will show more images per second, which means that you will see a smoother animation. Lower frame rates cause a game to appear to stutter, which is generally not enjoyable for the player.
For the purposes of our PC build guides, we recommend computers that will achieve 60 FPS in your game of choice. Some gamers are satisfied with frame rates as low as 30, but that depends largely on the gamer and the game.
For more information and animations explaining frame rate, please check out our Frame Rate page.
Higher Resolution for Better Gaming
Resolution refers to the number of pixels on a screen. High resolution means more pixels and generally more space and detail, while low resolution means fewer pixels, and often less space. If you are using a typical (not high-end) laptop or an old screen, you likely have a low resolution. When comparing screens with a similar aspect ratio, it is always better to get a higher resolution screen. Higher resolution will always looks better, as you have more real estate and a sharper picture. The image below shows the difference in real estate between common resolutions.
For more information on resolutions, check our Screen Resolution page.
Witcher 3 Hardware Requirements and Performance
Before discussing how various PC components influence your performance with the Witcher 3, let’s take a look at the game’s Minimum and Recommended system requirements, according to CD Projekt RED:
Official Minimum System Requirements:
- Processor: Intel Core i5-2500K or AMD Phenom II X4 940
- Memory: 6 GB RAM
- Graphics Card (NVIDIA): NVIDIA GTX 660
- Graphics Card (AMD): AMD HD 7870
Official Recommended System Specifications:
- Processor: Intel Core i5-3770 or AMD FX-8350
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics Card (NVIDIA): NVIDIA GTX 770
- Graphics Card (AMD): AMD R9 290
Now let’s take a look at how each component influences the game’s performance on your PC.
Witcher 3 GPU Requirements
Note: NVIDIA will be releasing new graphics cards on May 27th (GTX 1080) and June 10th (GTX 1070). If you're planning a new computer build, you may want to wait for those cards to release. We will update this guide once they've come out.
As with most games, your graphics card will have the greatest impact on performance in The Witcher 3. This game is one of the best-looking games on PC, and as such it is extremely demanding. The game is well optimized, but the sheet amount of rich content ensures a heavy performance load. The Witcher 3 requires a high-end GPU to run at a very smooth 60+ FPS.
At 1080p on Ultra settings, the most affordable graphics cards to achieve 60+ FPS will be the GTX 1070. At Medium settings, you can achieve 60+ FPS with a GTX 1060. The RX 480 should also maintain a smooth framerate of 45-55 FPS at Medium settings.
Witcher 3 CPU Requirements
Though the GPU is the most important component for running The Witcher 3, the game is also CPU-intensive. If you want to run Witcher 3 on high settings, you will need to invest in a high-tier CPU. Though you may be able to spend a little less on the CPU, neglecting it is not a good idea. There is a huge performance difference between a budget CPU and a higher-end one when it comes to playing The Witcher 3. For this reason, we would recommend at least an Intel i5 for best performance.
Witcher 3 RAM Requirements
CD Projekt RED’s minimum specification calls for 6 GB of RAM while the recommended specification calls for 8, which is reasonable. We recommend 8 GB for most gaming PC builds.
Witcher 3 Game Settings
The Witcher 3 has a number of graphical settings that will impact that game’s appearance and affect performance.
In the Options menu, the game options that will affect game performance are found under “Postprocessing” and “Graphics”. The other menus, “HUD Configuration” and “Rescale HUD,” simply affect how the Heads-Up Display appears in the game, which does not impact performance to any significant degree.
Everything under the “Postprocessing” menu is nicely organized under presets, as well as individual settings. So, what is postprocessing? The scene and 3D objects are first rendered in the memory of the GPU. Then pixel shaders are applied to the rendered scene, which creates filters and effects.
In short, it makes your game look prettier, but rather than doing so by increasing texture quality, it adds nice graphical effects. There are three preset settings here: “Low”, “Medium”, and “High”. Increasing this setting from low to medium impacts performance by roughly 12%, while changing it from low to high impacts it by roughly 15%.
This setting causes blurring when a character is moving at a high velocity. For example, if Geralt is riding very quickly on his horse, then the screen will blur slightly to accentuate the speed. The same goes for fast-moving enemies and other characters within the game. This setting has a relatively small impact on performance, and is generally turned on or off due to personal preference more than anything else.
This setting has a similar impact to motion blur, however in different places. It introduces Gaussian blur, which is a general screen blur that reduces detail and makes objects look softer. Additionally, radial blur is introduced, which is generally used to accentuate speed. This setting also has a minimal frame rate impact, and is general turned on or off due to personal preference more than anything else.
CD Projekt RED created their own form of anti-aliasing for The Witcher 3, as the more common types weren’t compatible with the game's engine. This AA helps to reduce jagged edges and the shimmering sometimes present on edges when the player is moving. This setting has a differing impact depending on location, with the frame rate changing anywhere from 2% to 10%.
Bloom is a setting that affects bright lights within the game. It generally improves their appearance, as well as the improving the lighting on surfaces cast with bright light. Having this enabled generally makes lighting less flat than it otherwise would appear. It doesn’t have a huge frame rate impact -- roughly 4% based on our testing.
This setting generally makes images appear crisper than they otherwise would. It does this by making edges more defined, and often darker. Though it can look gorgeous in places, it may also look less realistic in others. This setting also has a minimal frame rate impact, with one frame per second being the most lost by turning setting this to “High”.
Ambient Occlusion is an effect which adds shadows at locations where two objects meet. It also affects shadows wherein one object is blocking light from hitting another. Turning this setting up makes the game look much more realistic. This setting has a relatively small impact, as turning if from “None” to “SSAO” causes only a 4% FPS impact, while turning it to “HBAO+” causes about a 6% FPS hit, though this can increase, depending on your location within the game.
Depth of Field
This setting adds a subtle blurring effect to distant models. This can help to hide lower-detail terrain and the like. It has minimal frame rate impact, and can be turned on or off based on how much you like the effect.
This setting has no perceptible impact on FPS.
Chromatic Aberration is an effect typically associated with cheaper cameras. It slightly distorts the image to look more like a photograph. This effect has minimal frame rate impact, and can be turned on or off depending on whether you like the effect.
This effect slightly darkens the corner of the screen. It has no performance impact, so it can be turned on if you like the effect.
Commonly referred to as God Rays, light shafts are beams of light that are seen through foliage, windows in otherwise dark rooms, and are generally seen through gaps in models and around the edges of objects. The frame rate impact is relatively minimal, and they look nice.
Like post processing, the graphics sections are also organized neatly into presets. These have the most impact on performance, and likewise can greatly increase or decrease visual fidelity. These presets include “Low”, “Medium”, “High”, and “Ultra.” Increasing the preset from Low to Medium causes about a 12% impact on performance, while changing it from Low to High causes a ~40% impact, and changing it from Low to Ultra causes a ~55% impact.
VSync, short for “Vertical Synchronization,” synchronizes your in-game frame rate with your monitor’s refresh rate. So, for example, if you have a 60 Hz monitor, your game will always try and render at that frame rate (60 FPS in this instance), even if it could possibly go higher. This is meant to reduce screen tearing, which is when the top and bottom of the screen are showing slightly different images. It’s good to turn on vsync if your frame rate stays above 60 (or whatever your refresh rate is) all the time, otherwise leave it off.
Maximum Frames Per Second
This settings caps your framerate so that your GPU doesn’t do unnecessary work. For example, if you have a 60Hz monitor but you can run the game at 70 FPS, then your monitor is rendering an extra 10 FPS. This could cause it to heat up and work harder than it needs to. Therefore, it is recommended that you set this to the refresh rate of your monitor. This setting contains options for frame rates such as 30 FPS, 60, and unlimited.
The Resolution sets the screen resolution at which the game will be rendered. You can turn this down to be less than your monitor’s resolution if you want a performance gain. For example, turning the setting down to 1024x768 from 1920x1080 will give a large performance increase. This setting contains a slider that has multiple resolution options, depending on your monitor’s native resolution.
This setting affects how the game will be displayed. Options include windowed, borderless windowed, and fill screen. This has no performance impact unless you have other stuff running in the background.
This Nvidia-specific effect adds thousands of tessellated hair strands to characters, each of which behaving (at least theoretically) like actual hair would. It allows for individual shadowing and effects to be added to the hair, further adding to the realism. The slider for this option has three possible selections: Off, Geralt, and On. The frame rates vary heavily based on location, so for our testing we focussed on Geralt on horseback, so that there would be multiple subjects for the effect. Turning it from “Off” to “Geralt” causes about a 14% drop in FPS here, and and changing it from “Off” to “On” causes a 20% drop. Once again, this varies greatly depending on the situation.
NVIDIA HairWorks AA
This setting affects anti-aliasing applied to HairWorks strands. It makes the strands appear smoother, in general, but isn’t particularly noticeable in most instances. For our testing, we did a close up on Geralt’s head. As such, there will be more anti-aliasing to do, and the performance impact is likely greater than is the case when the camera is more zoomed out. There is a slider with multiple options: 0, 2, 4, and 8. Turning it from 0 to 2 will cause about a 7% drop, from 0 to 4 a 14% drop, and from 0 to 8 a 18% drop.
This affects the degree to which NVIDIA HairWorks effects are implemented, and the effects on said strands. It has two settings: Low and High. Turning it from Low to High causes about a 21% drop in our testing, with Geralt’s head close to the camera.
Number of Background Characters
This limits the number of NPCs that can be simultaneously rendered on the screen. The Low setting caps NPCs at 75, Medium at 100, High at 130, and Ultra at 150. During our play time, we have not been able to find a location where 75 NPCs are being rendered, let alone 150, so we are unable to demonstrate and display the impact of this setting.
Shadow Quality has many shadow-affecting settings wrapped up into it. As such, this setting affects the resolution of the shadows, the visibility of shadow details at different distances, and many more. It has a large visual impact, and is definitely worth turning on if you are going for a realistic game. This setting has four options: Low, Medium, High, and Ultra. Turning it from Low to Medium decreases FPS by a minimal amount, Low to High decreases it by 4%, and Low to Ultra decreases it by 7%. This setting, as with many others, has a varying impact, depending on location.
This setting should increase the detail of the terrain viewed within the game. It has a minimal impact on FPS. Turning it from Low to Medium, High, or Ultra, there is in impact of only roughly 4%.
This setting increases the general quality of water. Though it is noticeable in most bodies of water throughout the game, it has the biggest effect on those which are affected heavily by wind. Turning this from Low to Medium causes about a 2% FPS hit, from Low to High causes about a 4% hit, and from Low to Ultra causes about a 8% hit.
This setting affects the amount of grass that will be seen on the ground. Even on the highest setting, there isn’t that big of a difference to be seen. The impact is small, and turning the setting from Low to Medium causes a negligible frame rate impact, from Low to High causes about a 3% hit, and from Low to Ultra causes about a 5% impact.
As the title entails, increasing this setting will generally increase the quality of the textures found within the game. While the resolutions of the textures themselves increase when first turning up the setting, the difference between High and Ultra is simply an increase in the memory allocated for texture quality. This means that there will be less pop-in, but not an increase in overall quality. As long as your graphics card has enough VRAM, Texture Quality has a minimal effect on frame-rate. 2GB should be enough VRAM to turn Texture Quality up to ultra, 1GB for lower resolutions with AA off.
Foliage Visibility Range
This setting affects the number and detail level of trees rendered within the game. Increasing it one setting doubles the number of trees that are able to be rendered. Additionally, it increases the rendering distance of trees, along with grass and bushes. Increasing this setting from Low to Medium causes about a 4% decrease in FPS, from Low to Medium a 5% decrease, and from Low to Medium a 13% increase.
This setting affects the visibility of decals generated during combat, such as blood splatter. In all instances, increasing this setting caused a minimal FPS hit on our test system.
Turning this setting on means that the game will use raw input from your mouse, and could correct any issues you have with the cursor. This setting should only be turned on if you prefer the effect.
Choosing the Best Settings for the Witcher 3
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an extremely demanding game. If you are having trouble getting a smooth frame rate, lowering the graphical settings should help.
Unfortunately, lowering multiple settings will not have a cumulative effect on framerate: If a setting give 10% improvement, and another gives 10%, lowering both will not give 20%, but between 10-15%.
To improve your framerate, try the following steps, ordered by how they affect the game's visuals.
Improve FPS (slightly) with little to no impact on visuals:
- Turn off Bloom
- Turn down Shadow Quality (but not all the way)
- Turn down Terrain Quality
- Lower Grass Density
- Turn off VSync
Improve FPS (moderately) with a small impact on visuals, in addition to the above:
- Turn off NVIDIA HairWorks
- Turn down Ambient Occlusion
- Turn down Anti-Aliasing
- Turn down the graphics preset to High
- Turn down the postprocessing preset
Improve FPS (by a large amount) with a moderate impact on visuals, in addition to the above:
- Turn off Ambient Occlusion
- Turn down the graphics preset to Medium
- Turn off Anti-Aliasing
- Turn down Texture Quality
- Lower the resolution
- Turn down the graphics preset to Low
Logical Increments Tiers and How They Fare
NOTE: Once again, we will soon be updating this guide with new graphics cards from NVIDIA on May 27th (GTX 1080) and June 10th (GTX 1070).
To determine how your PC will perform with the Witcher 3, you’ll need to consider three things:
- The resolution you want to play at (usually your screen’s native resolution)
- How much graphical detail you want
- How smoothly you want the gameplay to run
For our purposes, we aim for a very smooth 60+ FPS with the graphical settings turned all the way up. If you’re willing to lower any graphical settings, or you’re happy with frame rates lower than 60 FPS, you can get by with an even lower-tier PC.
Below, we list the the tiers on our parts list that would achieve that 60 FPS baseline with the Witcher 3 at a range of progressively more demanding screen resolutions. If you are satisfied with lower than 60 FPS, you can get away with getting lower-quality hardware than what we recommend here.
The Monstrous tier featuring 2x GTX 1080s and a i7-6900K will get you as close as possible. This will cost you about $4,000. You could save considerable money by sticking with an i7-6800K or i7-6700K (and compatible motherboard) for the CPU and not notice much, if any, performance difference in the Witcher 3.
With The Witcher 3, you want to make sure you have a high-end system. The Witcher 3 is one of the best looking games on PC, it makes sense that it is extremely demanding. You will want a high-end GPU, and a reasonably powerful CPU.
We hope this guide has helped you determine the hardware you’ll need to play The Witcher 3 to your satisfaction, and what settings to use to help strike a balance between good visuals and good performance. If you want to do any more research on PC hardware or see the parts for the builds we recommend, visit our homepage.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Zehner: Community Manager for Logical Increments
Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.