Let's get the obvious jokes out of the way first: if Witcher 4 is due out in 2024 or 2025, our experience of The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 suggests that you'll need to wait another year for it to stop crashing and for the characters to keep their genitals in their trousers.
But while I'm wary about any CD Projekt Red announcement after buying Cyberpunk 2077 – I bought it on day one for PS5, which turned out to be 14 months before it was actually ready for the console – I'm still excited by the news of a new Witcher saga. And a big part of that is because instead of using their own game engine, REDengine 3, the developers are going with Unreal 5 instead.
Unreal 5 is amazing. It's the engine we saw in The Matrix Awakens, it's the engine that powers the latest season of Fortnite, and it's the engine behind many jaw-dropping tech demos on YouTube, including this stunner (opens in new tab) that was powered by the PlayStation 5 itself.
Simply put, Unreal Engine 5 will make the next Witcher game mind-blowing in three important ways.
Unreally good: what Unreal 5 brings to The Witcher's world
Unreal 5 brings serious improvements in three key areas: visual quality, animation and AI.
The first is the most obvious. Unreal Engine 5 enables developers to create very complex geometry featuring huge numbers of polygons without sacrificing performance. That's something that really wowed me in the wandering-around section of The Matrix Awakens, where I could see even tiny things in incredible detail without stuttering, pop-ins or other issues. And there's a much smarter lighting system called Lumen and a character designer called MetaHuman, both of which are designed for incredible realism. That means The Witcher 4 could be the closest to photorealistic we've ever seen.
But there's more to game graphics than how they look. They need to move realistically too, and Unreal Engine is good at that too. It has a brand new character animation system designed to take the tedium out of characters interacting with their environment, and it has improved physics for more realistic bodies when characters walk on different kinds of terrain or deal with things like doors and other physical objects.
Last but not least, there's improved AI too. Unreal Engine 5 has mass AI support, which means it can run thousands of AI agents in very large open worlds, enabling developers to create richly populated cities just like Cyberpunk 2077 didn't.
The Witcher 4 won't be the only big name game running Unreal Engine 5: Epic reckons that nearly 50% of all next-gen games are being developed using it. It's time to see what our next-gen consoles are really capable of.