LowSpecGamer: running the Witcher 3 under the minimum specs
On the last months few games have generated as much buzz as the Witcher 3, a game that promises to set the next frontier on open world exploration and that has received a shower of praise, lot of its centered around its outstanding graphics and design, with hundreds of people all over the internet showing us how the game looks with the very best hardware available. But what you are about to see is the entire opposite. The game pushed to its lowest limits. Why? Because, this is the LowSpecGamer where stuffs just appears in front of us and The Witcher 3 is a cell shaded game.
So forget about fancy hair works, and grass and high definition resolution. Because, no matter what, we are going to make this game run. Your fairy tale, your rules. While picking apart the game’s configuration files I saw several lines that lead me to believe the games has some sort of auto preset selection based on your video card. My card is obviously not on the list. What I ended up with is something that looks like the medium preset. Most elements on post processing are on or in medium while the graphics menu has the resolution on full hd with some elements on medium, some on high and some or low. It is very obvious that this is not going to go well for my computer, but I am going to run it for the sake of reference. Honestly, I am surprised this is over 5 frames per second Almost as bad as I expected. Let’s see how low does the game normally allows us to go.
This is not a game Tomb Raider, where putting everything into low results in a game that looks like something out of a play station 2. Let me show you. We are going to put everything in post processing to the lowest or off, and the same for the graphics menu. The lowest resolution allowed by the game’s menu is 1024×768 so we are going to go for that and everything into low. Let’s see what that did. Oh well. Apart from the really awkward resolution there is definitively less detail, but it still looks way better from what you will expect from a game in low. Just walking around, the maximum I ever saw was 15 frames per second which is not quite playable.
So, here is where it gets interesting. This game has a lot of configuration files and plenty of hidden options. The first thing we are going to do is install the Witcher 3 hunter config. The link is in the description. This brilliant program is a graphical interface for most of the options on the configuration files, making it much easier to edit, experiment and most importantly, backup your custom configurations. To install it, download the zip file, extract it and copy the contents to your witcher 3 install directory. For Steam users this is located in Program Filex(x86)/Steam/steamapps/common/The Witcher 3. Paste it here and merge or replace files if necessary. Now you only need to double click on the executable to open the config program. Before anything, make sure to backup your current configuration. Some of these options can easily break the game. Now, I have been screwing around with each and every one of these options and measuring results. Here are some of the good ones. Go into the rendering tab and deactivate all effects under Post Process: rain, fog and so on.
Next we have two sliders that controls how many trees are rendered on your view and the density of the grass. Reducing these both can have a very important impact on performance. Since mine is a case of desperation I am going to force both all the way down. You will see the extreme effect this has very soon. Now these three next sliders control the downscale factor for the textures. If you increase them to the maximum you can get texture quality way under what the “low” option allows the game to have.
So we are going to do just that. These two shadow size parameters can be used to control the quality of shadows, so I have seen an overall improvement in performance by taking them as down as they go. Now, these two max texture size values can be taken down to further decrease the quality of the textures to unthinkable levels. However, in my experience, it did not improve the game’s framerate and it led to a lot of loading bugs especially when moving around in the world. But, If you are feeling adventurous you can lower them and enjoy how amusing the game looks on its really lowest possible quality. Well, isn’t that something. This slider over here controls the chance that decals such as particles are blood are shown at the distance, so I am going to turn it off. And I am going to put the maximum numbers of decals to 0. Now, these three values over here: cascade shadow map, max cascade count and max terrain shadow atlas count control shadow quality. So I am going to put them all the way down. As I said, I did measurements for each one of these individually and these guys, along with the texture downscaling, are some of the biggest players in squeezing performance out of the game.
If your game is almost running and you don’t want to lower the textures these guys over here are a very good choice. This slider is for the quality of water, so I am going to turn it down. And finally this sliders over here also control rendering of grass and trees. They provide some very small gains in performance but, along with the sliders up there for grass and foliage, they come with the cost of vegetation rendering in a very very odd way. So, turn them off if you are desperate. And, just like that. The Witcher 3 is suddenly a cell shaded game. This is truly how the game looks when you push it almost its lowest. Believe it or not it can get worse. As you can see, now the framerate goes between 18 and 22, which some might consider playable and is a word of difference over the 15 we where getting before. Notice how all plants are now rendered only as we get closer, this is controlled by the grass and foliage sliders I mentioned before, and this is how it looks when it is all the way down.
Almost playable I would say. But, notice also how shadows render in a small circle around me? Well, time to tackle that. Because there are still a couple of things we can do to push this game even further. The config program simplifies editing most of the lines on the configurations files. But there are small things here and there that as of today, I have not seen reflected on the on the interface and can only be modified manually. And we can use a couple of those to squeeze more performance out of the game. Go the main configuration file located at documents, The Witcher 3. The file we are looking for is called user. Open it in notepad. First thing, the resolution. As I have shown you before the lowest resolution allowed in game is 1024×768. But we can force the game to go even lower by changing this line over here to 800×600. Yep, say goodbye to HD resolution, we are not pulling any punches today.
Also, set FullScreenMode to 1. This will make the game run on windowed borderless mode. Running the game on windowed mode is a common tip for gaining performance on any game but I have never mentioned it before because in my measurements it usually does not change a thing. This time is different. While playing on the lowest resolution I saw a big difference on borderless mode. Like 4-5 frames per second difference. You can also toggle borderless mode from the game but hey, we are already have the file open. Next, put this line AllowedLightsShadowTime to 0. Max AllowedlightsShadow to 0. CascadeShadowDistanceScale2 and CascadeShadowDistanceScale3 both to 0. MaxTerrainShadowAtlasCount, 0. CascadeShadowMapSize, this one was on the configuration program but it did not allow us to put to 0. Here, we can. CascadeShadowDistanceScale0 and CascadeShadowDistanceScale1 both to 0 as well. And finally FoliageShadowDistanceScale to 0. Well wasn’t that a mouthful? All done. It took a lot of trial and error but these options actually do something really odd to shadows. It will force them to almost completely disappear except for a very narrow space right next to your character. Let me show you the results.
As you can see shadows are now limited to small space next to your character. Almost gone. Playing on these extreme conditions allows the game to perform on around 25 frames per second and in many occasions around 30. I never saw it drop under 20. Not bad for a computer that can not get beyond 7 in normal preset. I have been trying this configuration in several parts of the game and it maintains a playable framerate, so I would say the extreme measures have payed off. However, Witcher 3 is a very new game. The documentation for all the configuration parameters is scarce and the more I dig the more interesting things I uncover. Besides, moders have barely started digging their teeth into the game, so plenty of new and interesting ways of improving performance are bound to show up.
So keep your eyes open, and, if you saw me doing anything wrong or if you know any performance related mods for this guy let me know on comments, twitter or reddit. I read everything. Oh and be sure to run your own experiments. Just remember to backup your configuration before trying anything. Some of the most obscure values can lead to some rather unexpected results. I do not even know what is happening any more..