CD Projekt RED today confirmed that development has started on the next installment in the popular Witcher franchise. While the announcement was extremely short on details on the game proper, the developer also announced it has entered a new strategic partnership with Epic Games, which will see the replacement of its in-house-developed REDengine by Epic's Unreal Engine 5.
With millions of copies sold, The Witcher 3 remains one of the most lauded RPGs of all time -- it garnered over 250 Game of the Year awards, pleasing both critics and gamers alike. Development on another Witcher game isn't necessarily news. We knew CD Projekt RED had more than a "mere" next-gen upgrade in mind for the franchise. However, the announcement that CD Projekt RED will be forgoing its own development tool comes as a curveball of sorts.
The company originally debuted its in-house engine with The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings in 2011, showcasing incredible visual and systems improvements over the licensed Bioware "Aurora" engine employed in the original 2007 The Witcher game. REDengine has since become the backbone to all of the developers' releases - including 2020's Cyberpunk 2077. The company has likely poured millions of dollars into engine development throughout the years, and they've now elected to scrap that work in favor of a new engine with new tools and workflows. Naturally, work on Cyberpunk 2077's future content will still be carried out within REDengine.
CD Projekt RED is well aware of the toll this takes in development. Speaking on the transition to Unreal Engine 5 for this and future games, CTO of CD PROJEKT RED, Paweł Zawodny explained the reasoning somewhat:
“One of the core aspects of our internal RED 2.0 Transformation is a much stronger focus on technology, and our cooperation with Epic Games is based on this principle. From the outset, we did not consider a typical licensing arrangement; both we and Epic see this as a long-term, fulfilling tech partnership. It is vital for CD PROJEKT RED to have the technical direction of our next game decided from the earliest possible phase as; in the past, we spent a lot of resources and energy to evolve and adapt REDengine with every subsequent game release. This cooperation is so exciting, because it will elevate development predictability and efficiency, while simultaneously granting us access to cutting-edge game development tools. I can’t wait for the great games we’re going to create using Unreal Engine 5!”
It seems that CD Projekt RED took a long look at the opportunity cost of either further developing its in-house engine, or settling for an industry stalwart such as Epic's Unreal Engine. Ultimately, the company concluded that it had more to win by leveraging not only a well-known and well-documented game development engine -- with all the nifty forward-facing features such as Nanite and Lumen that generated that incredible engine showcase demo -- but also Epic Games itself. The joint development collaboration makes sense in more ways than one: CD Projekt RED knows exactly what it needs for smooth development of its open-world sandboxes. The company's engineers are sure to have an impact on Epic's future development of the engine.
Even so, the decision of which engine to use remains one of the most fundamental questions of game design. And as mentioned by Zawodny, it's one that needs to be taken as early as possible in the development. This tells us that the next Witcher installment will still take years to be delivered onto whatever hardware or gaming console that's prominent at the time.
Perhaps we're just witnessing some of the fallout from Cyberpunk 2077. It's at least conceivable that part of the reason for the games' troubled launch (and its much-delayed DLCs and expansions) lay with CD Projekt RED's tools. Here's hoping that the next installment in the Witcher series is less delay-prone and problematic than Cyberpunk 2077.