Even with the leaks and rumours that led up to the official announcement, many people (myself included) couldn’t foresee a future where The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt would be available in its entirety on the Nintendo Switch. On a technical level, it seems inconceivable. Yet, by some force of nature, CD Projekt Red’s immense RPG has arrived on Nintendo’s portable powerhouse, with all of the DLC attached. To whoever at Saber Interactive exchanged their mortal soul with the devil to get this thing up and running… I’m not a religious man but you’re forever in my prayers.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours basking in the glory of The Witcher 3 on my PC, and even then my par-for-the-course graphics card struggled to deliver the visual experience at its true potential, which is why when my 30-something gigabyte download of the Switch port finished, my skepticism gland started to flare. Is the level of compromise too much to bear on this underpowered platform, and crucially, is that enough to put me off of spending many more hours soaking in the unparalleled adventure that CD Projekt Red blessed us with in early 2015?
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
To the latter part of that question, the answer is a firm no. The same sense of wonder returned and I quite comfortably found my groove in Roach’s hooves as I lapped up every last quest in White Orchard, flitting between points of interest and marvelling at Geralt’s sword-spinning combative flair. The controls translate carefully to the contours of the handheld Switch. Casting spells and navigating the inventory doesn’t feel at all alien and will come naturally to anyone who has played the game with a controller. It would have been nice to see Saber do something smart with the motion controls or HD rumble capabilities of the Switch, but honestly, given the courage necessary to even get this behemoth to function on a tablet-sized console, I can certainly forgive the lack of bells and whistles.
It is, all things considered, a fully functioning port of The Witcher 3, and you can play the entire game through without running into any serious issues. This is enough of an achievement in itself, but when it comes to textures and vistas you need to seriously measure your expectations. Environment textures, foliage, clothes and unimportant furniture have been shunted back a generation or two to make this port work, and the results can make for a muddy, illegible experience, especially in a busy hamlet or market.
Performance-wise, the game hovers in spots but provides a mostly very stable 20-30 FPS in handheld mode at 540p, which given the hardware is remarkable. Docking the Switch ups the resolution to 720p and increases the FPS by some small margin, but the trade-off is the physical closeness to the action, which on a big screen turns it into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Cataracts Edition. In all seriousness, the joy here is found in the portable potential of this enormous world. If you’re going to dock it, you might as well turn your PC on.
As far as loading The Witcher 3’s gigantic maps and creating the unique seamless feeling of moving through the world, there’s barely any stuttering or pop-in in the Switch port as you travel. Yet it does drop the ball in other areas to accommodate the underpowered platform. It’s clear from early on that bias has been given to make the character models of the main cast stand out.
Geralt’s chainmail and Yennefer’s luscious locks glint and glisten in cutscenes, and there are some complimentary rendering techniques in play, with ambient occlusion basking key moments in a much-appreciated (yet sometimes over-exposed) glow. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged silver sword, as it only exaggerates how clunky some of the other textures look when Geralt inevitably makes small talk in the middle of nowhere with a random peasant whose brother was *rolls dice*… gored by a Chort?
Battery life is another consideration. I was averaging around 2 and a half hours of play on my release day purchase Nintendo Switch, which is great if you’re on a transpennine train, but not so impressive if you’re trying to witch your way through a long-haul flight. It feels as intense if not more hot and loud than Breath of The Wild, so power banks at the ready!
Which witch is which?
The tough part about recommending this port is that it doesn’t match CD Projekt Red’s true vision for the vibrant world they weaved. As a newcomer to the game everybody has been talking about, The Witcher 3 on Switch is fundamentally not the way you should first experience it. I urge you to seek the game out on another platform if you have the means, if only to fall in love with Geralt and his arrhythmia-inducing DiCaprio bangs (Loose, not so long till I die) in uninhibited HD or even 4K.
Yet, paradoxically, if your sole console is a Nintendo Switch and you’re eager to parse the fuss, I simply cannot let you get away with not experiencing this modern masterpiece. The Witcher 3 on Switch – if you blind yourself to the visual compromise – still has a gigantic heart at its core and an adventure that you can lose hundreds of joyous hours to, the unique selling point being that you can summon noonwraiths and romance witches whilst you wait for the bus home from work.
To speak to the final demographic of potential buyers, the Velen veterans: it’s going to depend entirely on how much you can separate the eye-popping visual experience of The Witcher 3 from the sticky systems and narrative that complement it. If you’re in a different place in your life where you do most of your gaming on your Switch and have had years of distance from Wild Hunt, I can see the appeal.
But do understand that the Switch port is going to be an inherently underwhelming thing to look at. If it’s still quick and easy for you to press a few buttons and return to your old saves, the only advantage here is the portability, with every other facet constituting a downgrade. Given the game’s cinematic spectacle, it’s on you as to whether you can deal with being yanked from the ambience by the jagged vertices of a log pile in the background of a random cutscene. If you simply don’t care about how it looks but would like to play The Witcher 3 on the move, then this impossible port provides everything you need.
3.5 out of 5
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
A well-functioning port of a brilliant game with an unexpected identity crisis. Given the availability of other platforms, the visual compromise makes this technical marvel a difficult sell to first-timers and veterans.