At this stage in the Switch’s life, we’ve already witnessed some ports previously thought impossible for Nintendo’s underpowered hybrid. But a massive open-world RPG like The Witcher 3, which also runs on a proprietary engine rather than the more easily scalable Unreal, surely this would be just too much? And even if it’s possible, would you even want to play one of the best games of this generation in a massively compromised state?
If you’ve already played Geralt’s adventures on a high-end PC or indeed one of the other consoles, there’s no reason you’d pay full price for a technically inferior Witcher when the game’s already available for far cheaper on the other platforms. Play it handheld on the other hand (which I have done entirely for this review with the Switch Lite) and it is nothing short of an engineering marvel that has retained the feel of the game and all of its content, despite some noticeable blemishes.
It’s not called the Complete Edition for nothing. The Switch version is the whole game released for every other platform, including all DLC such as the ‘Heart of Stone’ and ‘Blood and Wine’ expansions, which you also have the option of playing as stand-alone games right from the off (you’re automatically starting at an appropriate post-game level with character ability points to spend, so you actually stand a chance). For the physical release, CD Projekt Red and porting studio Saber Interactive have managed to fit all of this onto a 32GB Game Card with no additional downloads, but as I have been playing from a download code, the final size is actually even smaller, at 31.1GB. That alone is an astonishing feat, though it’s evidently been because the Switch’s limitations mean things like super high-resolution textures and detailed character models aren’t necessary and the audio has also been compressed. But all these tricks aside, no actual content has been cut and every quest or NPC is present and correct, as is the very mature content, be it Geralt slicing up foul-mouthed bandits or getting into one of a number of sexual encounters.
It’s a no-brainer that graphically, you are undeniably playing an inferior-looking version of The Witcher 3, and this is definitely the case in actual gameplay when you’re in control of Geralt either while riding around on Roach or in the thick of combat. When captured as a screenshot, it actually looks worse than it is (incidentally, there is no option to capture video for this game). Not only is resolution low, with open lush natural environments looking blurry to the point of feeling like an impressionist painting, but you’ll also notice things like character models popping in only when you are quite close to them. Yet when you’re actually just playing it in motion, it still feels exactly like how it’s supposed to be. Ride across a puddle and you’ll hear a splash underneath, walk around the bustling market of Novigrad and you’ll hear NPCs chattering, look up during a storm and there’s rain effects and flashes of lightning.
Essentially, nothing of the lower-quality visuals actually compromises gameplay. Use your Witcher senses and tracks are as visible as they should be, while the text boxes and UI have been adjusted in size, looking sharp and legible even on a small screen. If there are visibility issues however, it’s not so much the game’s visuals as it is carrying your Switch around out and about during a sunny day, which is going to impact your ability to see where you’re going when you’re exploring a dark underground cavern.
Performance isn’t always stable with the occasional dip in the 30FPS, but if there are any flaws, they’re more what’s already inherent in the original game, such as the combat, which has always rather paled compared to the meaty weight and heft of Monster Hunter or Dark Souls. But then there is far more to Geralt’s questing than just hacking and slashing monsters or bandits. There’s just as much in detective work afforded by his Witcher senses to investigate crime scenes, or making crucial dialogue choices with outcomes tending to verge on the morally grey. This is after all a world in the midst of war where you’re not really regarded as a hero, despite your unique set of skills.
Ultimately, the vital core of The Witcher 3 is in its storytelling, which involves many close-up talking head dialogue scenes. Here’s where the resolution does kick up a notch, as character’s facial features look as detailed and expressive as they should. While you’re likely to see differences if you were to put the Switch version side-by-side with one of the other platforms, the point is these on the whole look good and watchable. Cut scenes are of a similar quality, though might also occasionally have a slight dip in frame rate usually at the start, or a momentary delay of textures loading up.
It might not be the definitive version of The Witcher 3 if you’re looking for the highest performance, and you can find better looking and better performing titles made exclusively for the Switch hardware, such as Astral Chain. But if you want the ability to take Geralt anywhere with you, or while you’re nice and snug in bed, or while watching Netflix (like that Henry Cavill-starring Witcher adaptation coming soon) then it’s the definitive portable experience. With over 200 hours of gameplay, your commute will never be the same again.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt Complete Edition (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
The reduced visual quality doesn’t stop The Witcher 3 on Switch from being an astonishing technical marvel from Saber Interactive. It remains one of the finest open-world games of this generation, especially if you favour rich storytelling over systems and mechanics, which you can now take with you.