It shouldn’t work, but it does.
The Switch has received a flurry of ports of last-gen and current-gen titles since its launch, while many games have even declared day and date release dates for the system, making it Nintendo’s best-supported console by third parties in a long, long time. But never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, of all games, would manage to make its way to the Switch.
This right here is one of the biggest, most ambitious, and most beautiful games we’ve ever seen, and even for the PS4 and Xbox One’s hardware, it can be a pretty taxing game. To get it running on the Switch without any cuts to the core experience, and yet, CD Projekt RED and Saber Interactive – the developers of this port – have been promising that this is the complete Witcher 3 experience with no cutbacks, barring the obvious visual downgrades.
"This is no pocket edition, it doesn’t abridge any of the content. It makes some visual downgrades to get the game running on the system, but even so, manages to look pretty good. "
As it happens, that’s a very accurate description of the game. Witcher 3 on the Switch isn’t a half-hearted port of a bigger title that makes drastic changes to the soul of the experience. Unlike what EA Sports does with its FIFA games and what Square Enix did with Final Fantasy 15: Pocket Edition, The Witcher 3 on the Switch is the full Witcher 3 experience. This is no pocket edition, it doesn’t abridge any of the content. It makes some visual downgrades to get the game running on the system, but even so, manages to look pretty good.
Don’t get me wrong- don’t expect it to be a stunning game as far as visuals go. On consoles and PC, The Witcher 3 is a breathtaking game, both from an art perspective and a tech perspective. On the Switch, the game’s art obviously holds up, and brings its harsh and gritty world to life just as well as it did on other systems. But the technical side of the graphics is lacking here. Resolution is pared back significantly, while draw distances are also decreased. There’s a lot of texture pop-in, lots of muddy textures, jagged assets in the environment thanks to a low polygon count, and the level of detail in the environments is much lower (and keeps on getting lower the further distant objects grow).
This is much more noticeable on a bigger screen than it is on the Switch tablet’s screen. When played in handheld mode, thanks to being compressed on a smaller screen, The Witcher 3 actually manages to look surprisingly good. The sacrifices in the visuals department don’t seem terribly noticeable, and when Geralt is in motion, the lower level of detail also sort of fades into the background. In console mode though, there’s only a maximum resolution of 720p, while the image is also blown up on a larger screen. Both those things, combined with all the aforementioned visual sacrifices, make for a game that can look… let’s not mince words here- it looks pretty bad. In fact, it looks like someone’s smeared a bunch of lotion all over your screen.
"When played in handheld mode, thanks to being compressed on a smaller screen, The Witcher 3 actually manages to look surprisingly good."
What’s impressive, though, is that though The Witcher 3 makes compromises in the visuals department – necessary as they are – when it comes to performance, it unflinchingly sticks to more than just a decent standard. Frame rate is solid, even when things get terribly busy. Walking around in crowded areas with loads of NPCs milling about or getting into a fight with half a doze drowners doesn’t impact the frame rate at all, and if it does, it’s barely ever noticeable. There were a couple of times when I noticed the frame rate dipping during some cutscenes, but in my experience, such instances were rare. Meanwhile, load times – which those who’ve played the game on consoles will remember as being particularly long at times – are also blessedly quick and snappy here, barring a couple of very rare instances.
The fact that the game looks quite good in handheld mode and that it always performs well is doubly important here, because the biggest draw of The Witcher 3 on the Switch is just that- that it’s on the Switch. That this massive, grand, epic title is now playable on a handheld system. You can by lying in bed or sitting on a bus while travelling the Continent as Geralt of Rivia, tracking Ciri, slaying monsters, and dismantling empires. It’s a mouth-watering prospect, and the fact that this version of the game manages to make good on that prospect is a huge plus in my book.
There’s also the fact that there’s a ridiculous amount of content in this package. The Witcher 3 is, at the very least, a 60 hour-long game, but one that can easily exceed 100 hours if you tackle its optional activities. Add to that its two sizeable expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, both of which are also 10-15 hours long each at the minimum, and 20-30 hours if you engage with optional content. That’s 150 hours or more of excellently crafted, memorable, quality content in a single package- something not many games can boast of having. With that sort of value for money, you can’t really go wrong.
"It’s one of the greatest games of all time on a portable system, and it runs well- that in and of itself should be enough to sell you on it."
Is The Witcher 3’s Switch version the ideal way to play the game? No, not really- not by a long shot. If you have access to a PS4 or an Xbox One or a PC that can run the game, I definitely would not recommend the Switch version of the game, unless portability is a factor for you. Then again, if portability is a factor for you, or if you don’t have access to those systems, or if you’ve played this game before and have a hankering to play through it again? Go right ahead and buy The Witcher 3 on the Switch, without any hesitations. It’s the full experience, and sure, it has noticeable graphical cutbacks, but it’s one of the greatest games of all time on a portable system, and it runs well- that in and of itself should be enough to sell you on it.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Solid performance; Looks pretty good in handheld mode; Tons of content; It's Witcher 3 on the go.
Doesn't look good in console mode; Understandable but noticeable visual downgrades.
The Witcher 3 on the Switch is, miraculously enough, a decent-looking, well-performing, portable version of one of the greatest games of all time.