I’m perhaps one of the worst people to be writing a THE WITCHER 3 Switch review. You see, it’s not because I don’t love the franchise, as the third installment landed itself on my “Top 10 Games of All Time” list, impressing me at launch with the base game, and further down the line with the stellar post-launch support and downloadable content. No, what makes me a tough reviewer for the Switch port is that I’ve put hundreds of hours into the PC version of the game, running it at 1440p, maximum settings.
How this game should look has been burned into my brain, and so shifting to a 720p docked and sub-720p portable version, with lower resolution textures and other graphics options dropped to low or off, has the risk of being too jarring and ruining what makes The Witcher 3 so damn good. So then, have the combined efforts of CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive resulted in a worthy port, or have they been too ambitious, with the game instead dissolving into an unrecognizable mess? This is our review.
The Witcher 3 Switch review | A wizard did it
Before I had even booted the game, I spied one clear achievement: the file size has been drastically reduced to fit a Nintendo Switch cartridge (32 GB). Thankfully, this doesn’t come at the expense of content, as the Switch version is indeed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition. This means that those playing on a Nintendo system will have access to all expansions and DLCs. Switch players can take the monster-hunting Geralt of Rivia through the base game, the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions, before then tackling different paths and choices in New Game Plus. Rather than chopping away tens of hours of additional story and gameplay, the developers have implemented lower resolution assets, as well as increased compression on the cutscenes and audio. I think this was the right call.
Though it’s fantastic that the full The Witcher 3 experience has been crammed into a tiny cartridge, it’s a little disappointing that there are no exclusive bonuses for Nintendo Switch owners to enjoy. While other third-party games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offer The Legend of Zelda loot, there are no such items to be found in The Witcher 3 Switch. Don’t be expecting Amiibo or touchscreen support, either.
The Witcher 3 Switch review | Pixel peeping
So all of the content is there, with 100+ hours of the base game, and 50+ hours of DLC to enjoy. However, this means nothing if players aren’t actually able to make out what is happening onscreen. With an adaptive resolution dropping the game down to below 720p in more demanding areas, there is the potential for visuals to become too blurry and difficult to make out. In a game as punishing as this — especially at the tougher end of the five available difficulties — the need to track enemies in dense, and often dark, environments makes having clear visuals important.
Look, I’ll be straight with you and save you from disappointment before it’s too late: The Witcher 3 on Switch can descend into what I’m calling “Vaseline Mode.” It’s a very rare occurrence, but the blurriness can sometimes be overwhelming, even on the small Nintendo Switch screen.
Players can tweak two graphics options within the game’s menus: Motion Blur and Blur. These can both be set to either on or off. I found these blur effects to be pretty aggressive, hiding the game’s rough spots well, but also making the presentation even softer. I found no obvious performance hit from having these settings turned on, so it will be down to the personal preference of each user. Regardless of what you choose, you will still spot some shimmering on armor pieces, with aliasing becoming especially apparent in the docked mode on larger screens. The fading in of environmental details is also noticeable, though tolerable and not too distracting, while moments of perceptible pop-in were minimal.
The Witcher 3 Switch review | Frame-rate, I choose you!
When it comes to consistently fluid gameplay, I’m happy to say that performance is solid on the Switch, with the game scaling down the visuals to maintain a playable frame-rate. The 30 FPS lock hit more than it missed, only dropping to a slight stutter in busier scenarios, which I found to be a very pleasant surprise. If I had to choose between sharp visuals or a smooth frame-rate, I’d be going with the latter, and I’m happy that the developers did the same.
Loading times appear to match those of the PS4 and Xbox One versions, meaning about a minute or so wait when fast traveling to a new region or loading in from the Home Screen. The game’s impact on battery life is also inoffensive, appearing to have the same drain as a similarly demanding open-world RPG like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The Witcher 3 Switch review | Thinking with portability
While docked gives the system more power to push resolution and usually guarantees more consistent performance, it’s in the portable mode where The Witcher 3 Switch version truly shines. This is the edition that people who are too busy for home consoles and PC gaming should play. Finding time to sit down in front of a TV or monitor becomes increasingly difficult as adult responsibilities take over, I get it, and I think CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive get it as well. The Witcher 3 made truly portable is an enormous achievement and opens the game up for even more players to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the convenience of having Geralt on the go comes at a cost. At launch, The Witcher 3 Switch version is available for $60, which is the same price as a brand new game. With that said, if you value the portability aspect, especially if it’s the only way you’ll ever be able to play through this masterpiece, and you consider the 150+ hours of content that this title boasts, then the $60 price tag will perhaps be easier to swallow. Otherwise, if you won’t ever be playing this in portable mode and you own a different supported system, get the game for that platform instead, as it’ll look better and be much cheaper.
The Witcher 3 Switch review | A major win for Nintendo
The fact that The Witcher 3, a third-party game initially made for other more powerful platforms, is now playable on such a low-powered mobile system, without any major sacrifices to story or gameplay, is honestly groundbreaking and sets a precedent for other franchises to hopefully follow. Now that this game exists, I will no longer be as quick to believe the excuse of “The Switch isn’t powerful enough for our new title!”
Sure, I may have criticized the visuals for being too blurry at times, as well as minor frame-rate hiccups, but those are just niggles when considering the massive open world that is now available to Nintendo Switch owners. This might not be the “definitive edition” of the game, but its existence makes The Witcher 3 accessible to more players, and that is certainly a good thing. The developers should be commended on their efforts here, and I’m excited to see how much further the Switch can be pushed. Portable Cyberpunk 2077, anyone?!
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition was reviewed on an original Nintendo Switch with code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.