The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for Nintendo Switch is an Impressive But Paradoxical Port
CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive were so preoccupied with whether or not they could get The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt running on Nintendo Switch, they didn't stop to think if they should.
Over the past two and a half years, the mood around Nintendo Switch ports has shifted. The lack of third-party support was one of the Wii U’s pitfalls, and no one knew if the Nintendo Switch could right the ship. Fortunately, Nintendo’s hybrid console has proven itself to be a massive success; as a result, it is welcoming a plethora of ports from genres never known to be portable. Though these ports can vary in quality, for the most part, they are pretty great. Despite this, the Switch has found more success with ports of older or less graphically intense games. That is why it was such a surprise when CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive announced they were bringing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to Nintendo Switch.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its expansions were met with critical acclaim, DualShockers included, for its amazing world and breathtaking visuals. It seemed to be pushing the PS4 and Xbox One to their limits so porting The Witcher 3 to a system that was less powerful than its peers was a surprise. And while The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt running on Nintendo Switch is a technical feat and the game itself is as good as ever, a lot of sacrifices had to be made visually to make that happen. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does run on Nintendo Switch, but I’m not sure I wanted to see the game like this.
On the bright side of things, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is still a phenomenal game, and it’s impressive that this port can run on Switch at all. The Switch version is the complete edition, so it comes with both of the expansions: Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. The base game and its expansions are still extremely intricate and well-written and everything is present and accounted for here. This means that The Witcher 3 lasts upwards of 150 hours, which is rare to see on portable platforms. It’s a miracle that Saber Interactive managed to stuff a game of this size with a large and dynamic open-world onto the Nintendo Switch, and it is obvious that the console is bursting at the seams to run it, for better and for worse.
It’s stunning that the Nintendo Switch version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is only about 32GB, but this also means digital owners will have to upgrade the system’s storage capacity if they want to play anything else. Then come the technical specs. In docked mode, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt runs at 720p and 30fps, while that’s downgraded to 540p and 30fps in handheld mode. Shockingly, the frame rate stays somewhat consistent, dropping below 30fps in only truly intense areas and cutscenes. It is obvious that the port was built with that being the priority, which is why the experience in docked mode is less than savory.
For anyone thinking of picking up this version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt just to play it on their TV: don’t. When playing on a TV, all of the downgrades made to this beautiful game are all the more obvious. The 720p downgrade is the most obvious, so cutscenes and gameplay look blurrier than they did on other platforms. The textures and pop-in are the port’s most egregious errors. When running through the game’s empty fields, it’s hard not to notice it essentially construct the shrubbery around Geralt as he approaches. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s world prides itself on being one of the most immersive in gaming, but obvious pop-in rips me right out of that experience when playing on a large TV. A cutscene where a village is on fire is much less effective when the fire takes a second or two to pop-in.
A lot of textures are also downgraded, which is to be expected. That being said, it still unties the ribbon that kept the whole package together on other platforms: the nice graphics. The character models have more detail than the environment most of the time but look more like their The Witcher 2 counterparts than their console contemporaries and make most of the nudity laughable. In some still moments, the game can look shockingly good for a Nintendo Switch title, but those are few and far between. It also shows that more stylized games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Astral Chain look and work better on the system.
This port’s saving grace is handheld mode, though it does come with its share of caveats. Portability is the only major strength this port has over the other versions, and it feels awesome to have a 100+ hour RPG on the go. Though the sub-HD resolution is disappointing and the rampant pop-in and downgraded textures are still present, they’re an easier pill to swallow on a smaller screen. While a lot of downgrades had to be made in order to get the game to work in handheld mode, I still had a smirk on my face when I was able to lay in bed and travel through Novigrad. It is also worth noting that the on-screen text is very small, at least in its default option, so those with bad eyesight may have trouble reading.
While the fact that this game is running on Switch is awesome, the only people I can recommend this port to those that really want a portable version of the game or have no other way to experience The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Those just looking for a version of The Witcher 3 to play on their TV should look elsewhere. The complete edition of the game that comes with all of the same content goes for much cheaper during sales on other platforms, and the muddied visuals make this version clearly inferior when in docked mode.
As such, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for Nintendo Switch stands as a paradoxical port. It shows that just about any current-gen game may be able to run on Nintendo Switch with enough work, but also is an example of why not every game should.