After rumours and leaks, even when it was officially announced during the E3 Nintendo Direct, I still couldn’t believe that The Witcher 3 is really coming to Switch.
Of course, Nintendo’s under-powered hybrid does have open world games – from Breath of the Wild to Skyrim – and Bethesda has also proven that it can run powerful current-gen titles we all thought impossible, like Doom and Wolfenstein. But getting a current-gen open world title as technically demanding as The Witcher 3 on Switch? Surely there must be some dark sorcery (or witchery) to make this happen.
And yet, here I was, a Switch in my hands playing The friggin’ Witcher. And what a sight to behold it is.
My hands-on session provided multiple save points I could try out, so I naturally went for the biggest test first: the painterly vistas of Toussaint from the game’s excellent Blood and Wine DLC, an area where CD Projekt Red had already pushed the visuals to another level of detail for the other platforms.
After the loading screen was done (which didn’t really feel any longer than I remember it being on PS4), there I was with Geralt riding on Roach through luscious fields with the sun on my face. I was supposed to be following another NPC along on a quest, but by god I just had to spin the camera to have a look around; marvelling at how beautiful it all looks. Sure, the resolution is noticeably lower than the 720p the screen can usually display, and as I inch my face closer to scrutinise, the textures aren’t as richly detailed (although the foliage has something of a pleasant impressionistic look to it). But with the stable framerate, the essence is undeniably and faithfully reproduced.
I spent some time riding about, talking to the locals and then got into a fight. As it turned out, I did need to reacquaint myself with the controls, as some high-level drowners did end up killing me, which also reminded me that despite all the GOTY accolades The Witcher 3 has, the combat has never been my favourite aspect.
I continued my tour of ‘Switcher’ by jumping into other save files, taking me from the bustling markets of Novigrad to the haunting isles of Skellige. On the latter, I took a boat out on the lush waters and then climbed up to higher ground to take in more breathtaking views. This preview build did however keep each area in its own confined map, so I didn’t get the opportunity to just ride through the whole world in my session.
Nonetheless, we got the confirmation that this Complete Edition does exactly what it says on the tin: it contains every piece of DLC content on a 32GB cartridge, letting you play immediately. That also means there’s none of that awful “download required” text ruining the box art.
When you’re out in the more open areas, it’s easier to notice the concessions made to keep things running smoothly. For instance, you might be able to see mountains and trees in the distance, but other things like NPCs and tall grass might fade in and out, as I found when I was riding quite fast through one area.
Conversely, that’s less noticeable in a dense environment like Novigrad market, where every NPC appeared to be present and correct. Most importantly, the port hasn’t skimped on the audio, so you’ll hear the religious nutter on his soapbox, and the passersby talking behind your back. Considering witchers are viewed as freaks of nature, this happens quite a lot. People might be most fixated on the visual quality but we really shouldn’t ignore the audio; from the gorgeous atmospheric music to all the voice acting, that must have also weighed up a lot on the file size.
But even if The Witcher 3‘s visuals have taken a hit in resolution in coming to the Switch, the UI retains its sharpness. What’s more, text also appears larger, which is handy for a game where you’ll pick up plenty of lore and quest entries. I recall the original release having some awfully small text so that this has been made a priority for the Switch version is very welcome, and something other developers can learn from (looking at you, Fire Emblem: Three Houses).
It should be noted that my sessions was strictly in handheld mode – I can imagine having The Witcher 3 docked on the big screen wouldn’t do it a huge favour when run side-by-side with other platforms that can run it in 4K. But I also imagine that my experience is going to be very representative of most Switch owners who would be getting this primarily to play on the go.
Whether you want to take Geralt with you on the plane, snuggled up on the sofa, or on the bog, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the results when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition releases on Switch on 15th October.
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