CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive had their work cut out for them when they decided to port the acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to the Nintendo Switch — a console that’s received plenty of praise, but is not known for its graphical prowess. For the uninformed, The Witcher 3 is an impossibly dense RPG that was lauded for both the quality in its seemingly endless amount of content and jaw-dropping vistas, the latter I assumed would be a problem for the small (but mighty) Switch.
Admittedly, when I heard this game was being ported, I thought it would be a disaster. At the time of its release, The Witcher 3 was — and continues to be — a PC elitist’s fantasy in terms of graphical fidelity. Even on my lowly launch unit PlayStation 4, it’s a sight to behold, and one I return to frequently to take in the many gorgeous sights. I’ve seen the corners Nintendo has had to cut with games like Doom and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, games that are certainly no slouch in terms of graphics but do not compare in sheer size like The Witcher 3. Needless to say, as talented as CDPR and Saber Interactive are as developers, I was not confident they could pull this off.
Let me tell ya, folks: I love being wrong! The Witcher 3 on Switch (or, uh, Switcher 3…. to be fair, my editor was the one that made that joke, so direct any insults toward him) is not just a worthy port, but a great way to jump in if you missed it the first time around — as long as you’re not a stickler for graphics, resolution, and a number of other caveats that come with my recommendation.
As a whole, the visuals sort of look like they are suffering from a head cold. Everything from the lush forests to the shabby villages and murky swamps seem to be wrapped in a light fog and a small amount of blur. It’s like if you played a game wearing drunk goggles… or if you were just drunk. While cutscenes perform well, for the most part, the open-world clearly shows the Switch’s limitations. Traipsing through iconic locales like White Orchard or Velen feel muted by the obvious concessions CPDR and Saber Interactive had to make in order to get The Witcher 3 to run.
I’m not one to care about technical performance, but having recently played Ghost Recon: Breakpoint on the Xbox One X puts into perspective how impressive visual fidelity and 60 frames per second can be. On the Switch, The Witcher 3 is plagued by texture pop-ins, stuttering cinematics, and weirdly rough and rumpled art design that almost gives it the aesthetic of a PlayStation 2 game. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to see Geralt’s long, luscious white hair turned into a subdued, low-res wig that only has half of the charm; or noticing the jagged edges on buildings and smoothed, paper-like brick on castles; or the pixelation around the character models. If all of these things are red flags to you, the Switch is probably not the best place to experience The Witcher 3, especially if it’s your first time.
With that said, I quickly got over the lack of resolution and rough graphics. Once I made my way through the (boring) tutorial and started digging into the world, I found myself invested in this beautiful world once again, role-playing as the White Wolf, Geralt of Rivia himself. Not only does the rest of The Witcher 3 work — and works damn well — on Switch, but it didn’t take me long to realize one important factor to my enjoyment: I can play The Witcher in bed. And then I realized, I can play it on the toilet. And then I realized, I can play it at work. And then I realized, I can play it at work while on the toilet. Maybe not that last part, but you get the point. Like Skyrim before it, having the ability to take a massive RPG like The Witcher 3 wherever I want is such a nice option to have, and one that I have already taken full advantage of.
Aside from its portability, the Switch port makes up for its lack of technical performance in other, more important areas. It’s certainly not running at 60 frames per second, but it still maintains a rock-solid 30 FPS in most places, even densely wooded and highly populated areas. The only dips I noticed were when I picked up herbs and in some of the major cutscenes, specifically ones involving chases or more movement than usual. Other than that, the performance was smooth as can be, which, I feel like I need to reiterate, is astounding, considering the Switch’s limited hardware. Not to mention, The Witcher’s combat relies on a stable framerate given how precise it can be, and I am happy it felt just as good as it did on beefier consoles.
Even more impressive, load times are absurdly fast. Booting up the game takes no time at all, and fast travel transitions are infinitesimal. I was shocked that loading is somehow faster on Switch than it is on PlayStation 4. Perhaps this has something to do with the restrictions it has elsewhere, but you won’t find me complaining over something that lets me play The Witcher faster.
At the end of the day, The Witcher 3 continues to be one of the most impressive RPGs to date. Sure, the Switch version’s visuals and resolution are rough around the edges, but the rest of it is surprisingly excellent. I don’t know what wizardry or dark ritual CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive had to perform in order to get this behemoth running on the Switch, but they pulled it off, and I’m not going to ask any questions. If you’ve never played The Witcher 3, and you don’t care about ray tracing and teraflops, than the Switch version is perfect. Also, in case you need a reminder…. you can play it on the toilet.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by CD Projekt Red.
Though the Switch port of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has made some obvious concessions to the visuals, it is a surprisingly good version of the acclaimed RPG -- and now it's portable!