The Witcher 3: Complete Edition – Nintendo Switch Review
When CD Projekt Red’s massive fantasy RPG was first released on Xbox One, PC, and PS4 in 2015 our reviewer said its massive, intricately detailed world, compelling cast, and optional questlines “elevated The Witcher 3:
The Wild Hunt to a plane few other RPGs inhabit.” Four years later, all of that content, along with its 16 free DLC packs and two of the best paid expansions in recent memory, has come to the Nintendo Switch. While it’s definitely not the best way to experience all that The Witcher 3 has to offer, it’s in many ways an impressive port of an amazing game that offers a more convenient way to digest its more than 150 hours — so long as you keep it in handheld mode.
The Witcher 3 is such a demanding game that even in handheld mode it has to run at a mere 540p instead of the Switch screen’s native 720p. But that’s rarely a distraction from the dense woods, cobbled streets, and snowy mountains of Velen, Novigrad, and Skellige (plus the insanely colorful fields and hills of the Blood and Wine expansion’s Toussaint). While certain sacrifices, such as decreased draw distance and lower-quality textures aren’t imperceptible on the small screen – and are more visible in certain areas than others – they do little to degrade the experience in a meaningful way.
Beyond that, the streets of cities like Novigrad and Oxenfurt see some particularly notable texture and detail pop-in, especially in areas with a lot of NPCs. The same can be said for dense woodland areas or thick forests, though I often found myself too preoccupied marveling at the bobbing of Geralt’s hair in the breeze or the truly gorgeous lighting effects that somehow still work in the palm of my hand.
That magic quickly fades, however, when you dock the Switch to play it on the big screen. The Witcher 3 only outputs at 720p when docked, as opposed to the standard 900-1080p of most Switch games, and boy does that drag every one of this port’s downgrades into the stark, harsh light of day. On a larger 1080p or 4k display, The (S)Witcher 3 looks rough. Textures are muddy, trees appear to be made more of cotton candy than of leaves, and the jagged edges on everything around you serve as a constant reminder of just how much we take good anti-aliasing for granted. I implore you: if you want to play this game on a TV and have access to any other platform, you’d be doing yourself a disservice running it on Switch.
The Witcher 3 on Switch Screenshots
It isn’t unplayable, by any means – depending on your definition of that term, of course. While the errant framerate stutter or camera clip may occur, performance in both docked or handheld mode is reasonably solid. Throughout the half-dozen or so hours I’ve put into it so far (I opted to start at the beginning of the exceptional Hearts of Stone expansion, with the main questline already completed) it maintained a mostly consistent 24-30 FPS, dipping down only in exceedingly crowded or effects-heavy moments. If you’re someone who finds sub-30 frame rates unacceptable in this day and age, though, this version of The Witcher 3 probably won’t cut it for you.
While some made the case that combat in the PC/console version of Witcher 3 feels “clunky,” I was never one of them. I enjoy how the balance of heavy and light attacks meshes with the use of simple magic, and I never found any of that particularly frustrating on a design level – my failures as Geralt have always felt earned. In handheld mode on Switch, however, there are some issues that make controlling the Witcher a bit more of a headache.
The first is that, since The Witcher 3 was originally designed for screens a lot larger than six inches, it can be difficult to keep track of smaller enemies like Nekkers or Ghouls, particularly when fighting them in thick brush (which, let’s face it, is almost always). Larger enemies or single-target fights aren’t really an issue in that regard, but they have their own challenge: thanks to the Joy-Cons being designed to be useable as separate, individual gamepads, their buttons are directly above or under the thumbsticks instead of to the side (as on an Xbox controller) or above (as on the DualShock 4), which can cause hiccups here and there. For example, in order to use a potion while in combat you have to completely remove your thumb from the stick that controls Geralt’s movement, resulting in a stall to his momentum that – on more than one occasion – left me vulnerable to an incoming attack. It was only a real problem in more difficult battles, such as Contract monsters or certain bosses, but was enough to make the already lengthy loading screens between death and another attempt a bit more frustrating.
This isn’t an issue if you’re playing with a Pro controller, but that’s not a great option if you’re running it in handheld mode. It’s also avoidable by using the Quick Access / Sign selection wheel, though that feels like a workaround for a problem that should have been fixed in development. Returning players from other platforms will also probably find it odd that the commands for run and dodge have been flipped on the face buttons — probably to maintain consistency with the expectation of on-screen prompts (“A” interacts with someone, “B” jumps, etc) — but this is revertable in an alternate control scheme in the options menu.