One of this generation’s best – and biggest – adventure games is now available to play on Switch, and I honestly couldn’t be happier about it. I got to spend the weekend with Geralt and The Witcher 3 Complete Edition, but instead of sitting down for three hour marathons, I’ve been plucking away at his adventure between all my adult busywork. So far, I’ve played it on the bus, at my Nan’s, during Destiny 2 loading times and even first thing in the morning in bed – much to the dismay of my sleeping partner.
Everything is here: the 70 hour story, the two fantastic DLC adventures in Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, even Geralt’s dry sense of humour is there for you to experience in the palm of your hands. Seeing the Witcher 3 in action on the Switch is incredibly impressive, especially when you consider that my first handheld gaming experience was over twenty years ago on the Sega Game Gear – a console that needed new batteries every two hours. OK, you’ll probably be charging up the Switch a fair amount as well, but you won’t be burning through AA batteries while you do so!
Now, there are some tradeoffs being made to get The Witcher 3 running. Right off the bat, character and environmental detail is certainly much lower. Many of the character models outside our lovely Geralt and the main support cast lack the same kind polish, and while certainly true of the game on other platforms, it’s more apparent here. That said, while it was something I certainly noticed at first, my eyes did adjust to the lower poly models.
You also adjust to the lowered resolution. The game tops out at 720p when docked and 540p when in handheld, and it makes the game feel quite blurry at times, certainly not helping the lowered level of detail. You are at least given the crispness of a UI being rendered at native resolution on top of it, which does help.
There’s also a noticeable dip in frame rate compared to the Switch’s closest competitors. While it was certainly never going to match PC performance, it does chug quite a bit more than both the PlayStation and the Xbox. Head into Novigrad and you can see the Switch struggling to keep up, as soon as cutscenes kick in, there’s a more “cinematic” frame rate as Ubisoft might once have described it, and whenever the game loads in an area, it can stutter for a moment.
I feel it’s a fair price to pay to have a game this huge playable on the go, and really it’s remarkable that the game manages to live at 30fps as regularly as it does. Riding around the countryside and there’s only a handful of stutters to really notice. I actually expected there to be a step down in density to the world, or that towns would have had the number of NPCs pulled back to improve performance, but even with any tweaks made, each village and town is still bustling with life.
So yes, there have been cutbacks, but The Witcher 3 still shines beautifully on the Switch in places. Head into the sweeping hills of Velen and you’ll still be treated to the signature sunsets casting their golden brown hues across the world. It’s in these moments that the Witcher’s art direction shine through and you completely forget that you’re playing it on a handheld.
I should also mention the file size. Though not that big when considering the regular 100GB behemoths on PS4 and Xbox One, The Witcher 3 still comes in at a whopping 27.5GB of data. Simply put, it doesn’t feature any of the assets that the Switch simply won’t be able to use, cutting roughly half of the game’s size compared to other consoles. Bought physically, it comes on a single cartridge with not download, but if going digital, it’s enough to fill the Switch’s onboard memory and you will almost certainly want to have a microSD card.
With such a dramatic reduction in size, another worry was the audio as the Dark Souls’ Switch compression noticeably affected sound quality in the game. Fortunately, the quality of the audio doesn’t seem to have been affected too much by the compression – something I feel is important in a game so focused on dialogue.
Unfortunately, The Witcher 3 is not kind on the Switch’s battery life. It’s not surprising, but you’re likely looking to 2-3 hours of playtime on the original Switch model before you’ll need to charge your console. The Lite and lower powered Switch revision will fare better though. For anyone travelling over extended periods of time, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up a power bank.
It would have been nice to also have some kind of cross-save functionality. Console manufacturers are becoming more and more open to this idea, and we’ve seen Divinity: Original Sin 2 include cross-save between Switch and Steam in just the last month. For those who’d rather continue their adventure rather than start completely anew, it’s a shame that this can’t really be a companion to and other versions of the game.
While there are certainly a few tradeoffs that have been made in order to make The Witcher 3 run on the Switch, it’s hard not to be impressed. This is arguably one of the most comprehensive experiences to date on the Switch and one I still can’t believe actually works on the console. Though there’s a few caveats, The Witcher 3 on Switch is well worthy of your time, whether it’s is your first chance to play it or your twenty-third.