The Essential Switch Ports: The Witcher 3

The most thoughtful Switch conversion has only one weird design choice

Screenshot captured by Alex Rowe.

No one thought it could be done, but then it was done. The Witcher 3: Complete Edition launched late last year on the Nintendo Switch, and it brought the entirety of CD Projekt Red’s massive action RPG over fully intact. Thanks to the original team, and the coding wizards at Saber Interactive, you can experience one of the generation’s most-lauded RPG’s on a tiny low-powered machine. And just a few weeks ago, it got even better, adding several new graphics options and a cloud save system that’s cross-compatible with PC.

Just like the excellent Switch conversion of Warframe, the main focus here was bringing over every single piece of content. The entire main quest line and all of the expanded DLC content are included in the Switch release, whether you go for the digital download or the physical version. Nothing was cut from the other versions, as far as raw game content goes.

The Witcher 3 tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, a monster-hunter-for-hire in a dark fantasy land who finds himself locked in a battle with mythical forces to help his adopted warrior daughter Ciri. The game is a sprawling, hundred-plus-hour adventure with multiple twists, turns, and fleshed-out side quests.

If you watched the recent popular Netflix show based on the Witcher novels, that’s a decent primer for the story here. Though all three games are set years after the novels, the show does a great job of setting up everyone who is important in this story. This game also fills you in on enough of the events of the two earlier games that you can start here on the Switch without worrying about catching up.

In addition to featuring all of the original content, the graphics suffer impressively little in the translation from more powerful machines. The frame rate took priority over all else, with customized assets and a dynamically- scaled resolution working overtime to lock the game at 30 frames per second. It mostly succeeds, though you will notice some dips into the twenties during moments of heavy action, even with the most recent patch applied.

That patch added a number of new user-accessible graphics options, including a procedural sharpening system that I suspect is based on recent improvements to Nvidia’s graphics drivers on the PC. With the sharpening turned on, the sometimes-low resolution of the Switch version isn’t as much of an issue.

Most of the graphical effects from the other consoles are still present, which helps keep the feel of The Witcher 3 intact even with the lower resolution. Foliage sways dynamically in the wind. Characters cast shadows in real-time. Surfaces have lots of high-frequency detail. And screen space reflections are in full effect, even in portable mode. To my knowledge, this is the only Switch game to retain that particular performance-crunching effect whether you’re playing in portable or docked mode. Many other Switch games cut this effect in portable mode to improve rendering speed.

Nearly every asset in the game has been hand-tweaked in order to keep performance up and load times down. Some of the textures aren’t as crisp, though they’re still more detailed than the average Switch game, and some of the models are a little lumpier than their counterparts on other machines, especially at a distance. The sound quality also took a very small hit, but only the most dedicated compression-hunters will notice this.

Playing the game feels just as good as it does on the other systems, especially if you turn on the lower latency “Alternative” control response mode. The game has a number of touch screen control options added for the Switch, which make navigating the interface almost as fast as on the PC.

However, there’s one baffling design decision with the controls: the game doesn’t follow the standard Nintendo Switch practice of using the A button to confirm selections and the B button to cancel. Instead, those buttons are reversed. This is probably easier to adjust to if you’re used to the button placements on the other machines, but it’s backwards from every other Switch release, meaning that I still regularly hit the wrong button. There’s no way to remap the controls either, so you’re stuck with this “backwards” layout.

Outside of that one strange design decision, this is one of the most hand-crafted and brilliant ports ever made in the history of video games. Its one year of development time really shows. It packs one of the largest games of all- time into one of the smallest pieces of hardware, and does so without sacrificing too much playability or fidelity. It’s an excellent way to experience The Witcher 3, whether you’re a first-time player or a fan from other versions.

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