The Nintendo Switch may not be the most powerful console on the market, but it is arguably the most accessible. Not only does it provide games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that can be handicapped to train the dexterity of young fingers. It also happens to be a very convenient console for older players with more pressing responsibilities and less time on their hands. I fit into that category where the demands of parenthood mean that finding the time to spend hours in front of the TV can often be a struggle. Without the portability, I probably wouldn’t have managed to get around to playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition. Never mind writing a review about it.
With that said, between lunch hours, commutes, and that precious small window of opportunity in the evening, it has been a chance for me to finally delve into the perils of the Northern Kingdoms. I haven’t played any of The Witcher games before now, but I was aware and excited beforehand based on the reputation that this third installment holds. You may very well be in the same boat as I, which could resonate with you more than the returning veteran seeking a comparison between ports. However, if you are more concerned with in-depth technicalities on how the Nintendo Switch version holds up against the powerhouse goliath of the opposition. Then it may be worth checking out GameXplain’s preview discussion featuring our website’s very own editor.
You don’t have to have played the first two games in the series to fully appreciate the world and essence that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition has to offer. Nor do you need to be familiar with Andrzej Sapkowski’s short novels that originally conjured up series protagonist, Geralt of Rivia. What is worth being aware of, is how utterly ambitious this port really is. It’s a grand and fulfilling adventure that was never intended to be played on a system as modest in processing power as the Nintendo Switch.
Yet, here we have it, many miles of content squashed into a 32 GB game card. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition can finally travel with you as you journey within its world. While this port is never going to visually live up to the same standard to the original release, it’s comforting to know that absolutely everything is completely intact – including all the expansions and downloadable content ever released. This version may have dropped a few tiers when it comes to screen resolution and texture mapping, but it sure doesn’t lose the atmosphere and charm that keeps it strong as a fan favorite.
The main reason for this is down to the world’s incredibly dense echo system, an intense dedication to its lore, and a huge amount of narrative that could fill several books of its own accord. While many that Geralt of Rivia crosses paths with will conjure up little more than a passing mumble, those that do begin to converse with the monster hunter can frequently steer the player off the beaten path of the main story, straight towards side quests that warrant fully-fledged adventures all of their own accord.
Sure, there are treasures to be found, potions to be mixed, skills to level up, and enemies to extinguish. Yet, as integral as these system mechanics are to the core adventure, it soon becomes clear that they act as intermissions between fantastic writing and emotional story-telling. It’s a game that’s more recently and often compared to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But the reality is, both games really couldn’t be any more different from one another.
With that said, they can both learn a lot from one another going forward in a similar way that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim‘s ambitious scope set a path of influence. While The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition leans more heavily towards Skyrim’s branching quest structure whilst improving upon it, navigating across the map can feel a tinge outdated in comparison to Link’s intuitive control system and interaction with the surrounding terrain of Hyrule. However, I was surprised to see that Roach, Geralt’s loyal steed, independently gallops along paths and attempts to steer out the way of trees – very much like the tamed horses do in Link’s more recent adventure.
What does completely set the two games apart is how far more in-depth The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition is as an action RPG. Managing inventory and combining elements sees to it that the player really needs to switch their brain on to take advantage of everything that’s placed at your fingertips. It can be easy to try to avoid the intimidating menu systems and be tempted to simply flail your way towards the sat nav markers of the main story. In doing this though, you’re at risk of not reaching your full potential and can miss out on the wider picture that the world has to offer.
Bestiary logs serve as a great way to understand an enemy’s background and vulnerabilities while researching and gathering the chemistry components for alchemy concoctions will certainly help you to gain an upper-hand. It’s a game that deserves the investment of soaking up the literature sewn throughout the world, as are the many freelance contracts that the silver-haired tracker can profit from.
And then there’s Geralt of Rivia, the skilled swordsman with two blades sheathed on his back – one to slay humans and a silver blade for monsters. What defines him as a Witcher is his talents of tracking the land much like Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, as well as his supernatural ability to command magic energies. His powers can be used as a battle tactic or even to Jedi mind trick a peasant for valuable information. When it comes to combat, it’s generally a simple affair of hacking away with a light or strong attack combined with blocking, parrying, and dodging as a measure of defense. His magical Sign abilities may stun, burn, or lock his opponents in place, whereas a crossbow can ground aerial creatures into the dirt. The mechanics of swordplay work well enough to keep the combat consistent with a strong variety of interesting enemies to oppose.
The biggest question, of course, is how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition runs on the Nintendo Switch. The answer is surprisingly very well given the circumstances. The muddiness of downscaling ports onto the hybrid console is present as expected, but not nearly as much as I thought it would be. It never goes into potato territory that’s for sure and, from what I believe, the frame rate drops and sometimes lengthy load times aren’t anything that isn’t already present in the other versions that are already out there. What does come as a disappointment is that there are no added functions present that utilize the Nintendo Switch’s extra features. That means that you shouldn’t expect HD Rumble or gyroscope aiming, for those that appreciate the added benefits that they can offer.
The game runs at 540p in Handheld mode and 720p when docked to the TV. The frame rate does its best to maintain the 30 frames per second seen on other consoles, although they do seem to dip more often during in-game cutscenes. It still manages to look the part despite its lower resolution and it never ceases to impress solely based on the fact it can be played natively on a portable system. Blemishes and pockmarks of the skin are clearly visible during close-up conversations with facial animations that keep the drama believable. Honestly, it’s hard not to marvel at such an achievement and the technical sacrifices are small if the Nintendo Switch version is the only possible option available.
Without a doubt, the best way to experience The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition is on a much more powerful system with a top of the range television to match. After all, the game can be found for a much cheaper price on other consoles due to its age. However, that kind of luxury isn’t always practical, and what CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive have done to make the Nintendo Switch version possible is a stunning achievement in its own right. The premium price tag that marks the game will never feel like it isn’t value for money. That is, assuming the genre is of taste to the player plunging in on the purchase.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by CD Projekt Red