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October 2022

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: CD Projekt RED Studio
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2019

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Switch Review - 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Complete Edition'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 13, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Marking the final installment in the action RPG trilogy, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt combines decision-based storytelling flair with a living open world larger than any other in modern RPG history.

Buy The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Complete Edition

The Witcher 3 is arguably one of the greatest RPGs of this console generation. It's not perfect, but it boasts good writing and quest design, graphical prowess, and an engrossing world. Given that the title set benchmarks for its visuals, it's oddly fitting that its Nintendo Switch port does the same — on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. The Switch has had its share of "miracle ports" that seemed unlikely, but The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Complete Edition was the pinnacle of improbable Switch titles. Now that it's finally here, it's still an incredibly engaging solo experience, assuming you can live with the substantial technical compromises.

If you're familiar with video games, The Witcher 3 should be a known property. Released over four years ago, the game is the third installment of a series developed by CD Projekt Red and released to critical acclaim on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Over the course of the game, we follow the story of Witcher Geralt of Rivia in a decidedly personal quest to find his protégé Ciri, who is on the run from a mystical power called the Wild Hunt.

The main game alone boasts a campaign that can last between 30-50 hours, depending on how much side content you plan to explore. In this rough fantasy world filled with conflict, the nations are at war, monsters lurk at every corner, and Geralt, as a Witcher, is considered an outsider and freak wherever he goes. Given the dangerous and cutthroat world, you have options about how to live in it. We are essentially a sellsword who kills monsters, but the game frequently gives us the choice to either nurture that sentiment in the public eye or to go against it. Many quests task us with making decisions, and many have minor consequences that nurture the sense that your choices matter.

There's no doubt that The Witcher 3 is one of the better story-driven RPG experiences out there. This holds equally true for the Switch port, making it perhaps the best RPG on the system to date. Much of this is due to the quest design, which seems to fluidly and effortlessly construct big, overarching storylines that contain many smaller stories within, each with their own payoff. Additionally, the writing ranges from decent to great, with the latter being more frequent.

Geralt is equipped with two swords and extensive knowledge of beasts, magic, oils and potions that will help us find Ciri — and make a few coins along the way. Every town has its own notice board with information about strange places in the region or the occasional contract to kill an overbearing monster or wraith. The Witcher 3 surfaces more new quests as you progress and explore, so the world is full of intriguing encounters, like a bandit ambush or a nest of monsters. It can feel like too much at times, since there is a lot going on in this war-torn and monster-infested country, but it usually feels like meaningful activity rather than filler. Its biggest strength is certainly the amount of lore it can pull from, either written exclusively for the game series or drawn from the books on which it's based. It's a rich experience in all respects that usually rewards your investment of time.

As is custom for a good RPG, character development in The Witcher 3 works through XP and leveling up, as well as equipment which can be purchased or crafted with the right materials. Loot and blueprints are everywhere, creating the usual addictive component of maxing out stats through leveling, skill trees, and improved equipment. It works great and offers enough variety to get lost in the intricacies of comparing loot and collecting the correct crafting materials for your next deadly weapon or solid protective gear. A big part of being a Witcher is the use of alchemy. From stat-enhancing potions to special oils, alchemy provides the title more depth and possibilities in preparing for upcoming fights. Given all of these mechanics, be prepared to spend quite a bit of time in clustered menus that aren't always easy to navigate with a controller.

The moment-to-moment gameplay is pretty simple. We can traverse the world on foot, horseback, or ship, and the combat evolves in real time. The only aspect where the game falters is the combat. It's satisfying and looks good when it works, but it's not the title's crowning achievement. The game is a button-masher at times, especially if you're playing on the lower difficulty levels. While the combat system allows for everything, it's not always a breeze to control. We can dodge in two increments, side-step and roll, and we can block and counter if we get the timing right. The rest is mostly spamming light and heavy attacks or using our signs. Signs are magical powers to cast fire, manipulate minds, slow time, or create a temporary shield. It's dynamic enough to work in every situation and a pleasure to watch since Geralt dismembers his enemies while looking like an agile, vengeful acrobat. This agility is at odds with how he handles, as the combat controls feel clunky, and Geralt's momentum can be tough to control, especially when dealing with larger crowds.

The game at the heart of the port is still fundamentally the same and includes the base game and the two expansions, Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine, which add another 20 hours of gameplay. The only glaring difference is that this version runs on what amounts to a glorified tablet. It runs better than expected on the Switch, but depending on how much you value a solid frame rate and clean visuals, the glaring differences between this port and any other version of the game might get in the way of your enjoyment of the title.

So far, The Witcher 3 is a great RPG with some minor flaws that are easily dismissed by the expert storytelling, quest design, and world building. There's nothing one could reasonably be upset about in this port — until we get into the technical discussion.

Once we look past the talks of a "miracle port" and poor wordplay jokes like "Switcher," there is plenty of good and bad to the Switch presentation. The game manages to run on the Switch with settings that are inferior to the lowest possible configuration on the PC version, and the dynamic resolution goes quite low. The result is a blurry and washed-out version of the adventure that is playable but loses much of the atmosphere and charm that the original visuals evoked.

Textures are muddy, both up-close and in the distance. The foliage, draw distance, most effects, and overall resolution are heavily reduced. Even with that, the game can't run at 30fps but in the mid-20s, with occasional stutters when the game loads new information or the action gets too intense. On the flip side, the performance isn't worse at any particular point in the game. While that performance isn't great or looks particularly stunning, it is perfectly playable. Within an hour of starting a new save game on the Switch, I was hooked all over again for many hours, so this imperfect port still works as intended and manages to survive the severely downgraded presentation.

It may also depend on how you intend to play. Blown out on a TV screen, the visual shortcomings are more apparent and jarring, whereas the smaller screen in handheld mode hides a lot of the lost details, resolution, and frame rate drops. If you're aiming for a lot of TV play, another version of the game may be a better call. If you don't have another system to play or want to play the game while you're out and about, this port is a decent way to experience The Witcher 3.

Beyond the graphics, audio usually takes up a lot of space. To fit this game on a 32 GB cartridge, sound had to be compressed, especially given the amount of spoken dialogue in the game. On average, both the voice acting and the stellar soundtrack sound good, with a few exceptions. Some scenes were hit-and-miss in terms of sound quality, with a few voices sounding rather muted, while others were rather loud. In a few quests, some voice-overs didn't play at all. We also encountered two crashes that sent us back to the home screen during our play time. That isn't egregious, but given that the entire game crashed, we did lose variable amounts of play time. However, this bug was also present in the other console versions of the game.

In the end, it's a testament to the art direction and captivating gameplay that the Switch port of The Witcher 3, stripped of most of its technical achievements, is still a damn good and immersive video game. If you haven't played The Witcher 3 yet, this is a good opportunity to jump in. The game runs better and is available at a more affordable price on the other platforms, but if you can live with the heavy visual downgrades for the sake of portability, then this is as good as The Witcher 3 gets.

Score: 8.3/10

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