In The Witcher 3, powerful things come in small packages. A cursed fang that dooms a werewolf to eternal hunger, say, or a pocket lantern that shines a light on the realm of the dead.
So it should come as no surprise to see another such artefact arrive in the cartridge slot of the Switch: one of the most epic adventures of the current generation, crushed onto plastic the size of a postage stamp.
A Switch port of The Witcher 3 – a game that even chokes the more capable Xbox One and PS4 – sounds like the kind of vile witchcraft our hero, Geralt, would be paid to put a stop to. But just as his peasant employers are often proved wrong for waving their pitchforks (the cruelty of man is usually to blame), so we should give CD Projekt Red and the porting team at Saber Interactive the benefit of the doubt.
On the surface, the story is rough, or at least one with rough, jaggy edges. Resolution takes a hit, alternating between mildly hazy to ‘maybe it’s time to book an eye test’; dynamically shifting to keep performance steady. The effect is less obvious in portable, but the game is smoother on TV. Even then, you’ll see frame rates dip in cutscenes and dialogue, where beard close-ups put extra pressure on the engine. Zoom out and the world is smeared in broad, muddied textures.
But it also has the wind-blown trees that turn the countryside into a shifting backdrop that’s a thrill to gallop across. And the sunbeams peek through branches, bringing that gorgeous day/night cycle to life. And while the immediate ground is thinner with greenery than it is elsewhere, The Witcher 3 is as much about the horizon; Velen’s rolling plains or Skellige’s towering peaks still hint at fantastic adventures to come.
“Technical feasibility aside, it’s amazing to see how well it fits portable play. Playing for short bursts reminds you how easy it is to stumble on bite-size distractions, be it bandit camps, monster nests or scavenger hunts for rare blueprints.”
What Saber has done so well here is identify what really matters to The Witcher 3. It sacrifices some of the polish of the middle distance in order to keep the enticing scale and the up-close minutiae that brings the story to life. Yes, it would be nice for cutscenes not to chug, but it’s more important that they maintain the ornate armour designs you’ve religiously crafted or the richly drawn cast (one of gaming’s best).
Whatever your stance on these porting priorities, there’s undeniable magic in having this world in your pocket. Technical feasibility aside, it’s amazing to see how well it fits portable play. Playing for short bursts reminds you how easy it is to stumble on bite-size distractions, be it bandit camps, monster nests or scavenger hunts for rare blueprints. Even the main quests have such clear steps – and superb recaps in the menus – that it’s surprisingly easy to dip in and out.
And if this is your first time as the White Wolf? What an enviable treat. Every fan will cite a different reason. For some it’s enough to sail oceans and climb mountains; others love fantasy torn from Slavic folklore or political intrigue that makes Game of Thrones seem polite in comparison. Get into Gwent, the absurdly good in-game card game, and you can ditch the story entirely and just focus on becoming the best player in the land.
For our money it’s all of the above, and the way the game’s love of storytelling drips down to even the most minor side quest. Every adventure has a start, a middle and an end, with twists and moral dilemmas to trip you up along the way. And it leans so heavily into the ‘role-playing’ part of RPG, in that it gives you a premade hero, with a premade profession and past, to inhabit. After years of bland amnesiacs, spending 100+ hours asking yourself ‘what would Geralt do?’ is a joy.
“If you’ve been Nintendo-exclusive your whole life it’s an unmissable adventure. Not just for the meat of the game, but to rekindle your faith in the concept of ports.”
The quality of what you’re doing often helps overshadow some weaker elements of how you do it. Clunky swordplay never sells you on Geralt’s alleged prowess, and it’s easy to cheese through with overpowered skill tree picks. It’s also quite an overwhelming fiction to dive into – doubly so if you’ve not played The Witcher 2 (some decisions carry over) – which can be combated with ample use of in-game glossaries.
And as the Complete Edition you get two of the finest DLCs ever made. Hearts of Stone contains some of the game’s best quests, particularly a tale of possession at a wedding party that lets Geralt’s stoic voice actor Doug Cockle have huge fun. And Blood And Wine adds a new region with a total change of tone to the main game – not to mention enough action to fill a standalone game. They’re best left until after the campaign; a delicious dessert to look forward to.
If you’ve been Nintendo-exclusive your whole life it’s an unmissable adventure. Not just for the meat of the game, but to rekindle your faith in the concept of ports. If you were raised on a diet of Wii and Wii U, you lived through some horror shows; games half featured, or watered down for a child audience. Thanks to the likes of Skyrim and Divinity: Original Sin 2, Switch is washing away that bad taste, and The Witcher 3 continues the tradition.
For seasoned Witchers, double dipping reveals an inferior version of the game, but one that shouldn’t really exist at all. And are you going to really say no to Gwent on the bus? This is a slick, smart port, delivering a version that works, and maintains enough magic to make it worth it. Like so much of the game itself, it’s all about difficult compromises. In a fantasy world where it’s very easy to make a mess, this is an elegantly diplomatic outcome.
- Game Director
- Konrad Tomaszkiewicz
An intelligent port that shrinks one of the best RPGs of recent years without losing the scale and magic.
- Still one of the greatest adventures of the generation
- Maintains the vital details of The Witcher 3’s stunning world
- Plays surprisingly well in portable bursts
- Gwent can now leave the house
- The resolution dips are much more obvious on a TV