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Review: The Witcher 3 on Nintendo Switch is an impressive achievement

I remember being extremely excited in 2006 when Bethesda announced that The Elder Scrolls Travels: Oblivion would be coming to the PSP. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t the same game as it would be on consoles, and wouldn’t be sporting a real open-world. I was still excited at the prospect of it opening the door of open-world games on portable devices. Alas, that game never came.
The novelty of that genre on portables has certainly run out as years went on, but I still remained impressed at Bethesda being able to squeeze the entirety of Skyrim on the Switch, and then being able to play that wherever I want, away from my home.
The Witcher 3, however, is on a whole other level. It was already impressive when it released in 2015 with it being one of the most content-rich games available, and that was without its two fantastic expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. Now, four years later, I can boot up that same game on my Nintendo Switch, and play it from start to finish, including its two expansions, whether I’m out and about, or simply wanting to continue my adventures as Geralt on the toilet (one of the Switch’s best qualities, don’t deny it).

It’s a technical marvel, and there is absolutely no denying that. While it may lack the gorgeous visuals of its PC and console counterparts, it’s wildly impressive that the core game is kept intact. This isn’t a Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition situation, where the story is truncated, and sporting a complete visual overhaul to accommodate the system and its limitations. This is The Witcher 3 through in through, feature complete and content-rich.
I’m not going to get into long details regarding the game’s story, or its gameplay mechanics, as I’ve already done that back in 2015, with two of my colleagues offering their reviews for both Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine which you can check out by clicking those links. Since it’s the same game, it’s safe to say that it still holds up fantastically in 2019, offering some of the best storytelling and world-building that CDPR is known for.
I do want to talk about how it feels playing The Witcher 3 on Nintendo’s portable hybrid console because I’m sure this alone might be the deciding factor for plenty who either haven’t experienced the game yet or those who have and want to know what they’re getting themselves into on the Switch.

Witcher 3 complete edition

Visually, the game can’t hold a candle to its console and PC counterparts, but despite sporting a lower resolution (even lower than the native Switch resolutions on both docked and handheld), it still managed to impress me, constantly reminding me that I’m playing a game of this size and scope on a less powerful system.
Environments are probably the biggest casualties in optimizations, which might be a dealbreaker to some, as The Witcher 3 is known for its gorgeous lush forests, beautiful countryside vistas and stunning architecture of its big cities. Character models still look impressive, though there is certainly some optimization done there as well.
Where characters look their best is during cutscenes, where I suspect that higher-quality models were used instead of the ones found when actually playing. What furthers that suspicion is that cutscenes tend to have a slight frame dips in the very beginning, which gives me the impression that the game is swapping the optimized character models for higher-resolution ones so that cutscenes can look great no matter what.

Speaking of framerate, I was pleasantly surprised that the game kept up rather nicely when actually playing. While the cutscenes having dips was certainly annoying and definitely noticeable, the framerate kept its cool in both docked and portable mode during gameplay. Of course, higher populated areas like Novigrad can cause some dips to the mid-20s, but overall I couldn’t help but be impressed by its consistent nature. It’s a very playable game and the framerate won’t get in the way of your enjoyment.
I wouldn’t say that playing with the joy-con is a comfortable experience, especially in handheld mode, coupled with its short joysticks that make precision movement a lot more annoying. For example, when trying to loot a body, you have to be standing pretty much right next to it, but since the joysticks are so small, I would often overstep the body, and then overstep it again trying to correct myself. This issue was gone as soon as I started playing with a pro-controller though, so that’s a knock more on Nintendo’s hardware moreso than the game.
The Witcher 3, curiously enough, is best enjoyed as a portable game, mostly due to the Switch’s smaller screen masking some of the game’s visual optimizations. This holds especially true if you’re coming to this game having previously played it on a bigger screen. Once docked, the optimizations are much more noticeable.

Games like God of War, Uncharted 4, Gears 5 and even the upcoming The Last of Us Part 2 are easily visual showcases for their respective systems. They’re the games you boot up when you want to show your friends the visual fidelity of what current consoles can achieve. The Witcher 3 is on that same level, but inverse. It’s the game you’ll boot up when you pull your Switch out of your backpack and show your friends that you are, in fact, playing The Witcher 3 on a portable device. While I’m sure years from now, that won’t seem novel anymore, but right now, in 2019, I can’t help but be blown away by this port.
Witcher 3 complete edition
I think it comes down to a few scenarios to find out whether The Witcher 3 Complete Edition for the Nintendo Switch is the right purchase for you. If the Switch is your main platform and you’ve never played the game before, I eagerly encourage you to set off on this unforgettable adventure and never look back. Those with access to multiple consoles or PC will also have the benefit of getting the game at a much cheaper rate on those storefronts since the complete edition is on sale a lot.

If you have played the game before however, the question comes down to whether you’re buying this game to be played portably. If so, then once again, it’s a solid recommendation. However, those who have played the game before and want to dive in again knowing they’ll be spending a majority of the time playing on their TV screen, don’t expect to be wowed.

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