The Nintendo-Switch-port arms race continues. Every month it seems that another developer is trying to wring every bit of horsepower from the diminutive hardware of Nintendo Switch.
The last remarkable attempt was Divinity: Original Sin 2, a gorgeous top-down RPG that suffered a few visual dings on its trip to the console, but still came out pretty well intact. But that porting challenge was nothing compared to Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.
The open-world, third-person RPG follows Geralt, a “witcher” whose job involves traveling the lands and dispatching magical beasts for a bit of coin. The accolades heaped upon the game are many, thanks to fantastic writing, voice acting and world-building, in addition to a stellar combat system. And The Witcher 3’s stunning visuals captured gorgeous sunsets over wind-blown meadows, and rainstorms in massive cities teeming with people. The game achieved all of this without loading screens.
Running all of that on a Nintendo Switch seems almost impossible. The Switch is the system that struggled to maintain a steady framerate in the Link’s Awakening remake. It is not a graphical juggernaut.
So how does Witcher 3 run on Nintendo’s platform? Better than expected, but there are no miracles at work here. To ensure Witcher 3’s playability, the developers dramatically decreased the resolution, dropping it to 540p when in handheld mode, and 720p when docked. In practical terms, this makes the Switch version look noticeably fuzzier than its counterparts on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
And yet, I can’t honestly say that it looks bad. If I didn’t know what the other versions looked like, I’d think the game looked alright. The level of overall detail and craft in Witcher 3 is enough to make the world feel alive and worth exploring, even with the blurry textures. Walking through the starting town of White Orchard, or the streets of Novigrad City, is perfectly peaceful and convincing, even if it does all look like it’s being seen through the bottom of an empty glass bottle.
Thanks to these visual considerations, the game manages to run at a pretty steady clip most of the time, even when exploring bustling towns or in the midst of large-scale combat. It’s not always a steady 30 frames per second, but the PS4 and Xbox One couldn’t manage such a feat either.
What the performance does offer is the constant feeling of direct control over Geralt, with no sense of input delay or lag to make your adventure through the enormous world a hassle. As with Original Sin 2 and Diablo 3 before it, this port’s developers opted for performance and playability over visual acuity, which paid off handsomely. If you want someone to be able to play a huge game or hours upon hours, it’s more important to make it feel good than look good.
The Switch port of Witcher 3 is a true example of port mastery, once again proving that so much is possible on Nintendo’s portable as long as you’re willing to give up a little bit of graphical fidelity.