When CD Projekt Red first announced they would be bringing The Witcher 3 to the Nintendo Switch, numerous questions were raised regarding how it would perform on the console, which doesn't have as much hardware power as the other platforms. Would playing the title severely limit the battery of the system? How would the visuals and UIs be optimised to fit the smaller display of the Switch? Will the Switch be able to handle such a large game file? All these questions are what we are looking to answer with our time spent with the Switcher.
Firstly, before we get into the nitty-gritty bits, this isn't a review of The Witcher 3, as you can find that here. Instead, it's a look at The Witcher 3 experience on the Switch and how the title and the system handling it stack up against the other platforms, mainly the 4K and HDR-enabled Xbox One X version. We put the game through the ringer, testing different aspects both in handheld and docked modes in order to see how it fares.
The Witcher 3 on Switch is the Game of the Year bundle, meaning it contains the base game and every piece of downloadable content to ever release. The extent of this accounts for hundreds of hours of gameplay for the doting completionist, although the catch is that it comes with a hefty file size, sitting at around 31GB, which is almost the full limit of a Switch cartridge. So, if you do not have a large SD card, get ready to archive some titles to make way for the massive file, should you buy digitally.
The mechanics themselves and the controls have been optimised incredibly well as a whole. If you take the generic design of an Xbox or a PS4 controller and compare it against the Joy-Con setup, or even the Pro controller. The only part that has been changed are the A and B buttons (or X and O for PS4), in order to fit the unusual Switch design, which is opposite to them. This means sprinting on Switch is on A, where jumping is for Xbox/PS4, and vice-versa for jumping on B. Aside from that, however, everything else remains pretty much the same.
To start with, we spent some time playing the Switcher in handheld mode, using the Joy-Cons attached to the system as our controllers. When in handheld, the title plays in a 540p display, to account for the limited battery size of the device. This means you don't get the same crisp image as the other platforms, although we will say that it's not a huge issue since the screen size of a Switch is relatively small anyway, so it doesn't necessarily feel like you're missing much.
As for the user interface, this has been altered to accommodate the smaller screen size. When playing you'll notice the scale ratio of written dialogue or subtitles takes up much more of the display than on other systems, to make it easier to read. The menus themselves seem to remain much the same, although markers on the world map have been given thicker outlines to make them more visible.
When playing in handheld the audio feels muffled and less defined, however, which is something you would expect from a small portable device and it can be easily resolved by switching to docked mode or by plugging in some headphones.
We also did a few tests to see how the battery life holds up. We tracked how long it takes for the battery to deplete over a varied degree of constraints, such as having the audio playing aloud at half of the max, with screen brightness at max and WiFi-enabled, comparing it against the complete opposite, in absolute energy saving scenarios. Over the course of the tests, we found the battery would last anywhere between 2½ and 3 hours, which is what a Switch would usually last when playing large games like this.
Ultimately, with what we played in handheld we can say that the Switcher has been optimised incredibly well for the console. Even with the constraints of having to manage a battery life that is arguably the platform's largest burden, being able to play on-the-go is a much more accessible experience for people with less free time, which makes The Witcher 3 feel fresh and new again.
When docked on the other hand, we were not as impressed. Everything that feels tidy and fitting to the smaller resolution of the Switch just doesn't seem to translate onto a larger screen. The writing and subtitles, for example, feel oppressive as they cover up the same amount of a TV screen as they do the small Switch display.
Furthermore, when docked, the resolution gets bumped up to 720p, since the title doesn't have to take into account the battery of the system anymore. The main difference you might notice with the display when docked are the characters, who look much crisper compared to the handheld version. You might be thinking this is a win-win at the moment, however, this isn't the case.
When the Switcher faces a busy area or requires extra processing power, it won't force you into a load screen but will instead drop the frame-rate. In handheld this isn't very noticeable, but when docked with the higher resolution, the frame-rate seems to drop by a considerable margin, making it feel as though you're playing a slideshow at certain times.
Considering we've given our thoughts on the docked/undocked experience, it's probably worth mentioning how the different controllers feel. The Joy-Cons are simply fine, but if you plan on spending a lump of time playing the Switcher, we would probably recommend picking up a Pro controller, as it just feels so much more fluid and less restrictive than the Joy-Cons. With this being said, if you only intend to play the title on-the-go, the joy-cons are perfectly plausible options that won't really lower your experience at all. The best way to play, however, is certainly with a Pro controller, as it allows you to be as complex with your mechanics as you want to.
Last of all, to round everything off is Gwent. The card game in the title on Switch plays just as quickly, with no hitching as the other platforms, although the one standout issue we had was the user interface. Sometimes, depending on the number of cards in your deck, it will feel a little constricted as CD Projekt Red tries to cram them all together along the bottom row. Aside from this, the card game feels just as good on the Switch as the other platforms.
Considering the sheer size, scale, and beauty of The Witcher 3, the port to the technologically-limited Switch is impressive, especially when playing in handheld mode. The docked experience, on the other hand, feels a little rough around the edges, working against the success of the platform transition. In our opinion the ideal way to play the Switcher is in handheld mode using a pro controller, which may seem moderately inconvenient to some, but with this being said, being able to experience and play The Witcher 3 on the go is a treat above all else.