No one thought it possible to cram one of the most expansive open-world games on a device no bigger than a tablet. Until CD Projekt RED partnered up with developer Sabre and brought The Witcher III: Wild Hunt to the modest screen of the Nintendo Switch. It was sorcery as video game ports go and proved a great many things from the potential of the Switch to the brilliance of The Witcher III.
It's not all rainbows and butterflies, however; porting The Witcher III took some noticeable compromises on the developers' part. As a result, it's far from being the perfect port on the Switch. Nevertheless, it's still an achievement for everyone, and if you're on the fence on buying one for yourself, we'll help you weigh down the improvements and downgrades of the game touted as an "impossible" port.
10 Improvements: Portability
Having one of the finest open-worlds ever in video gaming at the palm of your hands is perhaps the pinnacle of portability in games. It shows how far we handheld consoles have come from the days of the first 8-bit Game Boy. Having a fully-realized 3D world with hundreds of hours of gameplay and realistic graphics has never been done before on the Switch—unless you count Breath of the Wild's visuals as realistic.
Apart from that, who would say no to the opportunity of getting to play The Witcher III on the go? You certainly wouldn't be able to do that on a PC or a PlayStation. It's a great option for people who are constantly on the move but still want to play video games and find gaming laptops too expensive.
9 Downgrades: Resolution
Since the Switch is only a little bit bigger than the biggest smartphones today, its hardware is also limited. As such, the developers responsible for the port had to trim down the pixel count for The Witcher III on Switch, or more aptly known in the community as Switcher. The resolution is the first compromise victim here.
Switcher only runs at 720p or 1280x720 pixels, which is still high-definition (HD) but a lot less sharp or detailed than 1080p, the most common resolution for PC games. In fact, sometimes the dynamic resolution adjustment for Switcher even puts the game lower at 960x540 (540p) or even 896x504 (504p) at the lowest, otherwise, the Switch might overheat or the game might become a slideshow depending on the scene. This makes the dock mode (TV) for Switcher quite poor so you're better off not using that.
8 Improvements: Gameplay And Story Are Intact
This one's not exactly an improvement but the fact that the core gameplay of The Witcher III is intact on the Switch is just astounding. Everything from the bogs of Velen to the tattered shingle-roofs on Novigrad is present and even traversable.
In that regard, the story is also the same and no quest has been left behind nor any content cut. It's very much the same Witcher game gameplay and content-wise and the developers even managed to include everything from all the expansions to the DLC. It's a complete package and you're not missing anything by going Switcher.
7 Downgrades: Framerate
When it came out four years ago, The Witcher III was one of the most demanding games in 2015. Even now, you'd need a pretty decent computer to be able to run the game in a way that surpasses console-quality graphics. Hence, one of the biggest challenges for porting the game on to Switch is the frame rate or how smooth the game runs.
Sadly, the best the Switcher can offer is 30 frames per second (FPS), whereas the PlayStation or Xbox can offer up to 60 and a moderately high-end PC can bring The Witcher III well into triple-digit FPS, making for much smoother gameplay.
During graphically intense scenarios, Switcher can even drop into 20 FPS where players will usually notice the Switch struggling to keep up with the graphics. For the most part, however, the Nintendo device can maintain 30 FPS.
6 Improvements: Smaller Storage Consumption
Since the Switch also had limited storage—much smaller than that of PCs or consoles, the developers had to get resourceful in shrinking the game down. Downgrading the resolution certainly helped and Switcher was brought down to a humble yet still large 32 gigabytes (GB). Suffice to say, finding storage for Switcher shouldn't be too hard as 64GB micro SD cards are rather affordable these days.
By comparison, The Witcher III on PC requires 35GB for the main game, another 35GB for the Blood and Wine expansion, and 10GB more for Hearts of Stone. That's a whopping total of 80GB. How the developers managed to shrink that down to less than half (expansions and DLCs included) is just pure programming magic.
5 Downgrades: Audio
Okay, we take the "programming magic" statement back. Turns out, the developers had to cut down on some of the more space-consuming files of The Witcher III. The game's audio was among those, meaning they had to lessen the audio quality in order to fit the whole package into the Switch.
As it is, The Witcher III relies heavily on audio since it's a dialogue-heavy game. It might be hard to notice, but the audio downgrade is there alright. Audio compression techniques often make the sounds less refined or less clean compared to the untampered version on the PC or consoles. Doing this does help shave down some heavy gigabytes of data, though.
4 Improvements: Most Afordable
You might not believe it, but Switcher is actually the most affordable version of the game when taking into account the cost of the game and the gaming device (even if Switcher still runs at a full $60 price tag). The Switch, undiscounted, runs for only $300, so that's only $360 for everything.
By comparison, a PlayStation 4 Slim costs around $300 as well plus the game but you do need an HD television for it (and electricity bills also should be taken into account). Meanwhile, the PS4 Pro undiscounted goes as high as $400. Xbox One is a little more expensive. High-end PCs and gaming laptops are the most expensive of the bunch in terms of hardware and electricity consumption.
Mid or low-end options for PCs exist that can match or beat the consoles in price but the Switch still remains the cheapest option.
3 Downgrades: Cutscenes
Another casualty in the shrinking down of The Witcher III to fit the 32GB profile are the cutscenes. They are noticeably less detailed and have worse performance than on consoles or PCs and can even break your immersion
Quick cutscene transitions noticeably suffer some frame rate hiccups and asset loading; you'll frequently notice some texture and object pop-ins during cutscene transitions. Frame rates during such moments will usually spike down and go back to normal. This has much to do with the Switch's limited hardware and a slower processor.
2 Improvements: It Sets An Example
Now that developers and the Switch have proven that an AAA open-world game with full voice-acting and realistic graphics is possible, the future is looking brighter for the Nintendo console. What comes to mind are games like Grand Theft Auto V whom plenty of people previously thought were impossible to port to the Switch.
Evidently, The Witcher III is a more demanding game than GTA V and if CD Projekt RED managed to port that, then GTA V or something similar on the Switch might not be impossible after all.
1 Downgrades: Graphical Quality
Last but not least in the list of downgrades Switcher undertook is the graphical quality. Lower texture resolution, fewer foliage details, low-res shadows, fewer NPCs, and of course the lower overall resolution make The Witcher III on Switch a less visually satisfying experience compared to other devices.
For handheld gaming, however, it should be appropriate enough as the smaller screen tends to hide the sacrifice on visuals. Dock mode, however, reveals all the blemishes and isn't the best way to enjoy The Witcher III if you value graphics in games. Thankfully, The Witcher III has a lot more to offer than visuals.