When CD Projekt Red announced at E3 2019 that The Witcher 3 was going to be coming to Nintendo Switch, I was reminded of the phrase 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' In this instance, the horse in question had glitched, hovering ten feet above me in midair, but the point still stands. Because, despite being a dedicated fan of the Witcher series, both in book and game form, this announcement simply had me wondering, well, why?
The Switcher, as it has affectionately been dubbed, is set to demand 32GB of space, operating at 540p handheld and 720p docked. While this port is certainly impressive, the fact that such graphical compromises needed to be made had me a little worried. In a game that boasts some of the vastest and most visually stunning locations in gaming history (I've loaded up the game solely to ride around Skellige before, so I'm speaking from experience here) becoming fully immersed in the atmosphere is all a part of the experience. I think about The Witcher 3 on Switch in the same way that I think about the announcement of the upcoming The Witcher Netflix series – with both excitement and hesitation. It's great that we are getting more Witcher – just make it good, please.
Something feels familiar
I was given the opportunity to get my hands-on with the handheld version of The Witcher 3 in an attempt to size up this miniaturisation of a classic and, much to my relief, it looks like CD Projekt RED has only gone and done it. Racing against Ciri and sparring with Vesemir in the games' tutorial felt just like The Witcher 3 that I have sunk over 50 hours into. After chatting with Piotr Chrzanowski, a senior creative producer at CD Projekt Red, it's clear that this is the reaction the studio was looking for. "We want to make sure that people recognise this as The Witcher 3 and that it plays in the same way. That we don't change anything compared to the other platforms," Chrzanowski tells me.
After getting back in the swing of both the steel and silver, I quickly found myself running around the well-travelled roads of Velen, fighting beasts and riding Roach to the pubs that I know are known to house Gwent players. Just like the good ol' days. The change of controller, while awkward at first, didn't stop the game feeling welcomingly familiar, too. The translation to joycons feels thought out, and after the tutorial, it meant that the fighting remained between me and the monster, rather than me and the controls. Combat and sign casting is still as satisfying as ever, with L allowing you to select from your deadly roster of signs and ZR to influence minds or burn them to a crisp, depending on where the mood takes you. You'll still be double-clicking the right stick to call your trusty steed, and your bestiary is tucked away under +, though the smaller screen means that the lore itself demands either 20/20 vision or a significant amount of squinting to delve into. It has been confirmed that the game will support the use of the pro controller, which I will personally be opting for over the joycons, if only to make the long hours of combat more comfortable and instinctual. But those fluent in joycon will probably find the controls to be intuitive and satisfying, particularly in a game where combat mastery feels so rewarding.
Small but deadly
As I mentioned up top, The Witcher 3 has lost some of its visual fidelity in its transition to Switch. That was to be expected, but what I didn't expect was just how great the game would look regardless. While the 540p resolution in handheld mode does mean that The Witcher 3 is noticeable less sharp, the depth and detail to its spaces still shines through. "I think the fact that the game is not in full HD is not the most important factor," Chrzanowski continues, confident that a small hit to the graphical fidelity won't, ultimately, be to the detriment of the game. "Because what's important is that the game feels and plays the same. That you get the same experience, and that is something that I'm focusing on, that I think people will be focusing on."
While the visuals may look softer, you shouldn't expect the same from the way the game plays. The number of enemies and NPCs occupying the game's spaces remains the same, leaving the world as dangerous as ever. The only sacrifices CD Projekt Red was willing to make were small decisions that wouldn't affect the core gameplay, with the studio having to pull back the scope of the visuals to maintain a consistent frame rate and performance. "There are some small differences, and we are not hiding them," admits Chrzanowski. "We understand it's a different platform. And if you look at the draw distance, you will find it's a little bit shorter, 20% off of the Playstation , for example. If you are focusing on numbers, you will always find something that has to be changed to fit into the memory required, but I don't think that really impacts the gameplay."
Getting the opportunity to play The Witcher 3 on Switch and to speak with Chrzanowski has left me decidedly less worried about this strand of The Witcher's future. Once you get the game in your hands, it's hard not to be impressed by what CD Projekt Red has achieved here. The Witcher 3 is great to play in handheld mode. It's as Chrzanowski tells me: "Not everyone has the time to put in to see everything the world has to offer. Bringing [The Witcher 3] on the go is a natural choice."
It's hard to disagree with the sentiment. Seeing such a large and spectacular world suddenly become so tiny felt anything but natural, but it's a relief to find that there have been no major compromises made to bring The Witcher 3 to a new console. When the game releases later this year I will be filling my commutes fighting monsters, playing Gwent with strangers in taverns, and covering my screen during romance scenes so men in suits don't judge me. I can't wait.