Originally released on other platforms back in 2015, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt arrives on Nintendo Switch over four years later, and it's somewhat surreal to hold such a gigantic game in the palm of your hands. Ported over by Saber Interactive, this is The Witcher 3 in almost all of its glory. The same brilliant base game, the same incredible expansions -- it's all here, and it's an impressive achievement.
Many would argue that The Witcher 3 is one of the greatest role-playing titles of all time. You fill the shoes of Geralt, an experienced monster hunter for hire, who, at the beginning of the game, is tracking down a powerful sorceress -- and former lover -- named Yennefer. The initial scope of Geralt's adventure is limited, but after a couple of hours, the story slowly begins to unravel, producing a tangled web of world-ending danger, personal struggle, and political intrigue.
The numerous narrative threads running throughout this 100-hour journey are brought to life by some of the most expertly crafted characters in gaming. Undoubtedly, The Witcher 3's biggest strength is its storytelling; dialogue is detailed and nuanced yet delivered with pinpoint precision. Every quest, whether it's tied to the plot or it's just Geralt venturing out into the wilderness to claim a creature's head, is considered, focused, and near perfectly paced. We could spend hours gushing about the world building, the cast, and the writing of The Witcher 3, but the bottom line is that it remains an utterly engrossing experience.
It's worth noting, however, that the title tackles some especially heavy and mature themes right from the word go. It's not an overwhelmingly dark game -- humour is a key component of The Witcher 3's masterfully written script -- but when the situation demands, it pulls no punches. Bloody violence, strong language, and scenes of a sexual nature are all part of the package.
If you're new to The Witcher, then don't worry about missing out on the first two games. Although Wild Hunt does feature numerous returning characters, this is a self-contained story. You're given the option to simulate a Witcher 2 game save if you wish but even if you choose not to, the title does a fantastic job of introducing Geralt's old acquaintances -- one quick conversation later and you'll feel like you've known them your whole life.
Geralt himself is something of an established character -- his goals and underlying, grizzled personality are already set in stone. However, you're still given the freedom to express yourself through the white-haired witcher's dialogue options. Sometimes these options bring additional flavour to an exchange, other times they can determine the outcome of a quest, and can have a lasting impact on the world or its inhabitants. In addition to the various character builds available for Geralt, there's an emphasis on choice and consequence throughout The Witcher 3, and the decisions that you're forced to make are very rarely black and white. In short, there's some gripping role-playing to be had here.
In its ability to tell a story and present distinct personalities, CD Projekt Red's finest release is almost unmatched, but here in 2019, The Witcher 3's gameplay does show its age at times. Take the title's combat system, for example, which has been a hot topic for years. It's action-based, with Geralt able to attack using his swords, perform evasive steps, and cast magic known as signs. Fights tend to be fast paced, but patience is often the name of the game. Learning the ins and outs of a monster's movements is the key to success, and knowing when to strike or use a specific sign or alchemical potion can be the difference between life and death.
Combat is designed to be fluid but fairly tactical, and for the most part, it's well worked and rewarding. The problem, though, is that Geralt's own movements can be a bit unruly. A witcher's swordplay is based on momentum, and so Geralt will often spin his way into a slash or slide into a stabbing motion. It takes some getting used to, and in particularly tricky battles, it means that you're often having to compensate for Geralt's lengthy animations. Combat is nowhere near as bad as some would have you believe, but it does succumb to annoying bouts of jank every now and then.
Speaking of jank, The Witcher 3 launched with performance issues on consoles back in 2015, and while they were fixed bit by bit, it's always been clear that this is a technically demanding game. It's by some miracle, then, that The Witcher 3 runs as well as it does on Switch. The visuals have obviously taken a substantial hit -- more on that in a minute -- but again, this is the full, uncut experience running on significantly weaker hardware.
Let's start with the frame rate. Capped at 30 frames per second both in handheld and docked modes, the release is surprisingly smooth. Galloping at speed through the open world, we only noticed very minor drops. It's honestly hard to fault performance during regular gameplay -- transitioning between exploration, combat, and conversation is pretty much flawless, and the title's few load screens are quite short. Having said all that, there are times when the frame rate briefly falls off a cliff. This usually happens during especially busy cutscenes, or when you're taking in the sights of a detailed location, like the bustling city of Novigrad. It's rough, but perhaps expected.
Slightly inconsistent frame rate aside, sacrifices have, of course, been made to achieve this level of performance. There's a distinct blurriness to The Witcher 3 on Switch, and although it doesn't stop the game's top notch art direction from shining through, it does take the edge off certain environments, and it can even be difficult to pick out distant enemies or read an opponent's actions in battle. This is less noticeable when playing docked, but the trade-off is that on a bigger display, muddy textures and asset pop-in stand out a lot more. There are a wealth of settings to tweak before starting Witcher 3 and it'll depend on personal preference if you think Motion Blur settings and the like improve the visual experience or not.
But make no mistake, this is still a lovely looking RPG when it wants to be. The world oozes atmosphere with dynamic weather effects. Trees sway in the wind, storms light up the sky, and stunning sunsets will have you mashing your Switch's capture button. And adding to all of this is a superb soundtrack, stuffed with incredible ambient music and a selection of intense battle themes.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt remains a masterpiece, and being able to take such a grand and engrossing adventure on the go is something well worth celebrating. The Switch's Complete Edition is a truly impressive achievement, and although performance isn't perfect, it's still an incredible and impactful role-playing experience. The Witcher 3 set the bar for modern RPGs back in 2015, and this port is a startling reminder that it has yet to be bettered.