Earlier this week the long-rumoured patch for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on Switch dropped and delivered some significant visual upgrades and PC-like options to tweak the graphical experience to your liking. The port was remarkable when it first launched last year, despite its undeniably blurry presentation compared to versions of the game on other platforms, but that was a small price to pay to have the option of playing this sprawling, epic action-RPG on a portable system. This latest update, though, takes the Switch port to another level entirely.
The real beauty of patch 3.6 is that any Switch owner with a decent PC can now get the best of both worlds: an excellent portable experience... and the full-fat 1080p (or higher) deal when they get home
While the performance and visual bumps are very welcome and feel like you've had a cataract removed compared to the pre-patch experience, the update also includes PC cross-save functionality with the Steam and GOG versions of Witcher 3. Visual bells and whistles aside, it's this which is arguably the real show-stopper here and something which we believe points the way forward for Switch ports in the future, especially in light of the coming next-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony.
Since the system's launch we've seen some truly unexpected arrivals on Nintendo's console, and last year alone was filled not only with great games, but ports that captured them at their very best in handheld form. Playing titles like Cuphead, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and Feral Interactive's Alien: Isolation on Switch was an absolute joy, and none of them felt like compromised, downgraded versions of the 'proper' game.
Starting with Panic Button's port of DOOM, we've enjoyed an ever-growing array of 'impossible' ports - games which nobody thought could run acceptably on Switch's mobile chipset - and each one has spurred on other developers in a glorious porting 'arms race' to the benefit of Nintendo gamers who couldn't have imagined anything like this back when Switch was still known as 'NX'. Every time we think 'that's it, the Switch can't handle more than this' the next miracle arrives to prove us wrong. Of course, we've had some clunkers, but the overall quality has been astonishingly high.
That said, even the very best Switch ports have their limitations and with games like DOOM, Wolfenstein II and Witcher 3 - however miraculous the effort - Nintendo gamers with access to other platforms have to make a hard decision: Do I make 'the Switch sacrifice'? We coined this term recently in reference to giving up sexier visuals and performance available elsewhere for the portability and convenience of Switch. We often pay a premium for the handheld version, too.
Overall, more often than not it's a sacrifice we're willing to make, but when you glimpse Geralt riding his steed through lush, crisp glades on other platforms and see the magnificent vistas and silky smooth frame rates possible on non-portable hardware, it's only natural to feel a little jealous. Rationally, we're astonished that the Switch version functions at all, but being the fallible irrational beings we are, we're also conscious we could be having it better elsewhere.
Thankfully, now Switch owners have another option when it comes to Witcher 3. The real beauty of patch 3.6 is that any Switch owner with a decent PC can now get the best of both worlds: an excellent portable experience they can throw in their bag when they leave the house and the full-fat 1080p (or higher) deal then they get home. Yes, it entails buying two different copies of the game, but the niggling 'Switch sacrifice' is eliminated for PC owners wanting the best resolutions and frame rates when they're not on the bus or trapped in the New Forest on a caravan holiday. Everyone's a winner.
Well, not quite everyone. Xbox and PS4 owners won't get the benefits of cross-saves with Switch, and in an ideal world you'd be able to pick up where you left off regardless of platform. We're not there yet, but in terms of convenience and functionality, Saber Interactive has once again raised the bar for other port specialists bringing games to Switch. It's not the first game on the system to do this - Divinity: Original Sin 2 implements PC cross-saves beautifully, for example, and games like Fortnite which save progress to servers rather than your console have had that cross-platform progression baked-in for ages - but it's another valuable feature that adds to the accesibility of Nintendo's console.
And those without a mighty rig and who couldn't care less about 4K or 60fps still get a perfectly wonderful experience on Switch, regardless. Patch 3.6's visual improvements are pretty special in their own right (and even convinced this writer to add Witcher 3 to his substantial backlog while the game is still part of the Switch eShop sale), but the fact that PC players have been given the cross-save option impresses the heck out of us. For epic RPGs it makes eminent sense and it's something we'd love to see feature in games like The Outer Worlds and Panic Button's upcoming DOOM Eternal, too - in fact, any game where there's a noticeably better experience available on PC.
With rival next-gen consoles releasing before the end of the year, more than ever Nintendo will need to play every single ace up its sleeve to demonstrate the benefits of its diminutive hybrid console against more powerful alternatives on the horizon. Appealing to Nintendo gamers is one thing, but maintaining Switch's relevance with cross-platform players is also important. Cross-save functionality is a significant trump card with a high convenience value, and third-parties should be looking to Saber's example in the coming year and beyond.
What are your impressions of The Witcher 3's version 3.6 Switch update? What visual settings have you settled on? Let us know your thoughts on cross-saves, anti-aliasing and bloom below.