This is a review I have delayed writing for many months. Ever since I obtained my copy earlier this year. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was officially released last October but copies weren’t immediately available. Most players had to wait till February. Chances are you passed on the game for one of the Nintendo Switch’s other offerings. With this review I hope to convince you to reconsider. This port for the Switch is probably the most ambitious there is, considering the limited computing power offered by the portable console. However, the primary reason for delaying this review is because I did not think I was yet capable to write one. The Witcher 3 is an action role-playing game whose depth continues to expand rapidly as you progress through the story. This has also prevented me from playing the game at times.
What’s is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt?
So here we are, discussing a game from 2015, but one that feels not one day out of date. CD Projekt Red‘s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is their third game based on The Witcher franchise. Which is a series of short story collections and novels that were published throughout the 1990s. One last standalone novel published in 2013. The stories are written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. It is thus only fitting that a Polish developer would create a game adaptation. The title of the franchise refers to the character Geralt Of Rivia who is a monster slayer for hire.
Set in a medieval inspired fantasy world the stories are particular in that they offer more depth than one might at first glance assume possible with a character such as Geralt. The franchise involves an extensive cadre if supporting characters, of which the sorceress Yennefer and princess Cirilla became main characters in their own right.
The Witcher 3 is set several years after the events of the novel series and continues were the first two games left off. As such we are now in a non-canon world. Geralt’s old rival Emperor Emhyr of Nilfgaard summons Geralt to him and orders him to find his daughter Ciri, whom is being chased by a bunch of spectral elves. Ciri’s mother is descended from elves and thus only she has the power to manipulate space and time. As Geralt has long treated Ciri as his own daughter he accepts the tasks.
Geralt and Ciri
And as such starts a journey across the northern kingdoms of the Continent that is again become war-torn. Emperor Emhyr continues his conquests of the remaining independent kingdoms. The war makes for an effective backdrop to the game. It provides gruesome visuals and strong character narratives. Not unlike Knigths of the Old Republic you will find most settlements divided in opposing camps. The narrative choices that you make as the player strongly influence how Geralt’s journey progresses.
As I mentioned there are reasons why I kept off writing this review. There is so much to explore and do in The Witcher 3, but it is also a difficult game to play at times. The game uses a simple levelling system. With each level increment you can explore a base skill. However, unlike other games in the genre just playing the story quests won’t get you the prerequisite experience levels. While you can take the risk of attempting to defeat a foe with a lower than advised skill level it will only get you so far.
Side-quests on monster slayings
As such the player is required to perform the many side-quests and monster hunts to obtain the much needed experience points and loot. Yet, at times the offering of side quest can be too limited, or they are too difficult to perform in themselves. The way the side quests are interrelated with the story quests is also not clear. This is less of a problem as you progress. But before you reach level 10 a lot in The Witcher 3 is difficult to understand.
The game world The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is impressive in its scale. There are a series of maps that can be quickly traversed using fast travel through direction markers. Geralt has to find Ciri by investigating in Velen, the swampy countryside inhabited by the Bloody Baron. Then the town of Novigrad and afterwards the islands of Skellige is visited, each offering a radically different environment. Each of these areas can be revisited and sometimes it is vital to do so. Besides these location there is also White Orchard, Kaer Morhen and Toussaint. More than enough territory to get lost in. In fact if there was one minor gripe I have is that is impossible to make use of the fast travel markers while on horseback. You have to take Geralt off Roach to make fast travel work.
The Witcher 3: Complete Edition
The version for the Nintendo Switch is officially labelled as the Complete Edition. This means is also includes the two official DLCs: Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. These add significant quests thus offering the player a considerable experience for just 60 euros. As is befitting a Triple A game nothing has been saved on presentation. The in-game cut scenes as well as the narration during the loading screen feature an impressive line-up of voice-over actors. Doug Cockle voices the always dour Geralt and Denise Gough Yennefer. Emperor Emhyr Var Emreis is voiced by nonother than Charles Dance. I do hope we will see him do the same in the series.
Sadly, many of the role-playing aspects do not add much in the way of gameplay if you are an average player. The Witcher 3 offers a wide-variety meta-gameplay. From potion making, alchemy, spell-casting and gear crafting to the card-game Gwent, bank loans and trading. There is a lot do besides taking either your silver sword or steel sword and kills either monsters of humans. In fact, there is so much to do but preciously little appeared to make a huge impact. Usually I would just sell all my loot for better gear while spell-casting I would be limited to one or two that were easy to use and have visibly destructive behavior.
Meta-gameplay is too redundant
Sadly that was the limit of involvement with the RPG gameplay. I did not apply potions to weapons, or develop special oils or bombs beyond what a quest would require. Practically anything that would quickly wear off and was ephemeral I would avoid. It did not feel satisfying when did them to beat a quest. On top of that there is the not so fine-tuned crossbow you can wield, but that too was not satisfactory. Instead I relied on the most powerful sword and armour to beat my foes. And that nearly always worked.
So despite the best efforts of CD Projekt Red and unless you a die-hard fan specializing Geralt’s skill in a particular direction the RPG elements are not noteworthy. Combine that with the sometimes clumsy fight controls and you end up with a game that is a bit rough around the edges. Some players will dislike that, as I initially did, but as you do progress the staggering amount of options and freedom of choice suddenly gives the The Witcher 3 a lot of depth. I now understand why some fans consider it to be the best RPG there is.
The Witcher 3 on Nintendo Switch
Now as for the Switch version of The Witcher 3 things are a mixed bag, through continued patching the bad has been mostly worked away. As the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo Switch are limited in comparison to its brethren the graphical fidelity is less. Especially when Geralt is the countryside does the player see a lot more jagged edges. When riding on horseback (which is a lot of fun) you will see pop-ups on the horizon. And in lots of cases textures look distinctly blurry as you get closer.
However, noticed this especially when I started playing the game, but it becomes less distracting as you progress. The fantastic scenery directed by wonderful artwork make up a lot. And that is not to say that the graphics are bad. They are not. In urban areas the dynamic scaling suddenly improves the aliasing. Also the frequent patching since the game was released has ensured it is better optimized for the Nintendo Switch, with a corresponding buff in graphics. Sadly, playing the game while docked makes the game look distinctly underwhelming.
More of The Witcher
Combined with the sometimes difficult controls there were times I wished I was playing on the PC. As the story progressed and I became vested in the characters and was able to defeat monsters with ease this feeling subsided. I now think The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a worthy port and a must-have for any owner of the Nintendo Switch.
For those who are interested in The Witcher franchise I will direct you to my review of season 1 of the show on Netflix starring Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra. I also recently wrote a review of the two short story compendiums: The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny which are considered the entry points into the franchise. This Complete Edition of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt also comes with some additional goodies: a very neat looking map of all of the territories you can visit, some stickers, a message from the developers and a small compendium. The Switch case containing the game disk comes inside a good looking cardboard enclosure.
And so I have come to the end of this review of what might well be the one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch. If you want to kill time before Cyberpunk 2077 comes then do play The Witcher 3, either on Switch or any other platform. You will not be disappointed.