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Game review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition (Switch)

21 Oct 2019
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Polish developer CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt still holds its own across console and PC, some four years after its initial release.

Incredibly, now owners of the modestly-powered Nintendo Switch can also sample this magnificent game. But how does a game that bought even the mightiest PC to its knees four years ago fare on Nintendo’s little handheld console?

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt Complete Edition is an epic affair packed with incredible world-building consisting of towns, cities and villages. The world of The Witcher 3 is huge, rich and wonderfully detailed.

CD Projekt RED’s Witcher games serve as sequels to Andrzej Sapkowski superb series of Witcher novels following the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, the titular witcher. Witchers are monster hunters imbued with superhuman abilities and a modest understanding of magic and potions. Trained from youth to be expert warriors, a potential witcher must endure the Trial of Grasses, the procedure that gives them their strength, resilience and sticking yellow, cat-like eye. Most candidates do not survive the process.

At this point in the story, witchers are not as common as they once were. Many of their orders have collapsed. Their ways and even the details of the Trial of Grasses are slipping into dim memory. Unlike sorcerers, the mercenary, monster-hunter-for-hire, ways of the witchers has them seen more as a necessary evil rather than a respected professional by townsfolk.

The game’s main story has the witcher, Geralt, seeking out the location of Ciri, his former ward, who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt- a band of supernatural hunters. Whilst only mentioned in passing in the first two games, Ciri, or Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, Princess of Cintra, plays a large part in the novels. Ciri is a Source, a person of the elder blood with extreme magical power. The Wild Hunt wants to use this power for its own ends.

Like the novels and the other games preceding it, The Witcher 3 is not a kid’s tale. It has strong violence, language and some saucy bits not intended for young eyes. 

The tale takes Geralt across the Northern Realms visiting settlements, towns and cities based on medieval Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. The included expansion, Blood and Wine, adds the region of Toussaint, inspired by the Mediterranean climes of southern France. A lot of work has gone into making the game world as rich, detailed and real as possible.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition features the original game, the free DLC packs issued post-launch and the two premium expansions: Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. Switch players are getting the full Witcher 3 story and gameplay experience.

If you want to deep-dive straight into the expansions, you can elect to do so for the main menu, the game generating a suitably levelled Geralt for you to be able to tackle the advanced difficulty of the expansions’ challenges. Even if you’ve played the game before, I’d still recommend starting from the beginning for a full Witcher 3 Switch experience. 

The previous Witcher games were renowned for being extremely difficult. The Witcher 3 allows players to choose from a combat difficulty scale ranging from ‘Death March!’ for the hardcore, to ‘Just the Story!’ for those that just want to enjoy this amazing continuation of the witcher’s journey.

Combat is about more that just slashing with Geralt’s swords, of which he has two: a regular one for people and silver one for monsters. As well as a heavy and light attack, Geralt can be made to block, counter, dodge and roll. On the tougher difficulties mastering the timing of all these is essential.

Geralt can also cast a few spells for his protection, or to launch fire, blasts and to otherwise hinder opponents. Much of the witcher’s craft involves making potions and mixtures to augment his abilities, heal wounds, enhance weapons and to draw out monsters.

The game is quest-based. The main quest lines move the story forward. There are also hundreds of side quests, which can be found on noticeboards or just by taking to people. There are also optional monster hunting contracts to be fulfilled. Tying a monster’s head to your horse gives Geralt an additional perk.

Weapons, gear, armour and equipment can all be upgraded with new items as you come across them. There are a number of quests to obtain rare witcher armour, as well.

Whilst players have access to Geralt’s horse, Roach, there are fast travel points, in the form of signposts, to make getting about easier. It’s not quite as atmospheric as galloping through a muddy forest on a windy night, but in a world this huge, you’ll appreciate the help.

The Witcher 3 also includes an in-game card game called gwent. Many inns will have a character keen to go up against your deck. Many characters also have additional card for you to win and add to your deck. You can waste hours just playing gwent.

Firing up the Switch to take a look at The Witcher 3 for the first time gave me a feeling of dread. Hobbled with a fraction of the power afforded to the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One, and far, far below the specs of my PC, the Switch is not an obvious platform for Geralt’s epic adventure.

Given the limitations of Nintendo’s stalwart, but modestly powered system, compromises have had to be made. On the Switch’s built in-screen, the visuals, whilst not as crisp as on the PS4, XB1 or PC, are still impressive if a little muddy.

A blur filter has been used to eliminate some of the jagged edges, a result of the lower resolution, that can be turned off if desired. The lack of definition gives the game a more painterly, CGI movie-like, visual style. At the same time, however, the game retails the same level of detail is its bigger brothers. They’ve not reduced the fidelity of any of 3D character models or object, nor have the textures been compromised in any way. It’s just the output resolution and framerate that has necessitated a reduction, as has the draw distance in the backgrounds.

Whilst the game looks shockingly impressive as a fully-fledged portable version of The Witcher 3 for playing on the go, the visuals when hooked up to a TV leave a lot to be desired. I’m very mindful that I’m used to playing the game on a 1440p monitor running at 144hz. The Witcher 3 on Switch, running on a 4K TV is, to be quite frank, a bit of a mess.

Those visuals that, when played on the Switch’s small 160mm screen had a visual style and charm of their own, but look smudged and unrefined on a 37-inch TV. Don’t get me wrong, The Witcher 3 is a visually demanding game. This Switch port is a work of absolute genius at a technical level. It’s probably the most processor-intensive game ever released for the Switch, and likely the most detailed world ever to exist in the small console. But on TV, the visual compromises that the developers have had to make are a lot more obvious.

I play most Switch games on the go, the way the console is designed to be played, with the full-screen mode reserved for only the odd occasion. I’d imagine that’s the same for many players; in which case the lacklustre TV visuals are not going to be that much of an issue, for most.       

The fact that game still plays so well in spite of some of its technical shortcomings is a testament to the quality of gameplay. I’ve always known that The Witcher 3 was so much more than just a pretty game, and this proves it. I’m not, however, casting any aspersions on the amazing work Sabre Interactive have done to get the game running on the Switch and still looking so good, it’s a crowning technical and creative achievement. 

Despite graphical compromises due to the limitations of the hardware and just like the sorceress, Yennifer of Venderberg, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition on Switch comes to us smelling of lilac and gooseberries. An essential purchase for all 18+ Switch owners out there.

Verdict: 9/10