When the rumours began circling that CD Projekt Red was working on bringing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to Nintendo Switch, most people assumed they were false since the project seemed absurd. However, after the announcement at E3 2019, it's fair to say people have some questions and maybe the occasional doubt about how CDPR managed to achieve such a feat. We took a trip a trip to Nintendo's UK headquarters to try The Switcher out and we'll just say: it's surprising.
First of all, let's take a mosey down memory lane and reminisce on all things Witcher, just to jog the memory a bit. To those unaware, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was the third instalment in The Witcher franchise, developed by Polish studio CD Projekt Red. The fantasy RPG title focuses on the story of a silver-haired hero known as Geralt of Rivia as he tracks his adopted daughter Ciri across the in-game world since she seems to be in mortal danger from the notorious Wild Hunt.
Geralt himself is a renowned Witcher, or mercenary monster hunter if you'd like. His job, like other Witchers out there is to, for a reasonable price, rid the lands of the dangerous monsters threatening the measly peasants. However, unlike his compatriots, Geralt is particularly talented at wrapping himself up in the problems of kings, leading the Witcher on quests that stray from the monster hunting path (as is the case in this title).
Not only is The Witcher 3 one of the most astoundingly pretty games out there, but its character development and questlines are some of the best offered in the genre. During a playthrough, you will find yourself becoming immersed and attached to some of the NPCs in the world as you make your adventure as Geralt personal to you through the incredibly vast branching dialogue that features within.
The title itself would easily sit at around 50GB in size on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, packed with gorgeous worlds and impressive mechanics. This is why when CDPR announced The Switcher, there were some doubts about whether or not the portable console could handle the large game file. We have some answers to that courtesy of our interview with Piotr Chrzanowski, senior producer at CD Projekt Red.
"The amount of frames that you have on the Switch compared to consoles is a little different" Chrzanowski explained. "We had to make sure this is transparent for everyone while we try to switch to the frames the Switch has available. There was, of course, some work that went into that specific area, you know we work on the textures, fixing the memory and we try to optimise the game in a smart way, you'll notice a little bit of difference on the loading distance on specific situations but you don't see it while playing the game. The goal was to make the experience the same as on other consoles and still be able to run it on the hardware, which was a little less in performance."
Whilst this was the plan, you can't exactly move a file that's around 50GB in size and just stick it on a Switch cartridge capped at 32GB, especially when all the downloadable content comes with it in one hefty package. Something had to change. "We've rescaled some textures and we converted the cutscenes to 720p. We also did a lot of work on the sound system and we gained some space by doing so but we haven't cut any of the actual content out at all."
As well as modifying the title to fit the Switch, CDPR has taken into account the multiple ways to play that the Switch offers and likewise how that affects the game itself. "You do get the resolution boost, potentially some FPS boost, but either way we are aiming at 30FPS all across the board [in reference to docked and handheld mode]" Chrzanowski stated. "Basically, being at 30FPS will depend on whether something too heavy is happening on the screen, then the resolution will drop [from 720p to 540p] to accommodate that and keep the gameplay smooth. Normally, you would not notice without very careful inspection that there was a resolution drop, but you will notice the FPS is less when it's trying to keep the gameplay smooth."
When asked if frames per second was a priority, Chrzanowski answered simply: "Yes, but in some aspect, there is a dynamic wheel turning."
Another point of interest regarding The Switcher was based around the controls and how they would be implemented on the Switch. "Well, first of all, we had a debate about what kind of function would the A button have," said Chrzanowski. "Do we stick to what we have on other platforms, to keep the consistent approach, or whether we change it to fit the Nintendo audience, which is used to a different form of it? I think as a default we will have A in the more Nintendo style, but we will have options to switch it in the menu. Beyond that most of how we played the game came very naturally, as it is similar to that of other platforms, we haven't had to change much."
As for potentially seeing motion or touch screen controls being added, don't keep your hopes up, since CDPR has no plans to implement them.
On the topic of controls, one of the best experiences we had with The Switcher came from our fight with the Bruxa in the Blood and Wine expansion. Anyone whose played this DLC will recognise this fight instantly as it is notoriously difficult. For us, this particular instance of combat perfectly emphasised how impressively CDPR managed to port the title, as even though we died more times than we'd like to admit during the fight, we overcame the boss in the end. The most interesting part of this, however, was that the combat, both melee and sign-based, and the monster's mechanics, felt almost no different than the more powerful editions of The Witcher 3, aside from the toned down visuals of course.
In summary, with what we saw of The Witcher 3 on Switch, we can say this. Whilst it didn't feature the flashy 4K graphics that can be played on PC and console, the game felt as fluid and polished as the other platforms. In truth, considering it isn't supposed to limit the Switch battery in handheld more than normal, we still are a little bewildered as to how CDPR has managed to achieve the port so effectively and are looking forward to the official launch sometime later this year.