[Review] The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition
Posted on October 14, 2019 by Edan(@@Virtualboi92) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: October 15, 2019
Developer: CD Projekt Red / Saber Interactive
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
As I look at my Switch’s home-screen, I find myself questioning the reality of whatever timeline it is that I’ve ended up in. Super Mario Odyssey’s icon is nestled neatly between that of Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and I can’t quite figure out if I’m dreaming or if I’m just overtired. Existential nightmare aside, I’ve been tasked with reviewing The Witcher 3 on Switch, and despite having had months to adjust to the game’s presence on Nintendo’s hybrid, I still can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of it being real. Not only is it actually real, but it’s the full package too – the base game in its entirety along with every scrap of DLC – all present and accounted for, and all on a single 32GB cartridge. I have two questions: How? Followed closely by: How good?
The strength of CD Projekt Red’s work in developing their interpretation of the Witcher franchise has always lied in the studio’s ample ability to craft a mature, and human story that has palpable weight and consequence. In this entry, Geralt of Rivia (that’s you) has been tasked with tracking down his former ward Ciri, who is being pursued by The Wild Hunt – a sort of motley crew of high-fantasy Darth Vaders that hail from a parallel dimension. This is all framed against the backdrop of tense military occupation by an invading force, which in turn occupies the minds and motivations of many whom Geralt meets over the course of his journey. It’s not the most original story ever to be told, but the manner in which the writing, character design and voice acting all come together is a true credit to the RPG genre. Almost every character you meet has their own set of intentions, hidden behind a veil of self-preserving misdirection. Many characters you would assume to be set-dressing by any other game’s standards often end up engrossing you with tragic tales of their past and present, so much so in fact, that I am completely guilty of totally forgetting about the main quest at various junctures just to pursue side activities, and to further my understanding of the game’s world and its people.
Choice is a central element of The Witcher 3, and the extent to which you can impact the world around you puts other RPGs to shame, especially when you consider the fact that Geralt of Rivia is a pre-determined character complete with his own set of ideals and motives. CD Projekt Red has really mastered the positive aspects of this by putting you in situations that not only challenge his morality as a character, but also yours as a player. I frequently found myself controller down, hand on chin, brow furrowed, and genuinely weighing up the pros and cons of whatever impulse it was that I was about to act on (if only I applied the same amount of diligence to my actual real life, I’d be at least two stone lighter). This is a good time to mention the delicacy of some of the game’s subject matter, as It can be rather heavy. I feel as though some series newcomers may be caught off guard by this, and could potentially even find the game hard to stomach at points. Just be aware that the age rating adorning the game’s cover-art is completely justified in this particular case, and is not present solely because of the many separate instances of gore and nudity. For me, that translates into the biggest thumbs-up physically possible, especially considering the tact and grace with which the game’s writers have managed to approach the subject matter in question. For others, this may be a huge turn-off, and that’s fine too.
One specific concern I had going into the Witcher 3 was in how CD Projekt Red would tackle the design of an open-world. Previously, the series took place in a variety of smaller hubs that were packed with detail and atmosphere, and I feared some of that immersion would be lost as the game spread itself out over hundreds of square miles of wide open terrain. I needn’t have worried – the change has added so much more to the experience than it has taken away, even if there is a slight whiff of Ubisoft emanating from the way in which the world opens up to you as you explore. Large question marks fill up your mini-map as events unfold, which in the beginning may prove slightly underwhelming and formulaic as you traverse from point to point, but once you realize your expectations are constantly being either exceeded or subverted by each new location and event you uncover, you become increasingly excited every time a new marker gets added to your map. There is often no way to tell what awaits around each corner of the game’s environment, and the level of creativity and variety on display is lightning in a bottle.
Particular commendation needs to be given to how CD Projekt Red has placed the onus on you to figure out much of what’s going on in the world. On one occasion for instance, I found myself wandering into a downtrodden village and finding a scrap of paper tacked to the local notice board. It detailed how the locals had been gripped in fear by the presence of a wraith, that had taken up residence in a nearby settlement. I expected to have some talking head from the local populace tell me where to go and what to do in order to fulfill my duty, but in reality, the villagers I spoke to were barely coherent, and merely offered superstitious wive’s tails along with the location of the settlement in question. This left me to research the ghoul myself by sourcing a book in-game which in turn added an entry to my bestiary, summarizing the risks and tactics involved in dealing with said wraith. Once I reached the settlement, I indulged in some more detective work, by using Geralt’s Witcher senses to spot various clues that were hidden in the environment that gave a clearer picture as to the location and origin of the wraith. Fighting the abomination itself served as an immensely satisfying (and terrifying) crescendo to the events leading up to it – all of the tidbits I had uncovered gave me a much greater sense of place and purpose during that quest. Multiply that experience by the hundreds, and you’ve got yourself a Witcher 3.
Remarkably, the game manages to maintain that state of immersion consistently, even if the moment-to-moment gameplay can occasionally be rather ropey. Geralt and his loyal steed, Roach, have a tendency to get snagged on elements of the environment as you explore, and the real-time combat in particular can at times feel floaty and unresponsive depending on the enemy you’re up against. This is redeemed solely by the sheer variety of spells, skills and weaponry you can utilize over the course of the game, and experimentation is a necessity as you level up and face progressively tougher foes. You’ll regularly upgrade your weaponry and armor as per standard RPG decree, but Geralt also has an entire suite of bespoke Witcher abilities for you to upgrade and augment as you play – fire spells, telekinetic blasts and actual Jedi mind tricks (complete with wavy hand gesture) to name but a few. Even now, as I approach New Game+ with unabashed enthusiasm, I’m still finding new and creative uses for the tools that are available to me in-game.
It’s worth mentioning that many who are reading this will already know how they feel about The Witcher 3 – given that it sold over 20 million copies on other systems – and they will only want the elephant in the room promptly addressed and dismissed, so here goes: The Witcher 3 on Switch can be a rather ugly looking game. The work that CD Projekt Red and Saber Interactive have put into making the experience work on Nintendo’s hybrid is technically impressive, but here’s the thing – the original Doom running on a graphing calculator is also technically impressive, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into it being nice to look at. The frame rate can stutter and hitch regularly around the mid to low twenties, and many of the artistic choices present in The Witcher 3’s design have been impacted in the transition to Switch, particularly around its lighting, natural environments, and dynamic weather systems. Above all else, resolution is where the game suffers the most. Even though the HUD and UI are thankfully rendered at native resolution, the rest of what’s happening onscreen can be blurry.
I generally tend to hold technical proficiency rather high on the list of priorities when discussing Switch ports – after all, most of these games have all existed previously in a more refined form and on much more capable hardware. The real question lies in whether the sacrifices made in the name of portable play are justified, and if the core experience still holds up over time. For me, The Witcher 3 is a game so abundant in creativity and immersive qualities, and so defined by its characters and stories, that the technical shortcomings of the Switch version don’t matter a jot to me. The abundance of content contained on that 32GB Switch cartridge is a tantalizing wonder, and although it would be great to be able to take it all in visually as CD Projekt Red originally intended – at a smoother frame-rate and a higher resolution – it’s a true credit to the development team that even in such a compromised state, The Witcher 3 still shines as both a pivotal achievement in game design, and a breathtakingly human approach to interactive storytelling.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition review copy provided by CD Projekt Red for the purposes of this review.