The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Initial Release: 10/15/19
“You are Geralt of Rivia, mercenary Monster Slayer. At your disposal is every tool of the trade: razor-sharp swords, lethal mixture, stealthy crossbows, and powerful combat magic. Before you stands a war-torn, monster-infested continent you can explore at will. Your current contract? Tracking down the child of prophecy, a living weapon that can alter the shape of the world.”
With the smash success of Netflix’s The Witcher, I thought it might be a great time to have a look at The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, more specifically, its port to the Nintendo Switch.
(NOTE: Every screenshot in this article was taken via the Nintendo Switch console.)
So let’s lay out some backstory: The Witcher 3 is an incredible game, without a doubt, despite what past comments made by the original series creator Andrzej Sapkowski.
“The game – with all due respect to it, but let’s finally say it openly – is not an ‘alternative version’, nor a sequel. The game is a free adaptation containing elements of my work; an adaptation created by different authors,” he noted. “Adaptations – although they can in a way relate to the story told in the books – can never aspire to the role of a follow-up. They can never add prologues nor prequels, let alone epilogues and sequels. — Eurogamer
Curmudgeonly tones aside, Sapkowski did recently sign a new deal with Witcher developer CD Projekt Red to give him a more active role in the game series as well as profits. Those feelings of dismissal towards the games on his part aren’t unwarranted, mind you: he did sell off the rights to the game for a lump sum rather than royalties because, quoting PCGamer‘s Andy Chalk directly, “he thought video games were stupid and it wasn’t going add up to anything anyway.”
It is nice to hear a story where a creator was able to obtain rights and royalties to adaptations of their work after the fact, especially in a case where he just couldn’t foresee the successes it would reap.
But what makes this game so great? The visuals, for one thing. Fantasy has its tropes: dragons, dwarves, knights, warlocks… it can be tough to stand out or not be called a Dungeons & Dragons spin-off. But the Witcher’s world is a realistic and difficult one. War and poverty ravage swaths of land, peasants lose their loved ones to wild beasts. And despite how very often grim and depressing it all is, there’s this unfiltered beauty to it. The rains cascading over forests and fields as you sprint towards your next objective, sunlight glinting over the dark trees as night draws near. The character design is often a big draw for people.
Geralt himself is striking not just in a conventional sense, but the stark white hair, deep red scars, and amber cats eyes truly make for an iconic protagonist. Personally, I adore the armor. There’s some very sturdy, layered attired that wastes Geralt’s nice silhouette, but it all caries such realistic weight. When you go to a museum for the first time and see how much metal and heavy cloth was layered onto soldiers and knights, you have to think “the amount of strength needed just to carry this on your shoulders… to say nothing of trying to fight in it!” The colors are never the highest contrast, but it’s by no means muddy and that takes a lot of skill and refinement.
And the creature design, how could I not talk about that? They have such unique, disgusting appearances and varied methods of combat, it’s a far cry from simple zombies and dragons. But what makes things better is the attention to detail with monsters and the like. As a witcher, you’re meant to be an expert on these things, that’s why you cost so much. You learn the exact methods of tracking and killing, the way you would hunt in real life albeit way more interesting. At first I thought the “Witcher Senses” were just a fantasy skin of Batman’s “Detective Vision” in the Arkham saga games, but then Geralt started to pick up scents like a beautiful white bloodhound! There’s so many details like that making the whole concept of being a monster hunter that much more real and engaging.
The story is what had me playing for 8 hours straight on my day off, coming back again and again, saying “one more quest.” Now I don’t mean the overarching plot, which so far has been “Find Yennefer, Find Ciri, before the Wild Hunt does.” You’re traversing rural farming villages. decomposing battlefields, ruined watchtowers, and every so often bustling seedy cities, searching for loved ones and pursuing the ghastly Wild Hunt, a menacing caravan of armored wraith-like men and their icy magic. While this has been interesting, I’ve been so invested with the secondary quests and witcher contracts before even progressing. The Bloody Baron, for instance, contracts you to find his missing wife and daughter. Simple enough, right? But what unfolds is a tale of love, betrayal, abuse, desperation, and dark magic, taking you to all corners of the continent, meeting all kinds of people from religious witch hunters to orphans living in a swamp with a skittish old woman.
What’s more, there are so many choices with ripple effects that a self-proclaimed choice-led game like Until Dawn ought to be embarrassed. You may find a deserter of the army tied up on a beach about to be killed by drowners, but if you save him, you might just meet him later in another region where he murdered refugees for supplies. You may want to kill an evil spirit, but that may get a family killed, but if that family lives then they might just murder someone else! There’s so much domino effect in this game, tricking you with what seems like the right decision so everything goes to hell- or so it might seem. There’s so much fantastic ethical quandary and deception, but above all I walk away thinking one thing: You can’t save everyone.
Now as far as the game running on the Switch, it has its ups and downs. For one, I enjoy the way it feels to play a game like this handheld and the control structure is one I settled into more comfortably than expected. You can really feel the weight of Geralt’s punches and sword swings and dodge rolls, especially with the rumble enabled. The graphics are downgraded from the likes of PC or PS4, but that’s to be expected with the Switch hardware. However, I have experienced some issues even with the lower graphical demands. At least a handful of glitches are unavoidable at the end of the day. One such instance, in a custscene, a ghostly presence was speaking with reverberation and somehow halfway through its dialogue I realized the music was getting choppy and even heard a bit of static feedback. What’s more, it became universal, as Geralt began to speak in a slow and robotic fashion. I thought maybe this cutscene, which unlike the introductory cinematic with Yennefer, was in engine, and thus was pushing the system’s limits. It was odd, seeing as this was a scenario with only two entities and a largely stationary environment. Out of the cutscene I still had the audio issue until I turned the game off and back on. Maybe the upcoming update will fix this sort of thing along with the load times needed between some cutscenes and occasional texture pop-ins.
For someone who rarely has the time to sit with a PC or put on the TV, I’m delighted to have this game in the Switch library. It’s a well-deserved hit and those who can’t afford a strong PC setup or one of the powerful mainstream consoles should still be able to experience Geralt’s journey.