Worth the wait.
Within the first five minutes of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition we get a horse decapitation, a bird that kills a guy by flying into his eyeball, and a lingering shot of a lady’s naked butt. If any of that puts you off, you may as well stop reading right now; the Witcher III is not for you. If, however, you’re cool with the distinct separation between fantasy and reality, then this an RPG you should absolutely try on the Nintendo Switch.
Developed by CD Projekt Red, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt was originally released for PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC back in 2015. I had a closed-door demo of it at E3 in 2014 and was instantly blown away by the game, but knew it would likely never come to the Mac (don’t judge me) or a Nintendo device. It’s still not available for Mac, but the incredible popularity of the Switch has made it an attractive platform for such a port, so here we are.
If you’re new to The Witcher, you needn’t worry about what you may have missed in the first two games; there’s very little from them you don’t pick up in Wild Hunt. All you really need to know is that you’re a mercenary named Geralt of Rivia. You kill things for money, and you’re very, very good at it. This is due larger to your Witcher training, which has provided a nice set of physical skills and magical abilities. Wild Hunt assumes you’re new to the combat system (or could use a refresher) and gives you a nice tutorial and training area to get you started.
Combat has been streamlined from previous entries, but still requires plenty of quick-thinking, study and practice in order to be effective. You’ll need to learn which attacks are effective on which enemies (not just the boss battles) and then be able to execute them along with your evasive maneuvers. Playing the game on easy mode is not an embarrassment, and there are some settings you can tweak to make Geralt automatically handle some of the decisions for you, such as selecting the proper sword for the fight you’re about to enter (and yes, that matters).
The story takes place on the Continent, a beautiful but harsh landscape filled with a ridiculous number of monsters to fight. It’s an open world not unlike what you’ll recall from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but more detailed, populated and dangerous. As Geralt, you’ll run, ride, sail, swim, and climb your way from corner to corner throughout the game’s 100+ hour story, and you’ll find many sidequests along the way to push that hour count even higher. There is so much to do here and so many distractions that I quite often completely lost track of my main mission, which mostly centered around Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri.
The main story is effective, but it tends to plod along at a fairly slow pace due to what feels like unnecessary filler and repetitive combat. The sidequests, on the other hand, offer more focus with a faster payoff, making them the more attractive option when you roll into a new town. As you’d expect, completing these rewards you with experience and money to upgrade your equipment, which you’ll of course need as you go up against more difficult enemies.
More importantly, the sidequests help you to shape your reputation, which affects how characters treat you throughout the game. Your decisions in both dialogue and action will ultimately lead you to one of what I’ve read are 36 possible endings. 36!
I found this somewhat liberating, as there was no use in finding a walkthrough providing the path to an ending with which I’d be happy. With that many possibilities, you may as well be happy with what you get. There’s too much content for most of us to run through it more than once, especially considering The Complete Edition on the Switch comes with the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansion packs and all other DLC. You can actually begin the game by playing the expansion packs first, which is a nice touch for those who completed the core game on a different platform and want to begin here with something new.
As with most open-world games, The Witcher III is more about exploration than anything else. The story pushes into each corner of its world, but you’ll miss a great deal of it if you don’t leave the main road now and again. If you see something that looks interesting across the valley or up that mountain, chances are it is interesting. It’s very rewarding when you stumble across something cool this way, but you’re also likely to lose many hours on empty exploration. Still, because the Continent is so richly developed I rarely felt like these tangents were a waste of time, and they did help with level grinding.
Of course, to make environments of this scope and detail work the graphics had to be dumbed down on the Switch. Things will sometimes get muddy, but you’ll have that when the developers chose a more realistic look instead of the anime-style visuals we usually get on Nintendo systems.
I didn’t mind this so much in the small Switch screen in handheld mode, but on the TV in docked mode it took me a while to get used to, as did the overall dour tone. There are moments of humor throughout the game, but there’s not a lot of joy in Geralt’s immediate circle of acquaintances. I guess you’ll have that when death is your profession and when it tends to work its way into your leisure time, too.
In a way, this adds a sense of realism to the proceedings that is mostly missing on Nintendo Switch games. The effect that constant war and strife has on these people is real, from Geralt himself down to the most seemingly insignificant of NPCs. As such, the decisions you make with and for these people feel more consequential, especially when you know someone is going to suffer no matter what you do. The Witcher III is, therefore, a pretty heavy game that sticks with you even when you’re not playing it. That’s pretty rare in the Nintendo world, where most RPGs instead feel like fun, rip-roaring adventures with only the occasional moment of tenderness.
This all comes together to provide a deep, lengthy, incredible game that plays surprisingly well on the Nintendo Switch. It’s not as pretty as it is on its original platforms, but the ability to play it in handheld mode compensates for the graphics hit.
Review: The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition (Nintendo Switch)
The mature content and somber approach of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition may put off some gamers, but it’s a can’t-miss game for those seeking an RPG with more bite and consequence (not to mention playable characters above the age of 15) than we normally get on Nintendo systems.