'The Witcher 3' Nintendo Switch Graphics Analysis Reveals Resolution, Lighting and Aliasing Compromises

Though rumored in advance, the E3 2019 announcement of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for Nintendo Switch was still astounding—one of the largest and most graphically intensive games of the current console generation running on the relatively underpowered Switch would have seemed impossible beforehand. The brief trailer released for the port—by Saber Interactive, under supervision by original developer CD Projekt Red—looked promising, but how will the graphics translate to the Switch?

Eurogamer and its channel Digital Foundry has analyzed everything released so far and has some insights into how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is able to run on Nintendo's hardware. Testing the footage and screenshots released for the Nintendo Switch port, Digital Foundry's Tom Morgan found fairly consistent 720p resolution, with the lowest resolution shots at 896x504, resulting from "a dynamic system to adjust for rendering load on-screen."

"The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" on Switch will include the DLC region of Toussaint. Saber Interactive / CD Projekt Red

"Given this is almost certainly docked play, it's no comparison to the native 1080p on PlayStation 4," Morgan said. "Still, an impressive feat in itself, given the complexity of the game, and Switch's lower power spec."

But The Witcher 3 on Nintendo Switch will limit itself graphically in ways other than resolution, with Morgan's analysis finding that "anti-aliasing quality is evidently low, which makes the stair-stepping stick out." Aliasing is when straight lines appear jagged, or "stair-stepping," because of low resolutions. Digital Foundry predicts playing Witcher 3 in the Switch's handheld mode is likely to yield better results, since the less taxing 960x540 native resolution will cover for some of the aliasing problems.

"Overall, world detail is much closer to PC's lowest setting. Likewise, texture quality on hanging corpses is significantly pruned back, adapting for the lesser 4GB of RAM available to Switch," Morgan said. Limitations will also be evident in the scaled-back foliage and character draw distances, which will result in environments that look less populated, until Geralt gets up close.

One side effect of the graphical compromises necessary for Witcher 3 to run on Nintendo's hardware is that the Switch version will look overall lighter, because of a hardware taxing setting called SSAO, cut from the Switch edition. SSAO stands for Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, a computer graphics technique that processes how ambient lighting hits each point in a scene, reproducing how objects in an environment block light to specific areas.


— The Witcher (@witchergame) June 12, 2019

Frame rate remains an open question. "Switch's 1GHZ clocked CPU has to deal with the game's asset streaming, physics and AI, so it could be a challenge holding a stable 30 fps on what's essentially mobile technology," Morgan said.

But while Digital Foundry found major compromises made to get Witcher 3 graphics to run on Nintendo Switch, that it's coming at all is a minor miracle in itself.

"If you hand over development to a team that really knows what it's doing with the Switch's Tegra X1, magic can happen," Digital Foundry's Rich Leadbetter said, in a video titled "Is A Port Even Possible?", released before the official announcement of The Witcher 3 for Switch. "If this Witcher 3 story is true, if the developers do manage to pull this off, we're looking at what could well be one of the console's most remarkable technical achievements to date."

Several other details were revealed on social media, including the massive size for the Switch version—32 gigabytes—which includes all previously released DLC, like the immense Blood and Wine, which adds the sun-dappled and wine-drunk duchy of Toussaint to the game. But you'll be starting from scratch, because the Switch edition won't support cross-saves from other consoles.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on Nintendo Switch will be released in 2019.