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Steam cross-save is a game-changer for the Switch

Steam cross-save is a game-changer for the Switch

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Hopefully The Witcher 3 will be the third of many

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Apologies in advance for the unpopular statement, but I could never get into The Witcher 3. I bought it on PC when it came out nearly five years ago, and while it’s obviously beautiful and filled with great characters, something about the combat never really clicked with me and I bounced off the game altogether.

But, like many other people, the endearingly irreverent Netflix adaptation made me want to give the game another shot, and the recently released Switch port felt like a good opportunity. (If nothing else, I just wanted to see how on earth the game would actually run on the Switch.) Despite picking it up on sale, though, I still never really felt like diving back in. I didn’t play that much of the PC original, but the prospect of replaying even the opening 10 percent of a 100-hour-plus game turned out not to be all that appealing.

Fortunately, I won’t have to do that anymore. CD Projekt Red just released an update for the Switch version that includes various graphical tweaks and performance improvements, but more importantly lets you share cloud saves with the PC version through Steam and CD Projekt Red’s own GOG platform. And you know what? I think this might finally get me into The Witcher 3 for real. 

The process is simple — you select the cloud saves option from the main menu, which brings up a browser window from which you can log into either service. I popped in my Steam details, and in under a minute I had a list of my untouched-since-2016 save files to pick from. Then, once the game loaded, I was right where I’d left off all those years ago.

This is an incredible feature

This is an incredible feature. The Switch version of The Witcher 3 might be a technical marvel for existing at all, and it lets you play the game in situations that would otherwise be impossible. But it’s obviously a compromised experience, and not really something I could see myself playing from start to finish. The ability to swap between the PC and Switch for the same adventure, though, makes the Switch version much more compelling. The whole point of the port is its portability, but this way you don’t have to play a worse-looking version on a bigger screen at home. You can have the best possible experience in any situation.

I should also note that the Switch version’s new graphical options can make a meaningful difference to the game’s visual presentation. The ability to turn off anti-aliasing, for example, makes for a much less blurry image. You can also adjust the level of sharpening, which I find to be a little overdone on the high setting but is generally an improvement when set to low.

The Witcher 3 isn’t the first Switch game to support Steam cross-saves, but the list is very short. While some other games offer cross-save through other methods like Microsoft’s Xbox Play Anywhere (Ori and the Blind Forest) or their own proprietary services (Fortnite), very few work through the built-in cloud save system provided by Valve’s dominant platform.

‘The Witcher 3’ follows ‘Divinity: Original Sin II’

The first Switch game I came across that worked this way with Steam was the recent port of Divinity: Original Sin II, which I also wrote about last year because of its surprisingly excellent Mac version. (As pointed out on Twitter, Civilization VI was actually the first.) Like The Witcher 3, it’s a huge RPG with vast scope and it’s a wonder it runs on the Switch at all; it’s also something that really benefits from having a portable version that you can dip into when you have the time. Accessing your Steam saves is exactly as easy as it is on The Witcher 3, and while Divinity doesn’t quite map to a controller as naturally, it’s still a great option to have for such a deep and engrossing game.

I don’t think this feature should be limited to life-dominating RPGs, though. I’ve re-bought a bunch of Switch games that I already owned on PC because I wanted to play them on the go, and I definitely would have appreciated the ability to avoid starting from scratch on each of them. Games like Celeste, Doom, Valkyria Chronicles, Axiom Verge, Return of the Obra Dinn, Stardew Valley, Into the Breach, Resident Evil 4, and even oddball ports like Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast are all examples of games that I own on both platforms and would love to share progress across. 

I’m sure there are technical reasons for why Steam cross-save wouldn’t work on some Switch games, and I’m not about to call for its universal implementation without knowing how tricky it is to get up and running. But I’m also sure that most people didn’t even know it was a possibility until recently, and I’m hopeful that The Witcher 3’s high-profile addition of the feature helps drive its adoption across Switch games in the future. It makes Switch ports of PC games, and by extension the system they run on, a way more interesting proposition.

Update, 7AM ET: Added mention of Civilization VI’s similar functionality.

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