The words impossible port, punching above its weight, and even black magic are thrown around often when it comes to games on diminutive hardware. With Hogwarts Legacy, now launching on the Nintendo’s Switch, it could be another time to wheel out those tropes… but not quite. Hogwarts Legacy is not a miracle port, despite squeezing onto the Switch (quite literally, with a 7.4GB install size compared to 22.1GB on the Xbox One version). It manages to be better than feared, yet in places still rough as expected.
Hogwarts Legacy on Switch offers only a single performance mode, with few options to choose from. This is a step down from the Xbox One version, which has motion blur, film grain and even an unlocked frame-rate toggle. To be clear, this is a last generation game through-and-through, as we discussed in our original performance review. This already reduces the pressure on this Switch port, but further reductions are required in order to mitigate the drastic reduction in CPU and GPU power, as well as lower memory size and bandwidth. On Switch, we have similar levels of performance to the Xbox One version, though some areas are worse. These mostly seem to be memory and/or CPU-bound sections of data streaming, keeping the world fed with data and cleaning up behind as it goes. The result is a game that can run pretty well at 30fps in non-stressful areas outside of battles and loading sectors. But during these moments it is often closer to the 50ms frame time, meaning we see frame rate around 24-25 fps for prolonged periods. That’s not great, and the sluggishness can be felt without a frame analysis.
The biggest issues though come from general instantiation (creation) of objects and removal of others, which can cause huge 100-200ms spikes, resulting in lurching and pausing as frame rates drop into the low teens. Hogwarts Castle itself is the biggest culprit of these. Textures, objects, and walls pop in as you cut classes and explore the halls, causing stuttering and lurching. It’s worth noting that even the current-gen consoles and PC sometimes suffer from these same stutters and pauses, but the Switch is affected the most here, especially in dense areas, like among trees, in the castle, and when animating characters, with frame rates often below 30fps. The average across 10+ minutes of tested sections is still 28.3fps with a 95% frame time of 50ms, which is not great but certainly far from the worst game on Switch, and the amount being pushed here is impressive considering the hardware.
The single biggest challenge for this port is the tiny memory pool of the Switch. 4GB LPDDR5 RAM is all that’s available, and the game likely gets around 3.5GB, which is half that of the Xbox One, at most. Video capture is disabled in the game, highlighting the choices made to use all the RAM possible. The result is that the game has been redesigned quite extensively for this port. Loading is long in the last generation versions and by and large this is the same here. This impact is no more apparent than in the increased sector points exclusive to this port. Entering Hogsmeade used to be an open stroll up the main high street, whereas on Switch this is around a minute or so to load. Entering shops in Hogsmeade used to be seamless, whereas now we are met with a load for each door you enter and the same for the way out. All this, alongside the existing extra loading the last-generation versions added, means the Switch is competing with Starfield for the award of most Loading encountered in 2023.
As expected, resolution is a big cut, targeting 1280×720 in docked mode with very little to no anti-aliasing coverage, with dynamic resolution scaling giving a counted low of approximately 1024×576. This is a good result, as handheld mode is often 960×540. It may and likely does run DRS, but expect this as the best case or average result. Due to the small 720p screen it never looks bad here, although it is still very noisy with shimmer and blurry textures. Aside from the very low pixel counts, the other huge cut is texture quality.
The game can struggle with mip-map loading from its Unreal Engine 4 base, which means even with such a drastic cut to texture assets, we still see low quality mip-maps and incredibly low texture filtering, although the opening prologue is much better. When in the open map of the game, though, we see soft, soupy textures on everything. In addition, we also see massive light reductions – even the sun appears to have moved. Shadow maps are much shorter in cascade and quality, and interiors use less light and fewer shadow casting sources. The core physically-based materials are also largely gone now, with the layers reduced to base albedo and specular, giving us an Xbox 360/PS3 generational look. Supporting this is the massive reduction in object triangle count. Objects are less rounded and very hexagonal-looking compared to the Xbox One. Areas have also been changed to save on space and performance. Animated objects in windows are now plain textures, and views are walled off to save on geometry load and save precious CPU and GPU time.
Characters suffer the most, with faces and expressions being impacted by the reduced level of detail, which can change the look and movement of faces. The animated bone rigging underneath is also dramatically reduced, leaving much stiffer and more robotic mouths and expressions. Shadows are very low resolution and can flicker and pop on faces when talking. All these things add up to a stark difference between the Xbox One and Switch versions, with reductions in lights, shadows, details, hair cards, animation, textures, and world detail. In addition, we also see huge cuts to grass, tree quality, world clutter, and NPCs. Even motion blur and SSR are removed, along with many sections that had rain are now removed or reduced. Water bodies rely on projected cube maps only for reflections which is understandable as it can be a GPU-heavy effect.
Sound is better than I had feared. The quality and clarity is severely compressed as expected, with the volume increased on the Switch to compensate and you also get fewer sound effects and even miss music at times, although this may be a memory related bug. All the voices, music, sound effects are included, though with a decent TV setup you may notice more pop, fizzle, and compression issues than on any other version.
Shrinking the Magic
Hogwarts Legacy was always going to be an uphill battle trying to fit onto the Switch, but the team achieved it. Loading, resolution, and performance all take a hit, but generally they are on the right side of playable, especially compared to such big games as Pokemon Scarlet and Violet last year, with Hogwards certainly pushing much more demanding visuals, quality and scale. Although the world, detail, and quality has been drastically cut back, it has been done intelligently so, showing the extensive use of plain textures for details, more billboard trees, and blockier objects. Think more VHS copy than cinema film print. Fine detail, material accuracy, color clarity, scale, and overall quality are sacrificed heavily, but you can make out the same wonder if you squint and use your imagination… and a little magic.
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Author: Bo Moore