March 5, 2017
'Zelda: Breath Of The Wild' On Nintendo Switch - Docked Or Undocked?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released as a launch title for the new Nintendo Switch, and it's clear that Nintendo put the weight of the Switch squarely on Zelda's back in order to move early units for the company. However, questions remained over the Switch's ability to play the cross generational game. Breath of the Wild was originally slated to launch as a Wii U only title when announced in 2014, but that ship sailed as development went on and on, with Nintendo eventually coming to the decision of placing the powerhouse franchise in the launch lineup for its new console-tablet hybrid. So how does the Nintendo Switch handle The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

In short - it depends on how you're using your console.

Digital Foundry released its analysis earlier this week of the newest Zelda running on the Nintendo Switch in both docked mode as well as in portable mode, and the results were actually somewhat surprising. The basics first: Breath of the Wild targets a native 900p presentation while in docked mode, while using the device in portable mode gives you a 720p native image. Both styles of gameplay target 30 frames per second.

Nintendo Switch Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild Performance
The Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild [Image by Nintendo]

While docked, the 900p image is upscaled to whatever resolution your TV outputs, meaning the image may appear soft thanks to the upscaling. When on the tablet, the 1:1 pixel count gives players a really crisp, sharp image, though harsh edges and more may stick out thanks to a lack of real quality anti-aliasing. This is present in both presentations of the game, however, though the higher pixel count of Zelda while docked eases up on this a bit.

In terms of the overall visual assets, though, as Digital Foundry reports, the entire graphics pipeline is identical. So lighting, model quality, environmental quality and more are like for like in the two modes. The only real visual difference is the resolution - but by all indication, the game looks great on the screen in actual motion.

The problems for Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch start to arise in the game's performance. As the Inquisitr previously detailed, the Nintendo Switch (and the Wii U) version of The Legend of Zelda tends to buckle and fall well short of its 30fps target. In many cases, the game drops to 20 frames per second, thanks to Zelda using a double-buffered v-sync to cap the framerate at 30. This happens in the Nintendo Switch's docked mode, and curiously it doesn't exactly occur in the portable mode.

Digital Foundry has a theory as to why this is happening.

"This is only a theory, but it does make sense based on the data available. Laying out the maths here, docking increases pixel count from 720p to 900p, a 56 per cent in resolution. However, memory bandwidth only rises by 20 per cent, from 1331MHz to 1600MHz. Bandwidth is shared between CPU and GPU, so the higher resolution in the home console mode may be sapping memory bandwidth away from the main processor cores, making us more prone to slowdown when the CPU is under load. Bandwidth concerns may also explain why resolution doesn't scale closer in line with the difference in clock-speeds (307.2MHz or 384MHz undocked, 768MHz docked)."
In terms of the smoothest overall experience across all the different ways to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild then, the portable mode on the Nintendo Switch offers the most consistent and smooth performance. If you don't mind the idea of carrying Zelda around with you, or lounging in bed and saving Hyrule, then the portable mode makes sense - and Nintendo designed the device to be appealing to both playstyles. It'll be interesting to see if Nintendo can address this issue moving forward as well in terms of patching Zelda, but if the theory is down to hardware constraints, it may be that these issues will persist in perpetuity.

Are you enjoying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Sound off with your experience in the comments below.

[Featured Image by Nintendo]