Witcher 3 on Nintendo Switch is a cruel tease for this dad

Commentary: I tried to juggle two kids and the open-world epic. I really tried.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read

The Witcher 3 is a stunning game, even on the Nintendo Switch. It's just not for a time-pressed father of two. 

CD Projekt

Don't play open-world video games if you've got kids, a colleague warned me, but I couldn't resist. I've spent years hearing about the brilliance of the Witcher 3 and, with a port coming to the Nintendo Switch, I figured I could live in the world of Geralt of Rivia for 30-minute spurts at a time on train rides to and from work.

That sort of thing is, after all, the Nintendo Switch's speciality. The ability to play triple-A video game titles is exactly why I got the console in the first place. Nintendo's colorful console broke the years-long hiatus from video games sparked by the birth of my first child (I'm still stuck on an early level of Fallout 4, last played the night before my wife went into labor).  

But with the Switch, I happily spent train and airplane rides chasing shrines in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or collecting power moons in Super Mario Odyssey. As my son got older and fell into a more predictable sleep pattern, I snuck in time at home to get in a few extra sessions. It was just easier to play on my Switch than turn on the television and risk waking him up.

Then came a new wrinkle: My second son was born.

OK, not a wrinkle. A joyous occasion! I love my sons, though I had to get readjusted to life with extremely limited free time.

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And it was around this time, just two months ago, that I started playing Witcher 3. (Full disclosure: I received a free download code from CD Projekt.) 

Perhaps it was hubris, or more likely stupidity, but I thought I could juggle the game with my responsibilities as a new father of two.

Oh, was I ever wrong.

As with most open-world games, Witcher 3 requires a huge investment of time right off the bat. A 30-minute train ride isn't going to cut it. Here are my notes from my first session: "I went through the tutorial. I killed a few ghouls and got on my horse. End."

I did eventually get into more of a groove after a week, but the game made it tough to stay motivated. When you have the opportunity to do everything, you end up doing nothing.

That's not to knock the game. I was continually amazed by the expansive world and the polished visuals. I get that it's a big step down from the version seen in PCs and other higher powered consoles, but the fact that a game this massive is running on the Nintendo Switch without any real glitches is downright jaw-dropping.

But the focus on side missions and the slow progression of the main quest (my last mission was to track down the daughter of the Bloody Baron) struggled to keep my attention. Then another distraction showed up: Disney Plus, and its collection of nostalgia-tapping shows like Gargoyles and, of course, The Mandalorian and its precious Baby Yoda.

When I went back to the Switch, I'd play Dragonball Fighterz or NBA 2K19. They weren't better games, but they offered a quick in-and-out experience I could finish in a short time.

The open world Breath of the Wild worked in short bursts because Nintendo's developers specifically designed it for the Switch. You could play for hours or try to solve a single puzzle. The Witcher, however, was designed with the home console or PC in mind, and requires the kind of uninterrupted attention that doesn't work on a handheld console. 

So in the end, my colleague was right. An open world game like The Witcher 3 is just too much for a dad trying to adjust to a new reality of two kids.

My friends with older kids tell me that it gets better, and that you slowly get back some of your time. But at this point, that seems far, far away. Until then, Geralt of Rivia remains a mystery to me. 

Maybe I'll just catch the Netflix series instead