The Longer The Witcher 3 Goes, The Faster I Move Through It

The Longer The Witcher 3 Goes, The Faster I Move Through It

If you write about games professionally for a while, and get suckered into writing game reviews freelance, a couple things happen. First, you play way too many games. Second, you play all those games very quickly. The latter has led me to take on some habits that I find troublesome.

I usually try to avoid wallowing in video game marketing materials largely for the same reasons Kirk lays out in his discussion of the controversy over The Witcher 3‘s graphics — thankfully, looking at trailers and screenshots more than once is not really part of my job so I can get away with it. So when I started up The Witcher 3 on PC with ultra settings I was smitten. For the first 20 hours or so I rarely used fast travel and when I would trek across the countryside I did so at my horse Roach’s slowest possible pace. When taking a boat to Fyke Isle I’d keep my thumb off the A button. The landscape in White Orchard and Velen I found wonderfully alien — just alien enough — and I loved soaking it all in. Best wilderness ever.

Now I’m 55 hours or so in. When I’m on foot I sprint. When I’m on horseback I’ve abandoned the trot for a run, though I still don’t usually go all out. I can’t help myself, because this is always what happens to me on long games. The longer it goes, the less patient I behave. It was heartbreaking for me this weekend when I quested through the Skellige Isles, which are truly spectacular. I did a little bit of slow hiking in some spots, but most often I would move from place to place as quickly as I could.

This is, I think, partially an insidious bit of game critic conditioning. I’m not playing The Witcher 3 for review, but even so after a few days I start to feel a nonexistent deadline looming. When I play games for “fun” I rarely do so for more than a few days — either I finish in a short time frame or I forget the game exists and move on to something else. And when I’ve had to write a review I’ve almost never had more than a week from when I received the game to when I had to publish something. I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 retail code from GOG since last Monday, and so around Friday I started to quicken my pace.

But as I said, I think my impatience is only partially about my career. I liken the way I play games to the way we watch TV shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime — we might start slow, but once it gets its hooks in us we plow forward until it’s over. I have a compulsive personality in other ways that play into that mindset, as well. I’m a compulsive eater, for example, and since I work from home that means I don’t keep food in my apartment because I would just munch all day on whatever I have around.

Once I became absorbed in The Witcher 3‘s main plot, I started sprinting more and more and now, even with a ways to go, I’ve irrevocably shifted into fast-and-furious mode. Unfortunately for me, that meant I spent nearly all of my weekend alone in my apartment playing this game, and I’m still not done yet. Hopefully I’m close, or else I’m going to lose tonight and the next couple days to it as well. This is a key reason why I’ve often harped on game length. It interferes with my life! It’s not CD Projekt’s fault I am what I am, though.

A more relevant, and maybe more universal, drawback is that the faster I play, the less I’m absorbing from the experience in the long haul. When I binge watch a show, once it’s done my mind mostly will just recall the broad strokes, whereas watching week to week helps me keep track of particulars, and with games it’s been similar for me. In the past when I’ve accelerated my pace of play the parts I tend to remember most clearly are all closer to the beginning.

I may have to accept all this as a fact of life, or else perhaps I can condition myself out of this way of operating, since I don’t write reviews anymore. But in the meantime I have an ulterior motive for writing this little essay: I want to apologise to my friends and my mother for not speaking to them over the last week. Sorry, everyone!

Phil Owen is a freelance journalist. Most of his #content can be found on Twitter at @philrowen


  • It’s not just you and it’s not a side effect of writing reviews. Big landscapes are beautiful and interesting but going from point to point is painful sometimes.

    • Heh, I started a Death March playthrough with minimap turned off. That’s going to be a world of pain for me. I have no idea where I’m going and it was especially confusing at the start where some cut scenes left me in a different area to the one I was previously in. I’m trying to use the big map as little as possible as well. I think that fast travel and minimaps can sometimes remove some of the atmosphere of a game world and lead to world traversal as more of a chore than a true challenge. I’m just about finished with GTAV and noticed that when driving I was constantly glancing at the minimap except when I didn’t have a goal apart from roaming the streets. I probably missed half the scenery because I was focused on the minimap.

      • I’ve had the minimap off from day one. Geralt does NOT have GPS. I quite enjoy having to actually open the map to find where I’m going.

        • He may not have GPS but a Witcher’s gotta have a sense of direction and location. Without the minimap, I would’ve just had sex with the first adult I came across. And then moving onto the next one within sight. Obviously just staying around White Orchard for the next 70 + hours…

  • Happens to me in Elder Scrolls games, you enjoy travelling between the locations for only so long then you just get to the destination as fast as possible.

    • I never used the fast travel in Oblivion (was there even fast travel in that game?) Dragon’s Dogma, Assassin’s Creed IV or Red Dead Redemption. Roaming around was just so fun. I think it comes down to an individual’s preference. Obviously enough people feel the way you do because otherwise fast travel wouldn’t exist.

      • The amount of backtracking you do in the Witcher 2, I desperately wanted fast travel there. On the plus side, I know my way around Vergen better than I know my way around my apartment. On the downside, this knowledge probably pushed out a cherished childhood memory for space, and I will never, ever use it again.

  • What I’d really love to see at some point in the future of gaming, is some way for the game to detect that you’ve been away for a number of days or weeks and then procedurally generate a “Previously on…” cutscene of clips from what happened to that point and even the possibility of creating some optional sub-quests that get you back into the swing of the game in terms of game controls, mechanics and how things are going. Almost like how last episode of the previous season and the first episode of the current season on a TV show works. Even to the point where there are things, incidental to the main story, that have happened in the game-world while you were gone.

    That would be awesome..

    • Pokemon did a “previously …” thing. Haven’t played any of the newer generations.

    • I think witcher 3 does a similar thing when you load a game, sort of summarises the story so far, but yeah certainly a quick refresher on the controls would be very welcome after a few days off, always takes a while to get back into the swing of things

      • Hm. I should try this game I was playing last time when I got distracted by a newer, shinier one… where was I up to? Oh right, I saved right before that hard part that was kicking my ass again and again AND AGAIN.

        Oh well. I’m sure I’ll be better at it after a 9 month break!

          • it’s the controls that bugger me up after a lengthy break, as i have often re-assigned a few keys so the manual is no help.
            be nice if these games had smalltime tutorial things you can run at any time to re-capture your mad skills, without the only tutorial being the first 3 hours of the game.

    • Yea the Witcher 3 basically has this, when you load the game it gives a quick recap. I haven’t gotten all that far though so I’m not sure how effective it is (whether it just recaps the last major plot point, or summarises everything from the beginning to where you are up to).
      I remember a few other games doing similar things, like Darksiders 2. Good feature, wish more games had this.

      • Yeah this only recaps the main story line, they’re fairly big chunks.

        I’d love to see it replay your most recent quests etc completed

        • divinity original sin had a pretty good method for that, where there was a constantly updating ‘diary’ of sorts listing all the things you have done (including side quests, not just mains) and what time and the results etc, made for a nice recap of what’s been happening if you get lost.

    • Battlefield Hardline – This worked really well for that but it wasn’t really a game that needed it!

      I’ve found myself staying up WAYYY too later playing this trying not to fall asleep and the next morning I’m sitting at work trying to remember what the hell I got up to in the Northern Realms last night!!!

      Watched a Youtube clip of one of the cutscenes last night before I went to play as I was sure I missed most of it and yes I had!

    • I can’t remember the game, I think it was Heavy Rain, or perhaps Alan Wake that did this, and I absolutely loved it! I’ve got a terrible memory, so struggle to keep up with the story in some games, and others like Oblivion, I spend so much time exploring and doing side missions, that I totally forget the storyline. I think every game should have it standard, even if its just during the loading screens or in the way of a codex or something like that

  • My problem with massive games like this is I continue at the slow pace, barely getting anything done, just exploring and doing side quests and only do a handful of the main quest line missions occasionally so that it lasts longer, but then about halfway and 150+ hours I stop playing it for awhile and don’t pick it back up again to finish it… I’m looking at you Dragon Age and FarCry4!

    Last night I loaded my save and I had just finished my first interactions with the bloody baron… About two hours later I finally left his compound then I won every fist fight and card game and killed a screacher and looked at the clock and it was 5:30am! Bah!!! Need sleep.

  • This is how I play all games, never been one for scenery and being naturally hypervigilante I tend to be more observant than usual, I understand this can be frustrating for my friends and family, but its just how I am

  • No, I totally get this and I’m not a reviewer.

    Once a story has its hooks in me and when the stakes start getting raised, I really desperately want to know what’s going to happen next and will sometimes skip sidequests (in some cases unfortunately permanently if they become unavailable after doing too much story questing) just in my eagerness to get to the next part.

    It’s a role-playing thing, I think. You get into the character, you empathise with them, you feel the sense of urgency that they are as a character, so you don’t explore the countryside to solve the problems of the local peasants, you go straight onto that damn trail like a bloodhound because you CARE about your goal and your pursuit.

    It’s an interesting thing, sometimes it makes me feel like I’m missing out, but that sense of roleplaying the urgency… I think it’s probably worth it if it means I’m ultimately absorbed in the game and its narrative and characters.
    (MUCH better than racing ahead just to ‘see what happens because let’s get it over with and get me my completion achievement already, I’m bored’.)

  • I think there must be a psychological condition for the issue that I have with video games…

    Games like The Witcher…where they have a rich story and encourage you to become invested in the characters…I always get to the end of the game and can’t bring myself to finish it. When I realise that the next mission is the last, I usually won’t complete it. I think it’s because, once its done, its done. I don’t want that…I dont want the story to be over. I want to stay in the world. Yeah, I could finish it and then start again, but now I know what’s going to happen. I know what the end game is.

    So I start a different game…most of my steam library is games that I’ve completed 99% of, just never finished it.

    Anyone else have the same issue?

    • I am a chronic last-mission-unfinisher, too. I want to preserve the world in the state it’s in when I like it best.

      • not to mention also I have found in many games the last few missions go from the first 90% ‘fun fun fun, do what you want!’ to ‘you can only finish this mission by doing this exact thing at the exact right time and in this exact order’.. and i frequently get annoyed with replaying sections over and over again until you get it right

    • I have a similar thing. I’ll finish the last mission, but I always slow down when I know the ending is close to try and draw out the experience as long as I can.

    • This won’t be the case with the witcher, there are so many possible endings it’s ridiculous…lovably ridiculous!

    • Not to mention that most games (esp. massive open-world RPGs) have terrible endings. They never seem to really account for the fact you’ve spent dozens or even hundreds of hours in their world. Instead you get a 2 minute denouement that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.

      I think it’s probably for the best that you miss that final 1%.

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