Opinion: Open World RPGs and the Removal of Purpose

skyrim

Point A to Point B—that’s the way games have always been.  Level 1 leads to level 2 until finally the game is beaten.  Occasionally, a game like Zelda will challenge the formula and let you do things out of order just with a limit and a requisite for completion.  But in a world now overrun with MMOs and Grand Theft Autos, we find the industry moving further away from the linear approach in favor of the Open World experience.   And with that freedom comes a price that this traditional RPG gamer may not be willing to pay.

It may sound old-fashioned, but the greatest appeal that comes from linear gameplay is a lack of confusion.  When you beat a level in an old game, you move on to the next one.  When you complete a story plot-point, you move on to the next one.  Easy to follow, right?  But what’s the next level in an MMO like World of Warcraft?  Or the correct sequence of story points in Skyrim?  The answer is that there is no right answer.  The inclusion of choice now allows most gaming experiences to go in any direction the player wishes and that can lead to both unique and confusing experiences.  Take the would-be-hit Destiny for instance; this game now touts 3 full expansions and once the main, albeit short, story is completed, there is no direction given for the player on how to complete the rest.  Now, it can be argued that after the main story, leveling up your character is all that matters, but the game itself DOES have a linear story that was timed with the releases of the expansions.  Without that guidepost, the players ARE losing a part of the experience, and they are often left wondering what to do and why.

And the “why” is also my own personal problem with the open world experience.  Without a push from behind telling me to go to Point A, I find myself wandering about as a clueless explorer.  Of course, games like Dark Souls and Skyrim want you to feel that way so that you’re immersed in the world more, but I tend to find myself bored before long.  For example, in InFamous, there’s no doubt that leaping around and beating up unsuspecting civilians was enjoyable for a bit, and eventually the game would remind me that there is more to do.  But with my freedom of choice, there was nothing stopping me from hopping around and sucking the energy out of more civilians until I maxed my powersets.  And by that time, I couldn’t care less about the characters or what the flavor of the world was like.  I was just bored with playing in the sandbox.  Sure, you can say that the story was there and it was my fault for not caring, but I think the freedom is more to blame here.

That same freedom can also be intimidating.  When given a huge sandbox to play in, some tend to find it overwhelming.  Others can dig into the small corners and work their ways through it with excitement at every turn.  But most of us don’t have time for that kind of immersion.  As a kid, I bet I would have eaten this up, but for more adult games like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto, those of us with responsibilities or busy schedules now have to make time for our passions.  We don’t have hours to offer to a fantasy world where we can be and do whatever we want.  A level or two at best in the old formula is about it.  I long for the days that I could power through a Final Fantasy in a weekend, but even those had directions and save points staggered so you could take breaks.  And this raises the biggest question about the industry and its future—with the average age of gamers going up and the points I’ve raised, shouldn’t development be focused on shorter experiences?  The answer is in the palm of your hand.  Indie games and mobile gaming are taking over and RPGs should be left in the dust.  But they’re not.   We’ve got new Mass Effects, Pokemon, Fire Emblems, Dark Souls, and more all still being cranked out.  So should they be concerned about the open world versus linear RPG path given the age gap?  You tell me your experiences and thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter to @RAT_FOX

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4 responses to “Opinion: Open World RPGs and the Removal of Purpose

  1. Odd to hear my thoughts in someone else’s words! I appreciate games like Resident Evil 4 and Pokemon that offer large maps with plenty of guidance to keep you making clear progress towards a visible goal. Side quests It’s the open world games that can make their side quests less formulaic and more relevant that impress me the most.

  2. I usually enjoy open world games but have had recent issues with this design choice. It seems to be a common design ideology to make maps, worlds bigger and not really do much with that space. Just Cause 2 and GTAV are prime examples of this, massive maps but a lot of nothing and emptiness in most parts. Sure the scenery is nice but the actual world feels a bit shallow and hollow. I recently got Fallout4, never played any of them before, initially I enjoyed it although I found it to be a bit confusing with all its mechanics and it’s open structure has left me feeling what should I do next? And I have sort of lost interest because I’m not being pushed to a particular objective; the main story isn’t that interesting, the world isn’t really grabbing my attention and the characters that inhabit are mainly boring bar a few. Freedom is great but you need to encourage players to enjoy that freedom.

  3. Exactly! Freedom at a cost. Which is to say, yeah, you can wander around and explore vast parts of the world, but you end up asking yourself why? Why am I wasting time just doing whatever when I should have some kind of plan or some kind of overall goal?

    My bud Javy Gwaltney who works for GameInformer brought up the exact same thing you did thegamingbear…that there are so many huge areas of world created, but there’s nothing in them. It’s just empty space to make it feel bigger. All of that combines with your need to explore, but when there’s no reward or secret there we end up feeling like it was pointless. Then we don’t wanna explore anymore. That literally kills the enjoyment of the game.

  4. What a great question. Immediately I went on the defensive towards the open worlds, as an avid Elder Scrolls fan, but then you brought up the point of not having time anymore to play giant open-ended games. That made me think about why I still like them, despite not having much time to play. For me, it’s more about experiencing the game than finishing it. I like always having another quest, another long jaunt through gorgeous scenery, interacting with new NPCs. So I suppose motivation behind playing is key – if you like to finish a game in a matter of hours, then an open world ain’t gonna do it for you. If you like making choices, truly taking on the persona of your RP character, then open worlds work. It certainly helps if they’re full of things to do like Elder Scrolls – as everyone has pointed out already, a massive map with nothing in it is boring. It has to be worth playing. But if it’s the right combo of material, graphics and quests, then it can’t go on long enough for me!

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