I attempted a conversation with a fellow gamer recently on why Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain didn’t need to be so massively open world as the creators are indicating. The crux of my position was that in such games with great freedom and endless quests the main story becomes fragmented to suit the addition of quests which are of little or no importance, basically padding and interrupting the experience. I tried to explain that the more compressed linear style of MGS4 keeps the already complicated story at the forefront.
My fellow gamer said MGS4 was not compressed or linear because you had the freedom to approach encounters in many ways so how could opening it up more cause any problems?
He has a point , but I still say there’s no need to add three extra years of development just because every other game has to be open world to be relevant and exciting. If story is important then the world just has to be smaller.
The same thing goes for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Once the glimmer wore off I came to see the game for what it was: a collection of bases from which I did fluff missions that did little or nothing for the story. There was no journey as there was in Origins. Origins, like Metal Gear Solid, let us go back to other levels sure, but however you tackled things it was basically a linear game.
In Inquisition they wanted to Skyrimize it, they said so often to the press. What we ended up with was a mix of Dradon Age and Skyrim that was neither a compelling Bioware adventure fare or a big exploration RPG. You get a map/list based world full of quests that help the Inquisition’s cause but do nothing for the story or character development. Most quests are filler and you have to force your character moments at the nearest forward operating base.
There’s nothing natural about that structure, the way characters get to know each other during a journey. “Freedom” denies us a strong journey and instead gives us an plethora of things to do and areas to do it in. That’s great for some games that are made that way from the ground up, but forcing the change fundamentally damages what is expected of the series. Obviously this doesn’t damage quality so much as the critics love the game, but you can’t deny this overseeing duty of an Inquisitor is not a classic Bioware adventure when stood up next to Origins or even the questionable Dragon Age II.
Freedom and choice always dull down story because developers have to make quests not matter much to the plot, opting to make them only opportunities to get stronger and gain things. In a more linear adventure you are making decisions on the fly that affect what comes up next and the battles are a part of the story while also making you stronger. Sadly, being linear nowadays earns you the title “generic” so there is little choice but to open up every modern game as the trend dictates.
Speaking of generic I should say a word about the upcoming PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886. Normally there would be more hype around this game. I think if it were open world, offering the ability to roam 19th century London we would have Assassin’s Creed comparisons and more interest. By being linear though, I’m confident the cinematic elements will be more compelling and it will bring a story strong enough to rival Uncharted and The Last of Us.
Open world is a very cool way to set up certain games but it’s starting to fry current games and could drag the industry down the way the requirement of multiplayer dragged some great games down in the last generation. It’s time to refocus on what is important for each game and stick to that. If exploration is critical to the experience then by all means make it big, but if it’s there for the sake of being there then it will disrupt other crucial elements.
Don’t believe me? Let’s all watch a real life test as Mirror’s Edge switches to open world format. It will likely be fun, but the kind of experience that original cult fans really want? Ehhh we will see.