there's enough crafting, thanks
Whenever I see a new game from a franchise I like adopt open-world mechanics, I sigh. I'm sure there will be people who love it, but not me. I like the Metroidvania approach, where the world is "open" but compact (the original Arkham Asylum was perfect in this regard). Once the game starts touting giant worlds with hundreds of hours of side quests irrelevant to the main story, my eyes glaze over. There is a type of person who likes it, but it's not for me.
I wish that the product management teams at some of these publishers would pick a smaller list of features to include in these titles, and try to be the best at them. Instead, as usual, they cram in a huge list of features, and be mediocre (at worst) at them. I second this call to scale shit back.
I'm mostly an RPG player, but I can still relate. So many games are focused now on throwing "content" at you to the detriment of story.
Like, I recently replayed the whole Dragon Age series for the first time in awhile. Dragon Age: Inquisition is such a frustrating game, because if the developers would have been content to make a tight 40-hour game, it could have gone down as one of the best games in history. But they wanted to make a game you could grind 100-200 hours of play out of, so they added a clear B-tier of MMO-style questing and a ludicrously complicated crafting system. I don't know why they decided that the old Bioware formula (tight, narratively-focused games) no longer worked and they should really make a Bethesda game.
It doesn't even make sense within the narrative of the game, as your character is supposed to be essentially a general leading an army, but your advisors get to do cool missions offscreen depicted through a fucking card game while you're collecting elfroot to upgrade your potions or somesuch. The whole purpose of an organization is delegation, and as the big boss, you should be delegating this stuff to someone much less important than you. If they absolutely thought it was needed to include this crap, the game should have had you send a squad out that didn't include your created character, who is too important for MMO-style fetch quests by the time the midgame starts.
I really think though a lot of this comes down to how AAA games are designed. The teams are large enough that I don't think there's much coordination between the writing team and the game design team. Probably in a lot of cases "features" are added to the game well before the writers even have any knowledge of them. So the games are not designed from the ground up so that the gameplay matches the themes and the characters, but the story is basically pasted on top of a generic framework.
Jason Schreier wrote two excellent books about the videogame industry that sort of answer a lot of these questions. The answer, as with most things produced by megacorporations, is that someone high up decided the hot new thing needs to be in every game they now publish.
Progression is games is addictive, which is why it's shoved into so many games. Especially if it's an open world game where the player is expecting to spend hundreds of hours for their $60. Especially if there are multiple progression paths because on your way to level up stat X, stat Y got sort of close to leveling up so I'll just grind over there a bit, and now state W and Z are also inching towards that next level, so I'll just spend an hour or three tinkering over there as well.
As for open world - I have yet to play a game where I think this adds to the gameplay. It's especially a detriment, I think, to games that want to give you a riveting plot, since the goals of a narrative and the goals of the open world are directly at odds with one another. If the planet is going to get swallowed by this evil wizard's giant wolf monster, you can't also encourage the player to spend the next 40 hours fighting goblins in caves to acquire random items that can then be assembled into better armor or potions or whatever.
Kind of reminds me of what happened to music with the so-called “loudness wars” of the past couple of decades. Digital technology made it possible to make recordings louder without unwanted distortion, so it led to a runaway effect where nobody wanted their song to be quieter than the one before it. Eventually people became so focused on making sure their music was loud that they forgot to make sure it also sounded *good*. I think it’s a similar thing with gaming, and ever since GTA5 every single game has tried to be as big and detailed as humanly possible. The thing is though, what made GTA5 so great was the amazing story telling and creative game play, the sheer size of the world and the amount of options you had as a player was just the icing on the cake.
Today it feels like whenever I play a new game, it takes about 4 hours to get to the point where you’re doing what can be considered actually “playing”. Those 4 hours are spent learning the controls, the game mechanics, the RPG elements, the characters and story lines, unlocking fast travel, and a whole host of other tediousness until the actual *game* kicks in fully. Where are the games for people like myself who just want to pick up and play a couple hours a week? Seems like there aren’t many options these days.
You can blame The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s critical/commercial success for making it the game that everyone in the industry is trying to ape from.
There's something to be said about a game where the open world is the central draw, and every mechanic is designed to facilitate that above all else. I haven't played the recent Assassin's Creed games, but have fond memories of the original, and loved the cult classic Sunset Overdrive. The ultimate question with a game like this, though, is: "does just moving around the overworld feel good?" I've never enjoyed open world games that try for realism or plausibility; they feel best when they player is given a superhuman character that can zip and flow across the world in a way that feels so good that exploration is its own reward, and shiny bonus doodads are just an extra treat for curiosity.
There's a price to be paid for this. The world's seams and artificiality becomes obvious very quickly in such games. Not a real place, but a playground of hapless, nameless NPCs and respawning baddies. This can be solved by making the place an inherently hostile or post-apocalyptic one, but it still soon begins to feel more like a system than a world. And power creep is always a huge issue -- by the end, they always seem to end up as unsatisfying as playing with cheat codes.
Crafting can fuck right off, though, unless harvesting and creating is literally the central mechanic. If I wanted to play Minecraft, I have Minecraft.
Yeah this is spot on. That’s why I was so charmed by Stray recently. Obviously cat was lovely, but there was also a wonderful simplicity to it. Same with Portal. Come up with a concept and do it well. If you’re gonna be RPG then be RPG, like Disco Elysium.
My games tend to fall into two camps. I like engrossing, open world stuff like Red Dead Redemption 2 for when I have a load of time to play something. Then, if I just want to dick about for an hour, I'll play something like Untitled Goose Game.
What I like about RDR2 (and Cyberpunk 2077 tbh) is that there are crafting elements, but you can completely ignore them if you choose. If you want to just go straight ahead with the story, fine. If you want to spend hours hunting wildlife, that's cool too. It doesn't feel forced or tacked on. Whereas the latest Assassin's Creed games feel baffling to me. There are skill trees, but then I can also level up individual weapons and add runes and special abilities etc. It feels like work, not play. Just let me be a viking and twat things with my axe.
I feel sorry for game devs these days. I guess they have to show that they listen to fans, but the problem is, most fans are clueless when it comes to game or narrative design (myself included).
Which is why a lot of modern AAA titles end up being like that car Homer Simpson designed that ruined his brother's career.
Fuck it. I enjoy open world stuff with RPG elements. Yes, even in Batman. I enjoy the slow building up of your character into a badass, where you have a choice as to which route through the skill tree you want to take to get there.
Microtransactions can fuck off though. No buying your way to better stuff, which not every gamer has the resources and disposable income to do. I'm all for that going away forever.
I just want games to stop making me feed my character. It's annoying enough to have to feed myself.
Modern video games are like modern movies: They're trying to be too complex, too technologically ambitious, and they just end up mostly sucking.
Video games are supposed to be fun, creative, low-investment distractions for a little while. They're not supposed to consume hours of your life every day by fabricating hopelessly complex second worlds. Companies just need to make fun games you can easily pick up and easily put down. That's all.
I’m in the same boat with multiplayer. I hate 95% of multiplayer games. I hate having the quality of my experience held hostage to the whims of whichever gang of zoomers has the most time to invest in it. If the game allows somebody to grief me, they’d better be within smacking distance to provide a disincentive.
Maybe this goes under the crafting umbrella, but I'm particularly tired of base building in RPGs.
I also hate these types of games, but I know people who are really into them. The audience for these games are people who generally only buy a couple games per year, but game multiple evenings per week. I'm the opposite of that: I have a massive collection of unplayed games and realistically play a game maybe once a month (if that). So I favor games that are highly focused on their core ideas and I can beat in a handful of sittings. Other folks though just want to boot up whichever game they've been grinding through, turn off their brain, and feel like they achieved something. The various Assassin's Creeds, Witchers, Cyberpunks, Far Crys, and Arkham's all hit this spot pretty well, I think.
Counterpoint: clearly the formula of perfectly reasonable linear action game + RPG elements = better is dreary and bad formula...but games like Deus Ex from the early 00s showed that non linearity and exactly those kind of spec systems could be brilliant as a contributor to narrative. It seems to me that a lot of franchises are just unimaginative - which no doubt has the same root causes as a lot of our cultural stagnation.