I Am Error: Open world or linear?
|May 9, 2012||Posted by S.A.Perkins under I Am Error|
I’m sure the wider world has by now experienced Skyrim, which means most people should be familiar with the term “open world games.” True, there were other open world games before Skyrim, for example Red Dead Redemption, which is very, very good, and Grand Theft Auto, which is very, very bad (strange how Rockstar manages to occupy both ends of the spectrum), but Skyrim really brought home the open world style, and of course – the most important thing – they did it well. But which are better: open world or linear games?
There is one major problem with open world games, in that, if you take examples like Skyrim and Red Dead, there’s just so damn much to experience that you can end up seeing only a regrettably small portion of the whole game. I know that several times I missed side-quests or failed to notice some cool little events in both games, simply because there was so much ground to cover and so much to take in that I didn’t really stop in time to see them. I’ve had Skyrim near enough since release and I still haven’t finished everything there is to do, and if you could see the sheer amount of time I’ve put into that game (and others of a specifically BioWare-like nature) you’d see that me not having finished every quest on a game is almost impossible. Unless it involves being a bad guy. I don’t know what it is, but I can never be a bad guy in games. Whether it be Fallout, Red Dead, or Mass E- I mean, Fable, I just cannot bring myself to choose the evil options. Clearly, I’m just so damn nice that I can’t be bad even in a virtual world. But my point stands that there seems to be little point in developing a massive amount of in-game material that most of your consumer audience won’t even see. Yes, the part of your audience who do see all the little added-on bits and pieces and extra quests will thank you for it, and returning players might pick up the game again and experience something new every time they play – and who can forget the fact that Skyrim has never-ending supplies of dragons (which sort of ruins it for me: I spend hours killing every dragon I see. They should be extinct by now!) – but why spend money on peripheral experiences when you can focus on a solid core story?
That’s why linear games have one up on the open world titles. They focus on set-piece after set-piece, and if a developer concentrates its efforts on creating an epic rollercoaster ride for the player to experience they can create some truly memorable moments. Indeed, I refer you to the entirety of Final Fantasy VII (which I don’t really class as open world, but I suppose other, less educated people might disagree) as a good example. Other games you might look to could include Kingdom Hearts 2 - yes, I know it seems childish considering you play alongside Donald and Goofy (but one now has bad ass magic and the other is a royal knight, so say that to their faces) but that Battle of 1000 Heartless was simply awesome – or Mass Eff- I mean, Halo 3, when you drive the Warthog through the rapidly exploding Ark. The problem you might have with linear games is a concentration on visuals and epic moments rather than story. In Skyrim, every area was fleshed out, every town had a back-story, and every quest felt suitably unique that each one interested me and likely everyone else - I say that because if you look at fanfiction.net you’ll see just how many people must have been sucked into the experience (but do yourself a favour and don’t look at the “mature” stories: down that road madness lies). In a certain linear series that shall not be named, however, there is certainly more of a focus on grandiose set-pieces filled with explosions and big flashy displays rather than story, of which there is very little (I don’t care how many man-tears you shed over Soap… oh damn, I just gave it away).
So which is better? Well frankly they both have their ups and downs. Linear gameplay often doesn’t have much replay value, and these days a linear story usually ends up being background to a soul-sucking multiplayer game. Even when it doesn’t we end up seeing more effort put into set-pieces than we do story (which I think you’ll find is important), but if linear games did have good stories, or maybe branching story paths – which they say will be the case in Black Ops II, but the chances of that actually being worthwhile are about as slim as the chance that Nolan North won’t be voice acting in a game this year – they could work. On the other hand, open world games have rich, fleshed-out stories but often become daunting when the effort of having to trudge through a massive, detailed environment to find every item or quest simply becomes too much of a bore to complete. I know that’s what happened to me with the Fallout franchise, and at the moment Skyrim too. Yes, it’s good, but right now I’m just sick and tired of those damn elves, man; they’re just dicks.
Maybe a combination of the two could work. Look at Final Fantasy VII. Yes, it’s not open world, because even though you can go to a lot of places without being directed down a linear corridor (I said FF VII, not FF XIII), you end up being told there is nothing to do there until you do something else, meaning that you are essentially restricted by story progression. That works, because you feel immersed in a deep world but you aren’t bogged down by an overwhelming amount of tasks to do and quests to complete that end up taking over from the main story. I ended up doing more crap involving chasing weird talking dogs in Skyrim than I did taking note of the impending world-eating dragon that I had been told about at the start of the game. That sort of thing probably shouldn’t happen.
Therefore, as with most things, a healthy medium is needed.
And I can’t believe I got through an entire article without mentioning Mass Effect.