I Don't Want To Walk To Everything I Can See In A Game

I Don't Want To Walk To Everything I Can See In A Game

There's this thing that developers of open world games have been fond of saying a lot lately: If you can see it, you can travel to it. It's meant to be an awe-inspiring statement about how rich and full the world is, but every time I hear it I roll my eyes.

See, not only am I not particularly interested in walking to whatever random things I see in the distance all the time, I don't even want to do that most of the time. That's not an absolute rule or anything; while occasionally I might get the urge to climb a mount that's irrelevant to the plot (hello, GTA V), I just usually prefer a more focused experience. I'm not keen on devs creating distractions willy nilly, and also I probably just played some other game in which I could walk to anything I could see.

So take Dragon Age: Inquisition, for example. That game's world isn't Skyrim, as it has separate zones rather than one continuous world. But the zones are big and open, and if you can see it you can go to it. I hear this and take it badly, because the whole BioWare thing is story and choice and literal role playing, and not so much "let's dick around in the woods to see what's there." That's the Elder Scrolls' specialty, so when they emphasise the size of the world it just sounds they're going for that well-deserved Skyrim purse.

And I hate being bummed in advance about a Bioware game because to some degree I enjoy everything they have done, and it's usually been to a great degree. I'm one of those people who totally adores Dragon Age 2, even, which is a meaningful thing to point out here. I want to think that "if you can see it, you can go to it" is mostly marketing speak that doesn't necessarily reflect the priorities of the team, but I can't know that just yet.

I Don't Want To Walk To Everything I Can See In A Game

Over the last few weeks I've been dabbling in Dragon's Dogma. This Japanese open world RPG is one of many games that sits in my PSN account thanks to PlayStation Plus, and in early July I got the impulse to start it up. What I found was a novel concept: an open world on rails, more or less. Dragon's Dogma allows you to walk where you want, but it generally guides you around via a series of branching paths. It doesn't feel so daunting as adventuring through Skyrim, and straying from the path to see what's over that way isn't likely to get you lost. And sometimes straying from your path just means you're taking a new one to wherever you were going.

Open worlds often exist to get you lost, though. They dangle something off to the side of you, and before you know it you've been wandering around over there for hours and you forgot what you were doing before. In what I've played of Dragon's Dogma, there doesn't seem to be much danger of that happening, even while it lets me scratch the exploration itch a bit with sidepaths and monster caves and the like.

But, of course, in Dragon's Dogma you can't go to everything you see, and that's no bueno. You gotta be able to deliver on a very common buzzphrase or else you're a disappointment. Because all the games should have the same features.

That was a joke, of course. I want variety and freshness (which is why I'm so fond of Gods Will Be Watching). I want to see what Bioware could do with the ideas it had in the Song of Ice and Fire-esque Dragon Age 2 over the course of a development cycle that isn't truncated. I want devs and players to be a little bit less concerned with whether we can walk to random spots in the game world that don't matter.

I Don't Want To Walk To Everything I Can See In A Game

Under all that, what I really want is for the creatives to not attempt to emulate somebody else's blockbuster game. The real reason I lose some interest in a game when I'm told I can walk to anything I can see isn't because I don't care about that, but because it probably means the devs think we do because we liked some other game that let us do that.

In my day job as a motivational speaker*, I often tell people, "You need to just do your thing." That's what I want. "If you can see it, you can go to it" to me sounds as if you're probably trying to do somebody else's thing. Maybe that's the wrong conclusion to draw, maybe it's not.

But at the end of the day, attempting to follow somebody else's still-fresh footprints is always going to be a lot less interesting then attempting to find a different path. That's why a game that is as janky as Dragon's Dogma can hold a surprising amount of appeal, and it's why EA's attempts to take down Call of Duty by shooter-izing its catalogue failed — it's no coincidence that it took a shooter as ideologically opposed to Call of Duty as Battlefield 3 to make serious headway in that effort.

For now, I'm just going to continue on being cautiously pessimistic. Because it doesn't feel like "if you see it, you can travel to it" is going away any time soon.

*I'm not a motivational speaker.

You can find Phil on Twitter at @philrowen


Comments

    That's what I love about Bungie games. They show you some awesome stuff you can't get to.

      And if you can't get to it, players will devote a lot of time and effort towards trying to find some way of doing so.

      Like in Halo, there was apparently a shortcut at one of those bridges where you could reach the bottom of the chasm without dying and skip a bunch f he level. However I just kept dying when I tried. Come to think of it, I might have been trolled big time.

        Nope, I've done it. I even referred to it in my Halo 1 in-depth review.

        oh god yes, i did this alot in halo 2, glitching out of the map on a ghost and just driving around exploring. The map outside the magic walls were EASILY 10x bigger then the area that you could actually explore, pretty fun ^_^

        You could skip alot of halo content like that and it was great fun

          Plus you got to appreciate the game a lot more

        Definitely possible. Assault on the Control Room in Halo 1.

      I spent ages mucking around in the hills surrounding he level "Delta Halo" in Halo 2. The awesome backgrounds in that game are what made me want to get into the expanded universe.

    Sounds like a lazy/unfocused player to me.
    I absolutely love being able to explore something if I want to, nothing I hate more than the cool looking thing over yonder that cannot be gotten to. It breaks the feeling of it being a real world.

    Just because it all exists, doesn't mean you *have* to go look at it, and if you get lost, that it your own crappy mapping skills, not the game's fault.

    An on rails shooter or similar can be fun, but if you aren't on rails, then I reckon if you can see it, you should be able to get to it.

      True, this article was lame and pointless. Wait, isnt this the same guy who complained about 60fps being too smooth? Seems like he is living in the past. Maybe should stick to playing the Atari.

      Yeah I agree with you. I remember in the old days with car racing like chase hq or whatever, I always wanted to drive to the city that just went left and right on the horizon. I want the choice. We've had lack of choice, life has all sorts of choices but in the end we go to work come home for the most part. I don't want that for my escape

        The problem here isn't one about lack of choice, but lack of *meaningful* choice.

        Being able to go anywhere is pointless when it all it does is spread the interesting content over a larger area and so make it harder to find the bits of the game you want to be playing.

        Both styles of games (zone-based and fully open world) have their own advantages. Mr Owen is not saying that there should be no open-world games, but that not all games should be open-world. What was once a design choice made to serve gameplay has become an end in itself, with gameplay subordinate to the feature checkbox.

          And who decides what's meaningful? The author of this article? For me having a world to explore is the meaning because I play to be immersed in a world, it is the meaning for me. Of course the example you present here of content spread over a large area for the sake of it is not good, but neither is any bad design decision ie content over a small area where you are backtracking or fail to feel the sense of a scale that a typical realm in an RPG deserves is just as bad

          Point is, as someone else said here, don't want to go where you can see, don't go. There are people that smash out the GTA5 story line in a few hours at launch by fast travelling everywhere etc. Fine, do it. The rest of us will enjoy the game the other way

    No way. Just think of mass effect 3 for example. How much worse was that game when you were just transported to all these tiny areas rather than exploring wide open areas like the first game. It really depends on the game though.

      The thing with ME1, though, was that these wide open areas were still largely contained, and had a focus. Additionally, they were all separate locations. This meant that you could have fun exploring, but you were always drawn back to the focal objective of the zone.

    i love exploring open worlds. i can get lost for hours happening across random places that i wasnt intending to go to. thats one of the big things i love about skyrim.

    You know you don't have to see it if you don't want to, right?

    See, I totally adore Dragon Age 2 as well, but I don't have the misgivings you have about Dragon Age: Inquisition. They're trying new things. The writing's still going to be good. It's going to be a lot of fun. Relax.

    I enjoy just wandering around as well, probably not the best game for it but it is one thing i really like doing in Watchdogs just wander looking for nothing but something at the same time. I have not played Skyrim and last GTA was IV so my recent forays into this sort of stuff is really limited although i did enjoy it in Assassins creed as well.

    Different strokes for different folks. While I agree, sometimes when I play an 'open' world game I don't feel the need to explore every nook and cranny, someone else might find themselves completely immersed in a games lore and want to explore as much as possible, even if there's nothing tangible to reward the player for reaching the top of the mountain range/sea shore in the distance.

    While there might be an element of people looking a the success of Fallout and then more so with Skyrim and them wanting a piece of the pie, who are you to argue if they put some exploration into a linear game? If you don't want to explore a gameworld, good for you, that's your right as a gamer, but don't try and take that away from other gamers, that's their choice how to play.

    Sounds like that you're just against people looking at what's successful atm and using a few buzzwords from it to promote their game. Developers do that all the time. Berate them if they hash it up completely, but not for taking inspiration from somewhere else.

    I literally stopped reading after you said you were one of those people who adored Dragon Age 2.. I didn't even know there was one of you out there.

    You supporting that game gives the developers more reason to make shit in the future because people like you will buy their lazy iterations.. Go make some other media worse and leave games alone plz.

      Sorry, how does making a bad game that you wont play hurt you?

        Why would they spend money making something good when people will buy cheap crap?

          Pretty much this.
          People shouldn't be expected to lower their standards, ever.

        Cause the game before it was actually good (DA:O)?

          I think you're missing the point, they are owned by EA.. if EA see's them making the same money from a game that cost less to make what do you think they're going to say when their making the next one.

          Last edited 04/08/14 4:30 pm

            Sorry, how does making a bad game that you wont play hurt you?

            I was actually replying to that, i know what you meant and agree in part. EA wanted the game out in 2 years to cash in on DA:O good name. All in all, I don't think it worked all that well for them - they traded in a lot of good will for it and it didn't sell anywhere near as much.

    In games like Skyrim, fast travel is a must. Sometimes, if I've got time to kill, I'll walk from one place to another and take in the sights, or look at some distant mountain range and stroll over for a climb and a kill, but if I'm focused on a mission, it's fast travel from one place to another to get things done.

    So I'm all for big open worlds where you can walk to whatever you can see.

      In games like Skyrim, fast travel is a must.

      Finished oblivion without fast travel. Didn't even know about it. It's definitely possible and i still found the game rather enjoyable. Skyrim i just used the carts - no other fast travel.

        If you're looking to sneak in a quick session where you want to finish a mission, then fast travel is a must (which is what I was referring to)

        But otherwise it's sometimes better to walk -- makes you a little more immersed in the game.

      Not for me. Since they added in sprint I never fast traveled or use carts.

    I think open world games inherently have a negative effect on the narrative of a game, and often they're not designed with enough points of interest for the player to justify the time needed to travel around the world.

    That's not to say I prefer entirely linear games, no, I much prefer games with a more directed open-world, like the worlds found in the majority of the Metroidvania genre or the Zelda series and games that provide linear point A to point B levels that still provide a multitude of different paths, like Dishonored or the original Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy.

    I’m one of those people who totally adores Dragon Age 2

    This makes a lot of sense. If you can adore that game it's pretty evident you don't give a rats arse about environment diversity. Seriously how many times were you sent to that fuckin cave.

      You have absolutely nailed it with this comment. Spot on

    I hate when I'm asked to drive somewhere in a game. More games should have a ask the npc to drive you where you want to go

    TLDR;

    Open worlds can be great if they aren't empty. But there's no point creating giant worlds if they feel uninteresting and lifeless. Developers just need to keep in mind that the world should be treated as an important part of the game content, and not just a 'map'. Then scale the world to the amount of content you can build for it.

      That's basically how I feel. I like the idea of exploring to find interesting tools, characters, missions, story, vantage points, etc. Something that adds to the game beyond the simple realisation that someone worked hard to make a detailed (pretty?) landscape. Most open worlds really do feel empty or have a very robotic character at best. In short, it needs to feel alive and something you're part of. Just a large map to run around does little for me.

    I like the idea of an open world "If you can see it, you can travel to it" mentality in games. I just want the quest system to reflect that.

    If you dick around with side quests and grinding, it should have consequences on the world. Entire quest trees should be allow to fail for lack of urgency.

    I personally find that the exploration aspects are what gives open word games their personality. I always come back to games like Fallout and Skyrim because I know there might be areas in the furthest reaches of the world that I've never seen on past playthroughs.

    I want to see what Phil's reaction is to a game where you are inside a box, and the sole objective is to take a step forward to the other end of the box. Not only can you get to everything you see, it is also a very focussed and exact play experience. Best of both worlds!

    I feel like Xenoblade is a great example of if you can see it you can get to it. It's not an "open world" game where you can just do what you want when you want, there is a focused linear storyline, but the maps are huge and you can explore pretty much right to the edge of all of them. Truly gives you a grand sense of the world and how small you are in comparison to it.

    Totally agree.

    I am concerned with this big push from many games (Witcher 3, Metal Gear are doing the same thing) to the open world, Elder Scrolls, go anywhere style. Games in that vein seem to be focusing more and more on 'how big can I make my world' and 'how much stuff (quests, dialogue, items) can I toss in' that they seem to forget that unless there is a lot work put into these additions, they end up being incredibly superficial and, ultimately, shallow.

    I struggle to give a fuck that game X provides you with Y hours of gameplay when that gameplay is made up of the same repeated fetch/kill quests (handed out by characters who are completely irrelevant to the overall storyline) that take place in the same rehashed dungeons populated by the same bloody enemies that perhaps change skins every now and again. I've been sucked in by the reviews, the amount of things to do and the claims of choice/freedom made in relation to games like Skyrim and regrettably bought some of these games. Boring is the first word that springs to mind when someone says Skyrim and I have to wonder what the point of this freedom is when it is all meaningless illusion (in that there is a lot of content but it's all the same shit), and insignificant to the actual storyline.

    Not to say that the open world is an entirely shit concept. Red Dead and Xenoblade are examples of the freedom that don't lose sight of what they're actually about.

    Love Dragon's Dogma. It's one of my all time fav games along with the Zelda games and the Souls series. Just wanted to say that because Dragon's Dogma deserves more love. On topic - I don't care if an open world has purpose or not, it's all subjective. Personally all it takes for me to enjoy travelling is beautiful, detailed scenery which Dogma delivers on.

    What I really love though is randomly generated events while exploring/travelling in an open game. Fallout 3 and New Vegas, as well as GTA were great for this. I mean it's not compulsory but it's just something I really like. Remember the random alien spaceship crash in Fallout 3? Stuff like that I just totally dig. Read Dead Redemption was awesome too for random events and secrets - come to think of it, just knowing something isn't scripted makes me love a game so much more.

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