Open world games are becoming too bloated to be fun | PCGamesN

Open world games are becoming too bloated to be fun

Open world games are becoming too bloated to be fun

I’ve been struggling to answer a very simple question lately. It’s cropping up a lot, slithering into my brain and filling it up until it’s fit to burst. I’ve been getting lost, you see. Hopelessly lost in massive open worlds that are designed especially for me, the player. The question is why? Why am I doing this? 

Why am I hunting down crates, their gem icons strewn across the map in Far Cry? Why am I searching for hidden artefacts scattered across the wastes in Shadows of Mordor? Shouldn’t I be inspired? Shouldn’t it be fun? It isn’t, though. And I’m lost. 

It used to be so damn easy to answer. 

I’m playing a game, it doesn’t matter what it is, and I’m working towards an objective, it doesn’t matter what it is. I’m little, and that matters. It matters because fun was so easy to find back then, or at least I remember it being easy. That’s the problem with nostalgia, isn’t it? It’s tricky and it lies. But let’s pretend I have 20/20 vision when it comes to my past. 

So I’m playing this game that doesn’t matter, and my Dad asks me that question: why are you doing that? I’m having fun, I say. I’m engaged and it’s all very exciting, working towards some goal, focusing entirely on it, and grinning the whole time. The world exists to entertain me, and gosh isn’t that a wonderful feeling when you are another otherwise powerless mite?

That was then. It’s different now. 

I’m playing Far Cry 4 and I’m in a cave. I’ve never been here before, but it’s like many caves I have been in. It’s dark and dirty and roots hang from the ceiling. There are dead bodies on the ground. I have killed some men. At the end of the cave, which is very small, there is a crate. Inside it is junk. A photograph. A lighter. Useless. They are immediately transformed into cold, hard cash. 

This cave exists solely to contain men, who are now dead, and a crate, which is full of crap. Below, there are elephants that I can spook, sending them stampeding into a group of enemies. Some ways down the road there’s a fortress, an enemy base that will pose a tricky challenge. There is fun to be found, but here I am, in this fucking cave, looting pointless tat. 

There is no meaningful reason. The cave and the gem icon serve to draw me away from the main path, extend the amount of time I play for. It’s more bang for my buck! Except that it isn’t. It’s like saying that I am a better man now because years of abusing my body has made me overweight. I’m bigger, so I must be better!

Like me, open world games are overweight. I’ve been going to the gym, because it’s summer time and the world deserves a Fraser with a sexy beach bod, but open world games are just getting bigger. None of that equates to more meaningful interactions with the world, it just means that there’s more stuff. More rubbish. 

This is where a seemingly sensible person steps in and points out that I don’t need to engage with the filler, the fluff. I can ignore it and just seek out experiences that are actually fun. There are plenty of them to be found in these constantly expanding open worlds. But that sensible person is a little bit wrong. 

Open worlds are full of seductive numbers and icons. How many games display a percentage that shows how much of them you’ve completed? Most of them, right? These percentages used to be tucked away in a stats menu or the save screen, but they are increasingly being given pride of place at the start screen or in another highly visible place. It’s a clever psychological trick that helps you manage the scale of the game, make it seem more surmountable, and it also keeps you playing. 

100 percent is great! It’s a perfect score! You really need to hit that all important number. 

It’s certainly not fun, in and of itself. But there’s a hint of satisfaction there, like that moment when you take a long drag of a cigarette, the smoke hits your lungs, you get that amazing tingle, and then your body just sinks. I’m trying and failing to quit smoking, so it’s on my mind. Forgive the analogy if you don’t smoke. It’s not fun, smoking. It’s horrifically bad for me, too. But I’m compelled to do it anyway, just as I am, to a lesser degree, compelled to get that number to 100. But attempting to get there isn’t satisfying. Only the moment when you actually reach it.

Map icons are much more devious and, in my case, effective. They are telling you that they know a secret. God, it’s awful. Only the worst kind of people tell you that they know a secret, in full knowledge that you’ll be compelled to ferret it out of them. They want you to. They love it. Open world games love it, too. 

Lamentably, the secrets suggested by these map icons are just as compelling as the secrets barely held onto by gossips. A mask in Far Cry 4 or a shard in Dragon Age: Inquisition amount to “Janet is sleeping with a married man.” Who gives a shit? 

So you get some cash that you already have enough of, because screw a balanced economy, or some experience or some karma or some random number in a silly system – is that fun? You get a bit stronger, maybe, or a bit richer, maybe, but none of that really matters if the journey to that point is devoid of meaning. We have to do boring things to progress through our regular lives, why the hell should we have to do the same in our digital ones? 

A few years ago I had a very long chat with Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry. We got chatting about death in adventure games and a few particularly obtuse puzzles, and Lowe noted that these sorts of things were often really just used as stoppers, obstacles for the sake of increasing the length of what were quite short games. This was back when adventure games were AAA, pushing the boundaries in terms of tech and gameplay. Designers needed to find a way to make them meatier, bigger, and stupidly difficult puzzles or arbitrary deaths did that artificially. 

Not much has changed, it’s just that these AAA games are now 60 hours long instead of 5 or 10. 

I remember getting frustrated by those things back in the ‘90s, but there was still an element of fun. Death could be a surprise wrapped up in a gag, and a particularly obtuse puzzle, while annoying at the time, still rewarded me with meaningful progress, letting me continue the story and giving me a sense of satisfaction. In Shadow of Mordor, where’s the meaningful progress when you head to a highlighted spot on the map, press a button, and immediately uncover an artefact that does nothing? Where’s the challenge or the satisfaction? It’s entirely absent. 

According to HowLongToBeat.com, Assassin’s Creed Unity’s story can be completed in 16 hours. Want to erase all of those pesky map icons as well? 78 hours. That’s 62 hours of extra, non-essential content. Batman: Arkham Knight is a bit more reasonable, with 14 hours needed to complete the story, while properly completing the game will take around 38. But still, that’s 24 hours. A whole day. Not all of that extra stuff is meaningless filler, but there’s still a lot. And worse, in both Assassin’s Creed Unity and Arkham Knight, we’re faced with tasks ripped straight out of earlier games. It’s not just busywork, it’s busywork that we’ve already done. 

I finally snapped when I was playing The Witcher 3. It’s not because Geralt’s final adventure is full of faffing and endless amounts of time wasting, but because in the 92 hours I played it for, I never once grew bored. I was hooked. I played those 92 hours across the space of a week, which works out at just over 13 hours a day. For seven days. I could have played more. I wanted to, but I had a review deadline. 

Sure, there were shrines that I hunted down that only served to give me a buff, and hundreds of monster nests that needed to be blown up, but they were surrounded by rich quests and meaningful stories. I never aimlessly went off the beaten track in search for something ultimately mundane – I was always inspired to head off in a certain direction because of something magical, something compelling. Not an icon.

The Witcher 3 is an exceptional game, regardless, but it shouldn’t be exceptional for not wasting our time. That should be the norm. And this weird problem is something specific to our unusual medium. PR and marketers love to tell us how long a game is, but could you imagine a publisher doing that with a book?

“Buy The Brothers Karamazov today! It’s bloody massive! You’ll be at it all week!” 

And you’re not going to see a production company boasting about the runtime of a movie, either. It seems to be exclusive to games, particularly open world games. Is it a cost thing? If we’re spending £40 on a game, should we expect a certain length? I used to think that the problem was weak producers who aren’t capable of reining in overly-eager designers, but I’ve come to reasses that assumption. Now I wonder if it’s fear. Fear that people will complain that the game’s too short. It’s the silliest thing to moan about, but it happens all the time. 

Would you be put off by an open world game that only takes a few hours to complete? Is there a point where the price becomes too high, just because the game’s not long enough?  

I’m typing this as the sun is coming up, making the overcast sky glow just a little bit. It’s a time for realisations. I’m realising that I’m lost because of a strange video game cultural quirk. I’m lost and struggling to find meaning in the pointless, neverending search for half-baked points of interest and it might all be because we’re a little bit shallow (maybe not all of us, not you, you’re great), myself included. We want bigger worlds, with more content, and we want to feel like that money we just spent on the game is going to be worth it. And then I wonder how many people would play a game like Her Story – a short, mechanically simple, fixed-in-one-place game that can be completed in an hour or two – if it had been £30? Would I have bought it? 

How gloomy! And now let me leave you on an even gloomier note, an article we posted yesterday. Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot made a half-hearted mea culpa in regards to the okay but not great Watch Dogs. He said that the team ended up being restrained by putting so much in the game. I completely agree. But with that admission comes a caveat. 

“It’s just so complex – seamless multiplayer, connectivity with mobile and tablets, so many things – it was maybe a bit too much for a first iteration.”

So next time, will they scale it back? Will it be more focused? Nah, it was only maybe a problem because it was the first game in what is now a major franchise (of one game). Good grief. It never ends.  

Subnautica
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SteveCrook avatarBelimawr avatarFraser Brown avatarDog Pants avatarShriven avatarLoki_uk avatar+6
SteveCrook Avatar
77
2 Years ago

I think we're in a transitional phase in game development. We've got the open worlds to roam in, but not enough story to fill them.

Perhaps the worlds need to generate their own stories? There's already work being done to get programs to write fiction.During the next decade we may get procedurally generated stories made up from the character states available in the open world at the time the generator is run.

As you play the game, characters develop (like Shadow Of Mordor) and the story generator can create new side quests or adventures on the fly based on the state of *your* copy of the game so the players experience is genuinely unique.

I could see it as a pay per story thing, with the publisher/developer offering extra locations and enhancements. Perhaps even allowing other publishers/developers to re-populate existing maps to provide a completely different experience.

4
Dog Pants Avatar
1389
2 Years ago

I long for short, good quality games. Time is in very short supply, and it takes me so long to complete big games that I inevitably get distracted by another one before I get anywhere near finishing them. It's frustrating.

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That applies to all kinds of games though - I have a specific issue with open world games. The appeal of open world games for me it the marvel of discovery. The epic, surreal vista in Minecraft, or finding a lovingly crafted pocket of the world that writes a story with a handful of props in Skyrim or Fallout 3.

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The converse of this, the thing that really puts me off, is repetition. It's so counter-intuitive to what makes open worlds appealing. Finding a hidden cave only to realise that it looks like every other cave, filled with bad guys I'd fought dozens of time before, with no indication of why they're there, and only a treasure chest as a reward, was a crushing experience for me in Skyrim.

3
Shriven Avatar
3493
2 Years ago

As big as an ocean, as deep as a puddle. This is the problem with OW games. Id rather have the deepest, most personal 30 minute game than one ill never even scratch the surface of.

OW games look great in PR and screencaps, but not seen one for a long time that satisfied me.

3
Aever Avatar
659
2 Years ago

I think you have to be ready to accept a certain amount of shallowness when talking about open world games. Their sheer size makes it impossible to expect too much detail when running off the beaten path.

I any case, I love these games because the feeling of exploration, of discovery, which you can't get from a small game. You get to see your character evolve, build up in strength and equipment. You get to poke around every corner, see what's there. See some vistas. Goof around.

A good game will have those just enough to keep you going. And then there are mods. Take Skyrim, huge world on its own and then you get to change it, make it different enough to get you playing for a few more hours. And then you get those massive AAA games that seem to have it all. I'm not talking about the very iterative games UBI puts out like clockwork. I'm talking about games like The Witcher or Tomb Raider. Very large, very beautiful and reasonably detailed.

2
NihlusGreen Avatar
662
2 Years ago

I've had to call it quits with the once beloved Assassins Creed, #2 was brilliant but a few sequels later and annual releases with lower quality was it for me.

Far Cry 3 felt refreshing and fun and I spent to long looting crates. Far Cry 4, for me, was a must buy...that I ended up regretting even though the Elephants and scenery and gyros were fantastic it was same same as #3. And the smothering of icons on the map put me off of collecting all together, who wants to collect tampons, syringes and condoms?

Watch Dogs? No thanks.

That said I will happily take time to explore GTA V, Skyrim & DAI. I've also got the Batman games, TW3 (once the DLc is all out) & Mordor on my to do list. And while they are big commitments I enjoy my shorter games such as Telltale Games, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and will definitely make time for Her Story in the near future.

Good luck with quitting smoking Fraser, you can do it if I could!

2
Fraser Brown Avatar
960
2 Years ago

Thanks! It's tough! But I'm sure my lungs will thank me in the end.

2
NihlusGreen Avatar
662
2 Years ago

Your taste buds too!

1
Belimawr Avatar
1276
2 Years ago

see open world games do have a lot of bloat, but you have to do everything, for me when I play them if I see something close by if I can get there in under 30 seconds I will generally go, if I can't I will just leave it.

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but then I have never cared for achievements or the 100% so no matter how front and central these things are ultimately I will just play the way I want to.

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the biggest advantage of the bloat in open world games for me is sometimes you jump into a game, you don't want to do the story, you just want to mess around this is when you go off and just see what you can find.

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it's like I know it's not a PC game, but I've been playing Infamous, sure the story is there I could go through that, but sometimes it is fun just to jump in and go after DUP bases, but then the main problem with that is in Infamous the opponent troops are only finite so you do hit a point where you are back stuck to the story as the bases will never respawn.

1
Fraser Brown Avatar
960
2 Years ago

Infamous Second Son is what I consider the worst kind of open world game. It somehow manages to be very small, but still has all the issues of the fat, bloated massive ones. The whole game is a series of constantly repeating, utterly mundane tasks. I have all these cool powers, but I'm wasting my time shooting CCTV cameras? Horrible.

3
Belimawr Avatar
1276
2 Years ago

but really any game can be brought down to that level if you look at one small thing, but then the cameras weren't exactly something you had to go out of your way for, they were generally near quest locations or bases, so they did kind of make sense and only literally took 2 seconds to chuck a ranged attack at. also they did have an effect where they ended up with patrols coming if you got caught on one.

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if you are talking about the hidden cameras it's just your general puzzle based objective that is in most games, but with the reverse twist of having to work out where it is looking at you from. but again when you are trying to clear out an oppressive force it makes sense you would want to take out all their eyes and ears.

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end of the day it's still a lot less annoying than the likes of the hidden packages and such in GTA games, as it was a minor distraction instead of something you either needed to download a map for or spend hours scouring every inch of the map.

1
Fraser Brown Avatar
960
2 Years ago

The issue for me is that almost all of the activities the game tasked you with completing to "free" a district were dull as dishwater. That they are more engaging than hunting for collectibles doesn't make them good.

1
Belimawr Avatar
1276
Belimawr replied to Fraser Brown
2 Years ago

taking out the bases and billboard fights were still fun tho.

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this is the point I was making every game has these pointless things in them, it doesn't make it right but it's not a problem with a certain game, it's a problem with all games.

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every since developers started catering to the "achievement hunter" they know they can put this type of stuff in a game as those who need achievements to increase their epeen will see it as more content and adding to the length of the game, where a lot of people will just ignore it.

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it's like when guild wars 2 came out everyone made a big fuss over it where it wouldn't be another "kill X" or "fetch me x of y" MMO and it would be something new, but the sad fact is these types of things have to be in games as it is the only way they can bulk them out as anything more than an entirely linear story on a closed in path.

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while in a perfect world the likes of these problems wouldn't exist, the truth is without these things the entire thought of an open world game would be pointless as there would be little reason to deviate from the path, as the world would be there for nothing more than looks.

1
Loki_uk Avatar
38
2 Years ago

I feel that the worst bits of Open Worlds was brought in by the console ports - particularly the later Tomb Raiders and so on. The "find the 250 bits of special crud" missions that don't add anything.

Then the game designers wanted to reward people who collected them and started to give you better weapons, abilities or other things ... then they became pretty essential to getting past the challenges and then these bits become mandatory "fun".

I actually really enjoyed Shadows of Moria for the procedurally generated challenges of the Orcs levelling up and becoming more powerful nemesis - great fun. However a bit annoying about the collecting I had to do to win against them.

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I want to make my own stories in these open worlds - imagine that the pedestrians are talking about the weird person who just wheelied down the street or leapt off the side of a building. I want more than just the comments of "I say!" from the civilians in Assassins Creed when I climb buildings. I want people to run screaming or hilariously ineptly try to stop me.

They keep on trying to involve connected mobiles, tablets, multiplayer - however if I wanted to play an mmorpg then I would be. I have kids though - I need to be able to pause the game when I want and not be killed.

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More procedurally generated stories in these open worlds and less collecting and railtracks.

1
Stinkflipper Incarnate Avatar
269

I agree that TW3 really shows how this kind of content should be created. It's going to be very hard to go back to something like DA:I now. Oh my Gods, those annoying shards, and the fact that I put up with that shit. I remember one, I spent ages trying to platform-jump my way to it (and DA:I was so very much not a platformer...), and I was literally fuming by the time I got it. Apparently there was an easier way, but still, I have no idea why it mattered to me to get that lousy shard. I was certainly over-powerful already, and didn't need the bonus from the shard rooms.

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That said, even TW3 stumbled a bit, on Skellige. There were way too many smuggler crates / shipwrecks with sirens or drowners. And those mini treasure hunts (where you'd have to loot & read some note, go 50 meters and pick up whatever the note referred to) got very tiresome.

1
Fraser Brown Avatar
960
2 Years ago

Yeah, those scavenger hunts were pretty poor, but they make up a really tiny part of the game so I'm more inclined to forgive it, even though I'd prefer to see less of that nonsense.

1
valuum Avatar
5
2 Years ago

Agreed with the stumbling, but it can be completely avoided. I did all of 1 scavenger hunt quest, and none of the question marks outside of the big islands in Skellige. Still clocked in at 115 hours..

1
Findaer Avatar
49
2 Years ago

Yeah, OW games have quite a bit of bloat, but I don't think the complete opposite, trim high quality games, is the right answer to an equivalent price point because we have already established that trim games are cheaper. Not to be gloomy, but it is too late now. Bastion or Brothers for $15, Hotline Miami or To The Moon for $10. If you pay $60 it better have endless hours to wander around or endless hours to play with your friends. This is the new normal. As much as I loved Brothers I would still think in the back of my head "This shouldn't be $60". With the expense of making a game that matches what mass consumers expect graphically a game publisher would rather be able to market value in terms of quantifiable length because I think it works better than marketing quality. Top it off with reviewers who have come to expect a bit of needless grind who will basically ignore it to focus on what interested them in the game and you have a perception of quality despite the bloat.

I do think there is hope though. It seems like there are more small to mid team sized indie companies now than say 3 years ago and they may be able to focus more on the quality while still adding some more marketable production values.

1
beastxxwar Avatar
1 Year ago

Well lets look at one of the big reasons open world games have been created, why do people want them? Gamers want to feel they are not in an arena but in a vast, living world. People want single player games to tell a story, but to have a game tell a story while allowing you to fully immerse yourself in a living, breathing world is the ultimate satisfaction. I believe we are right on the cusp of breaking that threshold.

Right now, weve gotten to the point where technology is not an issue. The systems we play on now have the ability to create the massive worlds with amazing graphics, and populate those worlds. The next phase should come along fairly quickly, with developers no longer needing to fill the gaps with meaningless item collecting, and instead focus on fleshing out the world so that it is NATURALLY interesting to explore. Some games have already touched on this, but none have fully accomplished it. GTA5 does a decent job of giving the illusion of a living city, but in the end its just a bunch of "citizens" moving around on the street or driving in cars pretending to talk on cell phones and chat with each other.

Weve created the massive worlds, weve put people, creatures, and props in the world. Next i believe we will start to see games in the next 5 or so years that will be able to create completely randomized and unique experiences for gamers and allow them to immerse themselves in a world that has its own events going on, its own storylines happening that can either involve the player or be happening completely without any interaction to the player at all. That is the future of open world games in my opinion. Right now we are just at a weird time where developers have only been able to create the appearance of a real world on the surface, but without actually creating the depth to support the illusion.

TL:DR We have gotten extremely picky asking for open worlds with a fleshed out, living environment while still wanting storyline. It will come in time. The merge between story driven and exploration should be coming soon. Hopefully.

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