We Hope You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

I’m starting to notice something that is getting on my nerves in some open world games. It’s no secret that there is an upward trend in these games to just litter the world with random stuff to do and collectibles to find (once you’ve unlocked the map by climbing a tower, of course). You do this because the story missions have become dull or won’t let you progress unless you’ve done some. That, or you’re a completionist and you just cannot stand that map having all those gash darn naggin’ dots on it, antagonizing you for the next 20 hours of your life. Eventually, you will unlock a snazzy new outfit that is just perfect for your character to wear for the next 30 minutes of gaming before you quit the game forever.

I’m not here to complain about that. No, sometimes there’s a different problem with the open world layout of games. Every here and there a game is somewhat deceptive over just how much it’s going to bog you down with quests as you progress. Let me start with a game I won’t name until I’m done describing it. That way we can see if you can guess which game I was playing before I finish. Sound good?

You start in Beginnersville. That’s when a very important person tells you that you need to do a thing that’s really important. It’ll help you and your other friends build up your super cool renegade army that doesn’t play by the rules. So, this person marks the location of the quest and it’s halfway across the map. That’s not so bad, a little adventuring enriches the soul. Just as you’re about to head out, you meet a couple other people who have stuff for you to do along the way, like find a thing they misplaced, kill a couple bandits that you were going to kill anyway, or find their injured friend (who you know will be dead when you find him because animation costs money and escort missions suck). That’s not bad, those are along the way too.

But then you get halfway past the first side mission and suddenly another side mission unlocks. Look out, it’s a big scary portal that will spawn monsters unless you take care of it right now! Fine, you’ll do it, it’s part of the story after all. After you’ve closed the portal you notice on your map that on top of a hill is a mysterious object to interact with. What does this thing do, give you powers? Nope, it unlocks 7 collectible objects on the map, two of which are on your way and one you have to backtrack just a little bit to get. Well, those objects might be important, better grab them.

After grabbing them, you’re back on your way to completing sidequest numero dos. You complete it, only at this point it’s now an hour later and you forgot why you were doing it to begin with. What do you do with this necklace? Oh right this is for that guy in Beginnersville. You’ll give it back later. As you progress up the map you realize that sidequest #3 is actually further past the main quest objective, so you complete the main quest first. But before you get there, you have to place a marker on that pretty looking hill to the left because reasons. And then next to that hill is another mysterious object that will unlock more collectibles. And then next to one of the collectibles is a totally different mysterious object that wants you to complete a line-drawing puzzle so you can unlock something. After 11.5 tries, you quit and decide to come back later. After all, you have people to save, or whatever it was you were supposed to be doing.

You finally get to the main quest area and you do the thing! Congrats, thing is done! Now that you’ve done the thing, four other characters have things for you to do in different corners of the map, while the main quest is to leave the map. And you never finished finding that other guy’s totally-not-dead friend. Are you just gonna leave these people behind, you selfish bastard? No, you’re going to stick around and do all these other things because the game is badgering you to do it in the middle of your questing.

I’m talking about Dragon Age: Inquisition, was that clear? To whit, DA:I is a great game. Good combat, great characters, and amazing lore make it great, but the act of constantly throwing quests at you while you’re busy with another can get pretty cumbersome. It overwhelms the player with too many things to do while making them feel more urgent than most of them are. Again, this is all fine if you’re having fun, but at some point do you even remember what the story or even the sidequests are having you do, plot-wise, or are you just walking towards objective markers on the map because there’s objective markers on the map?

This actually came to my attention because of State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition (never played the original, so it was fresh to me). In SoD:YOSE, you’re in charge of a group of survivors during another one of those dang ol’ zombie apocalypses. It’s up to you to gather resources and help other survivors during these difficult times. It’s actually quite a relaxing game except for one problem: the game hounds you with quests you can’t even hope to accomplish. This game is different, however, because some of the quests expire. This would be manageable if it weren’t for the fact that more often than not, you’re told about all these quests while you’re in the middle of doing another.

RADIO: Hey Hero, some survivors need your help.
YOU: Alright, I’ll help them once I’ve found those canned beans you sent me to get.
RADIO: Good Luck!
RADIO: Hey Hero, there’s a mysterious signal out in the woods, we should check it out.
YOU: Sounds good too, but I gotta get these beans first.
RADIO: Hero, that survivor you literally don’t care about is sick, you should find some medicine.
YOU: Still looking for beans. Also, I don’t care.
RADIO: Hero, the neighbors need our help.
YOU: When did we get neighbors?
RADIO: One of those survivors I told you about died.
YOU: Shit, well, I found the beans.

By the time I get back to home base there’s eight updates on my mission brief, chock-full of wonderful flavor text that I’d love to read. But I don’t have time, so I just quickly check them all off and then look at the map. And then it’s the same problem as Inquisition; I’ve been hit with so many quests I don’t remember what I even should be doing. I just see a bunch of objective markers on the map that need to be tended to. SoD:YOSE makes it harder, because it also makes you deal with resource management, so sometimes doing certain quests when you should be doing others is a bad idea. Even when you do get around to doing something you actually need to do, like find medicine for the sick survivor you don’t care about, the neighbors are being attacked by the horde of zombies. I get it, you can’t do everything. Stop acting like I can and then berate me when I choose not to do something.

Alternatively, maybe I just suck at State of Decay.

It’s all fun to fill your open world game to the brim with things to do, but bombarding the player with things to do while they’re busy with others can become abrasive. Or worse, it can turn around that well-written plot and warp it into nothing more than endless busywork.

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