Friday, June 29, 2007

Open Worlds

I realized something this morning as I played a bit of Neverwinter Nights 2's single player campaign. I do not like open world designs, like that of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, in my single player RPGs. I need guidance, clearly defined boundaries, and a path to follow. Linearity has a certain appeal to me. It doesn't force me to think too hard. Not that I don't want a game to challenge me, but who honestly enjoys being completely lost? Who actually enjoys exploring a single player world? Well, not me.

Neverwinter Night 2 (NWN2) has been both praised and smited for having a somewhat linear single player campaign. Unlike other classic D&D computer RPGs, for example Baldur's Gate II, NWN2 is a pretty straight forward game. Most of my time in NWN2 is spent going from point A to point B while completing tasks on the way. Games such as Baldur's Gate II tend to build "hubs" where you spend eons completing side quests and generally losing grasp of the main storyline for some time.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved Baldur's Gate II. However, I played it when I was single, had tons of spare time, and for the most part was still birthing myself into the PC gaming scene. I consider myself lucky to have enjoyed Baldur's Gate II inside and out. Funny thing is though, I had to buy a strategy guide for the game. I was just getting endlessly lost without one.

Back to the main point, I prefer my single player RPGs to be on some sort of rails. I want my choices to effect outcomes, but not so much that I have to change gears midway through the story. Give me a path to follow, and make it kick ass the whole way through. So far, NWN2 has delivered in this regard.

There is one genre in which I demand open worlds though; MMORPGs. Playing MMORPGs is one of the main reasons I don't want overly open single player RPGs. If I am going adventuring into a world, I truly want the chance to encounter another living being at some point. MMORPGs have spoiled my explorer appetite by just simply putting me into a world with other players.

Still, in MMORPGs, I want guidance. That was a main attraction of World of Warcraft. I spent literally no time outside of WoW searching for the next area to level. I spent my time inside WoW, learning the world, quests, and progression first hand. It is the only MMORPG in which that is possible.

This is getting long. Open worlds belong in multi-player games. Single player games need linearity.


  1. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Well, I like open worlds. Rails almost always frustrate me. However, you're right. Oblivion was unfocused and kind of boring. SOME structure is nice.

    I just want the option to go where I please and do as I will in my games, single player or otherwise, even if it's limited by the rails of the main mission.

    Example: In Fallout 2, you have a pretty linear quest (your main one) and tons of side ones as you travel from town to town taking care of the main quest. You CAN go to other places, but the encounters and enemies surrounding them are simply too difficult for you to handle... a few deaths and you're driven away. However, this adds an interesting element for the player with a lot of skill and luck... if you CAN get into those places, you can access any quests and story you normally could.

    I don't know. I guess it all comes down to personal preference. I don't like constraints.

  2. Morrowind was even worse in that regard. You were just given a parchment and off you go exploring the world. My biggest peeve in Oblivion wasn't that it was open, but that it was open only in the geographical sense. Unlike Fallout 2, you couldn't solve quests any other way than just stabbing someone. That, is a huge problem with these so called "open worlds". It was an open world where every cave was the same. Folks, we've seen it done better 10 years ago.

    And that is why I also don't care for WoW anymore these days. Sure, you're never lost, but on the other hand, the way the game holds your hand every step in your way to level 70 just annoys the crap out of me. I like searching for the next area. I like finding cool stuff from weird places.

    You'd think that I'd something like Eve, but I don't. Why? The whole game is so damn automated that I don't feel like I'm playing the game at all. But that is a rant for another day.

  3. Anonymous11:44 PM

    I didn't like Morrowind's complete lack of direction either, but I'm always praying for more open-ended single-player games. I don't buy games anymore unless they offer more than a couple weeks of gameplay, because games are cheap.

    The main problem with Oblivion's open-ended gameplay is that the stuff you do off the linear paths has no purpose (beyond loot and xp) and little importance in the gameworld. Clear out a cave of goblins, nobody will thank you for it, and whatever refills the cave will be something predictable and equally meaningless.

    Open-ended gameplay will be more attractive when non-linear adventures have an effect on the world. I'm hoping Two Worlds will offer some proof toward that theory.


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