Though you may not think it, games have objectives themselves. They can have a goal to make us think, make us sad or make us re-evaluate things. However, the number one goal for a game, in my opinion, is to entertain. What is the point of playing a game if it bores you to tears? You become uninterested, annoyed and frustrated that you spent your hard-earned cash on something that you don’t enjoy. How does modern open world gaming rectify this? More objectives. More side missions. More “stuff” to do. Yet is this necessarily a good thing? Let’s discuss.
Let’s start with the best superhero games of the current generation, Batman: Arkham City. Arkham City takes Batman on a tumultuous night of crime busting and investigation. The game offers a straight-forward story that involves a lot of DC villains but the main thread of the story splits off into multiple branching storylines and quests that you can follow at your leisure. One such quest involves Victor Zsasz, a maniacal serial killer who has multiple hostages that Batman must save. How does the Dark Knight achieve this? By listening to Zsasz’s twisted origin story while attempting to track him down with his gadgets. The whole quest is split into five parts; four parts listening to Zsasz and one part tracking him down and beating him to a pulp.
While you may be incredibly invested in Arkham City’s story, it can be incredibly difficult to resist answering a ringing phone call to help you further your progress with catching Zsasz. This an example of “side-quests” done right. You are never punished for avoiding the quest but there is still a sense of urgency to complete it. The quest has an adequate way to keep you busy while you listen to a story. Think of Zsasz’s story as like an voxophone from BioShock Infinite that is split up into multiple parts. The quest is ,for all intents and purposes, one of the best “sidequests” in the game. Not for its story or gameplay mechanics but the way the quest can take some of your focus on the main storyline and help make the game more interesting; like listening to a small story that is loosely connected to the main game.
Such “small stories” are part of other open world games but they present them in a way that simply has you read them and not interact with them, which can conflict with the game’s essence. Why have a horror game that tells a small story but has you sitting and reading a lengthy paragraph? Not that there’s anything wrong with this but it can slow down the intensity of the story considerablely. This is just one example of how Arkham City handles side quests and other objectives extremely well. There’s always something else to do in the game besides the main storyline and everything else is just as engaging. Let’s move on to a game that captures the feeling of over-saturation of objectives.
What is the main objective of any open world game? Player freedom. The player has the chance to tackle the story and other aspects in any way they want. From the get-go, the player can deviate from the plot immediately and interact with other parts of the game, be it a side mission, gathering collectibles or just travelling. Yet, here is one game that does too much and completely over-saturates the game and makes it feel bloated, as if the developers put as many mechanics in the game as possible in a half-assed way. The game I’m talking about is Assassin’s Creed 3. I’d just like to mention that I do not think Assassin’s Creed 3 is a bad game. It has its moments and is genuinely fun at times but it was completely over-hyped and is one of the worst in the Assassin’s Creed series. Assassin’s Creed 3 is not a bad game, just a bad open-world game!Assassin’s Creed 3 ultimately fails at making a compelling open world. Travelling is a pain, you’re never overly tempted to deviate off the main story quest and there’s tons of features and mechanics that were simply “thrown” in and never visited again. The game is why too many things to complete in open world games is a bad thing. It over-saturates the game. It makes the game feel stretched, bloated and just generally uninteresting.
There needs to be a good balance for open world games in terms of main missions versus side quests. While it is satisfying to have a lot to do for open world games, you can’t just have a hundred flat and terrible side missions compared to a fantastic main mission. If the main mission is much better than the side missions, then no one will complete them. This means that side-stories that can flesh out the main quest become useless and the main mission can suffer because of this.
One of the best ways for an open-world game to treat side-missions is to create them with such care, intensity and good storytelling like the main missions, only in a shorter length. However, let’s see what you think? Do you think that too many side-missions is a bad idea? Let me know in the comments below!