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Editorial

It’s Time For Open Worlds To Shrink

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One of the trends I’ve noticed pick up steam these past couple of years has been the rise of open world games. The Far Cry series in particular has become synonymous with them, but there’s plenty of other examples, including Dragon Age: Inquisition, the GTA series, Red Dead Redemption, Watch Dogs, the Saint’s Row series, and probably a dozen more you could name off the top of your head. Some of these were actually pretty damn good, with something like Red Dead Redemption receiving almost universal acclaim across the board. Many of the others though just felt like their open world was tacked onto the game as a feature simply because it’s part of the zeitgeist.

The best example I can think of of an open world game that really didn’t need it was Dragon Age: Inquisition. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some BioWare RPGs even though they have been of decidedly mixed quality since their takeover by EA. I wouldn’t call Inquisition a bad game, but at the same time I wouldn’t say it was a great game, either. A great deal of the side missions that send you all over the world are completely average. The game puts you at the head of an organisation where you are looking at the big picture and making weighty geopolitical decisions over things that truly matter – so why does it then ask me to personally collect blankets for refugees? Or find herbs that will cure one sick person? These sorts of side-quests to pad out the game’s content actually make me feel like less of a badass because I’m being bothered by trivial minutiae instead of the epic storyline of the game.

dragonageinquisition_exploringthehinterlands

The Hinterlands, aka “the zone at the beginning of the game that never goddamn ends”

And while being sent all over Inquisition‘s world can be an annoyance, the aesthetics of the world itself are amazing. There are beautiful deserts, lush waterfalls, dense forests – each as distinctive as they are intricate. And there’s nothing like finding some obscure quest in a little-trod part of the world to give you the thrill of seeing what not a lot of people have probably gotten around to. On the whole though it just feels like designing these dozen or so massive zones – which wouldn’t exactly feel out of place in an MMO like World of Warcraft – added a good year or two to the development of the game without getting a whole lot in return. To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins out of context: it feels like butter scraped over too much bread. If you look closely enough you can see some of the holes underneath.

Given that BioWare have already stated that Mass Effect Andromeda is going to be heading in this same “open world” direction, I worry they’re going to make the same mistake with that game, too. I don’t need an open world if the narrative of your storyline is good enough. I don’t need you to provide an extra 30+ hours of content running side-missions if all it does is remind me that I’m nowhere near as cool as I think I am. This isn’t me hating on open worlds as a whole. Done right, and by a developer experienced in the genre, they can be truly exceptional. Rockstar have basically got the idea down pat, and Red Dead Redemption is one of the finest examples of an open world game you will ever see. With The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red have also crafted what many are saying is one of the best open world games in recent memory, too. And Ubisoft did some very cool things with both Far Cry 3 and 4 when it came to including things off the beaten track for people to find without making it feel like you were just treading water, waiting for the next “main” thing to happen.

Yes, please!

Yes, please!

Like “gimmick” celebrity voice acting, turning games into franchises to be milked like a cow, and adding social media interactivity to your titles, open world gaming is merely the latest buzzword that marketers are using. It can be done well, it can be done poorly, but it most certainly doesn’t need to be in every other game, especially if it adds time but not a lot of worthwhile content. Dragon Age: Inquisition did not need to be an open world title, and I felt was a worse game for having shoehorned it in.

When it comes to an RPG world as beloved as Dragon Age‘s, BioWare and other developers need to understand that “more” does not always mean “better”.

I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in May 2019

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May

May offers no respite from the big, bold games that have released so far in 2019, bringing with it a host of games almost certain to appeal to gamers of every stripe.

Close to the Sun

Release Date: May 2, 2019
Platforms: PC, consoles later in the year

May’s first major release may also be its most intriguing. Close to the Sun has regularly attracted comparisons to BioShock for its art style and premise, though the relationship between the two titles is, at best, spiritual.

Players take the role of journalist Rose Archer as she steps aboard Nikola Tesla’s ship, the Helios in 1897. Like Andrew Ryan before him (or after him, depending on perspective), Tesla has created a microcosm in which scientific freedom is unrestricted, with disastrous outcomes. Rose’s first impression is of a quarantine sign at the entrance to a still, dead ship, but she presses on regardless in search of her lost sister.

With Close to the Sun, developer Storm in a Teacup aims to provide an intense horror experience. The Helios holds none of BioShock’s shotguns or Plasmids. Instead, players have no means to defend themselves, with gameplay focusing on hiding from and escaping the threats on board.

Check out OnlySP’s final review of the game here.

RAGE 2

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

For anyone to whom the slow, meditative approach does not appeal, Bethesda is busting out the big guns with the long-awaited, little-expected sequel, RAGE 2.

This time around, id Software has tapped Just Cause and Mad Max developer Avalanche Studios for assistance in developing an open-world game. The result, if the trailers are any indication, is a breakneck, neon-fuelled experience that focuses on insanity and ramps up all the unique aspects of the earlier game.

One focal point of development has been ensuring the interconnectedness of the game’s structure, and the teams have promised a greater focus on narrative this time around. Perhaps in keeping with that, RAGE 2 is being distanced from its predecessor, taking place 30 years later with a new protagonist and a whole new story, though some callbacks will be present.

Although id’s legendary first-person gunplay is a driving force throughout the game, it will be supplemented by some light RPG elements, robust vehicular combat, and post launch challenges and support (though the developers deny that RAGE 2 is designed with a games-as-a-service model in mind).

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Release Date: May 14, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Out on the same day as RAGE 2 is the vastly different A Plague Tale: Innocence. A historical adventure, the game challenges players with overcoming obstacles with brains rather than brawn.

Players become Amicia, an orphan girl struggling to survive in a plague-infested medieval France while also keeping her younger brother safe. With the landscape rife with rats and members of The Inquisition, one of the core tenets of gameplay is reportedly the need to use these threats against each other. As such, though Amicia has a sling to use, the gameplay is designed more as survival puzzles than combat ones.

Developer Asobo Studio is not a household name, though it has a lengthy history of adaptations and support on major titles, including Quantum Break and The Crew 2. Furthermore, even though A Plague Tale is yet to release, publisher Focus Home Interactive has displayed remarkable confidence in the project by extending its partnership with Asobo.

Honourable Mentions

Although RAGE 2 is the incontestable action-blockbuster of the month, gamers in search of another kind of frenetic may want to wait until May 21, when Curve Digital drops American Fugitive, which has a more than passing resemblance to the earliest Grand Theft Auto games. Alternatively, PlayStation VR owners may want to look into Blood and Truth come May 28.

Sega also shines this month, dropping Team Sonic Racing on May 21 and Total War: Three Kingdoms two days later.

Anyone looking for an RPG has indie’s answer to The Outer Worlds, Within the Cosmos, to look out for on May 30, while those looking for slower stories get the latest episode of Life is Strange 2 on May 9, Observation on May 21, and the fjord-noir Draugen at a yet unspecified date.

Have we forgotten anything that you’re excited for? Let us know down below or on our Discord server.

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