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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 July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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