Welcome to the Wild Hunt. Welcome to the nuclear wasteland. Welcome to a Soviet ruled Afghanistan.
2015 was an evolution in gaming. We don’t quite know it yet, but in twenty years, we’ll rank 2015 up there with the years that really defined gaming. That evolution is sandbox gaming.
Depending on who you speak to, open world gaming has been around since as early as 1981. Since then, and in the run up to last year, we’ve had a few games dotted around that would fit into the bracket but Grand Theft Auto 3 probably kick-started the movement into what we see today. Just like the squid like alien that Elizabeth Shaw gave birth to in Prometheus, GTA3 gave birth to the raft of open world titles the have started to flood the market over the last few years.
When I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up! – Rodney Dangerfield
For me, a sandbox game should offer hours, if not days of replay value, it should offer a different experience to each player and events and locations should be varied enough to retain interest. Is that really enough though, or is TOO much?
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for games. Show me an advert and a decent review and the bookies have stopped taking bets on me buying the game. Last year, among others I bought The Witcher 3, Arkham Knight, The Phantom Pain and Fallout 4, the latter being a Christmas present. For what sandboxers should offer, just one of those games should have kept me going, especially with the amount of DLC they were offering in the months following the initial release.
You know what though? I got bored of every single one bar Arkham Knight.
The world’s too big, Mom! – Clark Kent
On average, I probably only spend a few hours a week on my PS4 and they’re completely sporadic so getting a good chunk of time to get into something rarely happens. If I was able to get more time or at least the motivation to sit down for hours and get into a sandboxer, I might feel different. Right now though, I just feel that they’re a bit too big.
Let’s look at Fallout as the main example. Don’t get me wrong, it IS fun. I’ve just found that it’s not grabbing my attention as much as the hype suggests it should. Maybe it’s down to the fact that the lead character is supposed to represent me, rather than a pre-defined character from Bethesda. I don’t think it’s that though because I felt the same about The Phantom Pain and they provided me with one of the best characters ever created in Big Boss.
Thinking about the main story, I’m not really that emotionally drawn to it and for a character that’s looking for his kidnapped son, I should probably care a little more. I just don’t. And if I compare it to the one sandboxer I genuinely enjoyed, Arkham Knight, I think we’ve found the problem. It’s not a new argument I’m peddling, it’s actually one I’ve made before. But a sub-standard storyline in games like Fallout, for me, mean the enjoyment value is so much less than it should be for such a beautiful looking piece of work.
Going backwards, and to back up my point, I’ve probably been a bit harsh putting The Witcher in the same basket. I actually really enjoyed Witcher for a long time; I just found it too big. I put some long hours into that game but it got to the point where I didn’t feel like I’d even touched the surface and if I can’t see an end point in a game, I’m ready to move on.
A small world where people know each other, and still so deep, able to get lost. – Anthony Liccione
I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. Open world games sell millions of copies so they’re obviously extremely popular. I just don’t see how you can get full enjoyment unless you can really invest your time into the game, and with people leading busier lives, who has that time to invest?
When playing Fallout, I’ve found myself wanting something a bit more linear, something like the Resident Evil remake (that I’ve downloaded but still haven’t played). It’s almost on the rails but there’s enough to do and enough of a storyline to keep me hooked until the end. And that’s the point. I can see an end point with that, just like I could with Arkham Knight. It feels as though I’m building towards something rather than surviving in a game that has no end. I don’t want to live my life in a nuclear wasteland, I want to complete some missions, find my son and watch the credits roll.
I need some closure and I just don’t feel like Fallout can offer me that.
In saying that, I might go fire it up and run away from some feral ghouls before they attack Dogmeat and I lose my sh*t.