All Killer, No Filler

The Just Cause 3 trailer is here. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is upon us. Dragon Age: Inquistion surprised with “Game of the Year” at DICE. And I’m tired of open-world.

More specifically, I’m tired of side-quests.

The first post to relaunch my personal blogging, Finding The Rails, attempted to capture an idea that like RPGs, there is a tricky balance to life between rails and side-quests. After a year out of college, I found difficulty in finding focus in my professional growth. School always provided a rail; you stay on track and graduate. What was often heard but never comprehended was the idea that after school, life changes. Priorities change. Responsibility kicks in. Time flies by. Emotions are juggled.

Somewhat recently, I purchased a PS4 — in large part to play Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. I had completed the main quest, but throughout my playthrough, I continually felt compelled to seek out side-quests and collectibles. Like commanding an unruly Graug, I felt I had to continually redirect my attention to the main goal. Thankfully, I had completed enough side-quests and gathered enough collectibles to level Talion up enough progress through to the (lackluster) end.

This should not have been the case. Side-quests and collectibles should not be necessary to complete a game. Arguably, the greatest games of all time were played in a roughly linear manner. Super Mario Bros. (and most of its iterations) is (are) extremely linear and hold up today. Mega Man games provide boss patterns that streamline the game’s experience. Hell, even Final Fantasy games feel largely liner amongst the Skyrims and Dragon Age: Inquisitions of today. (Yes, I am giving FFXIII a pass — nay, credit — for it’s extreme use of linear gameplay, especially when FFVII and FFX feel like average adventure games amongst the throng of open-world, 100+ hour games of today.)

It goes without saying that hours upon hours of gameplay lure consumers to the idea that value is based on dollars spent per hour played. (Sales strategy? Definitely. Blocking mechanism against rival product? Possibly.) But when three hours of an 80+ hour game feel like a slog, how can one be expected to reap the entire value?

Today, Polygon published a piece from Tristan Ettleman on the trends of low-income gamers:

I expected to find a robust multiplayer game at the core of every low-income gamer’s library. Industry trends, the “content galore” allure of multiplayer gameplay and my own experience led me to believe that sticking to a popular online game was the most cost-efficient way to maintain a passion for video games.

That’s not the case. Time is another resource that’s in short supply when you’re struggling to pay the bills, so shorter, story-based games become a big draw.

This is an interesting observation, and one that does not stop at the low-income gamer.

I recently purchased Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4, both of which topped countless “Best of 2014” lists. I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel tricked into playing side-quest after side-quest before fully comprehending the story and stakes. Even the controls and mechanics still felt foreign after hours and hours of play. I’ve given my two-cents about exploitative gameplay, and even though these lengthy AAA titles aren’t picking at my wallet every few minutes, they’ve certainly got me pissing away $60 for upwards of five hours of playtime before I’m tapped out. All for the allure of spectacular visuals, the promise of storytelling, and conversation amongst the gaming community.

Books are focused. Movies are focused. Music is focused. Most pre-GTAIII video games are focused. My job, my relationships, my life is/are not. Call it another “get off my lawn” moment, but I need some focus in my games.

All killer, no filler.