When a game offers expansive lands, hours upon hours of quests, side quests, alternate routes, branching story lines, Easter eggs, what that game is really doing is challenging the player to invest time into the game.
Want to farm a bit and makes some gold? Go ahead. How about traveling across the great mountainous region to collect some materials for the Gold Shield of the Sleepy Dragon Person of Great Power? Have at it! How long would it take to finish it all? 12 hours? 46 hours? 1 month? 7 months? A year? And even then what does one do with their gold and shield? Tackle the main quest with new weapons that would make overcoming the adventure easier? Use them to equip themselves to face even larger challenges? In the end it really is an investment.
A player’s initial input of such and such hours would have returns of such and such rewards whether they be items, story pieces, areas and quests. The more time that is invested, the greater the returns. Of course in all investments there are of course losses. With every new side quest completed the demon continues to destroy villages. For every flower collected into the log book a family waits for their father. For every chicken kicked a princess waits in her tower.
And I bring this up because I have yet to play a game like that. A game in which every hour lost to racing villagers in a local Dodo race or betting on a herculean reptile fight, the princess still waits in her tower, the Evil Emperor puts off his plans of world domination another day, and a family is still waiting for the father that promised to return to them in a month.
The true loss in the investment of time is the loss of said time, but instead of disappearing or being subtracted from the initial payment, it simply moves into nonexistence. The months of farming and adventuring disappears from canon and once you do decide to return to the action, the campaign against the Demon King or the solving of the key case, the story picks off where you left off, not caring about the farming excursion and instead effectively having that month disappear, and even if you do have that golden shield as proof of collecting materials from across the land for who knows how long, the story treats the item as having materialized from non existence while devouring your time into that same void from which that very shield came from.
The most recent example was L.A. Noire
a game that I consider to be the biggest disappointment of 2011 (so far). A case in homicide which I blundered through, overlooked key evidence, failed interrogations, and ultimately jailed the wrong perpetrator led me to take the lash of a very mad Irish police captain. “The worst goddamn detective in all my years of the force” he says as he puts me back on the beat. But do I have to play 3 hours of patrol again just to get into the man’s good graces again?
Instead I move past to the next case in which he calls me and my partner “His crusaders, against the fight against evil! Truly we are a God send!” Now the incident may be seen as a time lapse of sorts, but to ignore a detective who jailed an innocent man and brutalized witnesses on circumstantial evidence surly must flag a red light in an ever vigilant Irish Teutonic Knight?
Sadly, that and the fact that Cole Phelps is a detestable human being prevented me from enjoying yet another open world game that gave me too much freedom and limitations in all the wrong places.
Freedom is a blanket term for no boundaries, a game in which a player can do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants to do it, but the idea of freedom and a set story works in contradiction with one another. In order to have a story progress in a way the story teller desires there needs to be some restrictions on the actions of the player but the mutant hybrid of free choice and narrative story telling has given birth to the disregard of unity. Sub quests and the Main quest act as if existing in two different worlds. One world is in imminent danger, the other free from such trivial matters, and this small little separation is what drives me crazy about Freedom.
I want a game where the flow of time travels in one direction. A game in which every hour spent procrastinating is time where the Demon King destroys another village, a village that may have been important in stopping said king. Perhaps the princess is executed, but fear not for the story takes a turn towards darker territory where the hero, despised by all the people of the land for letting their beloved princess die, continues to make amends for his mistakes as the loathed anti-hero.
I want a world free from the constraints of non unity. An open world game where not only every decision truly matters, but every hour is of the utmost importance.
A lot to ask?
Maybe, but all we ever get is time.
LOOK WHO CAME: