A more open, sandbox-style experience has become the goal of video games in every genre but it exacts a price, rarely serving as more than a means to slow down gameplay with filler, quests in which a super soldier or elite swordfighter acquiesces to deliver the mail, collect some stones, or feed a goat. Sure, it might be fun to ride a horse or drive a planet rover – but for five meaningless minutes to kill a guy and pick three flowers?
First, there are some fantastic open-world titles – The Witcher 3 is a work of art – and the entire point of having vast environments to explore is that the game survives multiple playthroughs and tolerates lots of different styles of play. There’s also no arguing with sandbox games as a distinct genre; it’s the shoehorning of huge environments into games that don’t need them that’s eroding creativity and creating a homogenous RPG scene.
The survival of RPGs into the modern era almost defies explanation, especially given that the genre is the antithesis of high-octane experiences like first-person shooters and sports titles, the most popular video games by a large margin. However, there’s a bourgeoning RPG scene on all platforms, with the “dragons, heroes, and treasure” motif inspiring everything from mobile apps to online casino games.
A good example of the latter recently featured on the Bitcasino blog in an article about Dragon’s Myth, a slot machine game based around a Viking dragon hunter, and one of hundreds available to play on the website. BitCasino, the first licensed Bitcoin iGaming site, also carries similar RPG-themed games like Viking Age, Minotaur, and Flaming Dragon, all of which can be played with the website’s 1BTC welcome bonus.
Mass Effect Andromeda
The biggest offender behind needlessly open worlds is BioWare, the studio behind Dragon Age and Mass Effect, two superb but linear RPGs that became generic open-world titles. In the case of the latter, it’s a crime; the original trilogy was a desperate race against time to stop an alien force consuming all life in the galaxy. Without that pressure to act, scenes like the destruction of Palaven or the invasion of Earth in the third entry are meaningless.
The biggest criticism levelled at Mass Effect Andromeda and Final Fantasy XV was their insistence on pushing an open world without the substance to fill it. The cave with the bad guys and the treasure box that we encountered in Morrowind have been remade wholesale in every RPG since – only now it’s three, four, five times per map. In pursuit of the open world, gamers have become happy to swallow repetition of environments as a selling point.
Dragon Age Inquisition
Call it bloat or overreaching but the biggest issue with expansive worlds is that the sidequest takes precedence over primary objectives and, in such vast numbers, it’s hard to maintain quality of content. Skyrim did it beautifully – there was a lot of rubbish but questlines like the Dark Brotherhood were fun (if morally reprehensible) – but Dragon Age Inquisition has virtually the same quests on every map, with kilometers between them.
There’s nothing about RPGs that demands an open world. The sense of exploration is enhanced when the world is massive but that only matters when there’s something to discover. Just as Final Fantasy XIII proved just how frustrating linear games can be, Andromeda’s forced exploration (the average player will spend 3hrs 15m just on the map by the end of the game) is indicative of the opposite, the sprawling nothingness of the open world.
Final Fantasy VII
“Linear” has become a byword for a negative gameplay experience but it’s an unfair association that ignores the fact that many of the greatest RPGs in history, like Final Fantasy VII-IX, were played in an almost straight line from start to finish. Secrets were rare and going for a wander on the world map represented a diversion into no man’s land rather than a need to investigate a handful of omnipresent compass markers.
Open worlds are increasingly a surrogate for the long-lost ability to pace a game’s content (a game like DOOM proved that when pushed at a fast enough pace linear games can be fantastic experiences) but they’re totally dependent on quality writing. Excluding scenery, neither Dragon Age nor Mass Effect benefited much from their open world. It’s a writing and gameplay crutch that needs to go away.