I used to love open-world games.
I remember playing Grand Theft Auto 3. That sandbox Rockstar created absolutely blew my mind. A game where I could drive around and do absolutely anything I wanted was completely unheard of. I can even get out of my car and shoot people? Sign me up.
For me, part of the appeal of open-world gaming was experimentation and exploration. Discovering new things, finding secret areas, learning to fly the dodo (quite an accomplishment, actually), and just generally seeing every tiny corner of that vibrant world was a thrill.
But here I am today, contemplating the idea that I really don’t enjoy the open-world experience as much as I used to. And I think it's because today's design choices and difficulty levels have turned me into something I didn't expect: a lazy gamer.
When I purchased GTA3, I didn’t know much about it. The entire experience was new. I spent hours driving around listening to music and taking in Liberty City’s scenery.
I liked not being told what to do, and the concept that I could do what I wanted when I wanted in a video game was completely fresh to me. As I think back to that time in my life, I probably couldn’t imagine ever wanting to go back to playing something more linear. Now I can.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have as much time to play anymore. I’m no longer a 12-year-old — I have a job, I go to school, and I have a girlfriend. On good days, I probably only have an hour dedicated solely to gaming. I don’t have the time to search and explore a world for hours on end. So I sort of want to be told what to do and exactly where to go.
I think this feeling also evolved from the extreme hand-holding today's titles frequently use. I’d blame this on the industry’s effort to reach a broader audience. Games today need to be ridiculously accessible. They’re for you, your mom, and your little sister, after all; that’s just the way the business has evolved.
Remember classic adventure games like King's Quest? If you forgot to pick up a specific item early on, you were essentially screwed. You had to either start over or pray you had an earlier save file from before your game-ruining mishap. Extreme difficulty levels simply don’t exist anymore. Can you honestly remember the last title you found challenging? I certainly can’t.
I understand that this is a pretty extreme example, but you get the idea. You’d never see something like this happen in a modern release. These days, you've got arrows pointing out where to go, on-screen hint systems, the ability to completely skip certain sequences (like in L.A. Noire)…all of these have become standard aspects of gaming.
In the end, all they’ve made me become is a lazy gamer. When I boot up something new on my Xbox, I want and need it to have all these features. I don’t want to replay certain sequences over and over again. I want to plow through the entire experience uninterrupted.
I understand that some games need to still implement an open, freedom-based world. Can you imagine a linear Grand Theft Auto title? It just wouldn’t be Grand Theft Auto anymore. Final Fantasy 13 also comes to mind — I couldn’t stand that game’s linear design. It just wasn’t Final Fantasy to me. Where was the exploration? Where were the towns? It felt like an on-rails, stale-as-shit RPG. And that’s not what Final Fantasy is supposed to be.
Sometimes I honestly wish I could somehow regain that sense of wonder that came from playing GTA3. I’ve never experienced that complete utter freedom and experimentation since then. Part of me misses that sense of accomplishment gaming used to bring me. Maybe I just can't put in the effort any more.
After saying all this, I know I’ll probably still pick up Skyrim. But the question is, will I actually have time to play it? And will I even enjoy it?