Talking Point: Is Watch Dogs Proof That You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
Posted by Sammy Barker
There’s no shortage of gamer clichés capable of sending groans through the office each time that we encounter them, but this editor has a particularly vehement distaste to the vapid criticisms pertaining to game length. While we can appreciate that gaming is an undeniably expensive hobby, we find it frustrating that consumers are increasingly beginning to correlate content with worth. Big budget first-person shooters such as Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts now need to offer a trio of different game types in order to placate the insatiable appetites of fans, while formerly single player centric experiences like God of War are finding it difficult to adapt. After all, it’s no longer acceptable to sell a solitary six hour story for $60, so ill-advised multiplayer modes are being implemented in order to avoid the ire of keyboard critics around the world.
In isolation, these superfluous additions can be overlooked; the quality of Tomb Raider’s core campaign was not diminished by the inclusion of its unnecessary online suite. However, feature creep is still very much an issue that’s prevalent beyond these tacked on modes, and it’s a problem that’s unmistakably present in most Ubisoft games. Employing management magic tricks, the French firm has mastered the art of multi-team projects, meaning that thousands of employees contribute to each of its major projects around the globe. But while this workflow has the makings of a fascinating business studies course, we’re not convinced that it does the publisher’s products a service, as its output begins to hover around a single homogenised format that lacks the focus of a more tailored release.
Watch Dogs is a perfect example of this predicament. We’ll openly admit that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the sandbox yet, but part of the reason for that is because it consists of more components than an aircraft carrier. While most titles take a couple of hours at most to introduce the main mechanics, we’re still being bombarded with tutorial text several hours in. The sense of discovery is undoubtedly astounding, but we can’t help but ponder whether the scale is really necessary. For example, last night we happened upon a minigame where protagonist Aiden Pearce is encouraged to bounce on top of sunflowers in a three-dimensional Doodle Jump-esque jump-a-thon. The distraction – cheekily dubbed a Digital Trip – is accompanied by several other opium induced activities where you can commandeer a robotic spider or drive through the undead.
Despite not making one jot of contextual sense, all of these activities have multiple levels and even skill trees – and they’re merely represented by the odd icon on the game’s open world map. This atlas is littered with literally hundreds upon hundreds of points of interest, from buildings that you can peruse the background on to crime scenes that you need to investigate. Meanwhile, many people in the world can be hacked for new music tracks and various other gameplay MacGuffins, and that’s before you even consider the random online incidents that you’ll encounter when you’re able to actually access the publisher’s somewhat shaky Uplay servers. Tick these pastimes off your progress checklist and you’ll earn points to input into various different categories, while passing the criteria of various other challenges will further enhance your skills.
It’s an outstanding array of content, but it all gets a bit overbearing at points. The game’s core concept is strong enough to maintain some sense of consistency, but the lack of focus means that it can be difficult to decide what you actually want to do. And it’s not the only Ubisoft title that’s guilty of this offense: the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry have become so overwhelmingly dense that they’re almost impossible to play in short bursts. Merely reaching the next mission marker in any of the above games can take you on countless different diversions, but where the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 3 introduce meaningful content as you explore, it all feels unnecessary and forced in these sandbox games. Do you really need to collect sea shanties and loot a load of animal corpses? Is there any value to the dozens of chests stashed around the world beyond a fistful of Reales and a piece of crafting kit?
The simple solution would be to ignore it all, but that resolution raises the riddle at the centre of this piece: why do such side-quests even exist in the first place? As consumers, we’ve convinced ourselves that more is better, but content has no value if it’s utterly meaningless at its core. Titles like Flower and Journey have proven that there’s more merit to an authored experience than one packed with thousands of trinkets to collect. And while we appear increasingly eager for the industry to sate our insatiable demands, our gluttonous whims are only going to drive the medium down a dark and untenable path. Fortunately, we won’t have time to observe the fallout – after all, we’ve still got 327 feathers to find.
Are you drawn to titles with lots of things to do, or do you wish that more releases would offer a more carefully constructed core? Do you ever even complete the collectathons that some developers create, or do you end up ignoring the majority of a game’s content once you’ve had your fill? Tick another activity off your checklist in the comments section below.