What was the story of E3 2018 apart from cross-play and an abundance of amazing late-generation games? For me, it was player choice. This is nothing new, of course – the promise that you can “play your own way” has been a buzzword espoused by developers for eons, and it was a particularly prevalent selling-point in last year’s game of the year, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
But I feel like this kind of design philosophy is coming to the fore more, and it’s something that I personally enjoy. I’m having a wild old time with Hitman at the moment, a title that I think has been criminally overlooked on the PlayStation 4, and the way that it empowers players is impressive to say the least; huge sandbox levels become a deadly playground, and you can progress any way you like.
Increasingly, I think games are becoming more about the tools that you’re given, and the freedom that you have to experiment with them. The Last of Us: Part II’s gameplay demo was clearly choreographed, but I think it was designed to demonstrate just how much freedom you’re going to have in that game; it may still be a linear stealth action title at heart, but you’re going to have the option to think on your feet.
Days Gone has similar design sensibilities – albeit borrowed from the Far Cry formula. Sony Bend’s shown how weather dramatically impacts the release’s open world, and this is all going to play into the kind of approaches you can take. Are you going to raid camps all guns blazing or play it stealth; maybe even lure a horde of Freakers to your destination to do the dirty work for you?
Again, it’s nothing new, but I think games are getting better at it. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks to build upon the format of predecessor Origins, leading you to encampments but giving you the freedom to approach them whichever way you like; Spider-Man drops you into combat scenarios and then allows you to plan out your attack options, using a combination of traps and brute strength.
It just feels like games, more than ever, are empowering players with tools and giving them the freedom to be a bit more expressive. Concrete Genie gives you a canvas to paint upon, and whatever you do with it will shape your game; Dreams literally allows you to paint and sculpt anything you can imagine. All of these games, whether story-driven adventures or artistic engines, bring your input to the fore.
And I feel like that’s where we’re at with games now; maybe we’ve been there for a while, but it seemed more obvious than ever at E3 2018 to me. It used to be that, when you had a DualShock in your hands, you followed the rules of the game to progress; now it feels more like the controller is merely your instrument to affect the action in the way that you want. Which is great.
Do you agree that games are becoming a bit more expressive? Do you enjoy the freedom of being able to approach titles any way you like? Plug a bit of your own personality into the comments section below.