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.
I agree with all of this.
But I can't help but feel some irony in this site, based around PlayStation, banging the "Play Your Way" drum given...you know...PlayStation lately.
@LaNooch1978 It's also a very different kind of game. It's more akin to...I think a text based adventure from the old days just in modern styles is the best way of framing it for comparison.
Maybe its because 'Open World' is in vogue right now and 'Linear' is seen as 'lesser'. Games like Uncharted and God of War, despite being 'linear' also created more of an illusion of being 'open' - U4 with its Wide Linear, U:LL with that big hub area - both also allow you to stealth or go in guns blazing too and God of War with its Lake of Nine area which also offered some side quests.
Maybe its because we are seeing games that have been designed purely with this generation in mind (at least as a 'minimum') and so they are now able to offer much more than the single scripted path through a game, open up the levels more and put more choice in.
Last of Us 2 may well of looked scripted but until we get to play and see how choice we have, see how it plays out for us, we have only seen 1 person tackle it and in their way. It also highlights some of the technology that this gen allows - the hiding in vegetation - something we saw in Uncharted 4 too (as well as H:ZD) which adds a lot more 'stealth' options. That coupled with better AI can transform the game. Enemy paths are less choreographed and the fact that vegetation offers more option than just moving from one 'low wall' to another offers more potential to go from stealth to guns blazing and back to stealth.
I like to play games that give me options to play how i like. they add a lot to replay value and make the games more fun imo. that's why i love rpgs they let you be and play how you like and you can potentially play hundreds of hours with different playstyles and never get bored.
In my opinion if you're making a single player games you should either have a long campaign to give people their money's worth or make the game sandbox/open world and add more stuff to do. horizon zero dawn and god of war are great examples of games that are only single player but you can literally play hundreds of hours and they wouldn't get boring.
whether it's by having rpg elements (bloodborne, persona 5), making a beautiful open world game with different side activites (Horizon zero dawn and gow), having sandbox elements and stealth (uncharted 4, the last of us) or branching storylines and dilemmas (Detroit, Until Dawn) a game needs to have something to make you want to play them again.
That’s happening with single-player games recently. Another example is Dishonored 2, you can kill everyone or use stealth and non-lethal methods, both have consequences and different conclusions. I’m really impressed with Detroit: Become Human as well, I’m still on my first playthrough and already want to play again after I finish it to see different paths and conclusions.
About the crossplay thing, this is not as big as the gaming media is pretending to be.
I like god of war and uncharted "wide linear" more compared to open world games, but I don't have problem with great open world games like horizon zd, witcher 3 and assassin creed origin (and odyssey).
@Knuckles-Fajita Yup, it's like the evolution of adventure games like grim fandango or monkey island, with more player choice and less absurd puzzle.
@LaNooch1978 In a way it does have lots of player agency, though. It’s a different form of it, but the number of permutations and outcomes is unprecedented, so in a way you do have lots of agency over what happens.
@wiiware I figured that was the best way of looking at it. Nice to see those kinds of games keep on going.
B... bu... but... LESBIANS!!11!!1!!!1
Eh, I agree partly.
Too many games try to make you feel like you have freedom but at the same time are too afraid to let you off the reigns and just crack on.
Assassins Creed Origins, for example. A potentially fun game that I simply can't enjoy because of the hints and directions popping up in my face constantly pushing me toward doing what the game wants me to do next. "No fun allowed!"
But then for every Assassins Creed, you have a Breath of the Wild. (Ha, I wish.)
Most games have a while to go yet, IMO. But they are getting better.
Edit: I haven't given up on Origins just yet though, gunna push on and see if I can get past my gripes with it.
@kyleforrester87 It must be tough to balance the freedom with the guidance that some players presumably need. But yeah I agree.
Games with lots of choice allowing you to play however you want are great, but games that are more restrictive and focus on just making that one experience as brilliant as possible are good too.
It's good to see more games having more freedom, but that doesn't mean that every game will be suited to this model.
This has to be one of the worst takes I've heard about The Last of Us Part II. If the original The Last of Us had any less interaction or player choice, it'd be a movie, and I expect the sequel to be the same.
It depends for me. I have enjoyed open world games with lots of player freedom, but I always feel more comfortable playing something linear, or at least with a strong narrative structure guiding the player along. The modern Persona games strike a balance I'm happy with, or in a completely different genre, the Dishonored games. The small open world sandbox levels in Dishonored are very well made and I like how they encourage the player to try and array of different methods.
Too much freedom stresses me out, because I worry if I'm going about it the wrong way. Although I grew to really enjoy Breath of the Wild, I still prefer the older Zelda games, linearity and all.
Agreed. I think AC Unity hit the nail on the head with this, I can’t think of game that let me make my own solutions more than it. Going for a clean Assassination, an S rank so to speak, made the game incredibly fun. I think real player choice lies in more than stealth Vs guns blazing though. So far in BotW, and this might change, but I think that the “choice” isn’t as impressive or really open as everyone says it is. I hope my opinion changes thought.
I'm loving botw at the minute, the absence of handholding and intrusive hud/map points (Not needed because investigating things that look interesting is rewarded) or weird muttered under the breath pointers if your struggling with something is fantastic. However, overall I'm probably more of a fan of wide linear for narrative driven games. Sometimes that open world do what you want, player choice is key thing smashes narrative and pacing. I love witcher 3 so much but there's no denying that the pacing was hurt (admittedly by my own choice) as I gave up on the hunt for Ciri for a bit to forge witcher gear!!!
Player choice is something I like seeing at the front of game design. I hate it when a game punishes me because I didn't play a specific way, even if that way is counterproductive.
@EXP Pretty much. And plus, dealing with enemies in different ways is nothing new. Games have allowed that for a long time.
I agree with the point of the article, but TLoU is not a game I think of when I think of games that allow a lot of freedom. It's essentially a movie with gameplay that involves stealth, shooting, and very basic melee combat. (And plenty of walking and pushing crates around and climbing ladders, which is quite dull. Great game otherwise, but still)
I love seeing player choice. I think it makes the games so much better. I know a lot of people don’t like that but maybe, like we have easy and hard difficult levels, Games could come out with How much guidance you want in the game. Being an old fart I tend to like the guidance. But I like open games with lots of choices.
there's a fine balance needed to player control imo, too much freedom and it's easy to lose to control of narrative momentum. i prefer the way uncharted 4 did it, compared to say far cry for example. sneaking up on outposts, taking out binoculars and marking targets, hunting animals, it's all virtually muscle memory, it's so familiar from game to game, each map just littered with waypoints telling you there's stuff to do, and running (or driving) from marker to marker. when the player has total control, the pace of the narrative is easily lost.. there has to be a point where the game needs to reign you back to the narrative, or it'd be better off simply not having one. after about 5 or 6 hours of far cry 4, i'd completely forgot where the story was at or even what it was about, and the familiar game play from FC3 had got old.. i'd stopped caring and benched it. assassin's creed origin is the same.. no denying the world's look better than ever, and the combat is mixed up a bit, but fundamentally it hasn't changed enough since ezio's trilogy for me, and i thought that story was better told. giving players the tools to basically faff about in the world any way they please without thought to how they service the pace of the narrative (where there is one) is actually a poor design choice imo. destiny 2 had you facing impending doom (or some nonsensical guff) but allowed to you go off and do a bunch of random busywork for hours and hours anyway.. though that game had plenty of other problems than just its story.
i disagree that TLoU does not offer freedom.. in some situations there are several ways to tackle encounters, depending on your circumstances. the library for example, you could simply shoot your way through, if you had the ammo. you could try stealth takedowns, or simply ghost your way through and out the back door.. which may have been the safest option, but it meant passing up the opportunity to scavenge for vital parts and ammo, which were already scarce enough. there was a risk reward scenario there, as there was in many situations throughout the game.
It's not about if, but how for me. If done well, both approaches can work, and any other trying to strike a balance somewhere in between. Control is always an illusion, which the player is fooled to have more or less of. Look at all those guides that come out alongside games, everything's been cracked before anyone had a chance to figure it out, minus some unintended bugs, of course. As a fairly mature player now, with age I find being less and less fooled and more and more... bored by the predictability of games, so am choosing what I spend my time on playing more carefully. Disappointments happen more often, too. So, as a maturing medium it's no surprise to me that developers will try and keep chasing those 'power to the player' moments as the target keeps moving.
It's so nice to come to a comment section where there's actually proper discussions. My social media feed has been nothing but the F word all day.
Elite Dangerous is a great game for player choice. You can literally go anywhere and choose any path you desire with any ship you like, customised to your own preferences. Unfortunately the sacrifice is narrative, there isn't one. Would certainly be nice to have both.
Very excited to see what Cyperpunk 2077 has to offer, sounds like it will have the best of both worlds.
@adf86 sounds like twitter lol
@RoyalD It certainly was lol
@kyleforrester87 Lol might has well be
@KirbyTheVampire While I get what you're saying (although I do think it's a reductive way to look at the original TLoU), the sequel gameplay reveal clearly demonstrated a massive evolution in the options available to you, which I think supports my point that more games are moving in a direction that allows you to be more expressive with how you play.
@get2sammyb Fair enough. The gameplay looks pretty similar to the original to me (although the levels do look quite open compared to the original game, which does support your point, and they seem to have expanded on other aspects as well), but I do agree with your main point that games have become a lot more based on player freedom than they were in the past, even outside of Sony. Just look at games like Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.
Games are becoming more narrative and I love it! I’m still able to jump into the arcade-style games but the story-driven games are my cup of tea. Even though the PS2 era was flooded with many RPGs (my choice genre) I’m finding this era to be my favorite.
@PS_Nation The gameplay during the parts with enemies is great. The rest, not so much IMO. It felt like they just thought to themselves "We don't know what to do here, so let's just have the players move objects around and float Ellie across water." Again, really great game, and Part II is one of my most anticipated games, but the slower parts of the game were not fun for me.
And what makes you think the gameplay in BotW is bad? No hate, I'm just curious. I personally thought the core gameplay was the best part of BotW. The other aspects of the game like the story and the exploration (primarily due to a lack of variety in the stuff you can find) were the low points of the game for me.
@KirbyTheVampire Okay. I don't mind the parts you mentioned because it's a change of the pace during the game, maybe the developers wanted to show the apocalyptic scenarios and build the relation between Joel and Ellie through the dialogues. Anyway, I respect your opinion if you didn't like this part.
About BotW, my main issue was the combat, I had fps problems while fighting enemies like the Lynel and Guardians. I also think they focused too much on trials and crafting, the side-quests could be more interesting too, I was tired of doing trials and fetching items. Anyway, the game is not bad, far from it, also it looks like I'm the minority judging by the reception and scores.
I also deleted my first comment, reading again I sounded like a douche.
In all these games you still need to kill or evade the enemy except concrete genie.
People says they like more choice but games like fallout get dumbed down and stream lined not expanded, with positive financial results. In fallout 1 you could make your intelligence so low you couldn't properly communicate with people and would constantly get ripped off in bartering because you were poor at math. Now you press 1 of 4 buttons for happy; sad; mad; or confused.
@wiiware I like your term "Wide Linear".. Me too prefer this than open-world sand-box which results in less narrative game...
AGREED. VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY HAS MATURED AND GAMERS WANT A MORE REALISTIC FEEL IN GAMES. ITS FORTUNATE THAT GAMING GIANTS HAVE STEPPED UP IN THIS REGARD. BETTER CHARACTER MOTION, BETTER ENEMY AI, FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT ARE GREAT FOR INDUSTRY INNOVATION. WIDE LINEAR IS PREFERABLE TO ME THAN OPEN WORLD.
@sonicmeerkat Ive noticed this with the swathe of RPG lite games, they pretty much boil down to looting, crafting and putting the best stuff on which is easier to program and balance. Back in the day when there wasnt a one size fits all approach, loads of different mechanics were tried out with more imagination.
That said I think @get2sammyb is referring to emergent gameplay, scenarios quickly evolve around you and you have to change tactics accordingly.
@PS_Nation That's fair enough. I think they could have added more variety to your objectives during slower parts, but they did do a solid job of using those segments to expand on Ellie and Joel's relationship.
I personally didn't notice frame drops while fighting in BoTW, and I thought the combat was very enjoyable, but yeah, there was very little variety in the game overall. That's probably my biggest issue with the game.
And nah you're fine lol, I didn't take any offense.
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