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The Problem With Storytelling in Sandbox Games

GameZone: Are open-world games forgoing compelling narratives for player freedom?

Since its release last month, Final Fantasy XIII has taken a lot of criticism for the extreme linearity of its gameplay. As Wired's Chris Kohler puts it, "Every level is one long Hallway of Death, and you run down its interminable length, never moving left or right, always running forward. There is always only one thing to do next, and it is always either fight a short battle or watch a long movie." The first 15+ hours of the game are spent this way. There are no towns to explore, no NPCs to talk to and no side quests to take, leaving many long-time Final Fantasy fans disgruntled and many game critics split on whether they love the game or hate it.

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AlexC3105d ago

I agree that BioWare is striking the best balance between story telling and freedom... take Mass Effect for example. Basically, you're granted the illusion of control, which allows for a mighty fine narrative.

kaveti66163105d ago (Edited 3105d ago )

I agree that simplified or weaker storylines *can* become a problem in open-world, free-roam RPGs, but honestly this is not a problem that has affected me as I have played games like Fallout 3. I understand that the tight narrative is not possible because the player chooses what to do and when to do it, thus fragmenting the story. But the way I played Fallout 3 was that I was always exploring whatever new missions were available to me ONLY after I completed what was already in my objective list. Sometimes I did it differently, but I got the gist of the story throughout my playthrough and I always felt the depth of the story behind my actions.

Bethesda could have designed the game in such a way where certain missions would not be available to the player unless he completed the main missions, and I think they did it that way for the most part, but in other areas you can do a certain mission and unwittingly eliminate an entire list of missions that would present themselves to you. For example, if you destroy Megaton. But overall, I prefer the free-roam aspects of Fallout 3 and feel that the writers actually created a wonderful world for me to explore with lots of easter eggs in every nook and cranny. The linearity of Final Fantasy XIII sounds very suffocating from what I've read, and even though the FFXIII devs said it was done on purpose in order to deliver a compelling story, I also heard that the story sucked and the characters weren't that great anyway.

So, it looks like they made a crappy cake and ate it too.

More linear action adventure games like Uncharted 2 also bother me. Naughty Dog should try harder next time in making their games less linear. Although UC2 is a masterpiece, I didn't enjoy the linearity of it.

rezznik3101d ago

I think that for a lot developers, finding the balance between the two is going to be the key for moving forward. I mean, look at GTA IV. Sure it didn't have a world-changing fabula (google it) but it was entertaining and Nico was a decent lead.

Or maybe look at Mass Effect 2. It's got a great cast of characters and story while still retaining a fair bit of exploration.

kimvidard3099d ago

I don't want to have to go through the boring hallway of Doom. But that is mainly because what is worse than a game with no freedom is a game with poorly handled freedom (Adventure games are completely linear, but can be awesome, like the Monkey Island games). On the other hand, FF13 looks (I have not played it for that very reason yet) to be trying to guide you but still pretend to be a large world (who cares if it's large when it is confined to a long corridor?). But I think it is safe to assume that neither Bethesda nor Bioware would ever do that. I would not mind behind held by the hand throughout Mass Effect if it meant getting rid of the dull moments the game has (the very first mission when you finally leave the citadel in the first game is SOOO boring, and yet it is the point from which you can go anywhere and do anything).

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