Hello everyone or anyone who was tricked or got accidentally pulled to read this blog. It is my first blog for my favorite video game reviews website.
With the release date of Red Dead Redemption 2 fast approaching, there have been many discussions about Rockstar open-world games. Some very positive and some, surprisingly very negative, and some critical of their approach to open-world design. I was involved in a few of these heated conversations with folks online and while they might get interesting if you finally get past the name-calling and the general "I hate this popular thing because I am pretty cool" point being made by many, they can never solidify into something more than just an interesting conversation on Facebook or wherever. I am very looking forward to RDR2 and with so many articles published online about how the game's new features or stuff the members of different outlets have discovered, have just made me more eager to play this game when the time finally comes. But why is that? Why can't I wait to play it? I started thinking about these questions and the answer to all of them could be put in one sentence: Because it is a Rockstar game!
That is the answer, right? In all these articles and online discussions, there is always talk about RDR2 being a "Rockstar game" rather than being a Red Dead Redemption game. That could be cause for excitement or disappointment depending on the point of view. But one thing is for certain, being a Rockstar game is something different, something special. This is what we are hearing regarding the small playtime, websites had with RDR2. But why? Why is it special or different from AC, for example or any Ubisoft open-world game? And if you, like me, are super excited for the next Rockstar open-world game, why do you have such fond memories of their games that their brand has become synonymous with surprise for you? I decided to find out.
One of the reasons is that it is very refreshing that some big company is not willing to release annual iterations of a game and therefore, the unknown factor still exists with them, whereas with something like AC, we more or less what we are going to get from a new one. The other reason is how their games are designed. So, I started playing GTA V as a form of preparation for RDR2 and to also find out why I love these games so much. Or rather why do I think I'm going to get something different from them?
GTA V is so cool after all these years. I actually really like the characters and the story and other than a few annoying design decisions (the police chases suck very much), it still hols up. Open world games have been improved a lot lately and we have had some fantastic ones since the release of GTA V. Witcher 3 is still my favorite game of current generation, AC: Origins is my favorite AC and hope Odyssey continues the good work, and this years Spider-Man has been a very fun experience to have in a superhero open-world game. Worlds made in these games are fascinating to discover and there are tons to do in all of them and more importantly, they all make you feel part of their world. Moreover, it is super easy to get around in these games. All of the aforementioned ones have fast travel and side activities are all marked for you. Of course, all of these are true for GTA as well but in that game, you need to call a cab and use that for fast travel. Some side activities are marked but some are random encounters which you might not discover at all. And the biggest different between GTA and a game like AC is that you can do a lot of stuff in GTA which have no impact on the story nor any meaningful progression for your character. You could buy a bicycle and ride it all the way to the top of the mountain and other than your stamina increase, you will get no reward. That is the difference. Games like AC reward you with every act that you do, with XP or currency. Because they want to give you a reason to do side activity. Even Witcher makes Gwent, probably the best card game in a video game, more meaningful by having a major quest tied to it. But nobody in GTA V gives you a mission which includes playing tennis or golf, if not a tutorial for the activity. Most of the open-world games have inventory slots in which you change the character's clothes or armor and if you want to buy anything, you can go to a specific type of merchant and just buy whatever you need from them. However, in GTA or RDR, you need to go to a specific store and take care of your needs. So, you see my point. Whereas, many open-world games have gone the route of cutting the time the player spends doing stuff unrelated to the story or world-building, Rockstar continues to let players waste time doing mundane activities. Yesterday, I just spent 4 hours climbing a mountain and playing tennis and golf. I didn't get any reward for them other than some stories which I have of what happened to my character while I was doing them and how good it felt once I accomplished them. I won't forget how I caught the sunset on the beach while I was walking my dog or how I managed to parachute from the top of the mountain and land in a parking lot and immediately catching a ride or jumping onto a train going north when I also wanted to go north. All these details, these mini quests made for myself by myself made me feel part of the world. Not beyond it, not above it, but part of it. That is the special feeling I was looking to find.
As I said, some might disagree with me. They might argue that you waste a lot of time in these games and they might favor a checklist, as used by plenty of Ubisoft games, to get through the game. Some would prefer having a more powerful playable character rather than someone who would go down so easily in a firefight. That is all fair. But to me, those are all why these games are special. In Witcher 3, Spider-Man, AC:Origins, Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs, and plenty others, you always play as a superhero and I don't just comic book superheroes. I mean an extraordinary talented person. Someone with special abilities or powers who can dominate the world. Even in Sleeping Dogs, you play as a super awesome martial arts dude who jumps on cars and shoots at them while jumping off of them. (Sleeping Dogs is awesome!). In AC games, you can see through walls, kill people without anyone noticing, and fight more than a dozen men without flinching. All of these are awesome to do in open-world games because, basically the world becomes your plaything. Compare that to protagonists in Rockstar games and you can find to be very human. They are citizens of the world and therefore bound by its rules. If they want to change their appearance, they would have to go to a shops and try clothing at different sections. If they want to do something crazy, they need to be careful not to die. Even their special abilities, such as dead eye or time slowing down in GTA V is limited in scope. They cannot fly nor climb buildings. So, going to the top of a mountain is not a normal thing to do, it is an accomplishment on its own. Parachuting onto a moving car is something they will not forget. And we as players controlling them, won't forget either. That is the draw of these games. Everybody is on equal footing and if you can pull of something incredible, that would feel really good. The world is not your plaything and you cannot dominate it. But you can understand it, learn from it, and use the knowledge to your advantage. That is why we call an experience, immersive. These worlds draw you in and invite you to explore them using the mechanics that are made for humans, warts and all. You feel like you are living in San Andreas or New Austin or Liberty City rather than playing around in it. These are the game in which you can have a to-do list, none of which would be quest related. When you are living in Los Santos, sometimes you just want to go out with your dog and play catch with him. Or you just want to go for a bike ride or go hunting in the wilderness. When you feel like you are living there, none of the side activities feel like chores to you. While some of them are part of a checklist, the checklist itself is not in your face, reminding you every step of the way that you are playing a game and the world is designed for you. In GTA, San Andreas is made for its residents and you are controlling one of them. It is not made for the player to dominate. This is why so many stories like the ones mentioned pop up in GTA or RDR and are not related to any story elements. And it is why I love Rockstar open-world games.
I can say I have lived in San Andreas but I cannot say I have lived in Egypt but rather I played in Egypt. Both of those experiences are worthwhile and super fun. But only one of them is afforded every few years. I cannot wait to live in the world of RDR2 and try to manage its elements, which by the looks of it, are so many to discover. Hold on Arthur, I am coming to you.