"At Some Point You Have To Make a Choice On Where Your Focus Is": Making Side Content Meaningful

On November 17th, Game Informer ran a piece on Just Cause 3, and how it won't be shipping with the multiplayer components that have been giving its predecessor much attention post-release. The PC-based multiplayer mod ended up being probably the biggest story to come out of the game. It wasn't that it was a transcendent experience, but it was sheer pandemonium. It was more of an experiment of "Hey, look what this can be?" and not so much "Look at what this is!"

Not a handsome mod, but certainly an ambitious mod.
Not a handsome mod, but certainly an ambitious mod.

As I said, multiplayer is not one of the hoops that Avalanche Studios is trying to jump through at the moment. Instead, Christofer Sundberg said this:

"We don't expect the fans to make the multiplayer for Just Cause 3, but at some point you have to make a choice on where your focus is. Our strength is the sandbox experience, and we want to deliver a great Just Cause 3 experience."

It has only been a couple years since we stopped calling open-world games "GTA Clones". Games got bigger (as games got smaller), and with that the worlds that player characters exist in expanded with equal measure. Most games have open worlds of some sort, whether its a simple mission hub or a realized universe where you can do anything but engage and progress the story.

The Assassin's Creed franchise has been riddle with the same problem iteration after iteration. The world and all of its post-story or side-story trappings are simply, boring. To add to that, the games have suffered from a general lack of identity and cohesiveness--a side effect of being a Voltron of tiny parts assembled from Ubisoft studios around the world.

It's a really fucking scary Voltron at that.
It's a really fucking scary Voltron at that.

Watch Dogs, which believe it or not was one of the years most anticipated games, has the same issue. Like its Ubisoft cousin, it unfortunately has weak content padding out the games weak story content. It's not just mediocre-to-okay games that this happens to.

Did everybody already forget about this game?
Did everybody already forget about this game?

The critically-acclaimed sleeper hit Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has a large open world that I often found myself sprinting through, past a bunch of screaming, pissed-off orcs because I didn't want to meddle with the side missions. My minimap was nearly always bloated with icons for missions and events that I usually didn't care about. That game thrives often on its unpredictability! For example, while watching two Uruks duel from a cliff, I was attacked by a support archer, and eventually was fighting both dueling Captains and an angry mob on this very cliff. In contrast, ten minutes later I took a side mission and found myself collecting herbs in three different areas so I could make a poison for grog.

Protip: If you stealth kill the five Uruks as the bonus objective, it makes this missions payoff kind of crappy.
Protip: If you stealth kill the five Uruks as the bonus objective, it makes this missions payoff kind of crappy.

To break it down,

  • Poisoning the Grog: Good!
  • A Fetch Quest To Make The Poison For The Aforementioned Grog: Not Good!

Grand Theft Auto V is a game that was on nearly everyones game of the year lists last year, but it's still full of that same brand of open-world nonsense. It's a great game for a lot of reasons, but the Yoga and Golf mini games were never part of those reasons. Coming from the perspective of somebody who is a gamer but also a dad, a husband, a student, and a provider--quality content (and lots of it) is a big plus for me. In fact, I was recently between buying Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Diablo III. Truth be told, I'm technically the least interested in AW, but I knew that I would get tons of mileage out of the multiplayer--so I picked up AW (I got to pick up SoM too. I found a coupon!) But "extra" content can only take me so far.

If I was fourteen, I might end up living in Los Santos a little bit more. But I'm an adult, so I need games that will last, but not games that merely kill time. I hate to be the kind of person who says this, but I sort of don't have time!

This picture is simultaneously what I play and don't play Grand Theft Auto for.
This picture is simultaneously what I play and don't play Grand Theft Auto for.

...

I don't know if Just Cause 3 will be good. I hope it's great! I would very much like it to be. Nonetheless, it's very refreshing to hear a developer come out and say that they're trying to focus on what makes the game great, and not necessarily what makes the game packed. I'm aware that I am extrapolating a little bit. The point is, games can feel complete without feeling like they've run amok with the side bits.

On some level, it is neat that Grand Theft Auto V has what it has. If nothing else, it is impressive. But when open world games fill themselves with these things, the game suffers just like the player does. Instead of games finishing strong, they finish extremely bitter. I didn't finish Grand Theft Auto hot on the heels of a bitching heist, I finished that game doing some deep sea exploration...some tennis, I guess....I bought some real estate? I did a rampage as Trevor and thought about when I first played GTA2. I meandered around Los Santos, sensing that the world that had felt so lively around me an hour or two ago was now just a sea of NPCs with the occasionally interesting side mission. The UFO stuff was clever. I don't know. It was like when you find out your really funny, interesting friend is actually extremely depressed.

This is the best picture I could find.
This is the best picture I could find.

Just because games can be bigger doesn't mean they have to fill the disc. If a developer can deliver a concise, well made experience that doesn't overstay its welcome, that's incredible! That's just what I want! Even better if I can do it all over again.

Nothing is wrong with extra content, but when it's undercooked, it's usually a waste of time that hurt the central aspects of the game at hand. The reality is that multiplayer shooters have given a huge second wind to the console industry, and the decision to not include multiplayer is huge on its own. I want a games core content to be absolutely stunning, those are the legs it should stand on. When a game has a million things to show me, each unremarkable thing makes the remarkable wither. I want my game to stand firmly on two legs, not teeter on ten.

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