Emotional Range of a Teaspoon
Shortly after I started playing Fallout: New Vegas (which I still haven’t finished, but that’s a story for another day), my character got into a situation in which she had to rally some villagers to defend their village against an attack of the evil Powder Gangers. One of the villagers was quite a friendly young lady who didn’t go anywhere without her trusty dog. Then her dog died in the attack, but she didn’t care or even mention it at all.
I get that making a huge open-world game like Fallout: New Vegas takes a lot of resources and that you won’t really have the ability to script responses to every possible situation, but events like these really cut into immersion. This really makes me wonder if it isn’t better to have an on-rails type of story like that in Mass Effect or Dragon Age instead of an open world.
I’m not a hard person to please where the conveying of certain emotions is concerned. Give me a nice pre-battle speech full of pathos or kill the owl that has been with the protagonist for six years (spoiler alert!) and you’ve already got me. Hell, the Normandy’s first approach to the Citadel in the original Mass Effect was already almost enough to bring me to tears. You won’t need absolutely top-level writers to get me immersed in a game’s storyline, but there has to be actual writing and open-world games simply can’t afford much of that.
It wouldn’t have been very hard to alter the piece of dialogue in Fallout: New Vegas from “Hooray, we beat the Powder Gangers” (paraphrased) to something along the lines of “You killed my dog. Why did I ever agree to help you?” but I would wager that there are a million other situations in the game that would benefit from equal care and that it is simply impossible to catch them all. Reducing the number of possible events directly reduces the creative writing resources needed and frees writers up to improve upon the left-over pieces of story.
None of this means that open-world games (or generally games without a lot of story) can’t be really damn good, but they don’t advance us towards the point where video games could be considered art, or the point at which games can truly become mainstream.