Please, not another fetch quest
So there has been a lot of discussion about Dying Light 2 supposedly having up to 500 hours of content, if not more, and it wasn’t exactly news I was jumping up and down for. Not necessarily because of the game itself, but how it fits in with trends in the industry as a whole, away from short, linear games. Over the past few years, it feels like completion times in the hundreds of hours have become something of a badge of honor, and the talk around it seems to lean towards the idea that the longer a game, the better.
Listen, I’m all for getting what I pay for. When I see that I’ve played a game for hundreds of hours, there’s a sense of pride in that, because it was money well spent. But at this point, it feels like players keep pushing for longer and longer games, and that’s not always a good thing.
On the one hand, a super long game with an ambitious reach usually (not always, but usually), means more work and crunch for game teams that are already exhausted. The first example here is Cyberpunk 2077. CD Projekt Red promised the game would be one of the most detailed open-world RPG experiences ever while still in its early stages, and the game later suffered several delays as the team was trying to keep up. Ultimately, cyberpunk was a huge disappointment upon release (although recent updates have helped), and all of this could have been avoided if CD Projekt Red had maintained realistic expectations.
There’s also the fact that shorter games can also mean less development time. In theory, if the bigger studios were dedicated to creating shorter, more polished experiences, you could at least cut a good year or two out of the development cycle. I’ve always wondered what it would be like if a studio that had the talent and money of a CD Projekt Red went all out on an indie-style project that was three to four hours in length. But, because those aren’t as lucrative, I guess we’ll never know.
Then you just have the content of the games themselves. When you expand a game to be so big and non-linear, it’s nearly impossible to keep the content interesting. The world, quests, and characters can all start to feel repetitive and hollow. By creating a game that spans hundreds of hours, the developers simply don’t have the time to devote time and attention to many of the game’s details – they’re just trying to fill in the biggest possible map of a way that doesn’t make him feel entirely empty. But there’s so many games I’ve played that To do feeling empty, despite everything the game puts in my way, and I’m not alone in this feeling.
On the other hand, I played through Bioshock Infinite again recently. This is obviously very different from a large hundred-hour company, with an average duration of about twelve hours. But when I started playing it again, I realized how much I had missed those little linear games. For example, I really can’t get past the environments in Bioshock Infinite. Every room you walk into has that perfectly composed frame that looks like it’s straight out of a concept art painting. This is because the developers know that the player will enter a room from exactly one position, and they are able to compose the environment around that, and to great effect.
The pacing is great too, as they’ve obviously planned out exactly how much and for how long you’ll interact with the combat, story sections, and exploration. Sometimes I don’t want to have to go out of my way to find a fight or a quiet space to enjoy the scenery, and Linear Games just have them lined up, ready to go when you need them. Like a perfectly balanced storyline, the game knows exactly what you want, when you want it, and gives it to you.
I may not be fair in comparing games that are supposed to offer such different experiences, but I really can’t find any big-budget AAA studios that haven’t succumbed to this formula. I mean look what happened to The last of us series. The first was also around twelve hours long and, in my opinion, was pretty perfectly paced from a gameplay and storytelling perspective.
Then you have the sequel, which is more than twice as long, with huge open areas that stop the pacing. I’m not saying Naughty Dog isn’t capable of making a good open world game, I just don’t understand why they deviated from what they’ve done so well when it comes to scope, especially at the within a beloved franchise that used its small-scale linearity to great effect.
Long story short, I really miss small linear story-driven games.
I can definitely go back and play through all my old favorites like BioShock, The last of us, and Portal 2, but it’s hard to find games like this that are newer than circa 2015. Sometimes I don’t want to have a choice – sometimes I just want to be taken on a ride, a thrilling, explosive ride that only the resources a AAA studio can provide, but they seem to be getting fewer and fewer these days.
Story Beat is a weekly column covering everything and nothing related to storytelling in video games.