The big buzzword in gaming for some time has
been "open ended." The idea is simple in theory; a game that's
more like a sandbox, where the gamers can go anywhere and do anything
their hearts desire. And why not? Especially when it's put together with
superhuman abilities, an open-ended game where the world is your oyster
can be very appealing.
But then, reality sets in. There's an ugly
truth to most "open ended" games these days; once the initial
novelty wears off, they tend to have boredom issues. Strange as it
seems, gamers actually do appreciate a storyline. Side quests are
optional for a reason.
Enter Fable, on the Xbox; the new RPG where you
get to define your own character, spend XP leveling up your way, set up
your appearance... well, it's been done before, but the
"morality" system wherein your actions in-game define your
looks; go evil, and you'll grow horns and look evil. Go good, and you'll
develop a halo and ethereal butterflies.
The development of Fable wasn't without the
traditional issues. Some storyline points, including a couple heroes,
were dropped. Some of the side quests weren't quite as well developed as
one might have been wishing. Some plot points don't go anywhere, in an
"oh that's interesting" sort of way. The game's not perfect,
that's for sure. But it was the tryout of a new idea, as well as trying
to blend old ideas together. It sets up a good premise, and runs with
it, and that's not a bad thing.
As for some of the "bad" things, I
honestly think some of the gamers who are panning the game are doing so
merely because they need something to pan. So let's go over three
#1 - Storyline quests.
Despite what you may think... EVERY game, even
the pinnacles of "open ended" gameplay, has storyline quests
that you have to do, in that NOT doing them doesn't advance the story.
Spider-Man 2, Grand Theft Auto... they still have plotlines. There's
still stuff that you absolutely, positively, must do to move the
plotline forward and get access to later quests/items/areas/whatever.
Storyline is what most of today's games are
really about. And storyline can be entirely linear, and still fun. The
Legacy of Kain line, Ninja Gaiden, Legend of Zelda games all do decently
well today with storylines that are 100% linear. There's nothing wrong
with it, and I'm sorry you weren't quite expecting it.
In Fable, these are a bit more required than
the other two I just mentioned, and yes, this means the game is a bit
more "linear." But if you want something 100% open-ended where
you never have to do a storyline quest or mission, you're playing the
wrong game. The only thing I can even think of that comes close would be
Now, Fable with online play would have been
interesting, there's no doubt about that. But it also would have
required even more testing and design time. Plus, it runs against part
of the next problem:
#2 - Loading zones.
As far as loading zones go, I can see the
gripe. Some areas in Fable are pretty small. Some are also pretty damn
large, of course, but that's neither here nor there. Loading zones,
especially when you're trying to traverse a large area, get annoying.
However, I can see exactly why the designers
did it in this case. Cutting the game into load zones allowed them to do
one thing they couldn't otherwise do.
It allowed them to make every zone
completely mobile; the moment you step into it, EVERYTHING in it is
moving, not just what you currently can see.
This, believe it or not, is important. If it
weren't the case, then the flirtation system wouldn't work that well -
roam out of "active" range, and the game would either reset
flirted girls to non-flirted, or freeze them in place till they
returned. In order to make a dynamic load system, they'd also have had
to take the world detail down to account for the possibilities of
getting too many enemies following the hero in a gigantic train. With a
static area, they can limit the spawns appropriately.
Even in the MMO world, zone spots and loading
spots are commonplace. It's sometimes viewed as a design flaw, but it's
really not; it makes coding the game, and parceling up the work, a LOT
#3 - "Short" playing time.
People obsess way too much over games' playing
time these days to start with. Going through my old collection of NES
games recently, I can't name one - barring RPG titles like Zelda or
Final Fantasy - that could really not be beaten in a day, or two at
most. Yet gamers are obsessed that the game they're buying ought to be
worth an entire month of just sitting on the couch playing it. And so
the designers wind up putting in tons and tons of side quests that
really don't mean much, and spending time that could have otherwise been
spent making the storyline tighter or perhaps adding in those extra
heroes with their plotlines.
Besides, with Fable, there's an option - play
through again and play a different way. Made a nasty physical fighter of
yourself last time? Try magery, or thievery this time. Go around and
kill the whole world if you want, or marry a girl in every town. Buy
every property in the place, then kill your tenants. DO something. Or
perhaps, just perhaps, accept that you enjoyed the game while you played
it, and move on to another fun game.
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Michael (at) Glideunderground.com!
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