I don't like linearity

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012
It makes play seem more repetitive.  If you do X then Y then Z, and then do Z then X then Y, it's all the same thing, but the mixup makes it seem less repetitive.  This is why I enjoy sandboxes so much, so that I can change the order and then it's almost like a new game, especially when the new games are all sequels of the old games, so relatively-speaking, it's newisher.

In the case of WoW, this is why I've barely done any alting.  My options are the same path I just took through Hyjal or the same path I just took through Vash'jir.  I'm not saying those are bad paths.  Hyjal is a fun place.  But it's also the exact same place as the time I did it before and the time before that as well.  There is very little branching.  Lower-level areas can be even worse, pushing to one place, cleaning up the area, then to the next, one to the next to the next in exactly the same order every time.

Hallways irritate me.  They make me want to punch the wall, to see if there is anything on the other side of it, to see if I can go somewhere else.  I would now like to complain about the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as designed in STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl.  It's an open-world game where you can wander as you will and explore.  The occasion terrifying underground lab will be linear, but they are rather short.  Contrast that with the CNPP where you fight through the brainwashed enemies and find the answers, the truth you've been searching for all along, and it's pretty neat.  Then for no apparent reason, the developers send you off to randomly teleport around the plant, fighting enemies who are mostly the same the whole way.  It might have been better if it were a fight toward some apparent objective, where I can say "I am going this way because this way leads to there", but instead you fight across a narrow 100-500 yards before hopping in a portal that takes you to a different few hundred yards to run along.  The linear nature is frustrating already, and made even worse by the otherwise open nature of the game.

In WoW, this was one of my early complains in BC.  Where we used to have branching and sometimes looping instances, we had hallways.  I liked the branches and looping.  They meant that we might take a different path.  Or as we go more, we learn more and learn better paths and get lost less often.  LK stuck with the linear nature, though the Nexus and Gundrak were at least physically capable of being done along varying paths (not that anyone did, but the option existed).

Linearity makes me feel sorry for the developers.  I'll see a really detailed, complex structure they designed and it will seem great.  Then I realize that I'll go there once.  I'll do the quest there and that's it, never again.  STALKER: Call of Pripyat has this problem.  While I can understand why no one would venture back into the hellish laboratories and caves, the outdoor world is once-and-done as well.  Once you've fought an epic battle with highly-armed mercenaries in the treatment plant, using hit and run attacks along the catwalks and tunnels and desperately hoping that you can see well enough when ducking into the dark building from the sunny outside, you're done.  You check the corpses and grab the data and never go back.  The other day I was playing through again (because of the Z-X-Y capability, I've repeated both STALKER games a few times) and found the tunnels under the plant, adding a new level of complexity to it.  That's pretty great, to have a location that has more to discover each time, but that you just hop into once and never again (barring creating a new game).  Contrast this with the first game in the series where the main story will loop back to previously-explored locations, as well as repeatable quests doing the same.

I may just be spoiled by too much Skyrim (mostly Oblivion, in actuality), WoW, and STALKER, but it seems to me that the more world-like a game is, the more people can replay it, the more fun they can have, the more they may find themselves willing to shell out more money for more games and more subscription time.


GettinJiggly said...

Lol you probably loved Classic Wow. Running all over the place to turn in quests. No real path you had to follow. Current design is for streamlined leveling and they do at least give two different starting areas.

Azuriel said...

I (typically) only play games once regardless, so I feel more sorry when developers make an entire world I'm never going to see.

In fact, lately, non-linearity just annoys me. The sidequests in Skyrim were miles better than the story quests. Why? Why hide the light under the bushel? Many people have told me FemShep is better than BroShep across the Mass Effect titles; while I may replay the series one day, it galls me that I potentially have played a worse version of the game than everyone else.

Things are different in MMO-land, of course. Cataclysm's linearity was awful after the 2nd alt, much less the 7th. But then again... if Hyjal is better than Vash, why give me the option to go to Vash first? I could possibly write off the whole expansion right there.

I dunno. I see the appeal of open worlds, even if I don't feel it the same way you do.

Syl said...

I don't like linearity either. it has its place in short games with small worlds and minimal stories, but virtual mmo worlds should never be linear. the high questing and leveling focus in wow is obviously the crux here - remove that to some extent and you are struggling less to progress your content.
ever since skyrim, the whole zones concept of mmos has grown very old for me, for various reasons. i prefer a world that is a consistent zone you can travel from the start, with few off limits. you could make outdoor scale or put the real challenges and quests into dungeons, caves, cities, buildings...scattered all over. maybe held together by a storyline.

Klepsacovic said...

@WWadell: I did indeed.

@Azuriel: I'm not sure I'd call that linearity, but it does seem odd to have one story be much better than the other. Still, if both are great (are they?), then I wouldn't mind much. If the content is so different, then maybe it's essentially two games and can be replayed soon after.

I think the sidequests were better for two possible reasons. Some of the one-off quests didn't need to worry about overall effects on plot. The guild quests are written and designed specifically for particular roles, so they can fit your play better. In contrast, while I've not tried it in Skyrim, in Oblivion it was pretty irritating to try guilds that you weren't specced for, such as trying to do the mage guild or fighters quests as a thief. I imagine it's even worse the other way around.

@Syl: I like zones, if they aren't too restrictive. The sense that I am in a distinctly new place is fun to me. Though this does result in comical overhead maps of Azeroth.

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