The world of video games is growing – and so is the world INSIDE video games. To be honest, this isn’t a new phenomenon; games that have let you explore the world existed back in the days of Super Nintendo, but they were somewhat rare. Now, however, it seems like every game out there is a sandbox game, with the only limits being the invisible walls at the borders. Games like Fallout and Mass Effect went even further and gave enormous maps to explore, and expanded the limits of role playing through various conversation options with NPCs. Want your avatar to be a ruthless killer? Go for it. Would you rather do good deeds? That option is available too, and whatever role you choose affects how people respond to you. So in a world like this, is there really room for a strictly linear game?
When considering non-linear games, one of the most influential games out there is Grand Theft Auto. In fact, nearly every non-linear sandbox game out there right now can be considered a Grand Theft Auto clone of some sort – they use a similar engine and have similar mechanics to the controversial game. The audience reaction to having a giant area to roam, and freedom to act however one wants, has been incredible. They wouldn’t still be making clones if the reaction had been any less than enthusiastic.
However, linear games are hanging on with everything they have. The first example is Final Fantasy XIII; where you literally walk in a straight line from cutscene to cutscene, and have no input into what your character says or does. While this does make it much easier for a specific story to be played out, it is obviously very limiting, and incredibly frustrating. The decision to make FFXIII this way was interesting, seeing as the last game had been much more open. I’d be interested to know exactly why they chose to go this route, because it does seem like a giant step backwards. Then again, seeing as the creators of the franchise are rolling in money, perhaps they don’t see it that way.
The second example I’m going to give is World of Warcraft. While WoW has an enormous world, and tons of things to explore and conquer, it also features a very linear story, and very strict area restrictions for each level bracket. Are you a low level? Do not venture out of your pre-approved zone: enemies see you from much further away and will not hesitate to send your ass back to your maker. As for the story, you are never given a choice in how you accomplish quests, or even given any moral questions in quests. Everything is very bland, and while that is understandable, given that WoW is an online RPG, it still feels stifling.
Given the massive amounts of people who play WoW and the impressive numbers of people who bought Final Fantasy XIII, it might be safe to say that linear games aren’t being tossed into the discount bins yet. That being said, should they be? What do you think?