Bethesda's "Fallout 4" landed last week, driving legions of anxious gamers into a pre-emptive hibernation. One of the season's most-anticipated games, "Fallout" launched with a few technical blips (a slightly unsettling commonality with major releases nowadays, but that's a whine for a different time), but overall delivered what most fans were looking for: more of the same.
That's not necessarily a bad thing given the game's stellar pedigree, but it's the latest case of long-running series focusing more on the bigger than the better. Sure, there's a new wasteland wander through and some nifty crafting and creation tools, but the core gameplay remains unchanged from past entries. An across-the-board increase in scope isn't really enough to sell me on a game anymore. I want new shit to do rather than more shit to do.
Another critic and fan darling from a few months ago felt the effects of this same embiggening. "Metal Gear Solid V" came out in early September and brought with it abso-goddamn-lutely huge maps for the player character to run around in and engage in all sorts of kooky espionage action. This particular game actually had the foresight to gate portions of the map while on specific tasks or missions, which helps the player not get so distracted, but still allows them to tinker in the same space if they return at a later time.
But along with this increase in size comes a lot of bloat. "Metal Gear" also boasts a base-building element that allows you to accrue your own army, run side missions for in-game currency, and research new items to be deployed in the field. While it's fun to run around in this base and see the little onscreen "ding!" pop up to tell you that somesuch research has finished, it feels kind of dirty. It's like I know i'm being sucked into superfluous Facebook-gameish chores that aren't so much entertaining me as they are satisfying some primitive drive for arbitrary advancement in its most inane form. It's one thing to encourage player experimentation and customization, but its another to saddle them with micromanagement hurdles, and that's what a lot of these arbitrary extras feel like.
I get why developers and publishers are a bit reticent to stray from established formulae; stray too far and you alienate existing fans, or just end up with a clunky game (looking at you, "Final Fantasy XIII"). But even a winning recipe can't be recycled forever — look at the latest "Halo" game and its relatively meek sales compared to earlier entries in the series.
Games like "Fallout" are the system-sellers, the big titles with months-long hype cycles and continuous news coverage, but they need to drop the emphasis on scale over innovation. Recycling everything that worked last time and sprinkling in some new features that take up time, more than entertain, isn't the way to go.
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