Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Like It My Way

It's definitely clear to me that when it comes to computer games, I like to do things my own way. The more freedom the developers give me, the happier I'll be. This surely speaks to why certain games are my favorites.

Deus Ex, for example, is a fairly free-form game. Sure, each "map" in the game has certain goals that need to be accomplished before you move on, but it's extremely flexible about how you meet those goals. To facilitate this, the developers did several things right. They provided multiple "paths" in most cases - lots of ways to get to where you need to be. There'd be a "sneaky" path where you had to stick to the shadows, a "technie" path that only worked if you were able to bypass security equipment, and a "brute force" path that required you to defeat numerous enemies. They also provided multiple "upgrade" trees for your character - as the game proceeded, you'd find nanite canisters that allowed you to upgrade your systems, but each time you had to make a choice - strength or stealth? Weapons or computer? The better you got at one, the fewer chances you'd ever have to upgrade the other. Lastly, they provided a wealth of weaponry, several for each playing style. Personally, I tended to like a combination of stealth and direct assault, wherein I would sneak into a good position, then use a sniper rifle to pick off enemies from a safe distance, then move up.

Another game that I really, really enjoyed was Assassin's Creed. Assassin's creed places you in various middle-eastern cities around the time of the Crusades and lets you have at it. There are various people you're supposed to help and/or kill, but how you achieve those goals is largely up to you. You had the skills to launch all-out assaults, or to slide in behind a victim and slip a knife in between their ribs. I hated the ending, mostly because it denied you the sort of freedom the rest of the game provided, instead funneling you through a series of near-impossible toe-to-toe battles that ignored most of what you'd learned while playing the game. The other 90% of the first Assassin's Creed was excellent, though, and I look forward to the sequel(s) coming down in price to where I can afford them.

I've never written about it, however System Shock 2 was another masterpiece that combined free-form play, selectable upgrades, and a dark, mysterious storyline to produce an epic playing experience. SS2 is still one of the scariest, most dramatically tense games I ever played. Like Deus Ex, it let you choose whether to be a tech, a brawler or a telepath, and which one you chose affected how you played.

The Elder Scrolls games - Morrowind and Oblivion being the two I've actually played - expanded on the level of freedom dramatically by letting you explore whole continents, choose multiple races and classes, and even join certain factions (which then denied you access to what the other factions offered).

But there was one game that trumped all of those. A game so epic in nature that you literally had entire worlds to explore, whole cultures to play, a wide multitude of races and classes, and thousands of NPCs and players to interact with. That game, of course, is World of Warcraft.

WoW is in the process of experiencing its third expansion, and I admit I have a slight itch to play the game again, in spite of the monetary cost and the huge time investment involved. And that addictiveness that would threaten to pull me in even when I know the game isn't really a good hobby got me thinking about why. Why would I even consider playing a game that sucks up every free minute of my day? And I realized, it's the freedom that really attracts me, and the freedom that makes the game almost too good - too much of a time-sink. There's ALWAYS something you can do, whether it's questing or grinding for experience or exploring someplace you've never really been or hunting for "rare" monsters (who only appear in certain locations at random times) or gathering ingredients to craft items or selling stuff in the auction house or... well, there's always something to do. Most of it, quite honestly, isn't that much fun, but somehow the ease of it, the monotony of it, the limited risk of it and the "hoarding" aspects of it all speak to me in such a way that once I'm in the game, I find it awfully hard to leave. It's always "just one more quick thing."

So I am not going to play WoW again, even just to see the changes. If anything, the fact that they're changing stuff that was really familiar to me, comfortable for me, is a bit of a dis-incentive, so that's good. But if I were in there, I'm sure I'd have just as much trouble leaving. Because if there was ever a game that let me pretty much do what I wanted however I wanted to do it, it would be World of Warcraft.

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