Go anywhere, do anything? What’s the downside of playing a video game the way you want to?
One week ago, I received the gift for my birthday — Skyrim. Those who read my previous feature may be familiar with my anguish of being the only one who wasn’t playing this wonderful game. Well, not surprisingly, I dropped enough hints to friends and family and found it amongst the gifts I opened.
I was given one piece of advice when starting up Skyrim for the first time: explore. Don’t focus on any of the main objectives, at least not right away. Get past the game’s opening scenario and at the first opportunity, pick a direction and just go.
It was a great piece of advice, and was a course of action that I immediately took. The world of Skyrim, like many other Bethesda Softworks, is massive and wide-open.
I recall having the same sense of adventure and wonder when playing Morrowind on the original Xbox, and then Oblivion on the Xbox 360. It was even there for Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, even though you could easily get your ass handed to you by going in the wrong direction.
For the most part, you can simple pick a direction and begin walking. So I did. And it was awesome! I immediately came across a cave filled with bandits. They were simple fodder for my blade, and the exploration of the small cave was enough to whet my appetite.
I think the appeal of being able to go anywhere you want, to me at least, is because of the design and technical limitations of the games that I played growing up. In the 1980s, games were about repetition. The difference between levels in a game like Joust, wasn’t so much about a change of scenery, rather a change in difficulty and speed.
Games, especially arcade games, were designed to be simple to figure out but difficult to master, sucking down your hard earned money quarter-by-quarter.
When games weren’t created to take your money, they were linear in nature because technical limitations. In Super Mario Bros, you went from left to right that that was it. If you went too far to the right, and accidentally passed by something of interest, you couldn’t scroll back to the left (at least not with SMB1). The most non-traditional aspect of Super Mario Bros, is that you didn’t have to complete levels in order. If you found special warp zones you could skip levels and worlds altogether!
But still, after years and years of playing games that lead you down a certain path, whether it was a limitation of technology or a design decision from the developer, having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything was breathtaking!
Not only can simply walk around exploring the world in a game like Skyrim, but you can attempt to break the game by attacking and attempting to kill off important characters. In certain circumstances, like in Fallout 3 by leveling the town of Megaton, there were unique paths that could be opened (or closed) by playing a character in an evil way, rather than “playing by the rules”.
I also as a technology enthusiast. I like to see how developers come up with having multiple paths and branches for the paths that the player can choose. Can I really break the game by killing off this character, or is the result “rewarding” and something worth tempting?
To me, having this freedom is really awesome, and it’s something that I’ve always loved about Bethesda Softworks games.