The Shadow of the
Shadow of Mordor
26-10-15
Posted by Ben at 18:42

I donít think itís an exaggeration to say that literally every game released in the past 12 months has been an open world game, literally every single one. In some ways I don't really mind it, I get the appeal. Take something like Gears of War, we've all done it before, that linear cover based shooter, there's very little you can do with it. I played The Order 1886 recently, it's not bad, it doesn't deserve its reputation, and had it launched last generation I think it would have been received more warmly. As it is it's the most linear of linear games, at times entirely focused on narrative. Which has its place, but it's so easy to tear apart for what it is and what it isn't. I do wonder if Ready at Dawn regret not opening the game up a bit, assuming they had the time.

The problem is that an open world for open worlds sake isn't a good thing. I regularly claim that I'm not a big fan of open world games, certainly I'm not a fan of the GTA games, nothing against them in particular they just don't click with me. The truth is though that I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs, Skyrim, Infamous Second Son, Witcher 3, and, despite myself, Shadow of Mordor. So why am I bringing all this up, because I've been playing Mad Max and it's a boring game.

I'm not sure I hate Mad Mad, that's too strong a word for my ambivalence towards the gameplay, but there's a level of cynicism that grates me. The truth is that with the not terrible (though not great) car combat, and Batmanís fighting system I should like it more than I do. Where Mad Max falls over is with its world, beautifully desolate as it is. Mad Max shares the same structure as Shadow of Mordor, something different from your standard open world game.

Take Assassin's Creed, there's tons of periphery bullshit in that series, but your play is also very directed. Climbing the towers has a benefit,and there's reasons to do the side missions, but often they'll be done on your way to the next story mission. Same with Skyrim, you don't decide to abandon the story quests, you just tumble endlessly down the rabbit hole because you're near that cave, because that dragon isn't all that far away. You're like Sam Beckett, always striving to get back to the right thread. If Skyrim clicks with you it's compulsive, same with Infamous,same with any open world game, you'll stop after you've done one more thing.

What Shadow of Mordor did that's different from most games was just drop you into the world and tell you to fuck off and leave it alone for a bit. It's something GTA does, but then your phone will ring and you'll start a new story mission. In Shadow of Mordor the side quests are the game. That's what it's telling you to do. It's undirected and aimless, and it very nearly ruins the game. The reason it doesn't is the Nemesis system. It adds a compulsion, that Ďone more thingí feeling, you're never far from a General to kill. It keeps you playing when samey missions and locales would have already out stayed their welcome, and more importantly, spreading your influence is a benefit to the campaign, it's not wasted time.

Mad Max on the other hand is too loose, too open. Fairly early on there's a story mission that involves scoping out a gate, a gate you aren't ready to break through. You're then tasked with going out in to the open world to find the car parts you need to take on the gate mission. There's nothing special about the locations of these car parts other than them having the car parts, they're the exact same scraps or earth and huddle of bandits that house water, parts to equip the safe houses, and memories of the old world. It reduces the story missions to busy work, there's literally nothing different about them from the scores of filler that litter the game

And that's my worry with this trend of genres setting their games in open worlds. It works with some, being a Witcher and taking contracts makes sense, giving a superhero civilians to save makes sense, and amazingly even the stealth of Metal Gear works. These experiences need to be directed, there's very little difference in locations between story and side quests in Fallout and Skyrim, but you can tell the difference from the tone and the setup. Just dumping your mechanics in to an open world isn't enough. Mad Max feels like a game built on telemetry, like someone saw how people played open world games and decided they didn't need the core experience, it's design by maths, it's cynical, and it feels it
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