With more and more developers moving towards open-world design for their games, it has become quite obvious that bigger is not always better. The problem with massive open worlds is filling it with content that is enjoyable for the gamers. CD Projeckt RED did an excellent job with Witcher 3, giving players tons of quests with variety and quality to them. Ubisoft’s formula involves you doing the same type of stuff throughout the game, with little to no creativity involved. Developers do try to make their massive worlds as engaging as possible to the players, but some of their solutions are just bad.
After having recently played Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age, and seeing how it tackles the problems with its huge open world, I was disappointed. Let me start by saying that I did enjoy my time with FFXII, and I feel that it does some interesting things with it’s narrative and job system. I liked the side characters and the politically driven story, and the new job system gave me more freedom and flexibility in how I approached the combat encounters.
And then there’s the Speed Mode. You can, by the press of a button, speed up the time in-game (2x – 4x) so as to get quickly through huge regions in the world and repetitive fights in those regions, which would have otherwise been a grind. FFXII – The Zodiac Age is structured like a single player MMO (yeah, I rolled my eyes too). This leads to these massive regions in the world, with not a lot of good encounters, just random enemies for the sake of grinding. Even outside of that, going at a normal pace can make the game a slog-fest. Combat, for the most part is driven by setting pre-defined behavior for the AI, and while seeing it being executed feels neat, how it plays out is just boring.
I don’t want to beat down too hard on FFXII – The Zodiac Age, which is a remaster and I don’t imagine the developers wanting to put in too much effort to trim down dull parts of the game. They instead came up with speed mode to get you quickly through those dull parts. It still is a terrible method. How about not having those dull parts, and making a much smaller and more cohesive world, with combat that’s more engaging. I can easily see this Speed Mode being used in more open world games, in order to claim that they have the biggest worlds, and get away with having a drab and dull world by allowing the players to speed through it.
Developers should be more focused towards offering their players with quality experiences worth their time. Just crafting a big map just for the sake of it doesn’t do anyone any good. Just look at PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – an Early Access game with bare-bones content, just one map and a few weapons – and has hundreds of thousands of players hooked for hours. That’s what good game design is.
When I heard other reviews and critics praising the Speed Mode in The Zodiac Age, I was truly confused. It’s a terrible way to hide problems with open world games, and I really hope other developers don’t latch on to this.