I'm sick of caves (and sewers). - KillerRabbitsFTW Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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I'm sick of caves (and sewers).

For a long time, most open-world games have followed a certain formula: give the player a large open world to explore and throw in the occasional dungeon. It’s a good system that balances openness (the overworld) and linearity (the dungeons).

 

While I understand why developers depend on this system, I’ve never been a huge fan of the dungeon crawling aspect of open world games. For instance, I was a big Legend of Zelda fan growing up. I’m well aware that Nintendo put a lot of work into crafting the dungeons in those games, but when I played them, I merely saw the dungeons as a hindrance. I wanted to be above ground, exploring the fields of Hyrule and getting to know all the whimsical characters. In later years, I learned to appreciate a well-designed dungeon. But in my youth, whenever I was about to enter a Zelda dungeon, my mindset was “Okay. Time to power through this dungeon so I can unlock a new item and progress in the story”.

 

I’m not advocating that developers should stop putting dungeons in their open worlds. One should note that the title of this blog does not say, “I’m sick of dungeons”. It says that I’m sick of caves and sewers. All I want is developers to mix things up a little, rather than conservatively sticking to this formula.

 

Take Fable III for example. The game had a great premise (leading a revolution and then governing Albion as its king), and I really liked the feeling that all the quests I completed led to the greater goal of gaining the favor of the people of Albion. That being said, Fable III sure had a lot of quests that involved running around in a cave. These caves were much bigger and prettier than those in Fable II, but in terms of gameplay, they still consisted of following a linear path, fighting enemies, and solving the occasional puzzle. Considering that Lionhead went to so much trouble to make these caverns and caves so big, you would think that the gameplay would have changed in a meaningful way. Sadly, Fable III just had the same old dungeon crawling we’re accustomed to.

 

 That is one big cave. Too bad 90% of what you see here is a backdrop.

I think that covers why I’m sick of caves, so I guess I should explain why I’m sick of sewers. Recently, I’ve been playing Dead Island. Something I love about this game is the amount of freedom you have while exploring the island of Banoi. So you can imagine my frustration when a quest had me slogging through the linear sewer system underneath the city. Sure, you could go down different corridors and find hidden stuff. But exploring the sewers paled in comparison to running around a zombie-infested city. Many games involve a level or two that involve exploring a sewer, but they almost always involve pulling levers to raise the water level and opening gates. Even more so than caves, sewers implement very predictable and unrewarding gameplay. Some location in the game in the game is blocked off by big rocks or something, so the player is forced to go underground in order to get there. I swear, if it weren’t for those big rocks, all games would be at least four hours shorter.

 

 The island of Banoi is a huge, beautiful setting. But for some reason, the developers decided to have you, the player, spend several story missions down in the sewers.

The best use of the “open world plus dungeons” formula in my recent memory was in Batman: Arkham City. The museum, the steel mill, and the police station were all clearly dungeons, but they were neither caves nor sewers. They were buildings- buildings that just happened to be full of puzzles and dudes to fight. Sewers and caves tend to have a lot of repeated textures, but the dungeons in Arkham City were beautiful to look at. Plus, they were home to Batman’s enemies, who gave the places a lot of personality.

 

 Look at all this rubble. The Penguin sure made a mess of this place. Well, except for those unconscious bodies on the floor. That was Batman's doing.

The issue with caves and sewers is that they encourage developers to fall back on old tricks. When we see a bunch of little holes in the wall, we know that they’ll shoot darts at us if we step on a pressure plate. If a room in the cave/temple/ruined something-or-other is big, round, and empty, it’s laughably obvious that we’re going to fight something in that room. So if any game developers read this, here’s my challenge to you: stop relying on old tricks. Does every single Zelda game need to begin with the forest, fire, and water temples? If we need to recover an ancient artifact, does it absolutely have to be hidden in an underground temple full of traps? Be creative with your dungeons! Send Link to a temple in outer space! Make our hero in Fable traverse a trippy dream-world dungeon that turns out to just be a regular dungeon that we found after eating a hallucinogenic mushroom. Have the protagonists in Dead Island go somewhere more interesting than a sewer. Or have them go somewhere less interesting than a sewer. Seriously, as long as they don’t go down in the sewer, I won’t complain.

 

How do you feel about caves? Are you as tired of exploring the same old dungeons as I am? Comment, discuss, etcetera.

 

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