Power Fantasies, Environments in LoG 2

4min read

The world around us is mysterious, magnificent and beautiful. It’s a living breathing ecosystem with an internal logic of its own. Mother Nature, and Father Concrete, represent the interwoven complexity held within the environments that we live in and explore.

In the real world, the environments we inhabit can be quite uninteresting, but anything is possible in a video game.

I’ve been playing Legend of Grimrock 2 recently. I’m having a wonderful time, because the environment is more than just a place where gameplay happens, it IS the gameplay.

LoG 2 starts off by ship wrecking your party of four characters on a presumably deserted island. It plunges you head first into a fantastical world of: ruins, temples, dungeons, pyramids, burial grounds, poisonous mushroom infested forests, beaches; all filled to the brim with secrets to discover and riddles to solve.

It’s a modern take on old school cRPGs like Wizardry. There aren’t many games designed like this these days.

There are several reasons for this, there’s no hiding the fact that this kind of CRPG fell out of favor decades ago.

But there’s one particular gaming trend (it’s more of a behemoth really) which lies at the absolute other end of the character vs. environment focused design spectrum compared to games like LoG 2 that I would like to discuss.

It’s no secret that AAA games spend a ton of money and time on making the player character as fun to play as possible, then they drop the character into a beautiful looking environment, fill it with enemies of some kind and let you go to town; towers may or may not be involved.

Combine that with the modern need to artificially pad game times leads to games with expansive but mostly empty open worlds full of repetitive combat encounters.

This design is inherently easy to scale up while maintaining a reasonable level of consistency within the entire game. More money leads to paying more artists minimum wage, or barely above it, to make the landscape which is then filled with more copy pasted combat encounters. Designs like this are tired and boring.

It’s hard to make a power fantasy (which most AAA games are nowadays) with a focus on the environment because if the environment provides interesting challenges and obstacles for the player to overcome then is the player all powerful? Hint: The answer is no.

I would rather spend a couple hours playing a well crafted experience than a hundred of boring gameplay in cookie cutter worlds.

Are there exceptions to the rule? Yes of course, but usually they’re not power fantasies. Resident Evil 2 Remake is a good example of a modern AAA game that isn’t a power fantasy which emphasises the environment as a core part of the gameplay loop. You run around the Raccoon City police station dealing with zombies, searching for clues and keys in the environment to continue progressing through the game. I quite enjoyed the game as a result; it’s not every day that I decide to beat a game over ten times.

And so, carefully crafted environments intimately tied to gameplay like in LoG 2 are becoming more and more rare. This might be because of the prevalence of power fantasies in the AAA video game industry.

There have been numerous examples of AAA games achieving great mainstream success by foregoing open world soup game designs such as the previously mentioned Resident Evil 2 Remake. In the CRPG space, Divinity Original Sin II centers the gameplay around how the player characters, the enemies, their skills and their spells interact with each other within the environment filled with (you guessed it!) secrets to uncover to create compelling and open ended gameplay.

There’s something to be said for playing a game where behind every corner awaits a new discovery. Where your cleverness is rewarded with meaningful rewards. Where the environment is something to be studied and understood.

Modern open world AAA game design is boring and we should expect more from the games we play.

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