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I’ll be the first to admit that that when it comes to real life rambling (that’s the hiking, not the verbal diarrhoea) strolling along an ankle-shattering stone path isn’t exactly for me. Now don’t get it twisted: I do understand the impulse. After all, who wouldn’t want to commune with nature, clear the lungs and get a good old look at the world around them? My dear old granddaddy even fought for these public paths, trespassing so cheerfully and so often as to shame the landowning cranks into capitulation. Of course, in doing so he also cursed an entire generation of teens to be dragged along on family retreats… so swings and roundabouts, really.
The point here is that I really don’t enjoy walking for walking’s sake. I’d much rather be running, or sitting, or performing the avant-garde hybrid motion known as ‘runting’. But that’s in real life, and this is just fantasy, and where video games are concerned, I bloody love a good mooch. Consider Assassin’s Creed IV, with its stirring seas and unspoiled islands, bustling townships and bawdy drunks. Now there was a world worth taking your time over, at turns both breathlessly exciting and deliciously languid.
Or how about Far Cry 3, with its vibrant jungles and hidden lagoons? One moment you might find yourself gunning the engine on a rickety old jeep, and the next soaring off into the distance courtesy of a wingsuit. There was just so much to see, and so many engrossing ways to do it, and the same might be said of most, if not all open-world adventures. Too bad for us that we keep skipping right past them.
Yes folks, today I’m talking about fast-travel mechanics — an infinitely useful resource, but one that many gamers have now come to rely on as the ultimate in-game crutch. Now I realise this handy little feature does have its place. You needn’t look further than the old-school GTA games for proof of that, what with their proclivity for placing you miles away from a mission restart marker. On that count, the ability to take a quick-trip taxi ride makes all the sense in the world. That said, I also believe that the feature runs contrary to the overall ‘spirit of the sandbox’.
It’s often said that life is about the journey, and that’s one adage with which I’m very much inclined to agree. The point being that while these mechanics can be useful, video gaming has now evolved. Where once there was nought but tedium to be had in the long crossing from one zone to the next, nowadays developers are investing more time than ever before into crafting lively and enthralling playpens. When adventure awaits behind every bushel, who has need of an express train?
All of which handily brings us on the topic of Final Fantasy XV, and the curiously old school/ new school quick-travel system that the game is adopting. Here, players must venture to each new zone by vehicle, be that car, car-plane or car/plane/here’s-betting-it-morphs-into-an-Aeon-at-some-point transportation system. The catch here is that unlike traditional sandbox experiences, the car itself cannot exit the road, which is all a bit s***, if you ask me. I suppose Square Enix doesn’t want its players going all Carmageddon on the wider fiend population, though the option to off-road it still would’ve been nice.
In addition, there appears to be very little difference between taking the wheel yourself and allowing one of your three buddies to do it for you. It’s all seems so very on-rails, at least at this juncture, and while I hope that the eventual car-plane deal will spruce things up a bit, the smart money’s on this beast only appearing once a town’s fast travel option has already been unlocked, and even then — probably via a cutscene.
None of that is to say that the car itself isn’t important. On the contrary, FFXV’s basic gameplay loop seems to involve it heavily. In brief, Noctis and chums will drive to a destination, jump out and proceed to engage all of the nearby beasties. Then, once that’s done, they’ll all scram back to the car just in time to seek shelter for the night. Suffice it to say that you really shouldn’t be too far away from your ride at any one time. And that, as they say, is that. You drive, you kill, you drive again. It’s practically an OAP simulator.
When compared to its contemporaries, Final Fantasy XV just seems to be lacking in any kind of ‘killer hook’, or complementary gameplay feature to work alongside said driving mechanics. Shipping it from place to place in AC: Black Flag would’ve been a dreary affair indeed had it not been for the glorious ship-to-ship combat that could erupt at any moment, to say nothing of the floating cargo, wind squalls, and whaling targets also peppering the landscape. Likewise GTA, and Far Cry, The Witcher and Oblivion — all games in which the act of moving from one place to the next could prove to be just as exciting as any tightly-paced mission.
It’s my belief that Square will be hoping its players remain invested thanks to the cast’s array of jocular hijinks and/or emotive conversations. This is the Final Fantasy road trip after all, and if road trip movies have taught us anything, it’s that conversations can and will range from the asinine to the completely revelatory. I really do hope that that will be enough, and that my fears are unfounded. That said, I just can’t help but think that this is a game that will practically compel us to fast-travel at every given opportunity, (even with the nominal fee for doing so). Will conversation repeat ad infinitum, or be so good as to fade out after we’ve heard them all before? In which case, will there be enough varied and engaging music from the franchise’s storied history to hold on to our waning attentions? The series certainly does big symphonic numbers well, but how long before even ardent fans of the classics start cutting out these day trips entirely?
Whatever the case, I’ll continue to cross my fingers and hope for another sandbox so enthralling I can continue to tell every shortcut, taxi cab and floating airship to sod right off. How’s that for a ramble?