Open World Fatigue and the Resurgence of Tabletop RPGs

By this point in time, everyone in this solar system has been exposed (either directly or indirectly) to the hype surrounding Red Dead Redemption 2 – a console game which offers players the highly immersive opportunity to traverse an open-world, R-rated, Wild West as a slack-jawed gunslinger. The detail is immaculate.

The release of RDR2 comes less than a month after the latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed series: Odyssey, took players on a massive - and I mean just obnoxiously massive - romp through Ancient Greece during the height of the Peloponnesian Age. Now what do the above two titles (along with other honourable mentions God of War, Breath of the Wild, Far Cry, and Elder Scrolls) have in common? An Open World, and it seems enthusiasts keenly immersed in the rich fantasy worlds encompassing many Top-tier video game franchises have grown weary of the trend now dominating a certain genre…

Massively open-world games have surged in popularity since the days of GTA 3 introduced a new type of experience – comprised largely of exploring a huge map, completing numerous side objectives and quests, and collecting various articles of shit no matter how gratuitous. The theme of collecting trinkets in sprawling 3D realms predates even Liberty City, harkening back to the golden era of colourful platform titles such as Banjo-Kazooie on the legendary N64. Yet, as so often happens in the evolution of products or cannon, subsequent entries in a series tend to be unduly pressurized into outperforming their predecessors in order to net a bigger returns for their overlord investors. In newspeak: Open world games just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Simply put, bigger isn’t always better, and it's the fans who ultimately pay the price: Not just shelling out 80 plus dollars for that hot new release; but afterwards being left with an obnoxiously large map to navigate- and in the case of Odyssey- a million repetitive and sometimes uninspiring tasks to perform parallel to the main storyline. Performing these tasks is largely what gains you the xp necessary to actually be able to level up and complete the game.

Though RDR2 at least gives players the opportunity to fast track through its incredible story missions sans gorging on the vast remainder of the world’s offerings in order to further progress, the sheer volume of story missions themselves can even become daunting towards the end of the game when the main character’s arc has more or less wrapped -and when the initial allure of exploring the inventively realistic -yet somewhat gratuitous- activities of the Old West has lost its appeal. And yes, this is despite the incredible attention to detail and immersion which has brought this so-called cowboy game to life.

Apparently a lot of glitches in the Wild West too.
It would seem open-world game designers are now operating under a new-age assumption: That the vast majority of players can afford both the time and patience required to achieve that coveted 100% completion, and the trophies it so yields. They have, in turn, engineered massive experiences to top all previous efforts with the expectation that their loyal subjects will commit upwards of 100 hours or more into the venture.

Now for those who truly have the time and desire to lose themselves in these gargantuan gaming experiences, we are living in a truly glorious age. But when examining statistics stating that only around 10-20 % percent of players actually even completed the first RDR’s story- despite the game’s massive success and popularity -yields a deeper questioning of the real motivations of adventure-seeking gamers.  This now-frequent trend of bigger worlds with a greater number of quests has left many with a creeping sense of fatigue when faced with the monstrous task of fully completing these next-gen open world adventures. Gone are the days of quick and efficient storylines that still provided a sweeping sense of epic scale.

And yet, contrary to the current state of affairs, a resurgence of sorts has been unfolding in our midst: Exhausted imagineers are now looking to different mediums to fuel their desires for exploration and adventure. With the somewhat-recent release of D&D5e, more players than ever before are finding their way to the tables of lore, to feast on stories which may or may not grant them far more control over their destinies and fates. We examined this resurgence in greater detail with the goal of theorizing a few reasons why more gamers are sitting down at the table with dice in their hands instead of controllers. Lets take a closer look at some of the benefits offered by the essentially non-linear gaming of tabletop RPGS:


On the theme of saving time and maximizing efficiency: Fast travel seems the most obvious point to start with here. A lot of what contributed to RDR2’s lengthy completion time was the need to physically ride cross country for most of the missions -with only a limited fast travel option available to be unlocked. Odyssey definitely did fast travel better, however with the sheer volume of islands to explore and irrelevant characters to interact with, the need to cover a lot of ground is always present in the game. Enter the magic of RPG: Where players can quickly cover a hundred and sixty-eight million billion miles of travel(Temporal prime or not) all through the clever storytelling of their beloved Game Master. (GM)  Oh you don't want to take 3 movies to get the ring to Mordor? BAM you're there, it was a really rough journey, you gained no xp, have fun you Gondorian bastard.

So yes, the journey is more important than the destination, and it's always advisable to fight your way through enough pain to gain adequate xp before ascending that dirty wizard's tower, but just know that the power of spoken word elicits many shortcuts for story-driven enthusiasts to get right down to business - and to not have to literally sail/battle their way across the ENTIRE Ancient Greek world in search of resources to upgrade their ship so they can even attempt that final naval battle in the story to get to the next on-land mission which is what they actually want to play. Confused? Me too.


When it comes to progressing further in an epic game's story, there's simply no better feeling than having to do tasks you could not give less of a shit about, yet exist only as gratuitous filler needing to time-vampire your attention for sustenance. Not. One of the very best aspects of Tabletop RPGs is how it's the players who choose which tasks have meaning -and which ones don’t - relative to the overall direction the party has agreed to venture in. This aspect seems a stark contrast to the open-world dictates of console games -which prod players into sometimes unnecessary encounters. (Think collecting ingredients a for a one-off Ancient Greek Granny so she might yet revive her weathered husband's limp doodle- kind of arbitrary and then try to contain your own excitement.)

The most profound of GMs take the time to really listen to what their players are looking for in their RPG experiences, and then proceed to offer a highly customized adventure that just smashes those KPIs right out of the dungeon. Interesting to note however, is how Odyssey has incorporated greater RPG elements into it's gameplay to perhaps supplement this perceived lack of choice -Namely the addition of different responses available in every interaction that can lead it towards a differing outcome. This is a promising development to be sure, yet if the interaction is boring and pointless to begin with, the only thing we’re gonna be choosing is how to gtfo.


Perhaps the most prominent difference between console and tabletop adventuring lies in the shadows of chance and fate. With massive games like Odyssey and RDR2, players eventually and oftentimes find themselves repeating the same scenarios over and over again as they near the end of the main story. While progression in a game almost always grants promises of upgraded gear and abilities to just decimate with, there are only so many times you can infiltrate and wreck a fort -or find yourself laser- dropping outlaw after outlaw yet again in the desert- before you start to just drift through the motions for the sake of completion. To be fair, the closed ecosystem of open-world console games are, by their very nature, linear. But to those looking to broaden their horizons and refine their immersion, a seat at the table doth beckons...

Among the most poignant selling points of tabletop RPGs is that no matter how powerful a player or creature becomes, they are always at the mercy of the dice which they roll. If you’re unlucky, fate can be more of a curse than a gift, but what’s certain is that this whimsical style of adventuring demands a much higher caliber of creative problem solving from players if they are to skillfully navigate the unlimited variations of encounters a GM can throw their way. For this reason, subsequent games of D & D are rarely the same despite a GMs overarching narrative structure. Too much is left to chance. At the end of the day, this may very well be preferable to spending two hours straight casting bound sword at a Horker to fast track your Conjuration level right into that Dremora Lord’s tender and loving arms. Just try to let them down easy…

It truly is incredible the level of sophistication, scale, and innovation present in recent open-world console releases. The insights pondered here today are in no way a manifesto condemning this genre of video game, as I for one thoroughly enjoyed both Assassins Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 for what they were: Epic cinematic stories with some epic game play moments. It’s when one starts to unravel the technicalities of progressing through those stories to actually see them unfold however, that the daunting reality of this fatigue begins to hit home.

The solution may be as simple as game designers catering to all parties by releasing future open-world games with both fast-tracked and extended story campaigns available to play based on gamer-preference. It may not. In fact, you may very well be asking why the hell, since studios are bound to collect unfathomable amounts of our dollars for new releases regardless, they should even care at all about relinquishing back to us a few hours of invested time? Well bud that's a very fair question. But in a shifting world placing more and more emphasis on soft skills like empathy, team building, and face to face social acuity -and through a gaming experience offering players countless opportunities to continually enrich these skills -the resurgence of tabletop RPGs may just end up disrupting a greater number of traditional video gamers than many open-world studios would be comfortable admitting.

To foster greater perspective, I leave you this final analogy: Would you rather wield the power of a god but be confined to a village, or face the cosmos as a child, with endless possibilities for growth and expansion, and eternity at your fingertips. They say it's the journey not the destination but the choice will always be yours.

Written by: Jeff Clive.

Open World Fatigue and the Resurgence of Tabletop RPGs Open World Fatigue and the Resurgence of Tabletop RPGs Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 11/30/2018 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5

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