Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Far Cry 4 is my destination this weekend, which is pretty funny considering how much I hate its peers. Lord knows, I’ve tried to love the open world. I’ve sunk hours and hours into multiple games in the Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, and Infamous series, dutifully punching randos across Batman: Arkham City and trying desperately to milk any feeling at all out of playing Far Cry 3. It just doesn’t work for me.
The open world as a game structure, with rare exceptions, is devoid of the crucial arc I need. Flatness rules the day; with a giant map of glowing doodads to go and check out and no sense of urgency, everything in the story and world feels equally unimportant. Every single one of these games is a $60 grocery list where you tediously scratch things off until you can finally say, “Hooray. I scratched them all.”
Yet Far Cry 4 has captured my heart. Rife with the same issues as every other open-world game I’ve failed to connect with, the difference this time is that I headed out into the hills of Kyrat with a friend. I’ve sunk almost two dozen hours into Far Cry 4 over the past few months, mindlessly chasing after whatever objective is closest. Pagan Min’s convoy is driving by! No wait, there are yaks over there! Let’s go shoot those yaks! Rather than just meaningless busy work, every single scatterbrained jaunt feels like either a tiny adventure or hilarious performance art because I’m playing the game with one of my oldest friends.
The one-on-one cooperative experience fundamentally changes Far Cry 4 because it takes the weight out of the process. The meaningless icons filling the map stop being something to just check off on the road to completion and become the inspiration for an ambling good time. The flatness of the open world persists when I’m playing by myself, even when something ridiculous happens, because nothing changes. When even incidental throwaway moments are shared with a second player, they gain new dimension and depth. “I drove an ATV into a tiger’s face!” is nowhere near as fun as “Did you just see me drive an ATV into that tiger’s face!? Boy, was that tiger confused.”
Cooperative play isn’t the secret sauce that’s going to get me to love open-world games. Having the right partner is key. Would I like Far Cry 4 as much if I were playing with someone who didn’t think it was funny when I cover an elephant in C-4 and drive it into a fortress? Probably not. But my time with the game has certainly changed the way I think about potential in the open world. Christopher McCandless wrote, “Happiness is meaningless unless shared.” If happiness is a Kyraty minivan driven off a cliff at high speed, I think he was on to something.