I never finished Skyrim. Bethesda's open-world opus is arguably the biggest Elder Scrolls game to date, and I gave it a decent go. Really, I did. I created my character, explored the lands, completed quests, shouted at dragons, but then I just... stopped. Things got in the way. Games. Work. Life. Weeks slipped into months, and Skyrim went from the latest hotness to a distant memory. The thought of returning to complete such a massive game just felt overwhelmingly daunting.
So I didn't. I haven't. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim remains unfinished - it's just too much game. If I'm ever heading to a desert island with a reliable electricity supply it'll be one of the first titles I pack into my swag, but right now, with its scale, I just can't do it. Which might explain why I looked at the gameplay trailer for GTA V with an overwhelming sinking feeling.
The game looks huge. Massive. It looks like there's plenty to see and do - and that's precisely the problem. Rockstar's video all but revels in a conga line of activities and features, presented within the footage as practical exclamation points of activity. Play golf! Tennis! Go to a shooting range! Get tattoos! Buy stocks! Invest in real estate! Customise cars! Pursue bounty hunts! Buy clothes! Hunt animals! And! It! Just! Keeps! Going!
It just keeps going.
Grand Theft Auto V looks to be the result of an online world's baying cries for open-world satisfaction. Calls for a bigger world - a richer world, a world of freedom and frivolity - have gone towards a game where one can just as easily put spinners on a car as they can enjoy a spot of yoga. Where they can compete in a bike race or light up a spliff. But to what end? To give a virtual world a layer of depth and detail similar to the real world? To cast a wider net and engage players of all bents? To benefit the experience of storming banks and riding dune buggies?
It's like a protest chant with an RRP. "What do we want?" "More game!" "Why do we want it?" "Because!"
But the GTA series is no stranger to feature bloat. Things started to bulk out in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game that boasted a massive world and the features to match. Your character could work out, become ripped or obese, eat from fast food chains, get tattoos, change clothes... and for what? Did other characters take notice of your rippling abs? Did that jaunty hat improve your gun skills? Grand Theft Auto IV emerged four years later as a practical acknowledgement of needless features, as it excised much of the bloat - no planes, no muffin tops, and even the size of its world was reduced from what San Andreas had become. In terms of raw bullet points, it offered arguably less, yet it still succeeded in creating an interactive pastiche of satirised American culture. As a game, it still worked. Yet here we are, looking down the barrel of GTA V at customised cars and rounds of golf.
With my pile of shame only getting taller, will I really find the time to complete a game that spans for hundreds of hours? With the allure of the next greatest fix, will you?
With so much going on, GTA V has forced itself to become a jack of all trades. It's spreading itself across multiple facets - forget the core gunplay and driving mechanics, this is a game that also needs to offer a working economy, bike physics, wildlife AI, and more tattoo textures and T-shirt pallet swaps than you're likely to need. It's a big ask. It needs to do so many things right, make so many things work, on top of delivering the gameplay it needs to deliver.
"What do we want?" "More game!" "Why do we want it?" "Because!"
I'm 31. I've got a wife and a mortgage, a full-time job and a few hobbies. Do I have enough hours in the day to appreciate everything GTA V has to offer? You might. But then the market is full of games that will release weeks or months after GTA V, demanding attention with game worlds of their own - newer, shinier experiences that demand to be played right now. And gamers, with our insatiable appetites, will turn towards them. With my pile of shame only getting taller, will I really find the time to complete a game that spans for hundreds of hours? With the allure of the next greatest fix, will you?
What happened to games that did one thing really well? Why do we need our games to do lots of things, all the things, in order to hold our attention? Are we really that scatterbrained, burdened with short attention spans, that we won't stay involved in a game unless there's something new to explore right around the next corner?
Perhaps GTA V is a game that's designed to be enjoyed in the long term. Perhaps it, like Skyrim, is so purposefully large that it can be explored month after month and still present something new. Or perhaps it's all about appealing to so many desires from so many people. I might have zero interest in playing golf - I might not even happen upon a golf course - but that's not to say someone else won't throw themselves into those 18 holes head first. But is this really the best way forward for open world design? With GTA V doing all this, does this position any game that dares to do less as inferior? Or does the next phase in the sandbox arms race ensure we'll get more, more, more?
You know, because.
I'll keep my eye on GTA V - what discerning gamer wouldn't? - and while I hope it can pull off its many and sundry promises, I'm under no illusions that I'll see the entirety of what it has to offer. And considering the hundreds of programmers and millions of dollars that went towards its creation, that's a shame.