Opinion The over reliance on player choice and freedom has made games worse


Oct 6, 2018
I've been cooking on this realization for a few years now as I've played some of the bigger and more well received games out there. Obviously this means what they're going for ultimately worked but I feel like it has made them much worse than their predecessors or other games out there. Note that I'm not saying having choice at all is bad only that we have swung too far in one direction and like most things in life a balance is much better than an extreme. I could be here all day listing examples but I'm going to focus on a few of the biggest offenders that easily come to my mind.

Assassin's Creed

This is probably the easiest offender to criticize and one that I don't think many would disagree with. Years ago articles came out about ubisoft wanting to take their games in a more open ended direction, meaning less scripted content and more "player freedom". What this led to is what I call the bandit outpost problem which plagues many games today, even darlings like Elden Ring. The old AC games while not being anywhere near masterfully designed still had some design to them. The cities had sections carved out that were essentially enemy zones and if you paid attention you could notice an area that would become important in a mission later on while running around the city. You could see a spot where guards could stand watch, spots where you could use your tools or stealth abilities, sections where enemies could cut off your retreat. All of this was erased when the nu-AC formula was unveiled with Origins. Now all we get are 200 very similar mini camps that have the same couple of entrances/exits, about 3-6 guards and a couple bushes to hide in. This was done under the illusion of letting the player choose how they wanted to handle this but in reality all it did was dilute the gameplay experience to the same repetitive actions. What used to be little puzzle missions (how do I get out of this spot without being seen or killing anyone) is now entering the same base a hundred times and killing guards mostly the same way whether you choose stealth or combat.

Horizon Forbidden West

On paper this is a great sequel from a gameplay perspective. You have dozens more weapons and many new weapon types that didn't exist in the first, you have a ton of new machine types to fight, you have way more skills to use. But no thought was given to how all of this gels together when you're in the fight. All of this extra bloat and "choice" has led to a combat system that is infinitely more frustrating to deal with than the previous game. You have to juggle all these weapon and ammo types on a weapon wheel that can only hold 5 or 6 at once, against enemies that have dozens of different removable pieces that each have their own sets of weaknesses and strengths which leads to spending waaay too much time in menus changing things out. It makes the game almost impossible to play without abusing Aloy's slow motion concentration ability as you try to target any of these tiny pieces on the otherwise fast moving machines. I found this game dramatically worse than the original mostly due to all this extra choice.

Elden Ring

Honestly I could levy a lot of the same complaints I'm about to put out there on the other souls games too but ER gets picked on because it's so much bigger and more bloated than the others which exacerbates the issues. Elden Ring forgoes a lot of the intricate level design souls games are known for in place of an open world that is more ubi-like than I think most people want to admit since many icons are either kept off the map until you visit them or are kept off completely (like the dozens of bandit/soldier camps). It also doubles down on the "player choice" the games are known for in the vein of all the classes and builds you can do. However as Sekiro showed me, the more options you have at your disposal the harder it is to make fun fights that force you to do things you're not comfortable doing. Stuck on radahn? Just go change your weapons and class to something that works far easier on him. Stuck on malenia? Do the same, or use a summon to keep her busy while you hit her from behind. The devs just cannot account for all of the possible things you can do and it dilutes the fights. This is when I realized that's why I loved Sekiro when I've found all other souls games kind of boring. You have no builds or classes in sekiro, you have no magic, you have 1 weapon. You play the game on their terms and master it or you simply do not move on. This is also why the game is by far the hardest of From's games, because there is no way to cheese fights and the devs can design everything knowing every player has the same gear and abilities. This is also why I found the bosses in that game more memorable as well.

Breath of the Wild

Arguably the poster child for what I'm talking about here. It ditched the puzzles and dungeons the series was known for in place of a more dynamic world where you have more "choice" to do things. However what they forgot to do was give a reason to do any of it. I agree that the potential of botw is impressive but the devs chose to double down on letting the player choose their method of interaction too much so for nearly every problem in the game you can solve it in an incredibly easy way. Like why would I go out of my way to think of a crazy solution like using octo balloons to lift myself up to a ledge when I can just climb it? Or go around and drop down to it? Yes doing that is my choice but that's the problem here, too much choice dilutes the problems you have to solve. I've compared this game to Prey 2017 in the past as an example of what a healthy amount of choice is. In prey you can come across locked rooms that likely have door codes somewhere in the station if you want to wait potentially hours to get in, however they often have craftier solutions to get in right then if you can use your head (like using a nerf crossbow to shoot through a crack in the glass to open the door). I've told people that if Prey was like botw you could still do that but they'd also place the keycard for the door on a table near it so you could "choose" to solve it that way too but doing that would completely erase the entire point of the puzzle to begin with as most sane people would just grab the keycard. I haven't played Tears of the Kingdom yet but from what I can tell it seems to double down on this problem. Like yeah you can make some incredibly complicated machine that looks amazing in a youtube video, but you can also solve the puzzle with 2 sticks and a fan too which is what most people will do.

It really feels like these games are getting more diluted thanks to developers misunderstanding what player choice should mean. It doesn't mean that you should include every possible solution including the easiest and most obvious ways because most people are going to choose the path of least resistance and pick the boring methods. Games in the past with incredible design could find a way to weave choices into gameplay and level design while also simultaneously pushing you to use your head to figure things out. But I think the reason these games I talked about above are so successful, and why this is ultimately a losing battle, is that people don't want to be challenged too much. They want a bail out option either immediately or at least the option to bail out if they struggle too much.


Dec 21, 2018
I agree in many ways, in some, less so, I'll psot some more thoughts later.

But one thing that I think is pretty noticeable (though some publishers actually work to do better in that regard):
Despite so many games trying to give players "freedom"... the accessibility options are never there to follow through, from casual games like Zelda to harder games like Elden Ring, they want people to "play as they want"... except the players that they don't give a shit about, I guess.
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