This week, two highly anticipated triple-A gaming titles are set to release: the casual and relaxing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the hyper-violent gorefest DOOM Eternal. These games, thematically, couldn’t be more diametrically opposed, but upon closer inspection, they have more in common than meets the eye.
The DOOM series is, and always has been, simple to understand. You are the DOOM Guy. You shoot the demons, the demons explode, you look for more demons. Rinse and repeat while shaking up the appearance of the monsters you kill and the way that you (often humorously) execute them. Sometimes you jam a chainsaw through a chest cavity, other times you rip out an eyeball with your bare hands and replace it with a grenade; all times, it’s a simple loop that you can wrap your head around without the need for any note-taking or advanced forethought.
Similarly, Animal Crossing has always been centered around its charming simplicity. It’s so simple that there’s not even an overarching narrative. You just show up in a town somewhere and start existing. You talk to folks, help them find lost items, you sell fruit, you buy furniture. Sometimes you visit the cafe to chat with your friends. Other times you visit a tropical island to catch bugs. There is no peril. There are no questlines. You listen to relaxing music and water your flower garden. It’s cheesecake for the soul.
Both of the games described above are beautiful in their simplicity. Compared to modern blockbusters, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (a game that’s as tedious as it is sprawling), DOOM Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are similar in that they shine in their limited scale and well-defined loops. In the place of map traversal and cinematics, these games have familiar but enticing mechanics and a heaping dose of charm and polish.
What’s So Bad About Open Worlds?
At face-level, there’s no problem with a game that boasts an expansive map. There are quite a few games that do so — in fact, they make up many of the best games of the past decade. The issue is that, following the success of well-made open world games at the turn of the 2010’s such as Red Dead Redemption or inFamous, the gaming industry made a massive shift toward incorporating “open-world” into every AAA title. As a result, the gaming ecosystem gave rise to an abundance of games with huge, expansive worlds — many of which lack the care, nuance, or love that made the successful games work.
It all boils down to the rule that not all games need an open world to be good. Games with limited environments, like the recent title Luigi’s Mansion 3, stand as a testament to how far a game can get with a reasonable scope and a focus on polish and tight mechanics. In the same way, Animal Crossing and DOOM manage to accomplish a lot in a limited space. There’s no need for a vast map where a confined space will do. There’s nothing so wrong with giving players a little bit (but not a lot) of room to play in, as long as you give them the right toys. Like a hellrune embossed laser sword.
DOOM And Animal Crossing Might Turn This Ship Around
The ecosystem’s reaction to DOOM Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ similar approach to Triple-A games is likely to tell a tale of the future of the gaming ecosystem. If these games succeed on the back of their polished, carefully detailed environments, limited scale, and satisfactory gameplay loops, we may see a shift in the mainstream industry, away from the current trend of granular map completion and unpolished narrative experiences that are in the game because they’re what’s popular. (That said, I can’t wait for the inevitable Animal Crossing Battle Royale DLC.)
A focus on this kind of game in the coming years is just the breath of fresh air that many gamers have been hoping for, whether that fresh air smells like a piña colada, or a decroded demon carcass.