I’ve unlocked the 2nd part of the Lake of Nine in GoW, which allows access to most of the side areas. I know I’m missing 2 abilities – hitting green orbs, and burning some roots without explosions. Not a big deal.
Rather than continue with the main quest, I decided to take my time to explore the lake. There are a dozen or so docks around the place, a similar amount of side quests, treasure maps, realm tears to close, chests to loot, and orbs to collect. There are good and less good parts to this.
The less good to start. There are some enemies that are dramatically more powerful than me and can (and have) kill me in a single hit. Most of those battles had me re-try a dozen+ times. I’ve been able to take them all down, with the exception of Travellers. Those buggers are walking death machines. The other fights were all extremely challenging, and I had to get extra creative to get through them. Atreus being fully upgraded is a MASSIVE benefit. I should have invested in him earlier.
The good is multi-part. First, I am much better at the game due to the above difficulty. When I started exploring, I would end up getting hit every so often. Now, I can avoid 3 killer enemies at the same time, dodge through multiple hits, and still get in some solid damage. That feels really good.
The next boost is just plain power increases. There are some items I’ve collected that improve my baseline stats, extra gear, and extra runes to get stronger. Numerically, I would say I’m twice as strong as I was before I started.
I’ve also unlocked a bunch of portals that will eventually allow me to teleport across the map, meaning faster travel in the future. GoW is a big game, so fast travel would be quite beneficial.
Finally, I’ve seen some pretty inventive quests and areas. There’s some broken pirate ships and an interesting elevator puzzle. There’s a sea giant that “drowned” out of the water. There’s the council of Valkyries which looks straight out of a movie. Fafnir’s quest has you freeing a dragon. Thor’s statue is next.
Finding the balance between directed and open gameplay is very tough. FF14 wasn’t much fun until it opened up. FF15 wasn’t fun because it was so open. AC:O has levels, which provides some framing – just that the activities are too similar. I’m not saying GoW is perfect in that balance, as it clearly wants to have players backtrack later in the game. I am saying that the open gameplay is purposefully designed, rather than just a bunch of random icons thrown on a map. It makes it so that there’s additional puzzles around every corner, rather than repeating the same 4-5 steps ad-infinitum.
Kind of relates to what I like in real life truthfully. I like a foundational stability (structure) but also need the continual challenge of exploration and growth. Too much structure bores me. Too much volatility exhausts me. Always forward.