When I’m on vacation, I tend to swap between the buffet and sit down meals. I really like a sit down… you take some time, have a conversation, food comes, you enjoy it because it was made for you. Buffets are stupid practical when you have kids and are time constrained. As an adult though, buffets give me a sense of anxiety. There’s just SO MUCH STUFF, I don’t know where to start or end. I tend to walk circles around, look at other people’s plates, then somehow end up with a plate of mexican/indian/local dishes. Jerk chicken and curry? It’s a weird mix.
Open ended games have a similar issue – so much choice. Skyrim has a wide set of possible activities; you can level, explore, quest, increase factions, hunt secrets, go for achievements, craft, sneak, etc… Still, they are generally contained, and you’re not exactly presented with all those options from the start. In that sense, you can’t jump from level 10 to 40 by changing locations – there’s a sense of progress. The framing of those various activities is the main quest, with a final boss fight to close out.
The more I get back into Warframe, the more I realize that this is not the case. There’s a framework of missions to unlock features, but it’s entirely posssible to max out your character after a couple hours of play – at least in the traditional sense of levels of your class. Within a few more hours, you start unlocking more and more things to do. I am going to drop a video that describes the TON of stuff (2:38 is where it goes off the list).
Each of of those is a separate system, with its own goals. In nearly all cases, those systems interact with another system (or systems). In many cases you are prevented from progressing in one goal until another system’s goal is achieved.
Warframe feels like a never ending buffet, and one without labels. You could end up filling your plate with white rice, while being completely unaware that there’s a set of delicious canard confit a few steps away. Worse, you could simply end up running around missions without any idea of what to do.
This lack of clear progress is both a challenge and its own reward. WoW has a single primary goal, increase your ilvl. Nearly every other system is based on this goal – pet battles, transmog, and toys are an exception. It is very difficult to get lost on that path, and since there’s only one goal, people will take the easiest system to achieve it. (There’s a rant topic…)
Warframe has multiple large systematic goals. Collect more frames/weapons, unlock more missions (to get more frames/weapons), complete quests (to unlock more missions), gain faction (to unlock more quests), max out frames/weapons (to increase Mastery), increase Mastery (to unlock more missions, quests, factions, frames/weapons). It seems like an outright mess, and compared to nearly every other game out there it is. Yet the amount of player agency here is astounding.
You want it to be a parkour simulator? Sure. A boss grinder? Yup. A social hub? Can do. A cosmetics hunt? Yessir. Open-world exploration? That too. It’s a game that becomes what you want it to be. The challenge, as with a buffet, is that it’s entirely possible to gorge yourself to exhaustion.
I love horizontal progression games, the broad variety of choice feels less constraining than a railroaded path of increasing numbers.
Just like a buffet, there are some who may have an overall strategy of picking and selecting small quantities of tapas items they enjoy until they’re happy and sated, there can be others who just like only a few things and create their own main course and dishes out of those few, or even those who want to min-max the price of the buffet and gorge themselves solely on high return items (we hope they really like oysters, or they might be making themselves miserable in the bargain.)
Life tends to resemble horizontal progression more than vertical anyway, so one may as well get some practice at goal setting wherever one can find it.