Mirror's Edge Catalyst is an exciting, lovingly-crafted, fast-paced action game. That is, except when you're running from one pin on the map to another in order to start the next chapter, event, or time trial. I'll just go ahead and echo what's already been said elsewhere: it's odd that Mirror's Edge Catalyst includes an open world map. Honestly, I found myself dismayed, even annoyed, when the game opened up and showed me all of the quests scattered about the world. 'Not again', I thought with a sigh. The world map almost looked burdensome. Before long, I had resolved to simply ignore every side quest and time trial in the game. Ultimately, I simply ran from story point to story point, picking up a few of the Grid Spheres I would see along the way.
What came to mind when looking at all of those mission options spread about the virtual landscape, and what repulsed me from the quantity of them, was the question of purpose: why are these here; why are there so many; why should I spend time trying to complete them? In MEC in particular, there aren't too many game mechanics to explore beyond running from Point A to Point B as quickly as you can, which means pretty much every mission is going to be some variation of running from a Point A to a Point B as quickly as you can. The story missions are carefully constructed within closed spaces (read: contained; controlled; not necessarily interior) which makes the act of traversal interesting and challenging. Side quests, on the other hand, exist within the open space, where the designers don't have the same luxury: the layouts have to be more functional. This makes them less interesting, and they feel more rote.
If a good film is determined by every element in every scene being meaningful for the story the director is telling, then shouldn't a good game be determined in much the same way? Should every scene, every element, every minute of necessary traversal or repetition, be meaningful for the experience the creators are wanting the player(s) to have?
That's a very philosophical question that I may not be at liberty to answer myself—but it's a question I've been pondering more recently.
To be clear, this goes well beyond just Mirror's Edge. I never finished Assassin's Creed III for this very reason; Dragon Age: Inquisition, Infamous: Second Son, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Batman: Arkham Knight all suffer from this giant open world syndrome as well. And don't get me wrong: I'm not declaring all open world games bad or poorly crafted or diseased. I enjoyed all of the games I just listed, especially Arkham Knight (and I did seek and achieve the 100% completion ending Arkham Knight). But perhaps that's part of the issue. As game development capabilities increase, and game worlds can become larger, creators are left with the task of filling up those large worlds. That's not an easy task. And as the game's become bigger and more expensive, players continue to expect to get more and more content out of them: 20 hours, 40 hours, 100 hours of gameplay. Would Mirror's Edge Catalyst have been a better game if it were restrained to its story missions, which can be completed within 10 hours? Perhaps it would have, but look at how badly The Order: 1886 was received due to its 6-hour campaign, with no extraneous content. As a result, each new game comes with 20-40 hours of formulaic fetch-quest content.
For my part, I enjoy exploring a vast world. I completed every quest in Fallout 3, Dragon Age, and Arkham Knight. At the same time, however, I begin to feel fatigued by the number of quests that are being included in a lot of current generation titles. Shadow of Mordor was interesting and fun but it felt scattered and broken up by the number of quests scattered across the map, distracting from and interrupting what otherwise may have been an emotional story. I appreciated that Arkham Knight worked in 'intermissions' during its story-telling, giving players permission to go play with their new gadgets and check off some of the side quests that had accumulated, while also keeping the player from feeling as though all of the quests needed to be addressed at once.
This isn't just about games being primarily built on story-telling above gameplay content. This is about focus. The Legend of Zelda has numerous side quests, but they're discovered organically rather than being plastered all over the screen in a bunch of different colored icons. Same goes for FINAL FANTASY. It feels burdensome to begin a game, or come to a new area, open the map, and see more than a dozen icons spread about, all screaming at you to take care of them: this lady lost her dog; there's a time trial over here; this guy needs six phoenix plumes; upgrade your sword here; upgrade your bow there; buy new supplies. Again, it's distracting. There's no indication of focus. Where are players supposed to go? What are they trying to achieve? What should they be feeling or thinking about, other than an ever-growing list of errands?
An additional side effect of these large worlds full of additional missions is that they tend to not have endings—at least, not very meaningful ones. I found the climaxes of both Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age: Inquisition very disappointing because they didn't really resolve. Sure, there was a brief final battle with the Big Bad Dude but then both games just settled back onto that same crowded map, as though nothing had happened. Again, I feel that Arkham Knight handled this better by putting an intentional gap between the final conflict and the game's final resolution—and that gap didn't involve purchasing DLC. (Did I mention I really like Arkham Knight?)
So what do we end up with? 40 hours of gameplay spread like jam all over a vast virtual world with threads of meaningful story sprinkled here and broken up arbitrarily there, and no commitment to a meaningful resolution after all is said and done. There's no soul. We don't need more content: there are plenty of games out there. We need more meaningful experiences, more fond memories, more accomplishments and challenges overcome.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst had enjoyable, curated, plot-driven missions. The rest could have been left as menu options.
That's my point of view. It may change over time. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments.