Monster Hunter Tri. My interest was born out of the perception of an open environment that acted as a sort of living ecosystem and sandbox elements that would allow me to explore, soak in the scenery, and basically do whatever to my hunter's content.
Since then, I've watched some videos and read a review or two, and I've gotten the feeling that while it's probably a good game, it's most likely not the gameplay experience I was hoping for.
This got me thinking. There have been several times in my life when I've thought "this is it! This is the game I've been waiting for!" only to, of course, be disappointed. Fable, Oblivion, Saints Row 2... They're all fun (except for maybe Oblivion), but none have lived up to my expectations.
So what would be the perfect game for me? (Keep in mind the "for me" part; I'm not claiming this is an objective view of a good game)
1 - Environment
I want a huge open world that rarely, if ever, interrupted by loading screens. The draw distance should compensate for technical limitations in a way that doesn't break immersion (I'm looking at you, Oblivion). There should be small towns and cities of varying scale and a huge wilderness to explore. When I don't feel like sight seeing, there should be fast travel methods that do their job without breaking immersion.
While I am aware that the environment can't go on forever and there have to be cut-off points, I'd prefer those come in the form of something along the edges that one simply cannot pass. It might be a bit forced at times, but simply not being able to move beyond an invisible wall is annoying, and if I can see a place my character should logically be able to get to, I want to be able to go there.
Do not stop me from walking off cliffs, either. No invisible wall should be between my character and purposefully or accidentally falling off of that cliff. It's one of the most immersion-breaking things an environment can do in a video game.
Given my personal tastes, I would prefer a fantasy setting with magic and a wilderness that is mostly alive and well cared for as opposed to high tech and/or post-apocalyptic.
Closest I've experienced to right: World Of Warcraft. I would prefer this be provided in a single player experience, but my favorite thing about that game was simple exploring its world. In fact, it does everything I've listed above. It doesn't do everything I'm going to list, but on this subject, I have yet to see a game do better.
2 - Player Abilities
LET ME JUMP. I grew up on side scrollers and not being able to jump makes me feel like I have a weight around my neck keeping me down.
Melee and ranged attacks should be available, as should super cool special abilities (ideally fueled by magic). There should be genuine reasons to choose one weapon type or spell over another. I should be able to unequip all of my weapons and bare-knuckle box if I so choose.
Among the magic abilities, I want spells that transform opponents. Turn them into animals, weaker enemies, allies, change their genders, whatever. This is a subset of magic that should be available and I give World Of Warcraft props for its sheep spell.
I don't want to have to pick a class, or a species, or anything else that amounts to "you can do this but not that." I want access to everything I'm willing to earn and to be able to learn every ability should I be willing to invest the time. In short, I don't want to be pigeon-holed right from the start.
Now here's the big one. The player ability I rarely see but breaks immersion every time it's absent. Simply put, I want to be able to grab stuff.
No, seriously. Being able to "touch" things is the most basic way a person can interact with objects in real life, and it being absent from games breaks immersion for me. If it's in the game, I want my character to be able to grab it and subsequently try to pick it up. Rocks, chairs, people, vehicles, horses, anything. My character might not be able to pick up whatever they're grabbing, but not letting them try is yet another thing that breaks immersion. Let my character try and fail to pick up that horse. Yes, they'll make an ass out of themselves, but the ability to try and fail at something like that makes it all the more real to me.
And while I'm grabbing things? Let me throw enemies at other enemies. That's always awesome.
Closest I've experienced to right: Overall, I'd say the 3D Zelda games. They fail in a lot of ways, but less so than other games. Oblivion might let you grab stuff, but I found it lacking overall in what you could do with said stuff once grabbed
3 - Bad Guys
One of the things that made me excited about Monster Hunter was the concept of an ecosystem. I like the idea of exploring a sandbox wilderness and witnessing a hunter-prey scenario playing out that I can either interrupt, sit back and watch, or simply ignore.
It would also introduce emergent gameplay strategies, such as shaking off a predator you're not prepared to deal with by leading it towards easier prey that distracts it. Not entirely ethical, but just that being possible would be incredibly cool.
Enemies should behave logically relative to each other. A bear and a boar should not be teaming up to try and kill me, and a humanoid bad guy should not be buddies with a wild bear (unless he's a druid or something). I would welcome a scenario where I'm fighting some random humanoid enemy when suddenly a big monster predator shows up and my foe and I become more concerned with taking it down than each other, or my foe simply runs away leaving me to either do likewise or fight the monster on my own.
Given that I can grab people in my perfect game, I should also be able to grab my foe, throw him at the monster, and run away. Unethical again, but cool simply by virtue of being possible.
I don't want every enemy encounter to feel like an epic challenge. There should be plenty of bad guys who are easily defeated so long as there aren't too many of them. Boss fights, on the other hand, should be epic, and I would like a way to re-fight them at will even if it is just an out-of-main-game menu option.
Closest I've experienced to right: You know, I'm not sure. There are plenty of games that fit parts of the criteria while failing at others. I can't actually think of a game that does the "not all the enemies are on the same side" bit (except maybe Monster Hunter, which I haven't played yet so I'm not certain). A lot of games probably fit the difficulty and boss fight criteria. I haven't kept up on Playstation games and therefore haven't played the God Of War games, but I'm betting they fit the latter half of my criteria.
4 - Character Customization
I don't want armor to determine what my character looks like. I also don't want class or stat-specific races to determine that. I want to customize to my heart's content as a male or female character, make them look human or non-human, and be able to change it up later and save multiple looks that can be variations of the same (such as with different clothes) or completely different.
Closest I've experienced to right: Champions Online, hands down. The only thing it lacks in this regard is the ability to switch genders between looks, which would be odd but this is my perfect game and that therefore needs to be an option, darn it.
I'm wrapping this up because I've just realized I could probably go on forever with this and I've already written more than I thought I would, but it basically boils down to is this:
An immersive sandbox fantasy game with a convincing ecosystem, lots of freedom to customize, fun gameplay and the ability to "touch" and interact with objects via a grabbing mechanism.
What would your perfect game be like?