Once upon a time, back when games were fun to play, most of them had a special quality. It was a quality of mystery, a spur to curiosity, a certain sense of wonder. In a word: exploration.

Might & Magic is a good example of this. Once you set foot outside of town, you didn’t know what you’d find. And I don’t mean some bereft moron in the wilderness, hunting for a missing spouse or lost dog.

No, there were strange and wonderful things that might be there. Maybe a chest of goodies, long buried and forgotten. A magic shrine. A mysterious fountain. A dungeon no one knew about. There was no telling what might turn up once you went off-road.

Games don’t have this anymore. These days, with the emphasis on “story” – regardless of how shoddy the idea and execution – linear railroading is all we get.

Well, here we are in a new town. Who needs help? Go here and do this. Go there and do that. Okay, on with the main plot, who do we see? Oh, you? Aha, okay, let’s go wipe out that nest of Orcs. Ho hum.

It’s all very mechanical, very mundane, and very boring. Each area is carefully planned for so much and no more. There is no real world to speak of, as players are hustled from one location to the next.

Certainly, I like quick travel as much as anyone. On the other hand, there is no option to take time out and explore. To go poking around in the depths of a forest or obscure corners of the world.

Even Oblivion falls down in this regard. Yes, you can go waltzing out of town and “off-road”. But about all you’ll find are ruins, clones of each other, uninteresting, and ultimately unsatisfying.

The ability to explore lent a touch of enchantment to those old games. It gave us the joy of discovery when we came upon something unexpected and unknown. We had the feeling that this was a magical world.

That feeling is totally absent in modern games. Yes, we can cheer when we find that neato sword or nifty bit of armor in a dungeon. But it isn’t the same as walking through a woods, and coming into a clearing, with an odd-looking statue sitting in the center. A statue of something unknown.

Few, if any, of these were important to the story. They were little bonuses for those who wanted to take the time to go exploring, who wanted to see and know everything the world had to offer.

This is a great loss. When a game takes place in a world not our own, there should be that sense of wonder to it. That feeling anything is possible. That touch of enchantment.

Would some power the giftie gie us
To have that joy of discovery again…miniscorp