Enough With The Social Hubs In Video Games

outriders
This character from Outriders had no patience for the social space.
Screenshot: People Can Fly / Square Enix

Here’s a radical idea: Turn every social space in a video game into a menu.

Last month, Kotaku’s Zack Zweizen and I teamed up to power through the demo for Outriders, People Can Fly’s upcoming looter-shooter. Verdict: It rules. (Zack, if you’re reading this, yes, I’m speaking for you.) The shooting is airtight, some of the powers are truly awesome, and there are moments—particularly as the demo wraps—that demand some coordinated teamwork. Still, while shooting the shit in the game’s hub, Rift Town, we touched on a mutual complaint, levied specifically at that hub: Rift Town could’ve been a menu.

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In Rift Town, you can buy armor and, provided you complete a side-quest, weapons. You can customize your character’s appearance. You can party up with strangers. You can fast-travel to other fast-travel points, kickstart missions, and even talk to a vendor who allows you to cash in collectible items for in-game rewards. Once Outriders releases in full next month, it’ll feature a stash that allows you to share gear between up to six characters affiliated with your profile.

rift town outriders
The video game equivalent of “a meeting that could’ve been an email”: Here’s all the stuff you can interact with in just one room of Rift Town.
Screenshot: People Can Fly / Kotaku

To be fair, Rift Town is gorgeous, its ramshackle appearance instantly conveying the beaten-down state of humanity on a hostile, faraway planet. When you walk through its not-so-hallowed halls, you know exactly what story this game is trying to tell. But I can only walk up the same set of stairs so many times. I get tired of hitting up the same kiosks. Life would be precisely one million times easier if I could just navigate all this stuff as a menu.

The cumbersome nature of the social space is even more prominent in a game like Destiny 2. In Destiny 2, one of the easiest ways to power through seasonal levels is to collect bounties—banal tasks, like “kill X number of Y,” that you can complete while tackling more interesting quests—from various vendors. At the start of every Destiny session, you load into The Tower hub. You talk to Commander Zavala and pick up his bounties. Maybe you talk to Shaxx, if you’re one of those Crucible players. If you enjoy the Gambit mode, you talk to the Drifter, who’s about as far away from the primary spawn point as possible. Only then do you actually start, y’know, playing the game.

I love Lance Reddick as much as the rest of you, but just picture how nice it would be if you didn’t need to spend five minutes at the start of every session putzing around The Tower, talking to NPCs, possibly waiting on slower party members to do the same. Picture a solar system in which you log in and your bounties are already in your quest log. You could simply start playing right away!

And then there’s Avengers. Like Destiny, you can pick up faction-specific bounties during each session. But, when the game first launched, you had to visit two separate hubs, each separated by a loading screen. (This problem has since been patched. Now, you can access faction-specific vendor terminals in the hub.) Once again, life would be easier if you could just skip the pitstop of a hub area and get right to playing.

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The idea of a social space is well-intentioned. Video games are at their best when they foster a sense of community. Seeing other Guardians bunny-hop around the Tower builds an unmistakable cozy camaraderie. But it’s still a midway point between loading the game and playing the game. For those saddled with packed schedules, slow internet, or bones-deep impatience, an option to access the essentials via a menu, rather than a social space, would be more than welcome.

As for Outriders, it’s unclear whether or not Rift Town is the only hub, or just one of many. An in-game tutorial suggests there’s a “Camp” hub for each of the game’s regions, and that they’ll allow you to avail yourself of all the same resources and tools you can access in Rift Town. The game isn’t out until April 1, so I can’t tell at the moment how much of a role the current hub will play in the full game. In the interim, I guess I’ll do another lap around Rift Town.

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Staff Writer, Kotaku

DISCUSSION

Man, this was an interesting piece to read because I just felt so opposite from everything Ari said about the game....

I found the shooting to feel kinda stiff and janky. I thought the powers and overall gameplay was super un-inspired and just kind of dull. And Rift Town being gorgeous?! For real? That’s bizarre to me. It’s just so dark and tan and grey. It’s like post apocalyptic art 101. I dunno, everything in the demo just seemed so generic to me.

I did have some fun playing it with buddies, in a way. We had a full squad, and while it was fun for the most part, I wouldn’t say it was anything other than “shoot everything that moves.” I didn’t get much sense of teamwork. The powers and all that didn’t really even matter. I came away feeling pretty meh about the whole game. Fun for a bit but kind of underwhelming overall to me.