Open-ended games?
December 8, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I would like to find a computer game with a mechanic that rewards constant play (eg, levelling up). What do you recommend?

I enjoy playing games, but they're always over too fast (or I get bored of them). As such, I am constantly on the look out for games that are not over too fast. I've filled the hole somewhat with shmups -- it will take hundreds hours of practise before I master DoDonPachi, and it somehow remains fun no matter how many times I play stage 1 -- but sometimes I don't want to play a shmup (or don't want to drag my gamepad out, or whatever), so I'm looking for more.

The first thing that comes to mind is a game where you level up (eg, World of Warcraft), which would be fine, but caveat: I find repetitive grinding incredibly boring. Same reason I am slowly becoming bored of Elements, despite initial enjoyment. So if it requires grinding, I'm probably not going to enjoy it.

Whatever the mechanism, the game needs to continue to be rewarding indefinitely (or for a very long time, at least).

Couple of other caveats: it would be nice if it could be played for 5 minutes or 5 hours depending on my mood (I love Civ, but sitting down for a game is such a commitment). It needs to either be Flash-based or OS X compatible -- I'm just as open to either, and can be relied upon to have a constant internet connection -- anything that requires Windows is useless to me (not hardcore enough to install Boot Camp/VMWare just for a game). I'm also open to emulation (providing x system has an emulator OS X can run competently, of course). Price isn't a huge concern, but it will take a monumentally awesome game to make me consent to a subscription. I'm pretty flexible on genres, but I will say the Sim-genre games never grabbed me very much (though I'm not sure why, it's been a while), because I know they will be among the first answers.

Feel free to ignore caveats: if I like it enough, I'll make exceptions. The only necessary is that it's open-ended and fun and not Puzzle Pirates (though puzzles are ok!).

Anything come to mind?
posted by nostrich to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Kingdom of Loathing.
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

What about open-world console games, like a racing game, or Grand Theft Auto?

What about casual competition, like online Poker (which you can play for free)?

Facebook farming games -- FarmVille, FishVille -- are open-ended, but require grinding. Still, the rewards are pretty frequent, so you're always doing something.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:00 PM on December 8, 2009

Achievement Unlocked.

I keed

Try the mac version of puzzle quest.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2009

Have you ever played Nethack? There are a lot of variants out there, but I still think the original takes the cake. It's a "Roguelike" dungeon-explorer game in very, very simple (as simple as plain old ASCII, though I find the tiled sets more approachable) graphics but incredibly complicated mechanics/"plot."

Basically, it's a dungeon crawl with permadeath, so if you die it's game over. There are a whole mess of classes, and the dungeon is 90% random every time, with just a few constants to help you gauge how far you are.

Oh, and people play for years and years and years without ever beating it. But that's okay. Because beating it isn't really the point...seeing how far you can get is, and doing so against crazy adversity even moreso. There's a pretty significant learning curve, but thankfully the nethack wiki helps a lot (Spoilers: Give it a try. Easy to play for two floors in 5 minutes or 20 deaths in 5 hours. Just google Nethack and you'll find it for download.
posted by Rallon at 2:13 PM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

NetHack. Dwarf Fortress.
posted by limon at 2:14 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Someone's gonna recommend the Bethesda oeuvre, so it may as well be me. Most of their RPG catalog will satisfy you, but I believe Morrowind is the droid that you're looking for.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:18 PM on December 8, 2009

Oh, damn it, rereading your question, I now see the flash/OSX requirements. My bad, never mind.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:18 PM on December 8, 2009

Any game that has an online multiplayer component is open-ended. For skill-based games like first-person shooters, the more you play the better you get. The leveling up comes from within.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:26 PM on December 8, 2009

Oh yes, Kingdom of Loathing. The game in the short-term does involve leveling up, but the long-term game is more about acquiring skills. And loot. You can rush through a life of your character and go on to your next life fairly quickly or you can linger in a life and enjoy all the content. What KoL lacks in art it more than makes up for in wit. You get a set amount of turns per day... it's the sort of game where you can put a ton of time into it or very little and still enjoy it. There are also pretty awesome events every xmas.
posted by Baethan at 2:53 PM on December 8, 2009

I second Nethack - and one of the great things about it is its turn-based nature, so you can take as long as you want to get through a particularly difficult encounter. I even have it on my iPhone to play on the subway or during my lunch break.

I also suggest Spelunky - it's a roguelike platformer. In other words, the levels are procedurally generated, and there is permadeath, although it's more forgiving in that it allows you to build up money between deaths and eventually buy "shortcuts" allowing you to start on deeper levels. Thus you need to play quite a long time to get down to the deeper levels and there is some "grinding" in that respect, but the levels are different every time and there's lots of stuff to discover.
posted by pravit at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2009

Whoawhoawhoa hold on a sec –

Dwarf Fortress is anything but low-commitment – there's no way you can just pick it up for 5 minutes at a time, especially when starting a fortress;

and Nethack, you die, often real quick, so no constant rewards from levelling up. Angband games involve less interaction with the environment, but more pellet-dispensing. They will also kill your guy, but usually less quickly.

Hmm. What about Neverwinter Nights (II)? The advantage there is, there's a lot of user-made mods available, so you don't have to grind the same maps in order to advance your characters, vs. say WoW/Diablo II. OTOH it's not too great for five-minute sessions.

The other thing I can think of is browser-based empire-building games like Travian, Ikariam, OGame, and similar, where you can play for five-minute stints and improve your empire over the course of a couple years maybe and getting attacked doesn't just wipe out all of your gains. There are caps on your development but in the better versions of these games it takes a little while to get there.

The other other thing I can think of is not OS X gaming, but tactics RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, where you can improve your guys a lot and there's a fair bit of variation in the maps you play on. Some of the older ones you can run on emulators, say for the Game Boy Advance.
posted by furiousthought at 3:14 PM on December 8, 2009

Thirding Kingdom of Loathing. And my multis are Fourthing and Fifthing (sp?) it. I played in 2004/2005, got back in 2007 and play all the time. At times I'm playing 3 hours a day, at times 30 minutes, depending on my character's situation. No subscription, but donation gets you in-game items [which you could buy from the Mall anyways, though]

If you join, drop me a line and I'll be glad to send you a welcome basket/give a hand.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:00 PM on December 8, 2009

One game I found out about from AskMeFi was Stranded II. Coupled with the Massive Mod (which can be found in their mods forum) it is an amazing island survival game that has you leveling up your various skills which unlocks new abilities/technologies. And then you need to harvest resources and build things to open up the tech tree.

Very amusing and entertaining way to kill a few hours or a little time if that is all that is available.
posted by Elminster24 at 4:38 PM on December 8, 2009

Urban Dead: when you hit level 42 you can get great satisfaction from the wiki...
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:39 PM on December 8, 2009

Yohoho Puzzle Pirates.

Massively Multiplayer, runs in Java, puzzle/skill based. The leveling up is largely your skill level, but is reflected in your ratings. There are parts which are very much 5-minutes-at-a-time, and parts which are 5-hours-at-a-time.

I was addicted for over a year, YMMV.
posted by contrarian at 5:25 PM on December 8, 2009

Diablo 2 or Torchlight. You can play those basically forever. I'm assuming there are OSX versions out there but I could be wrong.
posted by cirrostratus at 5:40 PM on December 8, 2009

The Mac port of Torchlight is promised, but no word on arrival.
posted by now i'm piste at 6:11 PM on December 8, 2009

I wouldn't rule out WoW, now that you gain experience (i.e., you can level) from battlegrounds. I find Warsong Gulch the very antithesis of boring. (Unless some Alliance premade is kicking our ass repeatedly.)

Five minutes isn't enough of a commitment for a battleground, but you can use those short logons to level up fishing or any other gathering skill, the fruits of which can be parlayed into gold or other helpful items.
posted by bricoleur at 6:13 PM on December 8, 2009

Escape Velocity? It's kind of like Asteroids crossed with an RPG. You can kinda/sorta "beat" it by completing all the available missions, but doing so would take a very long time. I always found it fun, and I have a low tolerance for grinding as well (didn't like WoW for that reason).

It's not a new game so don't expect killer graphics or anything, and it's single-player rather than being a MUD, but it's totally worth $20 even today, IMO.

In addition, once you've played the major plotline to your satisfaction, you can get "plugins" (really, full mods) that give you new plotlines, including the entire universes from the previous two games in the series. (The Escape Velocity I'm recommending is properly "Escape Velocity Nova"; "Escape Velocity" and "Escape Velocity Override" were its predecessors, but they're playable only if you have a pre-OSX Macintosh. Nova will run on OSX or Windows.)

Extensive Wikipedia article with lots more information here.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2009

With your stringent requirements I think a puzzle game would be the best fit. I would recommend Tetris Attack -- there's a relatively recent edition called Planet Puzzle League for the Nintendo DS that is top-notch, but I'm sure Google will provide a Flash equivalent.
posted by richrad at 8:56 PM on December 8, 2009

Regarding the permadeath issue in nethack, explore mode is a great way to learn the extensive mechanics of the game without the frustration of permadeath or the sleazy feeling that can come from spoilers. Eventually you learn that there is always a way to escape death, if you are patient and careful enough, and you won't need explore mode to have a long game (though you won't necessarily beat the game any time soon).
posted by idiopath at 10:52 PM on December 8, 2009

I'll second Escape Velocity--had forgotten all about it. It is even more fun if you hack it using a trainer since you can get into some pretty insane encounters that way (think you vs. a planetary defense armada).
posted by Elminster24 at 11:48 PM on December 8, 2009

Haven't played it myself but EVE Online is supposed to be notable for the long-term nature of the play. And it's available for the Mac.

Ultima IV, released in 1985, is famous as one of the first really open-ended RPG games where you wander around in a world improving your equipment and skills and particularly your karma - the object of the whole game is basically to become a paragon of virtue rather than anything like scoring points. It was released as freeware by its author a few years back and now is available on the Mac as xu4.
posted by XMLicious at 5:50 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good stuff so far. Puzzle Quest seems interesting, though suffers from Same Thing Over and Over Again syndrome. Escape Velocity is promising, I'll be giving that some time, I'm sure. And Nethack is a game I never got very in to, but I don't see any reason not to give it another go.
posted by nostrich at 6:34 AM on December 9, 2009

Tropico 3
posted by jmmpangaea at 7:22 AM on December 9, 2009

-1 to Puzzle Quest suggestions. The game becomes a looooong grind after a while. It ruined "Bejeweled-style" games for me.

I'd suggest Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for Game Boy Advance, personally. I put over 100 hours into that game, didn't regret a second. Unfortunately it's somewhat easy.
posted by achompas at 8:51 AM on December 9, 2009

If you try Nethack, you might want to get "spoiled". (The wiki moved to Most games are epic. You can also go for speed runs - people have won in less than 2.5 hours.
posted by Tjr at 5:39 PM on December 2, 2010

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