Saving can be an important mechanic in exploration heavy video games. The main purpose of exploration video games is self-explanatory – to explore the game world. This is often spurred on by interesting landmarks, quests, non-player characters (NPCs), or lore. That said, not all exploration games handle saving the same way. Some systems of saving are better suited for exploration gameplay then others. An example of a saving system not well suited for exploration games can be seen in Outward, a role playing game with a heavy emphasis on exploration.
Saves occur in Outward when a player enters a new area, such as a city, building, or overworld. There is no option for the player to save their game progress in the middle of exploring, battler, or other in game activity. While this is not necessarily a bad system, I found it influenced how I played the game, and not in a good way. In my first playthrough of Outward shortly after I exited the tutorial stage I approached two mundane looking NPCs on the main road, who promptly attacked me and took me to their hideout. After several failed attempts I finally escaped the hideout, only to fall victim to a trap set on a promising looking bridge. Having learned my lesson from these misadventures, when I next set out to explore the world I was much more cautious. I did everything I could to avoid anything that moved, appeared to be infrastructure, or looked more interesting than a static piece of set dressing. Even if a creature looked easy I stayed clear of it, I had learned my lesson the first time. I acknowledge that this seems overly cautious of me, and in games where I have more control over when I can save I am much more daring. However, considering the amount of time I spent getting from one area to another in Outward I did not want to risk dying and having to retrack through everything again. This cautiousness made playing the game much less interesting and noticeably less fun then games where I had the security of quick saving. It felt like there was less I could do without risking wasting a half hour of exploration.
There are good games that feature both exploration and a save system similar to Outward. That said, some of these other games, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (released in 1998), have such a save system due to the limited technology of their time. Outward (released in 2019) does not have that excuse. With quicksave options being a common (and I would argue beneficial) feature of many modern games, I remain baffled why Outward would choose to use the save system it did. It does not encourage the player to explore and hinders their confidence when interacting with enemies. I’m sure some will say that I was being a wuss and should have just taken the risk, and maybe they are right (everyone is entitled to their opinion). But with only so many hours in a day, I do not want the time I’ve invested in a game to be wasted by an ill-fated encounter with a knock-off chocobo.
Outward. Nine Dot Studio, 2019. PC version. Video Game.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo, 1998. Wii version. Video Game.
All screenshots taken by author.