I, like many others, have found it all too easy to step aboard the hate bandwagon for Ubisoft’s ‘towers’ mechanic. Popularised by Assassin’s Creed before creeping into a huge number of Ubisoft’s games, and since then into just about any open-world game in existence. As soon as I heard a game had a form of the tower mechanic I would instinctively scoff a little. It’s game design by number. However, since playing Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the mechanic itself that’s to blame, but the way in which it’s unimaginatively used.
In Horizon: Zero Dawn, the map is covered by a fog of war. However, just walking through it uncovers the map. If you want to uncover an entire section, you can climb up these gigantic robotic dinosaurs called Longnecks. From here you stab your spear into its head and download data on the surrounding topography. Not only are these gigantic, moving machines incredible to spot in the wild, but climbing them is an absolute joy for the eyes. Once on top you’re greeted to some awe-inspiring views. In addition, revealing the map doesn’t also reveal a bonanza of icons indicating pick-ups, quests, collectibles, and shops. It is literally just the topography.
You can go through Horizon and complete everything without ever climbing one of these towers. In Assassin’s Creed they are a necessity. Content is locked behind climbing towers. This quickly leads to it becoming a chore as you climb your 17th tower, going through the motions just to unlock some side content.
Meanwhile we come to Zelda’s towers, which, in my opinion, are an absolute masterclass. Like other towers before them, they expose the environment around you. However, like Horizon, it is map data only. No points of interests, no quests, nothing. Instead, you can get your binoculars out and stab a pin into any point that that looks interesting, whether that be a cave shaped like a skull, a hidden shrine or a sunken shipwreck. Then you can bring up your map, see this pins you’ve placed, and replace them with stamps such as swords, treasure chests, skulls etc, to use as an identifier. It’s extremely basic cartography, but it’s immensely satisfying. It ultimately leaves the sense of discovery down to the player, rather than just mindlessly telling them where to go.
Without just constricting things to towers though, there are loads of mechanics which crop up regularly and are used so terribly, including inventory weight restrictions, checkpoints, and dodgy stealth scenarios. So what game mechanics do you think are used poorly? Can you think of any obvious solutions to poorly used mechanics? Share your ideas below!