Games

PS5's Activities System Makes Playing Open World Games Brutally Efficient

Quest and achievement harvesting has never been easier, but it changes how you play.
November 20, 2020, 2:00pm
A screen shot from the PlayStation 5 video game Miles Morales: Spider-Man.
Screen shot courtesy of Sony.

A lot of video games have maps, and most of those maps have colorful icons about to tempt players into one of a billion different activities. This is how we've become accustomed to figuring out what we want to do next, especially in expansive open world games. In Miles Morales, for example, I would often chart a path to the next story mission and do a bunch of side activities along the way, because the act of swinging around is a pleasure all its own. 

And so that became the way I typically spent my time with Miles Morales: load up the map, pick my ultimate destination (usually the next story beat), swing through the city lookin' dope, and then occasionally pop the map open to see if there was a side activity on my way there. 

Everything shifted when a friend suggested I look at the activity cards for Miles Morales. This is one of the new interface features for PlayStation 5, triggered by tapping the PlayStation button on the controller. Trophy progress is marked here, but it also neatly presents all the major available activities and, more importantly, a very fast way to begin engaging with them:

You could scan the map to find an enemy base to invade, or you could just pull up the card for one, and immediately be dropped into the activity. You're not near the place where the activity starts, or around the corner, but already part of the action. In the case of a side quest that involves talking to someone for the activity to start, you're placed directly in front of them, with the button prompt for everything to pop off already queued up for the player.

It turns in-game activities into a long list of checkboxes to work through, and the reason there aren't many activities for me to scroll through is because I've finished 94% of everything to do in Miles Morales, largely driven by the way cards made it so efficient. 

It's a moment where the many quality of life improvements of the PS5, such as the speedy hard drive to reduce loading times, start to work in harmony. Find activity, go to activity, finish activity. Check! The PS5 says this one activity will take 15 minutes, and I've only got 10? OK, I'll do something else. I ended up playing much more of Miles Morales, even the repetitive parts, because it was easy and fun enough to breeze through while tossing on a podcast.

There are some interesting consequences, though. One of the biggest joys of Insomniac's Spidey games is aimlessly swinging around, and it's clear the distribution of activities on the city map are meant to encourage this behavior. The cards, on the other hand, remove this from the equation entirely. Poof! I don't know that it's bad, necessarily, but it's worth noting, and it makes me wonder if developers will take this into account while making future games.

To that point, I should note that I didn't really fully engage with this way of playing Miles Morales until I'd seen the end of the story. I truly did enjoy the swinging, and so even though it meant spending a few minutes getting from one point to another, that was critical to my enjoyment of the game and didn't want to give it up. But when it came to cleaning up leftover activities, finding excuses to stick around in the game world and watch the completion tracker slowly go up because it provided an artificial sense of satisfaction, I used it liberally.

It's too early to say how ideas like this will pan out across a generation. Will it prove so popular Microsoft feels compelled to copy it? At least right now, I'd hope so. It's definitely got me thinking about PS5 being my platform of choice for open world games in the future, and I'm the person with a copy of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla currently on their Xbox Series X.

Huh. Huh.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).