Courtesy Ubisoft & Michael Mando
I feel I need more Vaas in my life to keep me on my toes.

Partially because of this week’s Extra Credits episode, I am compelled to contemplate the following.

Recently I started playing two video games, Assassin’s Creed III and FarCry 3. They’re very different games, to be sure, but I find myself playing more of the latter than the former. It’s not because I have any major problems so far with the story of Connor Kenway or his more charismatic dad, and there hasn’t been a major change in the franchise’s gameplay to alienate me. FarCry 3, on the other hand, is a first-person shooter with sandbox and RP elements that is likewise uncomplicated in its gameplay. So why am I preferring to hunt pirates and tigers with a flamethrower while bobbing my head to Damian Marley’s collaboration with Skrillex over hanging out with Benjamin Franklin and getting Connor’s ass to Boston?

It’s because the gameplay in FarCry 3 is its own reward, while playing Assassin’s Creed III feels more like an experience from an MMO: you play the game to reach rewards later.

I don’t mind delayed gratification, mind you. I enjoyed Burning Crusade and have given serious thought to returning to GuildWars 2. Rewards such as items or new skills unlocking as one progresses is all but ubiquitous in gaming; most games would not be as fun or rewarding if we started the game with all of the best equipment. However, in some games, getting to those rewards can be a chore. And I find FarCry 3 to be anything but.

Without going into full-on review territory, I think the reason I find FarCry 3 so rewarding to play in and of itself comes down to two things: presentation and freedom. The game’s constant first-person perspective, in-engine cutscenes, and occasional commentary from its own protagonist makes the game feel more organic. Connor may simply animate to pop a medicine and hop back up to full sync, but Jason Brody could be resetting a broken hand, pulling a shark’s tooth out of his arm, or stabbing himself with a medical syringe at any given moment to restore health. He reacts to his environment more naturally than most stoic shooter protagonists, his guns and other weapons each have a unique feel and lend themselves to different combat styles, and the crafting system encourages him to explore Rook Island and rewards that exploration.

On top of that, there is a freedom implied in the open-world nature of the game. Be it hunting down a tiger or shark for a necessary skin or clearing out an enemy position, the game does not tell you exactly how to go about it. You can do the entire thing with as much stealth as possible, dive in screaming at the top of your lungs with a machine gun cackling away, or throw a rock to get your target to look the other way as you get your flamethrower out. None of these approaches is incorrect, and while some may yield more XP, if you’re playing an open-world game and sacrificing the fun of what you want to do for fear of your ‘build’ being ‘sub-optimal’, I think you might be missing the point.

Tying it back into Extra Credits, the gameplay of FarCry 3 carries intrinsic rewards, even before you get to the point of having enough skins to craft something or enough cash to purchase silencers or extended magazines. By contrast, thus far, Assassin’s Creed III‘s gameplay, while as smooth as it’s ever been, feels more restrained and linear than that of the other game. This may change when I finally get Connor to Boston, but I’m having so much fun on Rook Island, evading Vaas’s pirates and going on extremely immersive drug trips to make myself do that right now. I’m enjoying those rewards, perhaps a bit too much, but I am more than willing to give the 18th century world presented via Animus another whack.

Maybe after I pick up that silenced .45 pistol. That thing looks sweet.