Is 2011 The Year Of Game World Exploration?

By Jim Rossignol on November 24th, 2011 at 2:00 pm.


This year has been unusually rich in the kind of game that I most enjoy: those that are open-ended, or provide a sandbox world for me to mess about in. We usually get a couple of these every year, but in 2011 we seem to have run into a minor bounty of the open stuff, which is good news for explorers and meanderers alike. I’ve gone into a bit more detail about why this pleases me below.

INTRODUCTORY RAMBLINGS

Open worlds and sandboxes are not the same thing, of course. They do, however, overlap on a Venn diagram that you can imagine if you try. Essentially, open worlds are those games whose entire game is contained with a wider, freely-explorable container-world, while sandboxes are simply games that provide you with the tools you need in a certain place, and let you get on with things. Where the lines blur between these two modes of doing things, we get (I would argue) the most interesting games. Let’s take a look at some of those.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Let’s get this one out of the way, eh? The fifth Elder Scrolls game is probably the most interesting open world game of 2011, if simply thanks to the scale of its terrain, the visual splendour with which it is delivered and the sheer amount of content that the Bethesda team have put in there. It’s worth noting that this is actually a smaller game are that Fallout 3 (I believe) but it has more locations, and far more random encounters. Sure, they repeat, but the diversity of Skyrim’s world is what has made exploration and general galloping about so pleasurable.

EXPLORATION RATING: 9/10


Saint’s Row The Third

SR3 gets the toys part right – there’s tonnes of mad stuff for you to use on the streets of its city – but it’s a bit of a shame that the city itself is both bland and repetitive. There’s little reason to explore outside of the quest chain, aside from collectibles. Still, at least with the various vehicles getting about the game is lunatic fun. It’s sort of a direct antidote to Skyrim’s austere wilderness-wandering.

EXPLORATION RATING: 3/10


Batman: Arkham City

Arkham City might not be obviously one for the explorers – it’s not that big or varied – but in terms of life and intricacy, and the tools to explore it, there’s not really been anything better this year. It’s a game that delivers its world so naturally that taking to the rooftops is immediate and perfect. You are never inclined to become a pedestrian, and instead grapple and zipline your way across a gothic horizon with true zeal. There are a few interesting things to find, and scattered collectibles, but really Arkham City is just we great way to contain all the individual missions.

EXPLORATION RATING: 5/10


Rage

Surprising, really. I mean it is, essentially, a linear shooter, but there’s some freedom there – although not enough, as I explained here – in the two wastelands which contain the settlements and the dungeons. I wished it was more open and more alive, of course, with more reason to explore, but it was nevertheless a lovely structure for a shooter. Imagine if the Battlefield 3 campaign had been set on an actual battlefield and you’d had to pootle about between the lines and bases to get it all sorted. MUCH more interesting.

EXPLORATION RATING: 2/10


Dead Island

Dead Island’s introductory path might keep you fairly hemmed in, but once this game opens up it /really/ opens up. Like a number of games on this list it unlocks in stages, of course, so freedom is constrained throughout, but exploration is essential if you’re going to find the resources you require to make a mess of the armies of zombies. It’s also a fascinatingly detailed location to spend your time exploring.

EXPLORATION RATING: 7/10


Dead Rising 2

Speaking of making a mess of zombies, Dead Rising 2′s world was built for one purpose in mind. What a shame, however, that it really wasn’t that interesting a world. If there was a reason to explore, then it was to find more bits for your zombie eviscerating development.

EXPLORATION RATING: 5/10


Proteus EP

Proteus! I almost forgot about this. I suppose it’s not officially out, but the musical world is one of the most charming experiences I’ve had in indie gaming of late. The whole point of the game is to see what is out there, and explore the audio-visual consequences of your moving about in the world. Definitely worth a look if you like to wander in imaginary spaces.

EXPLORATION RATING: 7/10


LA Noire

LA Noire is an odd one. I have to admit that enjoyed responding to emergencies across the city, and chasing dudes, and ultimately shooting them, but it was also strange that the game wasn’t more about that. With all its focus on hunting for clues and interrogating minor Hollywood actors, it was almost as if they’d forgotten to make use of the meticulously crafted 1940s Los Angeles that the team had created. I love that the game made use of Rockstar’s technologies, of course, but it perhaps wasn’t the best use of it, and really doesn’t do enough to reward exploration.

EXPLORATION RATING: 4/10


Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

Probably the best of the Assassin’s Creed games, and the least constrained, there’s really no arguing against the meticulousness of Ubisoft’s open world creation. If only Ubi would learn to be even more hands-off, worry less about plot, and let us get on with messing about in their worlds, and they’d end up being the masters of the form.

EXPLORATION RATING: 6/10


Fable III

I’ve not had a chance to play this, so I can’t really comment on the exploriness of it, but I do think that idea of putting the whole realm under your influence – what with you being king and everything – is one that could bear repeating and further developing in future games. Anyone have any opinions on this one?

EXPLORATION RATING: ?/10


Driver: San Francisco

The bizarre body-hopping plot device of the most recent Driver is certainly interesting, but sadly the real-world location and limited scope for where you are allowed to go means this doesn’t rank highly on our explorometer. You can really only drive about along a certain set of roads, and that’s that.

EXPLORATION RATING: 2/10


Minecraft

This was our game of 2010, but it should still get an obligatory mention. Exploring is, in Minecraft’s eminent, procedural, sandbox world, pretty much the most important thing you can do. And now it’s officially finished, too. Long live freedom!

EXPLORATION RATING: 10/10


Anno 2070

This is what made me write this article in the first place, actually. It’s not really an open world game as such, but with your ship exploring the maps, and you ability to colonise across the archipelagos, it’s something like an open-world strategy game. Which leads me to ask: Where are the open world games that play with ideas about genre? Eh? Surely there must be more than this. And if not, why not?

It strikes me that open-world techniques could and will be applied to a whole bunch of games we haven’t seen before in a way that RPG mechanics have found themselves pollinated through other game types. We’ve got an open world puzzle game being developed by Jon Blow with The Witness, and there’s an open RTS being developed with Kenshi, but I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg of developmental possibility…

EXPLORATION RATING: 2/10

IN CONCLUSION

I’ve probably missed something significant here, and you can obviously argue that Deus Ex and The Witcher 2 are pretty freeform and exploratory in their play, but they break my arbitrary rules by not having an overall container-world for you to go back and forth in.

Anyway! I think the important lesson here is that more and more games are benefiting from allowing us some freedom. The trick, I think, is that these kinds of games give themselves an immediate advantage over linear games being motivated by the player. Linear games only really work as long as the forward momentum is kept up, but when the world is open, the pace and direction can change, and the player knows that’s their responsibility. If the story isn’t going forward it’s because you spent the past three hours looking at mushrooms. And you did that. Agency!

In fact it almost doesn’t matter how superficial the “life” or general detailing of the open world is, so long as we have some reasons to mess about in it. The games which provide us with great toys to use in the world, while also making that open world interesting to explore, are the games which I think contain a taste of the most interesting possible future of game design. Linearity might continue to dominate, but I think its grip is weakening. And good thing too.

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95 Comments »

  1. Heliocentric says:

    Lots of games that have no right to not be pushing for 10, come on developer mans.

  2. Sigvatr says:

    When I found that Skyrim was bordered by invisible walls, I literally thrust my fists into the air and shouted NOOOOOOOOO

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Add bBorderRegionsEnabled=0 in the [General] section in Skyrim.ini

    • pacificator says:

      This…changes everything…

    • McCool says:

      What would your solution be? This one is much better than Oblivion’s mysterious lack of any roads between the Imperial Provence and any of the other parts of the empire, or Morrowind’s inexplicable infinite sea where there should be a landmass right in front of you.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I hate invisible walls in supposedly open worlds. There are better ways to do it. One is visible walls. Second is funny stopper death like sea monster from Gothic 2. Third is a generated, unending world – like wasteland, or desert, or ocean – where the player dies of boredom trying to cross it, and learns never to do it. Also, if they were really ambitious, they could do a looped world. Like Earth is, you know. And they even could throw in some quests like Find a Way to the Western Indies or Go Round the World in 80 days, for good measure.

    • bleeters says:

      I can guarantee with a degree of great certainty that if they made a vast landscape beyond the actual game setting to act as a boredom border in the hopes that people will stop wandering and head back, a great many number of people wouldn’t be put off by it. They’d trek on forever, and post youtube videos of themselves stood on the eventual precipice of the world.

    • vecordae says:

      @McCool:

      My solution would be for the invisible walls to remain, but when you get close to them, you get a message pop-up asking if you want to venture into whatever province that’s supposed to be. If you say no, the message disappears and the wall remains.

      If you say yes then another message pops up telling you that, while you did have numerous adventures of your nine month journey in said province, you learned nothing of value and the border guards took away all the neat stuff you picked up.

      The game clock will then skip ahead a few months and you’ll return to find your romantic partner shacked up with someone new and your house repossessed.

  3. HoosTrax says:

    No mention of Terraria? Vast amounts of exploration potential, with its random world generator. For those who haven’t played it, it’s sort of a 2D Minecraft-style game with Castlevania-like elements (bosses and weapons).

  4. Rico021 says:

    Yeah Skyrim is one of my favorite games, I wonde what kind of expansion they will bring. And maybe I’ll try out Assassin’s creed brotherhood.

  5. Lars Westergren says:

    >I’ve probably missed something significant here

    Fallout:NV maybe? One of the few of 2010, and with all the DLC it has only gotten bigger.

  6. Drayk says:

    Too bad it’s not a pc game (yet) but Dark souls has some things to say about exploration too. The game is pretty tight but exploration is really a big part of the adventure.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yes. Dark Souls is strange in that it offers tightly controlled progress in a supposedly open world (sort of like the level-locking deal in MMOs like WOW), but it still feels like every step taken in a new area is an adventure you make yourself.

      I would suggest that the exploriness (yes) of a game is not proportional to its openness or sandboxiness. For example, I found Amnesia to be a very explory game despite it being very linear. It wasn’t because I could go everywhere, but because I was terrified to go anywhere.

      What am I saying? Maybe that exploration is always emotional as well as geographical. Yes, something like that, but maybe not so trite.

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      When just surviving feels like you’re kicking dirt in the face of death, every step is essentially an enormous adventure.

    • TheGameSquid says:

      Yup, best exploration game of the year (and one of the best of the last ten years YES I JUST SAID IT). Its “exploration” is twofold:

      1. As the manchild above me stated: the game is constantly challenging, so there’s almost never a moment where you’re not feeling like you’re in a real adventure.
      2. Everything, ranging from the raw mechanics to the story to the way areas are laid out, is a total mystery. Nothing is spelled out for the player. Everything has to be found out for yourself. And it’s INCREDIBLY effective, especially because it’s an enormous amount of content and mystery. You’re never, ever going to see/understand everything by yourself.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      @ TheGameSquid:

      Yeah, that’s a really great point, about the sense of exploration coming from the knowledge that there’s more to see or experience than you (realistically) ever will. I guess that way your mind is stretching to fill in the gaps, so you’re more enganged imaginatively and intellectually. Maybe I felt that way about Amnesia because it was all about preventing you from looking at the horrible stuff, so the feeling of mystery was preserved.

      But yeah, Dark Souls has that in spades. Particularly in the goddamn Giant’s Tomb. You know what I mean. Grr.

  7. GallonOfAlan says:

    I don’t get it – the intro to the article opines that it has been a bumper year for sandboxy games, yet over half the games listed fall into the ‘not particularly sandboxy’ category, if the scores are anything to go by.

  8. Stuart Walton says:

    Noctis IV of course would get an 11, because that gives you a universe galaxy to explore. But not just that, you might find somewhere that’s already been discovered by another player and get to read their notes and titter/scoff at their nomenclature decisions.

    But exploration isn’t just about moving through a 3D space. Stuff like Introversion’s Uplink gives you a virtual space to play with.

    Outcast gave you a whole new culture to explore, which is what Skyrim also does to a degree.

    Then there’s the games that require a little intropsective exploration. Giving you tough decisions by asking questions you never thought to ask yourself before. People might call them art games, but they are by far the most engaging.

  9. Oozo says:

    “What these games also provide is a Let’s take a look at some of those.”
    Is that sentence complete? It would make sense in a way, but then again, it wouldn’t be the only typo, so… If the sentence is not complete… what was it that they also provide us with?

    The differentiation of tools/sandbox vs. exploration/open world might be interesting as possible instruments to classify the growing amorphous mass that is often indiscriminately either called “open world” or “sandbox games”.

    Anyway, the tendency to use more freeform worlds holds, I guess, also true to some degree for this year’s console games. (Somebody already mentioned Dark Souls, which has gotten all freeform after the hub-structure of Demon’s Souls. One’s progress is mostly hindered by challenges you cannot overcome yet).

    I actually wonder if and how the prevalence of sandboxy games and the second major trend of this year – the rise of the Roguelike and Roguelike elements – are linked… like, maybe in the fact that it has become easier to do open world games via random/procedural elements – something that is, incidentally, also a major element of the Roguelike?
    …have to do some thinking about that, I guess.

    • westyfield says:

      I think it’s a mistake – there’s a sentence at the end of the Dead Rising section that cuts off as well.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yeah, i seemed to have saved a half finished version over the final draft somehow.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      More for the pedantry and spell checking thread:

      Is “It’s worth noting that this is actually a smaller game are that Fallout 3 ” supposed to read “It’s worth noting that this is actually a smaller game area than Fallout 3″? Usually I don’t correct errors because of many reasons, but I had to dwell on the intended meaning of this sentence before moving on.

      The last drop of a cup of tea loses it’s temperature bloody fast, too.

  10. sonofsanta says:

    Along those lines, then, Civilization is one of the most epic and replayable sandboxes out there. It’s always all there to explore, and all the play and plot and pacing is emergent from the interactions between the player and the randomly generated world (and usually randomly acting AI).

    Interesting that as this happens, some games become more linear than ever. And to be awkward, I think the best solution is somewhere in the middle – a nice open world to play in, emergent rules to create your own approaches to things, but the gently guiding hand of the developer to ensure you see all the best bits and keep the momentum up, so long as that hand is ignorable.

    Arkham City & Assassin’s Creed are good examples of this, actually – you can faff around doing Riddler trophies or random side-quests, but there’s a strong central arc to push you forward. I’d even argue that the Godfather GTA-clone did it well, as it had lots of other bits to do (take over business etc.) as well as central story missions. Mixing the pace like that made it very enjoyable for me.

    Of course, this is the approach that needs the most skill as a designer, and can most easily go wrong. Such is life.

    • eanzy says:

      Absolutely agree with Civ, that is true open world because of all the options you have to play and even win.

      I disagree however with games needing a mix of the two. It works for some games but I like having the choice: There are times when all I want is a strong story-driven game and others when I just want to roam and make my own decisions. Best of both worlds for me is playing each separately.

  11. kataras says:

    STALKER 2 is all I have to say… If they don’t screw it up of course.
    Or we can hope for a stable version of the NS mod (www.tecnobacon.com)
    Also I agree Fallout NV should be there as well.

  12. Bluerps says:

    Downside is, that the plot has to allow for me to look at mushrooms for three hours.

    “Help! Our city is attacked by terrible creatures! Please come and help us immediately, dear player character!”
    “Sorry, I can’t help you right now. I think there are mushrooms on that mountain over there. I need to look at them.”
    “… ok, then we’ll just have some tea with the creatures. We’ll restart the fighting when you are ready, ok?”

    That’s not to say that non-linearity is bad in any way, but it (ironically) limits games in it’s own way.

    • Outright Villainy says:

      Yeah, I’m surprised more games haven’t tried to get around that, but there’s only so much you can do really, if you want the player to see and enjoy everything.

      Majora’s mask had a fantastically interesting way about it, where events would happen without you if you dawdled, but the constant time rewinding meant you could go back again and again to see everything. It was a neat old system, it’s a shame more people haven’t tried similar approaches.

    • Dozer says:

      Averted in Mount & Blade, where the invading army will quite happily carry out the sieges without you if you decide what you really need to be doing is joining in the tournaments on the other side of the kingdom.

    • Bluerps says:

      @Dozer: Yes, but that game does not have any plot at all, does it? Apart from what you make up yourself, of course.

    • Petethegoat says:

      @Bluerps
      What I’ve made up while playing Warband is much more interesting and motivating than the vast, vast majority of actual game plots. On that note, play Warband everyone. Play it right now.

    • Bluerps says:

      Sure, that is one conclusion one can draw from this: Developers just should not bother making a plot for their game. But not everyone wants only games without plots.

    • vecordae says:

      Yeah, that’s pretty silly stuff, wot with the town patiently waiting for you to return from your mushroom hunting to have their dire emergency. It’s one of the sillier tools a developer will use when they don’t properly balance narrative cohesion and player agency.

      It seems to be considered vitally important that a narratively-driven game not allow the player any choices that will cause the narrative to end prematurely or become irrelevant. One of the way developers have handled this is to put the narrative on hold, no matter how dire or time sensitive it might seem, until the player is ready to engage it.

  13. TNG says:

    I just hope that others don’t follow the Red Faction route: after the open world goodness of Red Faction Guerilla, Armageddon was very disappointing with all that cave crawling and limited space, even with the new toys that they added to the Mason family’s arsenal (just tried it on the free 5-day Onlive thing).

  14. adonf says:

    I’d like to read more about The Witness. There was that interview by Dan Gril~ a while ago but it didn’t make sense if you didn’t already know about the game and basically if you weren’t there (“So there’s that thing here and if you…” “But what about…” “Oh sure [laughs]“), but I was hoping to get more coverage of this game.

  15. Maldomel says:

    I agree with you, but I still don’t like seeing a rating for exploration. Yes, I’m being picky here, but if I see a 2/10 it makes me feel like the game in question is bad, even though it is just an exploration score.

  16. V. Profane says:

    I thought Dead Rising 2 was fun to explore but the fact each area was separated by loading screens which would reset things back to the status quo spoiled it.

  17. YourMessageHere says:

    So basically, it’s a great time for open worlds if you like fantasy, zombies, Batman or worlds comprised entirely of low-res two-foot cubes.

    I, however, detest all of these and am therefore shit out of luck.

    I fancy Rage but my computer isn’t really up to it; so maybe I’ll get it in a few years when I’ve got something that will do it justice. Plus, I don’t see it as good value, which is also true of LA Noire. Of all of them, I only really fancy Saints Row but it’s disappeared from Steam and I refuse to buy boxed games any more. I’ll just wait for that to reappear, and the New Vegas GOTY edition in February.

  18. pakoito says:

    You only picked AAA and MC, you missed some obvious stuff like Terraria or AVWW.

  19. Dom_01 says:

    I would also say that Deus Ex Human Revolution, while linear in design, opens a lot of exploration possibilities.
    I scoured the game looking for credits, hacked every computer I could, explored every vent I could find and talked to every NPC to hear as much dialogue as possible.

    I can’t be the only one that did this.

  20. mofman says:

    The exploration in Fable 3 isn’t really that good. Unfortunately, since Fable 2 they’ve been the kind of games you can only play once, maybe twice. I’ve probably beat Fable 1 at least 5 times times, and the newer combat tweaks are great, but the world is boring.

  21. kimadactyl says:

    Agree about size not being the real issue (ooo-er) this is why New Vegas didn’t really do it for me I think – endless desert is kinda weird to explore.

  22. boundless08 says:

    Fable 3 isn’t very open at all. I think that’s where iD got the idea for the “freeness” in Rage. Someone whould remake “Freelancer”, brilliant game, Miner Wars is looking like a nice bastard child of it though!

    • StingingVelvet says:

      It’s open world, without question. It quickly opens up and you can use that stupid map interface to travel anywhere you like at any time. Some areas are even completely optional. That doesn’t mean it’s good at it, of course.

  23. DigitalSignalX says:

    The low rating for driver San Francisco doesn’t do it justice. Sure you’re trapped in a car, thus roads are all you can explore; but there are some very fun roads, fun jumps you can find that are not listed on any map, and hours and hours of little activities you can only discover by exploration alone. If all you did was race through the plot and do the events that they gave you on the map, then I think the majority of the activities would easily be missed.

    Same with Skyrim basically, anyone who gets this game “done” in under 60 hours is missing out on quite literally 3/4 of the content that can only be found by just randomly exploring. My char is at 126 hours as of this posting, and I’m confident that it’s only about 65% explored. I still haven’t been to TWO cities yet.

  24. Aemony says:

    Fable 3 is probably a 6/10… While some random exploration might be fun at times you don’t really obtain anything by doing so.

    Also, the King phase is but an extremely small part of the game and it doesn’t really have _anything_ at all to do with exploring. 99% of the time you explore as the same generic hero as most other adventure RPGs.

    • Nova says:

      In Fable 3 it depends on how much you are eager to collect all the stuff scattered around the world (Gnomes, books, etc.).
      The world itself is not really worth exploring apart from that.

      4/10

  25. Nethlem says:

    Open world gaming will be the future of gaming.

    Skyrim is just an good example as minecraft is, both these games draw from nearly the same ideas.
    Generating high quality AAA content these days is expensive because it gets too focus tested.

    Developers should step away from trying to tell just their own stories, instead they should build systems into the game that generate the right ammount of random content. While giving the player the freedom and tools to influence the world on his on in different ways so the players can basicly generate their own content while playing.

    Imagine multiplayer skyrim with terraforming and building in an easy minecraft style but more advanced using voxels and pixels in combination for example. Wouldn’t that be kinda awesome?

    Or maybe just give me my massive scale zombie apocalypse mmofps, complete with horde, survivor and military AI forming kinda of an “ecosystem” for the player to fight and manipulate.

    Gaming got stuck too much in beeing like hollywood, so we rather invest insane ammounts of money in marketing and old tech to sell the same shooty stuff instead of trying the really crazy stuff the medium allows us to.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      Or maybe just give me my massive scale zombie apocalypse mmofps, complete with horde, survivor and military AI forming kinda of an “ecosystem” for the player to fight and manipulate.

      This ArmA II MP mission is almost there.

      Degeneration Redux

    • Gnoupi says:

      Fact is that some people enjoy the story, or the hollywoodian corridor of action.
      Not everyone is an explorer.

      And while I agree that it would be nice if more AAA games allowed for exploration of an open-world, the problem is that it is costly in assets (and engine performance). A game like Minecraft or Terraria is generating a more or less coherent world as you play, but from a set of initial bricks.
      Making a huge world without a concept of generator will cost a lot.

      Although it would be nice to see this generator concept used for non-mining games.
      Typically, it could be interesting to have a SR/GTA like, but with a city generated from the Introversion city generator, and a set of landmarks and textures applied. Or in fact, even without the textures. Just a GTA in a Tron setting. Hmmm.

    • Veracity says:

      Lacking nonsensical blanket pronouncements about “the future of gaming” based largely on personal preference will be the future of RPS comments.

      I think procedural generation is the current stronger candidate for getting a lot of big studio money thrown its way, given zany development costs and all that, though it’s certainly true the two tend to overlap. The Venn diagram in my head had only little new moon slivers that aren’t at least a bit of both. Might be spectacularly wrong – while it’s undeniably very expensive to draw pictures of buildings on a bunch of non-interactive cardboard boxes, GTAs still seem to be big events, for instance. If you’re selling bajillions, you can afford those zany development costs. And even smart generators can fail to result in much of a game, as Introversion has just handily illustrated.

  26. freeid says:

    Two worlds 2 was a suprise treat for me in the open world stakes, and you could pilot your own dingy too.

    I called mine dignity, if your wondering how I got her, I saved my money.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      I thought Two Worlds II was surprisingly good as well, and deserves to be on this list. Sadly it’s not super open, since it goes from one smaller open area to another 4 times, rather than one big open world all the time.

    • EOT says:

      Thank you for that freeid.

      *goes off to find his copy of Raintown*

  27. Dave Mongoose says:

    I really don’t think Minecraft deserves a 10… it’s infinitely big but it’s all just random terrain (albeit obeying certain algorithms to make it look somewhat realistic).

    I have much more fun exploring a game like Skyrim where there are unique things to find and where the scenery has been carefully crafted. Minecraft does occasionally have amazing vistas… but you find them completely by accident in random places, and once you move on from one it’s rare you’ll find it again.

  28. Soon says:

    Anno seems an odd one to be there, because if Anno meets your arbitrary rules, would that not open the way for Shogun 2, Might and Magic 6 and other grand strategy or 4X games?

  29. Shooop says:

    I completely agree with you leaving The Witcher 2 and Deus Ex HR off this list.

    They’re freedom is a strange type – The Witcher allows you to make some decisions to get an outcome you want (or don’t want) but you’re extremely fenced in as far as exploration goes. You can’t leave the forest of the second act until you do the main story quests, you can’t leave the city/camp of the third, nor the city of the last (which itself is an extremely restrictive place with all the hostile guards about it). What it’s doing so right in terms of choice is revamping the bloated and cliched morality system of modern games.

    Deus Ex locks you into areas with tall buildings and a few side streets everywhere. Your freedom doesn’t come in the form of exploration, it comes in the form of how you tackle the objectives you’re given. It’s GTA’s antithesis – you’re not allowed to go run wild through the streets in your free time really, but once you accept a mission the game then tells you, “OK, accomplish it however you like” instead of commanding you to fly model helicopters into a construction site.

  30. Kohlrabi says:

    And here I was, thinking that Arkham City was not even out yet in the UK.

  31. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    I beg to disagree vis-a-vis Deus Ex. I loved the verticality and augmented exploration of Heng Sha and Detroit in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Not to mention of all the games listed here it has the greatest density and detail in its hub areas, not to mention all those little world-enhancing touches, advertising, store-fronts, branding, news-reels, information kiosks and most importantly FIRE-ESCAPES, OPEN WINDOWS AND APARTMENTS, the true corner-stones of an authentic Deus Ex.

    Though Skyrim is truly, and deserving-of-the-often-misused-word; epic.

    • simonh says:

      I agree, at the very least it beats Rage. Maybe a 3 or 4, because although there are lots of stuff to find, it’s divided into discrete story-advanced segments. Rage has some big corridors which you can travel back and forth through, but there’s not that much interesting to find.

  32. rapier17 says:

    One thing that really, really annoyed me about AC:Brotherhood was what happened once the storyline had been completed. Nothing. With AC2 when the storyline was over you could still run around, explore, have fun long after the story had been finished – if anything I reckon I spent 3x more time exploring & messing around than I did on the storyline. With ACB I was expecting to be able to do the same, but as soon as the story was done that was my lot, so half of the game had been left unexplored as I wanted to get the story out of the way & the world opened up.
    For that I’d personally drop ACBs score down by a point or two.

  33. Binho says:

    Regarding AssCreed:Bro:

    “…there’s really no arguing against the meticulousness of Ubisoft’s open world creation.”

    There is. There really, really is.

    Rome in AssCreed:Bro is a perfect example of “Hollywood History”. The city itself is entirely as fictional as the main storyline about templars and assassin’s and wrist-knives.

    In fact, the art director even admitted how medieval Rome would actually have looked more like Florence from AssCreed 2, but they chose to go with a more Baroque style architecture to make it more recognisable to modern eyes ( http://www.livescience.com/8945-renaissance-scholar-helps-build-virtual-rome.html ).

    I can understand why the art director would want that, though I do not agree with his choice. Yet reviewers and other journalists constantly keep railing about how “authentic” and “meticulous” the recreation of Rome is. It really, really isn’t.

    It would be like setting a game about the American Civil War in a recreation of 1960′s America…that’s how big the temporal gap is between Renaissance Rome and Baroque Rome.

    Please guys, do SOME research before you make claims like that. Sure it’s a fun world to jump around in, but it is flat wrong to suggest AssCreed:Bro a “meticulous” representation of Rome in 1503. The only thing it gets close to right for the time period is the spatial layout of the city. That’s it. The architecture, and the monuments? They are pretty much entirely wrong.

    3/10 – as it is fun to jump around on rooftops!

    • Llewyn says:

      Jim didn’t say anything about it being a meticulous recreation of Rome in 1503; he described it as a meticulously created open world. It absolutely is that, regardless of whether it accurately represents what it appears to be.

    • Binho says:

      The word “meticulous” implies attention to detail. I’d say the attention to detail is pretty poor if your details are roughly 100 years off the intended time period. Regardless of how much care went in to creating it.

      Would you say a WWII game was “meticulously” created if it featured highly detailed M16′s and and M4′s in a 1942 setting? Would the model of a Ferrari F40 in Forza 4 be “meticulously detailed” if it was a very accurate representation of a 1863 horse drawn carriage?

      Of course, it’s ok for something to be wrong if the setting is over 200 years in the past. Nobody HAS to care about attention to detail then, amirite?

    • Llewyn says:

      If Assassin’s Creed were a 16th century city simulator then, yes, uberite. But it’s not, it’s a fantasy action game. Your criticisms are equivalent to complaining about M16s not in a serious WWII game but in Dino D-Day. You also seem unable to separate the concepts of meticulously created from meticulously reproduced.

    • Herbert_West says:

      Regardless of their non-exsistant historicity, AC games tend to bore me quite a lot. In contrast with Skyrim, where moving (horses are for fruity Bretons, not a nimble north-born Khajit) over the next hill could reveal completely new, both in visuals and encounters, terrain.

      IN AC1-2-BH, I got bored with the samey old boring rooftops and the rather bland off-center streets very quickly. I just rushed the main quests, did the necessary challange BS, and wnet uninstall. In Skyrim, after 50 hours of play, I have maybe explored 25% of the map, and its gorgeous, and heavily varied from the pre-alpine forests of Riften to volcanic tundra, and finally almost arctic, storm-filled whiteout of Winterhold.

  34. Casimir's Blake says:

    And yet none of these even come close to equalling the TEN YEAR OLD open world of System Shock 2, so packed full of things to discover, with a distinct sense that the level design had been crafted lovingly.

    Most games nowadays are either fully linear experiences (CoD etc), or “sand-box”. And it seems very few developers can make the best of either, leading to boring corridors and near-empty, meaningless worlds, respectively.

    What is the point of having an open world if the game is not also an immersive sim? If that open world is static, empty, scripted up the backside, and nothing tangibly interesting ever happens in it, why bother playing in it in the first place?

    The only games on this list with vaguely interesting worlds are Skyrim and Minecraft, but nothing happens in the former without you acting in the first place and the latter simply doesn’t have enough content.

    • JackShandy says:

      So are you the Wizardry of First-person shooters?

      System Shock 2 had a classic sequence-of-hubs structure. I don’t think you can really call it an Open world. 7/10 explores, maybe.

  35. Vin_Howard says:

    gahhh I don’t get why everyone droll’s over minecraft; I mean exploration is pretty limited; sure the caverns are randomized, but you can expect the same set of ore veins, monsters, waterfalls, and magma pits

    Dwarf Fortress should have been added to this list (thou its not yet finished and still in open beta); sure its not for 95% of the population, but it *does* provide an awesome open world; the first thing the game does when you try to start a game is generate a full sized random world (complete with different biospheres, rivers, mountains, cultures, and even history [which depends on how long you let the world's history run before you jump in]); then you select a small part of this world to set up your fortress in; the game then plays as an rts; however, the map this rts is taking place in is full of life and secrets to discover; plants and animals grow and die, it rains and snows, as you develop your fortress (which will be built in the earth) you will discover caverns (3 per map, with a small, medium, and big one) which will contain a number of different (mostly hostile) creatures; there are the completely randomly generated “forgotten beasts” which have randomized appearances and abilities; then, as you go deeper, you shall discover magma… and what lives in the magma; and finally there is the SFT (secret fun stuff); * shush its a secret*

  36. mickygor says:

    Conversely, there seems to be a drought of games with no opportunity to explore. Disregarding Blockbuster Franchise Iteration #1353. Exploration has the opposite effect for me, it frustrates and bores, I stop any game as soon as I find myself diverting from the main plot. You don’t find these games really these days (I’ve gone off FPS too it seems… perhaps why I’m struggling), so I find myself just playing multiplayer, and puzzle games.

  37. ImOnTheRadio says:

    I’d give Fable 3 an exploration rating 4/10. There’s nothing that fun or special to look for except some little side missions, but atleast it’s there. The people don’t react to your deeds much except that they call names at you.

    • trouble_gum says:

      Fable III’s exploration is pretty lacklustre. You’re mainly led by the nose through the main locations of the world and allowed to wander back through them looking for any gnomes you missed on the first run and plinking off certain types of spawning NPC to level up your legendary weapons.

      I certainly found that, once I’d dealt with the earlier regions questlines there was very little cause to return there unless some peasant gave you a courier/fetch quest to do in them. It felt like they needed to have the ‘open world’ part to qualify for some sort of Open World RPG tax deduction: “must have this many re-visitable map areas to qualify.”

      The “leadership decisions have visible effect on the world” idea is interesting and deserving of further exploration. It just wasn’t very well implemented in Fable III. Like a lot of Fable III; the whole game had this feeling of aiming for more and just…not…quite…reaching.

  38. HardcoreGamer12 says:

    probably Assassin’s creed Revelations too.

  39. fearlessgoat says:

    “Fable III. Like a lot of Fable III; the whole game had this feeling of aiming for more and just…not…quite…reaching.”
    That is how I feel as well. The game itself is still pretty good and I enjoyed it but… I wouldn’t play-threw it again.
    God I hated them Gnomes and the same few lines of dialogue from them.

  40. Emeraude says:

    As someone who always loved exploration myself, and though I resent Skyrim for not being able to play it (let us not talk about that), I do find endearing that resurgence of game traveling journals it seems to have spawned.

    I can’t but have a soft spot for the game, if only for that.

  41. remover says:

    I generally don’t buy games that aren’t open world anymore, with some strategy / RPG exceptions. Why am I going to pay $50 USD for a game that lets you explore an environment about the size of a shoebox?

    Elder Scrolls games, Red Dead Redemption, etc, clearly required much more effort and give you a lot more bang for your buck than some junk shooter on rails or something.

  42. Wizlah says:

    Surprised Jim also didn’t give a shout out to Precursors, given that he said it was eminently explorable and full of odd interesting stuff. I’m still tempted to pick it up myself (it’s currently on sale at Gamersgate). Maybe over christmas.

  43. cpy says:

    Minecraft is everything i need to entertain me for long winter hours. All the mods and stuff, just amazing.

  44. DeanLearner says:

    This article is all well and good but what I want to know is… why has the minecraft picture got a line going through the middle of it?

  45. Skusey says:

    Would Dragon Age 2 fit in your requirements? I quite liked the idea of a game being set in one big city and it’s surrounding areas but over a long timespan. Didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but I liked fighting and talking to companions at least. On that note, Skyrim’s tag-a-longs are even more dreadful when compared to what Bioware has done with companions.

  46. Xerian says:

    I’d honestly say that Skyrim deserves a 10 – And that Minecraft deserves a 9. The exploration in minecraft gets stale alot faster than that of Skyrim (atelast for me, and -everyone- else I know whom plays both of said games.) – The big appeal about Minecrafts sandboxyness isnt so much the exploration as the building part ontop of it, so I’d really say exploration would be a 9/10, but thats just me I guess. And over the course of my 120~ hours of skyrim I’ve used about an hour on the main storyline and the rest on exploring, doing small funky sidequests involving random encounters, done a tad of crafting and just seen the sights of the world. I’d really say the game deserves a 10, but again I guess thats just me, and theres most likely a reason that I’m not a game journalist ;P

  47. Metalhead9806 says:

    I would add.

    Terraria to the list.

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