Are Open World Games Living Up To Their Potential?

Once a week most weeks, the RPS hivemind gathers to discuss An Issue. Sometimes it’s controversial news, sometimes it’s a particular game, sometimes it’s favourite things and least favourite things, sometimes a perennial talking point. This week, off the back of most of us being obsessed with Metal Gear Solid V, we’re talking about open world, or sandbox games. Big map, go where you please, kill or don’t kill – the GTA, Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry formula. And it’s very much a formula now. How do we feel about that? Has the promise of earlier open world games such as the first few Elder Scrolls been lost? And just why are we apparently giving MGSV a free pass given we often roll our eyes as Assassin’s Creed?

Alec: Everyone here? I would have started earlier but I got mind-lock and wound up spend five minutes staring at a tab I’d opened containing the lyrics to Toto’s Africa in order to check something for an MGS post.

Alice: Ah! Sorry I’m late. I was perched atop a poo-covered gargoyle surveying the landscape. Apparently I have a quest here.

Alec: Today’s topic of discussion is open world games. Sandbox action – or at least a semblance of it – seems to have become the de facto structure for most of Big Budget Land these days, but the question is whether these MGSes and Assassin’s Creedses and Grand Theft Autoses are doing all they could with the promise of go anywhere, do anything. They were everything a load of us prayed for five years ago, and now they’re bloody everywhere: is it what we dreamed of?

Pip: No. I mean I didn’t actually dream of them in the first place but it’s so often “Do anything! Except that thing. You can’t or shouldn’t do that thing.” or “Go anywhere! Except over there. That is the end of the map. Or just a bit you aren’t allowed in yet. Or something else. Bottom line, stop walking.”

Adam: What about something like Minecraft? Does that count? It’s not what I’d think of as part of the current Open World trend, for various reasons, but it’s truly open in a way that few games are. Infinite landscapes, no restrictions in the form of invisible walls or level limits. I tend to think more of games like that, and from there make the jump to traditional roguelikes and survival games like Unreal World (which also seems to go on forever, randomly, though I don’t think that’s the case) rather than Assassin’s Creed. Which is always set in a couple of cities so is Open City at best. Like GTA.

Alec: Minecraft’s fascinating, because in part it’s an MMO (optionally played solo), yet not dependent on the explicit quest and item requirements of MMOs. Whereas the open world games we’re talking about, like Bat-like Man, Assassin’s Creed & Mordor, essentially took up the icons-on-the-map baton of MMOs and ran with it. Was there a point where open world games could have taken a different direction, before AssCreed (arguably) set the mould?

Alice: Creedo hardly invented the idea, mind – it was just the first big game in recent game history at a point where developers’ ambitions for a world were backed up by the budgets and hardware power to render those in AAA-grade (oh god, you know what I mean) graphics. Olde Elder Scrolls games and all their text-based precursors were open-world games crawling with jazz. I also find Elder Scrolls games boring so I hope you’re all looking forward to a FUN hour of chat with me.

Adam: Even Daggerfall, Alice? For shame. It’s the most open of all the Elder Scrolls games and also the one that experimented with ideas about how to create an enormous world rather than a smaller, handcrafted one. Randomised dungeons, slotted together using bits of corridor and flooded compartments; IDENTICAL settlements scattered about the place that you can sneak into and rob in the middle of the night. It’s weird in a way that the series has never been since – like, weird from a fundamental design perspective rather than because it has a Big Mushroom.

Alec: Yeah, this is what I meant by branching points. It used to be the setup was discovering stuff through exploration and experimentation, but I guess Johnny Pre-Order prefers to have all his map notations done for him and now that’s the formula. I wonder how much Fallout 4 will bow to that. But is anyone getting away with it? We’re all raving about MGSV and that’s very much an icons-based open world, but for some reason we’re forgiving it….

Adam: My very quick MGSV thought is that I think the world itself has a lot of the same problems I complain about elsewhere, but I forgive (or see past) some of that because the actual interactions with the world are driven by systems that I can learn. I’m learning and playing with the people and gadgets rather than the world itself. The fact that those interactions don’t take place in discrete mission locations and that the systems are allowed to bleed out into the wider world is icing on the cake, but the actual location itself is, to me, one of the least interesting parts of the game. And also where I’d want to see a sequel or whatever the heck comes next build something more convincing. That wasn’t as quick as I meant it to be.

Alec: Pip, you mentioned you’d never shared the dream of these things. Is that because the current most prevalent formula, of stuff being locked off, doesn’t float your boat, or are you more fundamentally disinterested in open world as a concept?

Pip: I just meant “I wish there were open-world games” wasn’t a hope I remember having for the industry. At that point I was just playing things that were out and enjoying being surprised by them. What I was getting at, though, was that I object to any rhetoric about being free to do what you want in a game and then running into a shit ton of restrictions. Some games don’t do that, some do. We might not be talking about the same thing here. I prefer to call those games sandbox games because it acknowledges you’re still working within a framework. Open world feels like a misnomer pretty much the whole time. With AssCreed and Batman, maybe they’re closer to playground games. The devs set up assault courses and toys and story for you in the arena.

Adam: Hitman is my favourite example of that sort of thing. I referred to the new one as a snuffbox game, as a variant on sandbox, but nobody cared and it didn’t take off. That’s pretty much all I have to say about that professional disappointment.

Pip: I am sorry for your loss. Let’s have a moment of silence for the snuffbox genre :(

Adam: I tend to use sandbox and open world interchangeably, which definitely loses whatever nuance might once have existed. And I agree that sandbox suits GTA, Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry – those types – better than open world. They have a location, or several locations, and that location is a place to play, with some degree of freedom rather than the ‘corridors’ that we see in everything from Call of Duty to Alien: Isolation. And I get similarly frustrated by the illusion of freedom because I am precisely the kind of person who runs straight to the edge of the world and tries to see where everything joins together or breaks. I do enjoy that though – doing my little Truman Show bit every time.

Pip: It’s interesting that you mentioned Minecraft though. It’s far closer to what I feel an open world game should be in a lot of ways, I just happen not to enjoy it. I get more of a sense of freedom and potential from the space in Proteus.

Alec: With all these things we do and don’t appreciate in mind, what do we wish sandbox (or snuffbox) games were doing differently? For me it’s the icons, looking at that big map showing exactly where everything is and thinking ‘well, nothing’s going to surprise me now, is it?’ Batman may be the worst for that, because it seems so actively disruptive to the urgency. MGSV has a neat trick in terms of you don’t get shown where pickups are unless you interrogate someone, which is a far more exploratory system – have to plan an incursion, not get caught etc- but does ultimately become mechanical so the problem’s still there in the end.

Adam: If there’s a big world out there to explore, more than anything I want the other things in it to feel like they exist even when I’m not looking at them. I mentioned The Truman Show before and it’s a fairly good analogue for how I feel about games – if I become aware that the other actors in the world only start to follow their scripts when I’m looking at them, then I often become disillusioned quite rapidly. There’s the GTA IV and V thing where you can stop at an intersection and look in both directions, see no traffic, then look again and see loads of cars that have spawned because the game is terrified that you’ll get bored if you’re left on your own for more than twenty seconds.

And that’s why it’s always so exciting to see a police car chasing an NPC vehicle, or a car crash, or a mugging. Because if I’m not involved but things are still happening, I can pretend, for a minute or two, that the entire city is full of events that continue even when I’m not there to see them. And that’s what I want from open world games – to have things happen, to have systems interact with one another in unexpected ways, even if I’m not the star of every story.

Pip: I think that’s a decent point. I do actually enjoy some games in this genre, I just don’t like referring to them as open world because that feels like a lie. I instantly want to test the claim and you know that the answer is going to be “well, it’s big but there are limits”. Within that there can be awesome systems or really lovely narration or any number of other cool things that give you a real sense of scale or being immersed in that world. I just don’t like calling it an “open” world.

Alice: The more a game tells me I can do, and urges me to do it, the more I’m aware of what I can’t do – and want to do that instead. My main problem is usually that most of the activities filling these worlds are boring or repetitive. They have CONTENT but I don’t care about their #experience. Being large and containing many things isn’t enough. That’s probably what I dislike most about Elder Scrolls games – they’re full of dungeons and forests and this and that and all you do is dodge traps and hit things in garbage combat, because that junk is everywhere. This is why Proteus is the best open world game: it has nice things to look at and yep you sure can wander around and look at them.

Alec: You guys I think I’ve found the answer to all these issues, though. Behold: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1205873620/rise-0 No promises, no restrictions, nothing to live up to, nothing. Nothing. Except for some composited stock photography. That is the answer.

Alice: I don’t want an unlimited sandbox. The reason I haven’t burnt out on Metal Gear Solid V is that it’s not an open world in the Far Cry 3-y way. It’s got huge mission spaces, sure, but you’re returning to your chopper and Mother Base and travelling round the world – it’s got very clear boundaries. It knows your time in that area before you nip off is limited. It’s a collection of playgrounds whose boundaries extend just far enough beyond what I’ll probably do that I have an interesting experience as I pass through. If I stuck around, as you do in most modern sandboxes, I’d quickly be bashing into the walls.

Pip: Something I’ve heard about MGSV and which makes me interested in it (although not interested enough that it takes precedence over Destiny right now) is that it reacts far better to your choices than most other games. Like, it’s been described to me as far more flexible and able to account for how you want to play than you having to meet the game’s needs. I haven’t got far enough that I’ve confirmed that, but it’s an interesting shift in the relationship between game and developer if so – instead of you working to meet what they want, the game trying to keep up with you a bit. Sounds like you’d run into that feeling of restriction less.

Adam: Yeah, I think that’s fair. It’s an extension of the stealth/no-kill/all-guns-blazing choices that have been part of this kind of game design for a good while, but I think what Phantom Pain gets right is that it encourages playfulness and experimentation. It’s enjoyable when your plan falls apart because the reactions of the AI are entertaining and legible; you know how they’re likely to react but the details are hazy enough to make every encounter slightly unpredictable. I had to teach myself not to stick with basic tranquiliser guns and a cardboard box because I’m so accustomed to finding one trick and sticking with it. It’s much more fun to just try everything – plant a bomb on a toilet, use that water pistol that you found, try to stow away on a vehicle doing a supply run.

I just realised that Crusader Kings 2 is the best open world game, by the way. So that’s good.

Alec: We should probably wrap up, although Adam hasn’t even talked about Ultima VII yet and I didn’t defend Morrowind’s honour. NEXT TIME.

Alice: Open world games don’t even have box wine.

Alec: Therefore Tesco’s is the best open world game.

147 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Al__S says:

    it says a lot about the popularity of the structure that even the Lego [insert licence] games have drifted into the “sandbox” stylings in recent offerings- the “kid friendly” part of the big budget market aping the structure of the “AAA”.

  2. RaunakS says:

    I remember some of the old Novalogic Delta Force games, which were open world in the strangest way – missions were set in a game space that was endless. I suspect they were procedurally generated spaces, but I had fun running away from and goading soldiers so far from their bases that they would literally get lost. Those were fun times.

    Also, fun fact: a game manual for one of the sequels to the Delta Force games was found on Usama Bin Laden’s bookshelves.

    • Premium User Badge

      Andy_Panthro says:

      I’ve only done a few early missions, but MGS5 does remind me of Delta Force, if only in little bits.

    • Philopoemen says:

      Land Warrior was okay, but Black Hawk Down was amazing – matched the book and movie so well. But there was definitely scripted bits.

    • neotribe says:

      I will always love Novalogic because of Maximum Overkill. I had a custom config.sys to induce my terrible 486sx/25 to free enough memory to load it.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Yes! MGSV reminds me of Delta Force so much. It’s the “I’m not happy with my starting position so I’m going to march 20 mins to attack this base from the other side”-ness of it.

      The dream of open world games was never “here are all the missions at the same time, choose when to start them” it was a dream of thinking “well what if I went and stole that helicopter from mission 3 and flew it over here to blow mission 12’s stealth demands out of the ducking water”. MGSV gets that. Asscreed does not.

      Also Day-Z deserves a mention as a pure openworld game. Take a world, open the borders, let players do what they want/must.

      • RaunakS says:

        You have that exactly right! It’s rare enough to be given the tools to subvert the mission, within the game itself; it’s even rarer for the game to function properly and adapt to such circumstances … That was the promise Crysis made but couldn’t consistently deliver. MGS, despite having limited variety within areas, delivers well.

        I wonder what happened to the Delta Force franchise. They, and the Prince of Persia games, are two series I wouldn’t mind making a next gen comeback.

  3. Ootmians says:

    For me, at least, MGSV doesn’t need a “pass” because it is its own beast. And also, it does a good job of allowing you to navigate and focus on what you want. The cynical Ubi model is a cut-and-paste that gives all the Ubi sandbox games the exact same gameplay with different modeling on top. Climb towers to expose areas of the map, start trials randomly scattered across the map, collect tons of pointless items scattered across the map that have no bearing on anything other than a collection tally.

    The Ubi games have become a giant yawn to me because the endless collectibles have no meaning in-game, and needlessly clutter up the map. Far Cry 4 was fun, but that was in spite of the horrendous map that was so littered with collectibles that I had to go in and manually turn off about 40 (not exaggerating) icons just to be able to see the Main Mission icons. Those games just feel to me like they randomly litter the game with stuff in order to add a few dozen hours to the gameplay time for OCD types.

    MGSV, on the other hand, at least gives Side Ops that result in building your base, unlocking construction projects and wacky entertainment. A minor distinction, maybe, but it gives the illusion of progressing, where the Ubi sandbox games to me feel like, “Here, go collect a bunch of skulls and feathers and letters for forty hours.”

    • Premium User Badge

      burn_heal says:

      It’s almost as if by filling the world with collectibles/sidequests they expect you to turn off half of them. By including so much content some one can only focus on a few mission types and still have a lengthy game. They’re hedging their bets.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Yet if you didn’t care about the story, the side content is always gated by it. Oh and god forbid, most of the time the story content is gated by the side content. It really feels more like they want you to just run around doing random nonsense which you may or may not care about, rather than giving you a choice about which aspect you enjoy more.

    • pjdv says:

      @Ootmians I like what you’re saying in you’re last paragraph! I feel the same way; there needs to be a sense of progression or the idea that you’re working your way towards something, like MGS V uses Side Missions to unlock development for you’re FOB, or enhancing Mother Base.

  4. shagen454 says:

    I like MGSV format because it’s straight-forward but if one wanted to roam you’re certainly allowed to. Though, I wish it had more detail.

    I find Far Cry, AssCreed & Batman games to bore the socks off of me. The perfect open-world games give the player a sense of awe. I remember when Operation Flashpoint came out, it was rough, but it still instilled a sense of awe. Riding in vehicles, roaming towns, hiding in forests – it hadn’t been done like that until that point.

    I’m still down if the world is super detailed (Skyrim) or well made (Witcher 3).

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Operation Flashpoint (and I assume the ArmA games) have a wide open world, although it’s only populated to the extent the mission designer put stuff in.
      I still remember that mission where you’re shot down and have to navigate to safety using the stars, while dodging patrols etc.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Yes, this is what I wanted to post too – the RPS hivemind need to play Arma, with a community (like Folk ARPS, of course!). Or just among themselves as a small team, working through official or Workshop coop mission.

      • melancholicthug says:

        Man that was tough. I had no idea whatsoever on how to go about with the stars… I still don’t know how the hells i found my way. Oh wait, yeah, running like a madman while bullets were literally ricocheting all over me.

    • neotribe says:

      OFP and ArmA are certainly open-world games (wide open, to the point that they mission scripting for campaign mode is always problematic), although I’m hesitant to call them sandboxes so much as simulations.

  5. icarussc says:

    I’ve been playing the heck out of Arkham Knight, and I thought it would only be fair to point out that it doesn’t fill the world with icons for you … You have to interrogate people to find the locations of the Riddler trophies, and you have to get right on top of side mission stuff for it to give you a map icon.

    Just sayin’! Because it’s a great game and all!

    • Frank says:

      I will also defend Arkham Knight. Big fan of the whole series (though I haven’t played oranges yet).

      I wish it didn’t put me in an unwinnable state, though. Not cool, Rocksteady. (I mean, I just played the main mission, skipping side quests, and ended up in a balloon with an enemy that I could not defeat and yet had to to to progress, with no option of leaving the balloon. Kinda surprised more people haven’t hit that.)

      • Asurmen says:

        Because if that happened it’s a bug and doesn’t happen to everyone.

    • Jay Load says:

      Christ, the Riddler again???

      I’ve completed the Origins story so am left with the sandbox and – holy shit – I DO NOT WANT to spend any more time chasing down the Riddler’s ludicrously elaborate and time-burning menaces. Not after two subsequent games of the exact same mechanic. It stretches credulity as well: to have done all this he’d either needs years of planning or resources on a Corporate scale, or most likely both.

      I’m tired of it and hearing that it’s in Arkham Knight as well…I think that just killed my interest in the franchise. Now that I think of it, my collapsed interest in GTA may be the same phenomenon. After all those games I’m unwilling to spend any more time doing the same busywork with incresingly pretty graphics.

      Open world is fine but c’mon, there’s got be variety.

  6. Doubler says:

    Some of these games just want to offer a big space for people to do shit in. It’s not the open world that’s the primary draw here, that’s just the place where whatever mechanical hooks they’ve designed can flourish in. They fill the world with lures and checklists for people to complete to give them something to apply these mechanics towards, and that’s all they really expect the player to do. For me these games shine brightly for a few days, but get stale fast.

    For some games the open world itself is the main attraction. Traversing it and experiencing it are the main course. Actively moving about and exploring the world are it’s primary forms of gameplay. For me it’s rare that I ever really stop playing these games

    Most games will probably try a bit of both. But the vast majority I see are weighted towards the former, not the latter.

    That’s how I see it anyway. Maybe it’s just an accidental distinction between good and bad applications of an open world. Dunno :shrug:

  7. Static says:

    Open World Games that let you practically go anywhere, do anything? Besides minecraft?

    Dwarf Fortress

    Though I do suppose, starvation, goblins and those pesky dragons etc might keep you from being able to actually go anywhere or do anything, but you get my drift.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Well, adventure mode, anyway.

      Fortress mode is more like the SimCity approach. One plot of land, no ability to step outside it.

  8. vargata says:

    cmon, if in elder scrolls games its just go to dungeons to hit enemies in a crap combat, you do it wrong

  9. dangermouse76 says:

    My issue ( and it is my issue ) is that as open worlds seem to get closer to a sense of a fully functioning environment the more their actual limitations are thrown into relief.
    GTA is a great example. The world is more visually detailed in every way to the previous iterations. But the game can feel empty in terms of things to do. Empty in a way that Vice City did not feel, I think due to it’s size.

    Partially it’s because the periphery of environment that lends itself to a convincing world experience takes up space, resources, money, and attention from the main storyline. And is therefore not included.

    I dont get that in MGS because there is a focus of task and mechanic through out the game that lends itself to the narrative and environment.

    In GTA the sense is of an all encompassing world with a depth of a puddle. I should add I still love the games, but that is the sense I get from GTA and to an extent Skyrim. Fun mechanics and missions in a world that suggest greater arbitrary interaction than it really has.

    It may be a case of always wanting more than the current tech can provide but for me, as open world games become deeper in visual detail and size, I want a greater depth of interaction with that world in order to cement the illusion.

    • XhomeB says:

      Good point about GTA. I love how the cities in this series feel, but there’s absolutely nothing to do there. Sure, you can steal a car and drive around. Or go on a rampage. Aaaand that’s it, that’s where the “freedom” ends.
      Unless you follow the story, you won’t find any engaging activities.

      • malkav11 says:

        GTA V is stuffed to the brim with side activities. YMMV whether they’re any fun (I’m not a big fan of the sports minigames, for example) but they are ALL OVER. So that seems like a weird criticism of the game to me.

        • Likethiss says:

          Aaaaaghhhh. So many abbreviations i have to google these days. Can we all agree not to use the more obscure ones. Or not use them at all, please! Today i’ve looked up DAE and YMMV. IDLA (I don’t like abbreviations)

        • dangermouse76 says:

          Well “stuffed to the brim” is a matter of personal perception. And one I wouldn’t agree with.Also the quality of those experiences is a factor.
          Also is YMMV an abbreviation that people use ?
          Because IGTO FTS.

          • malkav11 says:

            It was once. Perhaps it’s not as commonly used these days. I -have- been online since the late 90s. Oh god, I’m getting old.

          • BooleanBob says:

            I’m not sure what even a really greedy otter would do with forty tuna steaks.

        • Cinek says:

          Problem with GTA is that it’s still all singular “mission points”. Sure, there’s ton of these all over the place, but it’s all still – go to point A, take mission C, complete it, get reward $XYZ + ZYX XP points.

          I for one would love to see an actual open world not an open mission hub which is what GTA V and pretty much every so-called open world game is. I want to see living, breathing worlds where actions affect them in a real way and it doesn’t circle around individual quests.

      • Chiron says:

        Agreed, kind of, I havent really played GTA after Vice City but at the time people were raving about how much there was to do but it just felt empty to me, the collectibles were kind of pointless.

        By all accounts GTAV is jam packed with stuff to do but… well to me it all seems to just scratch the surface, none of what you do has any impact or lasting legacy on the gameworld, am I correct?

        Assassins Creed is a beautiful game but it also feels very flat and 2 dimensional, and all the hand holding it does to point things out doesn’t help.

        • dangermouse76 says:

          I would agree. Impact is minimal. Again I dont think they are trying for that and I do enjoy the games to a point, it’s really the open world aspect I am commenting on.

          The world is a Bimbo/Himbo ( beautiful but empty ), and the main story arc is a straight to DVD movie drama with a few laughs along the way.
          Again I think the relative interactivity of the world is effected by resources and budget. They are focusing where they feel they can tell a compelling story.
          I think their worlds will become richer and deeper as they iterate on the formula.Or not……

    • draglikepull says:

      “GTA is a great example. The world is more visually detailed in every way to the previous iterations. But the game can feel empty in terms of things to do. Empty in a way that Vice City did not feel, I think due to it’s size.”

      I’m 100% with you here. GTAV was so big and often indistinct that I found it basically un-navigable (except by GPS). In Vice City, by contrast, the map was contained enough and regions distinct enough that after playing for a few hours you start to learn the city’s layout and can drive by landmarks and memory.

      • ulix says:

        Thing is, it’s not indistinct at all. At least not visually.
        It’s the most distinct videogame open-world of all time.

        I don’t think there has been a game with more art assets to date. Every building is unique (except for a few row-houses, and even most of these will have little unique touches). Depending on where you are you will see vastly differnt types of NPCs and cars. I once got killed by a drag-queen in front of a queer nightclub, just to give an example.

        I made the experience that it helps not to look at the minimap so often, but that was already the case in San Andreas. At some point you will start recognizing this or that intersection. Because really: it’s all very distinct visually.

        I wish there were more minimap options, however. Why can’t I just use it as a compass?

        The problem of the world in GTA V might be that it really is just too big. I’ve played for more than 150 hours now (off- & online), but there’s still sections I can’t navigate without the map/minimap.

        Not because it’s indistinct, but because I only come across this or that street, this or that area of the map every couple of hours.

        And of course because, just like in real life, the world looks vastly different during different times of day.

      • neotribe says:

        Having even a very rough idea of the relative layout of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods and outlying areas helps w/GTAV.

  10. liquidsoap89 says:

    I don’t believe they are, and I’m also getting really tired of every series becoming an open box game. I’ve only got so much time to spend playing video games each week, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to justify playing certain games when I know huge portions of them will be spent looking at a mini map following an objective marker, only to do some trivial thing that has no influence on the game’s story.

  11. drussard says:

    I think the worst offender recently is Dragon Age: Inquisition of the “open world” moniker. I don’t want to open the map and see it completely slathered in icons and grabby bits. I’m somewhat an obsessive completionist in the manner that I absolutely have to finish every bedazzled flashing icon on the map or it will haunt my dreams. DA:I takes this to an entirely new level and one that has me feeling quite queasy from the knowledge that I probably won’t ever be able to finish them all, so I might as well just not play it anymore. Origins felt like more of a free experience. Maps were smaller but direct and concise; they felt more connected and carried an emotion. I’m startlingly dispassionate about the entire DA:I world and this is coming from someone who has north of 500hours in Origins and even sifted through the ashes of the dumpster fire that was DA:2…

    • mynameisadahn says:

      Agree completely. I am *not a completionist in games but found DAI to be basically unplayable. The map and the constant barrage of sidequests etc. just felt like a huge wave of noise.

      To me, this was a massive step back from Origins. Granted, origins had its problems, but at its best the game delivered strong emotion and some good Bioware-times.

      Open world is no longer a selling point to me.

    • Wulfram says:

      You can ignore most of the rubbish quests and play DA:I really quite similarly to DAO. It’s a very nice 50 hour game really, the problem is that the open world seems to lure people into playing it as a 200 hour game which drowns the main quest in boring sidequests and people never finish.

      Which is particularly frustrating since the latest DLC is really awesome, and has me interested in Dragon Age as a setting like I’ve never been before. I mean, I liked DAO a lot, but the setting was fairly uninteresting to me in that – it was just a functional backdrop to a nice story. But considering the DLC needs you to have finished the game to even play it, my cheerleading for it is likely to be rather futile.

      • malkav11 says:

        The problem with the “but you can just skip the boring side stuff” argument is that there’s nothing telling you what will be boring ahead of time. And it’s not all dull. There are genuinely cool encounters and story beats and things to find out in Inquisition’s giant zones, quite a few of them not explicitly flagged with sidequests. There’s also plenty of repetitious nonsense. On a replay, I imagine it would be easy enough to skip to the good bits (the way on a replay of ME1 one can skip almost all the planet exploration nonsense except for a couple of the actual sidequests), but until then, it’s all or nothing.

  12. XhomeB says:

    I’ve found that way too many “open world games” are some of the most LINEAR, RESTRICTIVE games I’ve played. That’s what bothers me a lot.
    Oh yeah, sure, you can travel (almost) freely from one point of a giant map to the next, but try to actually do something in this world. Something meaningful. For the most part, you bloody cannot.
    Decided to embark on a mission? Oh, it seems that all of a sudden I have ZERO freedom on how to complete it. Follow a linear corridor, encounter omnipresent scripts, accomplish your goal the one and only one “correct” way.
    There’s an enemy outpost somewhere out there? Oh, it’s been placed so conveniently there’s only ONE way inside, the way designers intended. Wanted to sneak in? Nope. Wanted to climb the walls or something? Nope, not possible.
    Yay, there’s a main quest. Oh, but it leads you by a nose. Go this guy, talk to the other one, kill a specific target. No choices to be made, no creativity, nothing.
    Yay, there’s so much TO DO and places to visit. Only the exploration doesn’t mean ANYTHING and is not satisfying in the slightest, because you’ll keep doing the same repetitive stuff over and over, you’ll keep finding useless junk and you’ll keep encountering copy-pasted assets.

    I could go on and on. Bethesda and Ubisoft… I’m mostly talking about YOU.

    There used to be a middle ground. Worlds big enough to feel large, yet full of possibilites. Or semi-linear FPShooters providing a wonderful sense of exploration. Today, it’s either “CoD school of design” or “open world”. No happy middle ground.

    • Nasarius says:

      Exactly. It’s the theme park MMO philosophy applied to other genres.

      The game world should be a living thing, not just a fancy way to select missions. Otherwise there’s absolutely no point to an “open world”.

      Deus Ex feels way more open than Skyrim, for example, even though it’s a linear, mission-based game. Why? Because you have an endless number of ways to complete each mission, and a realistic-ish environment where it’s taking place.

  13. quietone says:

    Ultima VII. Games got more complex, or with better graphics and interactions. But never, ever got the same feeling of being in a world that was both huge and not built around me.

    • Nasarius says:

      I think Ultima 7 (1992), Darklands (1992), and Daggerfall (1996) were the pinnacle of open-world CRPGs as you describe them. You’re just some person somewhere in a huge crazy world, and it feels like you can go do practically anything.

      (And then there was Ultima Online of course, but that’s a different category.)

      Even with the Kickstarter-led “old-school” CRPG revival, this is still the path not taken.

    • Humppakummitus says:

      Good point there. Although Divinity: Original Sin out-Ultima7’s Ultima 7 in many ways, it’s still very linear and small scale in comparison.
      I miss looking at some remote spot on the map, and just deciding to check it out. And there would always be something.

  14. TheAngriestHobo says:

    The issue – or one issue, at least – lies in the notion of “open world” games as a genre. They’re not. The term “open world” has traditionally been used to describe a gameplay mechanic, for wont of a better word, that allows the player to explore the setting and advance the story at their own pace, rather than simply being shunted from mission to mission (or floor to floor, or level to level, or what have you). FTL is an open-world game, albeit one that forcibly drives the character in a predetermined direction. So is Sunless Sea. Neither of these games falls into the “clean up the map” genre that seems to be subject of this article.

    Terminology aside, all your complaints about the “clean up the map” genre are valid. It’s been stagnating for almost a decade, and it’ll take more than the Nemesis system to fix it. I doubt Warner Brothers et al will deviate from the formula until some indie outfit comes up with something better they can copy.

  15. denizsi says:

    “Randomized dungeons in Daggerfall”

    Sigh.

    They are pre-generated templates. Not randomised at all as in different every time you play. And there is a limited number of those templates in the game such that you can eventually get to know all of them. Except, most are just large enough, convoluted, confusing and tricky to be little self-contained adventures in themselves. Just as a dungeon should be.

    • Myrdinn says:

      No. Getting into a dungeon without mark/recall to find a poppy plant can take you longer then completing the friggin’ main quest. Just because you got into the lower levels of the dungeon doesn’t mean you can get out again :p.

      I mean I love DF as my first RPG but some of the dungeons were waaayy too ridiculous. And don’t tell me you know more then 4 distinctive dungeons by memory ;).

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        Oh man, those quest-dungeons were ridiculous. There is a door in one of them that I never managed to open. Spent god knows how many hours wandering that hell-hole, desperately trying to find a lever or key that would open that door. Still haven’t finished that game…

  16. draglikepull says:

    I’m going to propose a distinction that I think might help, between games that are “open world” vs games that are “open mission”.

    The Elder Scrolls games are open world. There’s an actual world that’s been modeled, it operates (more or less) on its own, and the activities and missions you take on exist within that world. There are people and places that are not relevant to a specific mission, they just exist because they’re part of the world. The fact that the world exists in some sense outside of your own actions is important. To a lesser degree the Grand Theft Auto games fit into this category, as do the Assassin’s Creeds.

    Then there are the “open mission” games, a category into which I would put games like Shadow of Mordor and Metal Gear Solid 5. Neither of those games has a “world” in any broad sense. Both simply have mission areas between which you can travel. They are open in terms of how you approach your objectives (both geographically and tactically), but there isn’t really a “world” as such.

  17. golem09 says:

    The one game that truly felt like it had an open world to me was Deadly Premonition. People were doing stuff. You could drive around and see them do it, surprise them, and get exclusive cutscenes or clues that would otherwise have missed.

  18. geldonyetich says:

    An interesting discussion, and one so core to my interests I’ve been cultivating making it my primary focus of blogging and independent game development.

    No, open world / sandbox games have not been living up to their potential. It’s because they never take it far enough.

    If you start on the “do anything” end of the spectrum, you get Minecraft and it’s imitators. What they lack is structure and purpose to the players’ activities. The player can invent their own goals, but ultimately the game doesn’t care.

    If you start on the “this is supposed to be a game” perspective, you end up with Assassin’s Creed (GTA3) derivatives. What they lack is adequate player agency/consequences. Everything is so overwhelmingly narrow in its ramifications that players don’t feel immersed, they instead just feel like theme park tourists on a branching attraction.

    For a step in the right direction, look to Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, a great way to present a meaningful, limitless world. Although it is still lacking overwhelmingly in player consequences.

    What Minecraft really needs is Civilization on top.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Or embrace automation (and maybe rails) and become Factorio / Transport Tycoon / etc.

      • geldonyetich says:

        I’ve played with Minecraft mods that have surprisingly similar powers of factorization, but the introduction of this kind of block harvesting and processinc power really underscores how little your achievements matter in an open world without goals. To these ends, adding something bigger than the player really helps. The Millenaire and Minecolony mods were excellent examples, but even they don’t go far enough.

    • Stevostin says:

      What I’d really like to see is a start like the Sims for Minecraft. You roll or pick or bid if it’s F2P for a character with optionally the usual character stats but more importantly aspiration. Somethink like gold, love, family, power, fame etc. No more than three, no less than one. This in turn defines your goals by which you progress (at least in term of score). This way we make sure each and every player has decided the “what do I do” before reaching the land of the free. BTW nothing prevent you by more game mechanic to change aspirations later but they are always known and always an active mechanic in the game.

  19. NomadSoul says:

    I would roll my eyes after I realized I wrote this sentence.
    “And just why are we apparently giving MGSV a free pass given we often roll our eyes as Assassin’s Creed?”

  20. Blad the impaler says:

    I think one of the nicest things MGSV gives the open-world genre is the ability to limit the amount of time you generally spend in the … mission world, for lack of a better term. Heading back to Mother base delineates perfectly between shooting time and not shooting time.

    I think about it like dropping kids off at the day care – only it’s dropping a maniac with a rocket launcher in the middle of Afghanistan. The game basically says, go have your fun – but be back in time for dinner and a bath.

    Too many open worlders just pepper the map with pings and icons and expect you to hump it every which way. I can’t do it anymore.

    I wonder what Skyrim might have been like if the Dova-dude had been based in Sovngarde and just, like, flew to wherever to advance the main quest. I wonder how differently we’d treat that open world?

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Overwhelmingly, yes, any open world game I’m going to play needs a safe area. Either because it’s a whole separate area, or because it’s cities, or (maybe even ideally) because I’ve worked to make it safe myself.

      That’s part of why I was always a fan of the (extremely expensive) Minecraft mod items that actively inhibit spawning within a certain large radius. (Alternatively, I’d be okay with putting turrets everywhere.)

      Sure, I could rely on making absolutely sure no part of my base wasn’t 100% lit up with torches, but what I really wanted was to feel absolutely secure in my base so I had a place to rest, craft, store stuff, and plan my next adventure.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        I take it you’re not a fan of deforestation, or covering an area with several hundred torches.

  21. racccoon says:

    Open Worlds..
    Its good to roam & do, than to bump about into walls.

    That’s it…
    & if done right…
    it works, simple.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    You guys realize that there will nevere be another MGS right? At the very best an MGS without Kojima could be what Dark Souls II is to Dark Souls, but without the whole studio the game is no more.

    • neotribe says:

      The game mechanics and the Fox Engine will still be there. The MGS story is amusing but ultimately a lot of nonsensical fluff around Kojima’s political and culural fixations. We’ll see what MGO is like….

      • Premium User Badge

        Dorga says:

        Kojima’s influence on the game goes much deeper then the story. And Konami just announced they’re stopping production on any AAA games but PES, so there’s that. Someone will pick up all thr ips hopefully, and maybe Kojima will be involved once more.

  23. fish99 says:

    Mad Max is good example of open world done wrong. The baloons (towers) are already marked, so your instinct is to do them first, which shows pretty much everything else, so after that there’s not much left to find by exploring. The only things not marked are the locations which just have scrap or collectibles, which having finished the game I can honestly say you should skip entirely because they do nothing but make the game 20 hrs longer (and 20 hrs too long).

    In contrast at least in Skyrim there was lots to find by just exploring, even if they (disappointingly) mark quest locations.

  24. Frank says:

    This discussion could’ve gone a lot further I guess. Hope you guys revisit it.

  25. malkav11 says:

    I like the occasional game in this style but I don’t want every (or even many) series to adopt it. Also, I feel like what many people seem to want from the “open world” approach clashes with what I want from games.

    Things I think “open world” can bring to my enjoyment of a game:
    Exploring nooks and crannies of the world to find unique rewards, be they lore or powerup.
    Providing an immersive space in which to engage in scripted gameplay, a backdrop that sells the illusion of the world in which I’m operating.
    Offering a range of possible approaches to a given challenge, ideally with room for ones that aren’t deliberately prescripted.
    Elements of map control and similar power accretion fantasies.

    Things that are easy traps for “open world” design to fall into that I really don’t care for:
    Assuming I want a sandbox – i.e., to be plopped down in an open space and told “here, make your own fun”. I want designed objectives and specific challenges. This is a big reason why I’ve never gotten into Minecraft and the array of Minecraft derivatives.
    Assuming I want little or no story: this is a key element of my enjoyment of any game. The combination of this and the previous is a big part of why I didn’t much get on with Just Cause 2, despite it being praised to the high heavens many places. (Also the frustratingly limited access to the fun and/or explosive weapons, and the insane enemy alert system.)
    Assuming I want the place stuffed with identikit nonsense with no real gameplay or narrative payoff: this goes for a lot of collectibles and such in Ubisoft and latter day GTAs, but it’s been a big turnoff for Dragon Age: Inquisition as well. more so, actually.
    Relying to any significant degree on procedural content generation: yes, it’s a big world and handcrafting it takes time and money. but there’s no substitute.
    Bloat and timewasting in general: these games just seem to revel in having dozens of hours of “content”, but I don’t have that kind of time anymore and in a lot of series that have jumped to open world designs, the previous entries were tighter, more manageable experiences that were overall more satisfying. I mean, hell, Witcher 3 is by all accounts a masterpiece (and I’m more than willing to believe this based on the little I’ve played), but the Witcher 2 only asked maybe 40 hours of me and so I actually played through and FINISHED it. I’d much rather have had another game of that scale. or even 2 or 3, really.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Yep to all of this.

      Great article and good discussion by posters too.

    • jrodman says:

      The only thing I really disagree with in this list (which is an excellent list that matches my interests to a great deal) is the procedural content.

      I think procedural content is a great tool and should be used enthusiastically, but there are ways to do it badly. If you make procedural content be the attention-focused part of the game (generating the explicit objectives like enemy bases or dungeons) then you are taking on two difficult problems. First, you have to create enough variation in the procedural generation to avoid player fatigue. Second, you have to provide some other mechanism for the player to feel both accomplishment and a finishing place. The player has to feel that defeating the content is not a waste of time, and you have to offer them a stopping place before their interest is long-since exhausted.

      I think these problems are likely more difficult than handcrafted experiences. I also think succeeding at them can make a different style of interesting game, so they’re worth attempting.

      However, you can also use procedural content as components of a game world that are not the primary player focus, and here I think it’s much easier to achieve a good result. Your primary story and missions may involve traversing areas that contain procedurally generated enemies, encampments, movements, battles, etc. They can be used to offer richness to a world where a player chooses to ignore the story objectives for a while. They can flesh out friendly areas, and make the world more believable. They can be pretty central to making an open experience work.

      • malkav11 says:

        The closest I’ve ever seen to a game relying on procedural content generation working are roguelikes, and even there, to me it’s less that the procedural content itself is interesting and more that the combination of permadeath and generally hugely robust systems makes static content less desirable and the weaknesses of procedural content less noticeable.

        But I agree that procedural methods are useful for things like NPC activity, and potentially for a quick approach to sketching out the underlying terrain or similar, onto which a designer can then layer handcrafted content. To me those don’t quite fall under the umbrella of “procedural content generation”, though. I dunno. Maybe I’m wrong about that.

    • malkav11 says:

      Oh, one other cool thing open world games can (but don’t necessarily) do:
      make getting around meaningful and fun. Whether that be by having a variety of distinct vehicles to drive, or parkour, or superpowers. Having a significant amount of space in the game world that can (and will have to be) traversed on a regular basis suddenly makes those traversal mechanics important where they’re pretty much just flavor or even complete background in a more linear, CoD-style experience.

  26. JimThePea says:

    Do ‘open world’ games have to have large environments? It would seem obvious, an open world is a large one, but a space’s depth is determined by what can be done within it, how much detail it packs in and how it leverages that fourth dimension of time. The resolution of a world. In that case, how small could an open world game be? A town? A building? A room?

    I’d like to see a AAA open world game set entirely in a room with whatever it would need to work, not an hour-long art game (though I’d like to see that too), a full-on blockbuster. I’m not sure we’ll see one in the next decade, maybe if VR becomes a thing, but it can be done.

    • blastaz says:

      Petition to rename planet Earth a sandbox.

      Because if you head for long enough in one direction it just starts repeating content from the beginning of the game…

      • jrodman says:

        We should start a petition to remove these arbitrary restrictions from Earth.

      • JimThePea says:

        This is what annoys me when Rockstar/Bethesda/whoever announce their new games and everyone’s excepting a map 100x the size of an earlier game, I can’t imagine they’d really be that enthused with the same amount of content stretched out over the size of a small country.

        FUEL was an interesting experiment in large non-procedural worlds, but for me, that’s all it amounted to, size for size’s sake usually leads to hollow experiences, quantity over quality and all that. I don’t have high hopes for No Man’s Sky for this reason, but I’d be very happy to be proven wrong.

      • JimThePea says:

        I got so wrapped up in my little gripes that I completely missed the joke, maybe Earth’s sandbox has a New Game+ mode, or is that reincarnation?

      • neotribe says:

        An open world game with a map built on real, publicly available GIS data might be interesting…

  27. ffordesoon says:

    I think there are three things that separate MGSV from your Ubisoft-style checklist open-worlders:

    1) It’s not full of dull and pointless “activities.” Neither main missions nor Side Ops are about racing or playing pool or drinking or whatever. They are always missions you can imagine Venom Snake undertaking willingly, and they are almost always as wide-open as the game itself. Which is another thing that’s fascinating about the game – the objectives are often vague and would sound dull in another game, but where “rescue the prisoner” would go more or less one insanely restrictive way in Assassin’s Creed, you’re never short of options in MGSV.

    2) MGSV isn’t a helicopter parent. It lets you do what you want when you want, and it’s not constantly bothering you about unimportant bullshit. Well, I guess you could argue that the iDroid alerts do tell you stuff, but it’s stuff you want to know. Similarly, while there are icons on the map, they’re almost always useful icons, and the situations they can tempt you into are always interesting.

    3) The game feels awesome moment-to-moment, and a surprising amount of open-world games don’t.

  28. LennyLeonardo says:

    I was trying to think of my favourite open world games, and the first 3 that came to mind were Fallout 1, Mount and Blade: Warbands, and Silent Hunter 3. What these all have in common is that long-distance travel happens on a world map. I think that abstraction allows you to flesh out the world with your imagination

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Warband. Autocorrect.

    • jrodman says:

      Fallout only seems to let you un-world-map in a few places (or maybe you can anywhere, but there’s little point in doing so?). How about the other games?

  29. Stevostin says:

    The best part of the discussion is the rebuttal of “Open World” as a fit description for those games. It’s not entirely fair (there’s a difference with corridor games that “sandbox” doesn’t account for ; moreover we’d better leave “Sandbox” to game with building mechanics).

    Open World as in today’s definition seems to mean “Scripted player story in an open world”. To that regard, all of those games above are doing pretty fine (except the details such as how the map is used that should have been discussed more here probably). But no, they don’t fulfill the promise of Daggerfall (which was something like Ultima Underworld meets GTA)(the promise, I mean. Not the game).

    To me real game with a feel of freedom are stuff like Skyrim. Sure, there’s the “mandatory big story” that I’d really like to just not exist, there are not that much decision on what you do (how you do it is pretty open though), there are all sort of limits starting with the fact that at a point content just ends but it sustains the illusion of “I am here and there’s so much I can do” way longer than “I can hijack any car and go play bowling or ride to that letter on the map” or “will I do base jump, hunt tiger or people killing ?”.

    We need more things in MGSV direction for sure – more system, more combination, and I think dying light is pretty good at that (just moving around is enjoyable, even when you’ve beaten the story). Each time the “world” in “open world” matters we need first person view – because if it matters we want to see it on theater’s screen, not on television. (or alternatively, if shooting matters, as we want good shooting thank you). And by the way, please build better world. Be asking on content, lore, books, dialog etc. It took decades to go from “small thing” thinking for TV shows to actually requesting ambition for them. Let’s have this faster with Open World games please :)

  30. LennyLeonardo says:

    No mention of space exploration/ true games here. No Man’s Sky is looking like a fine example of an open world game. Um, discuss?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      True= trade

    • jrodman says:

      I had a certain amount of fun with one of those 2d early mac space exploration games. I forget which and there are several so it’s hard to find it again.

      In many ways it was a 2d elite. You could fight bandits or cops and earn enmity or notieriety. You could trade stuff peacefully (providing you could avoid danger). There was a sort of story that you could pursue or ignore.

      The “world” or universe or whatever was somewhat engaging because I was learning about it by experience and by rumor (in port bars and in communications with friendlies in space). However, it was really just a web of points on a sheet in terms of the “freedom”. They put some effort into constraining your initial possible places to go to get you to find story points and not get into too much trouble (fuel limits, hyperspace jump limits), but pretty soon your funds got to a point where you could strike out on your own.

      I spent a while making my own fun, then found I no longer remembered the main storyline and stopped playing. I seem to recall being happy to have bought a Corvette. Whatever that was.

      Neither a high nor a low point of my gaming history.

      What questions would you pose?

      • malkav11 says:

        You’re almost certainly talking about Escape Velocity or one of its sequels. For what it’s worth.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Yeah, must be Escape Velocity. I loved it at the time, but I’m not sure if I felt it was a living world. Is that necessarily an aspiration for all open world games? Also, is scope/scale key to open world games? And are space games able to achieve greater scope/scale because of not generally having to directly model human interactions?

        • jrodman says:

          Yes, it’s all the sequels I get confused about. I’m really not sure which one I played. I think there was a clone or something like it too.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      One thing that excites me about No Man’s Sky is the complete lack of a quest/mission structure. Other games of the genre like Elite and Freelancer, having provided this sprawling world of supposedly endless possibility, then funnel you into a string of odd jobs that each narrow your focus to a proscribed task with clear and immediate win and fail conditions. You don’t have to do this, of course, but the game is usually balanced to heavily encourage it.

      By contrast, NMS only ever even suggests a single ultimate objective that (and this is what distinguishes it from Minecraft’s similarly simple-yet-distant Ender Dragon quest) you can progress towards purely incidentally. You’re never in the service of any external party and your experience is determined entirely by your own internal goals, your own preferences and your own moment-to-moment reactions to what’s in front of you. That, to me, is a truly “open world” game.

  31. SuicideKing says:

    You know, you folks should really, really consider playing Arma. No map icons (unless you place markers or waypoints), a true sandbox that lets you do whatever you want and endless missions via the editor, Steam Workshop or from sites like armaholic. Navigate using a map and the compass! Or the sun and the moon and stars (night sky is accurate from what I can tell).

    The maps may vary and often have boundaries, but BIS seems to have realised that using an island setting solves the issue, as the boundary is now out at sea, and Arma is largely confined to the land (with air assets) so you won’t really run into those boundaries.

    Then given the mod scene, you’ll also have community maps to choose from, and a few projects have ported older game content to the new Arma 3 engine. Then of course you have mods for stuff like the medical system, sounds, etc.

    Admittedly the single player isn’t strong, but the coop/multiplayer scene offers virtually unlimited possibilities, as it depends on the creativity of the mission maker. There usually aren’t area restrictions either in most missions that people make, and not going out of the AO is just a part of role-playing (but you can if you want to).

    Here’s hoping that the Hivemind will dive into a few sessions with us at Folk ARPS someday!

    • SuicideKing says:

      Link broke for some reason.

      http://www.folkarps.com

    • OmNomNom says:

      I was really hyped for ARMA and tried really hard to like it but i found the pacing and generally empty world a bit lacklustre. It always feels like you are gimped if you don’t have a scope of some kind as combat often takes place at long range so it ends up becoming a game of ‘lie down and line up the pixels’
      I suppose my other issue is with the general inaccuracy of guns and spammy nature it feels hard to stand out as a part of a team and take a role as no one really knows how you’ve performed, you’ve just all run around together and fired 1000 rounds downrange at the same dot until the sniper takes him out.

      • Philopoemen says:

        which is how the real world is – so pop smoke and call in arty.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Erm. Play with us! Maybe it’ll change your mind. Arma is probably more about tactics, strategy, logistics and teamwork than shooting. I’ve gone quite a few missions without killing anything, but I’ve been satisfied because no one in my Fire Team got killed, and as a unit we played a role in the mission.

  32. Rokus says:

    Interesting how people use the terms ‘open world’ and ‘sandbox’ differently. Open world games are for me games like GTA, Assassins creed and The Elder Scrolls. Games with a large explorable world, but with a strong narrative that most players will follow. Skyrim players will always be the Dragon Born. (without mods)

    Sandbox games are for me the games in which you can be or make anything. Minecraft is the most literal example of that, but Crusader Kings also qualifies. There is no story that dictates what you are. The only limit to what you can be or make are the game mechanics.

    I think this distinction is important, because the games and what you do in them are so different.

  33. OmNomNom says:

    No.

    The Ubi formula worked ok for their first few games but that doesn’t mean they needed to use it in the next 20. The next time i have to climb a tower to unlock a map section i will cry.
    MGSV isn’t much better, it obviously borrows a few elements from Ubi and is just as paper thin.
    ARMA has a great map but is often desolate outside of your mission area with very uninspiring buildings.
    GTAV has probably the best open world yet, although it could definitely improved on and is very focused on cars and driving as one would expect

  34. mao_dze_dun says:

    Honestly, I think we’ve gotten to a point where open world games are waaaaay too big. Don’t get me wrong – I love open world games, I love big games and I love getting my money’s worth. But the fact games like the Witcher III takes over 300 hours if you want to see all of the content is just ridiculous. I like completing as much of a game as possible – OCD all the way. But how is somebody with a job/family/personal life and often – all three, supposed to do that. I’m not going to dedicate all of my gaming time to playing. Maybe I feel like playing some Planetside 2. Maybe I’d like a weekend session of Europa Universalis IV. Maybe I don’t feel like playing an engaging game and want something casual, because it’s been a long day and I’m tired as f*ck. At what point does the content amount of a game turn into a pissing contest?
    Currently I’m 20 hours into the Witcher III. I seriously doubt I’ll be able to finish it before Fallout 4 comes out. And at that point I’ll drop it no matter what and I’d go on to play the next entry of my favorite series. And then when CDPR release their next game I’ll probably be like: “I never finished the Witcher III, why should I bother getting their next game?”.

    • Morcane says:

      To the contrary, I just love that open world games are very very big now, even with less time to dedicate to playing as I once could dedicate.

      Everyone seems to be too focused on ‘finishing’ open world games within a set amount of hours. I love the fact you have choices: just jump in, do a few quests, or gather some stuff and get some progression in the limited time available. Or spend an entire day doing serious progress.

      • mao_dze_dun says:

        Well, yeah. Of course it’s about finishing the game. You don’t watch half a movie, listen to half a song, read half a book or follow half of some TV series and go on to say: “I enjoyed experiencing only 50% of that”.

    • malkav11 says:

      That’s why I didn’t buy Witcher III out of the gate. But hey, it was a nice prompt to finally play II all the way through. No real chance of that happening with III, though, as long as it is.

  35. LuNatic says:

    No. Next question!

  36. Philopoemen says:

    Morrowind (which isn’t even in my top ten games) is the epitome of open world gameplay for me. Different areas that were *different* (sense of having moved through the land), no level gates, random crap to find, and little to no markers.

    That said it existed in the age of FAQs rather than Lets Plays, ditto Fallout 2, which fits in the same category – go where you want, do what you want, but be prepared to either run or get spanked if you go too far.

  37. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Burn out was a big issue for me. I sat and hoovered up the STALKERS and the Fallouts and other OW games I forget. My kleptomania and wanderlust was in overdrive. But then it was like all of that gt used up, and now the idea of starting a new open world game just gives me a headache. I COULD play and just ignore all that lovely loot out there (and lets be honest, nowadays its not like Shadow Of Chernobyl where NOT exploring means you can miss one of the best artifacts or weapons), but I can’t help it. I must rummage and see everywhere.

    • rumtotinggamer says:

      Amazing you’re the only one (as far as I can see) to even mention STALKER, it’s the best of the lot for me and is one of the few thats not cross platform.

      Anyway I agree with what else you said, apart from FO4 I can’t get interested or motivated in anything sandbox OW anymore.

  38. Blackrook says:

    No one got any love the Crew – maybe its not open world as your stuck in a car, and I know a lot of people hated it. But huge map – things to find/do – nice just to tool along looking for different challenges etc.

    I’m also playing a lot of 7 days to die alphas, which is open world survival/slaughter the zombies. Randomised worlds are coming along nicely now with more interest points of interest and landscapes.

  39. Bombuzal says:

    Please please add ALT tags to your images so I can figure out what games the screenshots are from :-(

    • malkav11 says:

      I can mostly tell but the first one is baffling me.

      • neotribe says:

        Ass Creed 5. Presumably that’s the Seine, and Cafe Theatre is on Ile St. Louis.

        • malkav11 says:

          For some reason it looked like a JRPG to me, and I was trying desperately to think of an open world JRPG. One that would be on PC, for that matter.

  40. Solanaceae says:

    I’m definitely in the minority but I never care for the “open world” thing at all. It hasn’t ever been a selling point for me because when I read that in a game’s description I’m thinking it’s basically saying “We dumped large amount of resources copy-pasting bland characters and environments to make the game world appear much larger and more activ” that it actually is. I am much more concerned and interested in a strong, riveting central story than I am in completing dozens of mindless tangential queststasks with no real depth to them. If open world is about to stop being a “thing” I welcome it.

    I’m not saying I like corridor shooters — I much prefer the design of a shooter like Operation Flashpoint/ARMA series – to me that is an “open world” game done right. But it’s not really open world in the sense that is usually meant.

    • Solanaceae says:

      Sorry about all the spelling mistakes above… not letting me edit it for some reason :(

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Flashpoint was really one of the earliest. I remember I was surprised back then seeing no boundaries to the mission zone. It was obviously open but you still did the objectives because there were no pointless baubles hidden everywhere.

  41. Cinek says:

    I for one would love to see an actual open world not an open mission hub which is what GTA V and pretty much every so-called open world game is. I want to see living, breathing worlds where actions affect them in a real way and it doesn’t circle around individual quest markers. People should be tending to their lives, things should happen regardless if I take a quest A or not, miraculous spawns of things (eg. targets) or consequences my actions during the mission that disappear from the map the moment you finish a quest should be a thing of past.

  42. criskywalker says:

    Insta-fail stealth missions in AssCreed is one of the things I hate in open-world games as is the synchronization lost because you went elsewhere.

    What’s needed IMO is more activities in the world that are not related to shooting-stabbing. Being able to see NPCs interacting with each other and seeing the world going on without your input. Less violent activities and more virtual tourism. Everything optional of course.

    The Witcher 3 is amazing, but where it fails is how it shows the peasants, which walk around and say some phrases, but don’t do much besides that.

    AssCreed does the crowd well. You feel like you’re in a living city, something which you didn’t get from Skyrim.

    Please, every open world should have horses! I’m expecting that from Fallout 4, so I can feel like in a post-apocalyptic Planet of the Apes world.

    Also dogs and companions. It’s boring to go all alone in an open world all the time. Fallout 3 companions were mostly boring and basically non-existent in Witcher 3. Companions in GTA V were annoying as were your characters.

    Stop the hunting icons fest. Let me discover the world! Just give icons for the things I already found out!

    I’m so in love with the real open world of The Witcher 3 in where there are no loading screens when you enter a house. Take note, GTA! I really hope FO4 implements this as well.

    More procedural, A.I. generated stories, please! That’s what I like the most about Metal Gear Solid V. But don’t forget set-pieces. They’re a reward after wandering around and completing missions.

  43. baozi says:

    Gothic, especially Gothic 1. No loading screens. Everything’s open instead of closed of, the only that’s stopping you is monsters that are stronger than you at the moment. A world limit that’s supported by the plot (a magic barrier that you want to escape from). It’s not the biggest world, but it’s beautifully built, not repetitive, and chock full with stuff. NPCs being affected by the day-and-night cycle. NPCs react when you walk into their rooms, they react when you draw your sword. If you lose a fight against a human, you don’t die, you’re just KO’d (and usually mugged), same thing happens other way around and should in many more games. It also features things that are useless from a power-gamer perspective but great otherwise like being able to sit on benches or smoke pipes. Atmospherically superb.

    On the other hand, never played any of the TES games for longer than a few hours.

  44. neotribe says:

    The abridged mention of TES focusing on Daggerfall (and no mention of the Bethesda Fallouts) felt rather strange here. Morrowind feels like it defined the genre in its early stages. Skyrim is probably the best known open world game after GTA, given how well it did on console. Also no mention of space sandboxes (i.e. the X series).

    I’d also suggest that not all ‘open world’ games are really sandboxes. In that case, the ‘open world’ is basically limited to a free-roam resource collecting mode on a map that is mostly static after timed resets. The free-roaming mode is accessible between ‘missions’ or ‘quests’ that are fact the equivalent of discrete ‘levels’ in a traditional game, or instances in an MMO. There’s usually an unlockable tech-tree (gated by mission completion) rather than a true crafting system.

    I’d include MGSV here. The ‘episode’ story missions are basically instanced. Note what happens if you initiate a story mission on the ground while free–roaming — if you’re near the mission objective, it forces you to a ‘mission start marker’ at the edge of the newly bounded mission zone, and resets the guards etc. It’s like Far Cry 2, but with even less freedom. It’s a good fit for the game, I think, but it’s hardly a sandbox.

  45. michelangelo says:

    Whenever game of my potential cup of coffe refer to itself as an open world game — its exactly the moment when it’s losing me and my attention. I dont want to watch those icon mess maps, I dont want to trying what optional content is worth it and which one is not. Time is precious. And there are tons of really fresh indie games.

    Thats actually why I still didnt play last Witcher, yet I joyfully went through first game and two or tree times through second one. Recently, under the spell of MAD MAX movie I broke that “NO to open world” habit. What a reminder of meaningfulness about such kind of “rule”.

    PS — I was pleased, when Mankind Divided announced, that its approx 25 hours journey.

  46. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Late to the party, what a nice discussion we got. Personally I enjoyed the Elder Scroll series immensely from searching forever for the poppy in Daggerfall like someone said, to the ingenious “take the right turn two times right, then across the hill and then you see the cave from the second tree”-like quest directions in Morrowind (almost perfect game) to the more refined (or casual) experience in Skyrim. Also in Morrowind you could find some unmarked cave and get Chrysomere right from the beginning of the game, best bring an invisibility potion. You could explore the whole map after character creation.
    Aside from Black Flag most Ubisoft games felt like wasted time to me. Pointless collectibles? I only pick up useful stuff. Lore being the base minimum but certainly not floating anomalies for the 100%-count.
    Also Gothic was good, enclosed fully open world with then state of the art-AI on the NPCs who would be lured to the wolves. No PoI marked and useless mapping. Open world has nothing to do with hunt-the-icon-Ubi.

    Regarding Minecraft – I played it the last two months excessively in single player. If you feel it lacks quests or directions, try HQM mod packs (=with added quests and usually reward loot) for a more structured experience, still all randomized and open but you have some goal and all creative freedom to get there. Also multiplayer optional. I’d recommend Regrowth, Blightfall (fixed map) or agrarian skies (limited lives).

    Regarding procedural content: done properly it’s a great tool and enhances replayability. Think of the world gen in Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft. However we have hundreds of lousy quality so-called roguelikes where procedures get written in a couple of days then go early access so it’s easy to dismiss the entire system as boring and brainless but that’s just wrong.

  47. Laurentius says:

    For me driving a car in GTA, while listening to music is better then anything you can do in other open world games. Still climbing mountains in Skyrim is fun to a degree. Open world games fail so far because simulation is almost absent, world is only working in bubble around player.

  48. Bobtree says:

    My persistent thoughts on Open World games are these.

    Things that suck: collecting, map cleaning, play-by-checklist, meaningless time-wasting respawns (FC2), war-zones that only exist to fight the player, map zones separated by thresholds (FO3 doors), simple power accumulation, crafting systems (always).

    Things they need: player agency, world dynamics (think Pirates! or M&B), small bits of simulation and things that happen without player involvement.

    Things I love: geography, locations that tell stories, environment dynamics (day/night, weather, shift changes), population dynamics, decisions & trade-offs, deploying resources, emergent play, entertaining travel.

  49. Assirra says:

    Personally the whole open world fad is done for me.
    Now days i rather have linear games with good level design and pace instead.
    Open world games have to do something special like The Witcher 3 where even your sidequests were on the same level as your main one.