Open world games are a fantastic feat of game design. The sheer scale of them is so impressive, the worlds they create can be beautiful, but sometimes they can be overwhelming. So what makes an open-world game successful?
There have been times where I have been playing an open world game and felt bored by the world. I have to mention Assassin’s Creed here, I have a very tumultuous relationship with the series, some I love playing, some I absolutely despise. A lot of the time this is down to the scenery and how these worlds are presented. Assassin’s Creed 3 for instance, for me, was perhaps the most boring game I have played. Nothing about it captivated me and I think this was down to how the open world element was presented.
Thinking about the concept, it could have been quite interesting, but there was something lacking in it for me, and I think it was how disjointed the open-world was. A lot of the time travelling to the different settlements felt so boring, going between them, there was nothing to entertain you on your travels. The game didn’t compel you to traverse the world and you end up fast travelling everywhere, which is such a shame.
AC: Black Flag tackled this better, it was, in essence, The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, but 70% less fun. You could travel to all the islands through the sea and it was kind of entertaining; you could do things like battle other ships and catch whales. But for me, all of these tasks were still laborious and felt like a chore, rather than an entertaining pastime. The one thing that got me through sailing in Black Flag was the sea shanties that the crew sing as soon as you set sail.
The element of fun and engaging content is the core of an open world game if you are going to make a gigantic space for people to play around in, make them want to explore it, otherwise it is just a bunch of wasted space. Yet the content has to be quality, because otherwise it feels like useless filler.
If the activities are not fun, then that is the point? You have to make players want to explore your world and this is why games like Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Spider-Man (2018) work so well (for me anyway). These three games are very different in style and the ways in which they are successful in creating a great open world are also varied and are methods that I wish other games would employ.
Skyrim is probably one of the main games that I think of when someone says open world to me. Probably because it was the first truly giant game I ever played and I will admit, I was overwhelmed. But once I got to grips with it I have played that game to death.
It makes you want to explore its vast world because more often than not you will come across something awesome. As you wander around, enemies come and attack you, you can talk to some random person and they will set you off on a quest. You can stumble into a cave and find an incredible sword or something after you have fought off a bunch of bandits. The great thing is that there is stuff everywhere and it is so fun to find it.
I will admit I did start using the fast-travel a lot in Skyrim, mainly because I was trying to get the Platinum trophy and it would have taken me an age to play it without fast-travel and I wanted to get on with my backlog. But what I love about it is that if I am in the mood for some exploring, I know I can go back to Skyrim and I will find something I have never seen before, and this is why it is so successful as an open world game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, playfully known as ‘Zelda Scrolls’ took a lot of inspiration from Skyrim, which completely transformed the franchise. Windwaker and Twilight Princess were small-scale open worlds in comparison to BoTW, but they were successful in their own right. I will admit, Windwaker had its issues with travelling between islands in that it was boring. The music was fun, but there was only so much I could take before the fast-travel kicked in (keep in mind that slandering my fave Zelda game really hurts right now…but it is true) but this was somewhat remedied in Windwaker HD with the Swift Sail that dramatically upped your speed whilst traversing the oceans.
Breath of the Wild is vast, bigger than Skyrim, however, I will admit that it isn’t as full of side quests as Skyrim, but there are plenty of enemies, flora and fauna to keep you occupied. But aside from this, the world is just stunning. The animation style is just gorgeous and every single asset is a joy to behold and this is, for me, what makes it a success. It is such a lovely world to move around in, and although you aren’t constantly fighting bad guys, this is actually quite refreshing and at times, I return to Breath of the Wild for a bit of relaxing game time.
Now on to the most contrasting game out of the three. Spider-Man. I genuinely wasn’t expecting this game to be as excellent as it was, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be up there in my top open world games, but here we are.
What makes Spider-Man such a success is how downright fun it is to traverse across New York. There is a fast-travel system, which I only used in order to get the trophy for it. The world isn’t as big as the games I have just been discussing, but nevertheless, if the game wasn’t as fun, it would have felt laborious to move around the city to get to missions. But Spider-Man makes you want to swing around the city, and it is just so much fun, and it actually makes you feel like Spider-Man (well as close as any of us will ever get).
The world is stuffed with things to do as well, from collectables to side missions but also crimes. As you make your way to a mission there are constant crimes going on around you that you can intervene in, again, it is truly giving you the Spider-Man experience, whilst filling the open-world up in an engaging way.
So for me, an open world game has to be full with engaging content, not just filler material to give the impression it is full. The stuff it is filled with has to be of decent quality as well, flinging content in that is laborious feels like a waste of time. But the world that surrounds me also has to be engaging, it has to be visually enthralling, because why make a vast world look uninviting. Finally, it has to make me want to walk (or swing) around it, a large map that compels me to leave the fast-travel system alone is a success in my eyes.
Are there any open world games I haven’t mentioned, that you feel should have a mention? Leave a comment and let us know which games and why!