A reader explores the current state of open world games and offers his suggestions for changing the settings, missions, and style of stories.
Open world action games have really tested my patience recently. I have played some of the best and biggest open world games in the last two years (biggest not always being the best mind you, Im looking at you Ubisoft).
Insomniacs Spider-Man was great before the grind and repetition of gang fights, backpack collection, and pigeon chasing wore me down. Ubisofts The Division 2 surprised me with immensely satisfying gunplay and great artificial intelligence, but eventually became monotonous and overwhelming when I realised the game had a huge amount of content locked until you hit level 30 and the endgame mechanics came into play, meaning I would have to rinse and repeat for countless more hours until I was granted permission to try it.
Grind must be the popular word over at Ubisoft studios, because their most recent Assassins Creed outing, Odyssey, was also bogged down with hours upon hours of mission and objective repetition in order to progress.
Open world games can be fantastic and provide players with a sense of freedom and choice. A world to manipulate and role-play without the linear trappings of other media narratives such as film and books.
However, it is not the mention of open world that makes me roll my eyes but the mundane, rinse and repeat missions in these beautifully created worlds.
I am not here to say that you are wrong in enjoying the current array of AAA and AA open world games. I cant do that. Taste and preference are unique to the individual. The same way I cant argue why someones favourite colour is red or their favourite food is burnt toast. But, and here is the but, large developers and publishers will continue to roll out the same tried and tested formulas as long as people keep on buying them.
The only way to breathe life into the most successful genre in the industry (an oxymoron, I know but bear with me) is for a developer or publisher to take a gamble or leap of faith. Treat gamers with respect and understand that we dont always need to be guided to the taverns rat-infested basement by massive immersion-destroying yellow paths. I understand this type of guidance system is actually popular with some gamers, but that doesnt mean it has to be the default choice.
Two of the better open world games this generation, in my opinion, were Red Dead Redemption II and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. The latter really defied convention by providing the player with an open path to the final boss immediately. No barriers or narrative restrictions in place if you decide to go straight to the final battle. The world was also wildly populated with mysteries, secrets and puzzles, perfectly designed and always just tantalisingly over the horizon.
Red Dead II was similar in the sense of scale. Say what you will about the standard gameplay mechanics, which were arguably flawed, it was the world that provided the player with a new mechanic. The sheer depth and detail in each nook and cranny, and the way non-player characters would interact and remember your actions outside of mission-based objectives, really provided a true and believable world for the player to role-play.
There is an elephant in the room though. Both Breath Of The Wild and Red Dead II were huge games, with long development cycles and massive budgets. The revolutions in gameplay previously mentioned could only really be done with money, time, and crunch. The latter being a huge controversy in the industry today.
Therefore, waxing lyrical about these two games and their revolutions in the genre come with dangerous caveats and consequences. Unless the current state of industry pay and work ethics are addressed, then fantastic detail and depth in open world games will come with a human cost.
While it may be the case that people involved in those projects probably didnt receive adequate compensation for the time and effort they put into the work, I do think they should be immensely proud of what they have achieved. With that said, the scale and scope of both projects are clearly not sustainable and probably wont be replicated any time soon.
Therefore, with those two exceptions, I still think its fair to say that the open world game has gone stagnant. I would like to put forward my recipe for a new type of open world game.
I truly believe the problem isnt that complicated to solve and doesnt necessarily need multiple sacks of money with dollar signs. We arent talking about creating a cure to a disease. We arent even talking about a new genre.
I dont want to just point out the problem without providing some new ideas. Firstly, I understand the need to keep tropes which make games accessible for all. For a publisher to front a developer with money, it must be assured that the end result will appeal to the masses, so subverting the norm too much would not be acceptable. As I mentioned previously, this does not mean you need to make convention the default choice.
Dont give me a lighthouse instead of a communications tower to unlock a bunch of new objectives. Stop making me the saviour to each and every character I encounter (I applaud the recent Outward, which elected to make the protagonist a certified nobody).
I long for the time I play an open world game where Im not given a fetch quest within the first hour to prove myself to the important, friendly character who later turns out to deceive me or sacrifice himself in whatever modern/post-apocalyptic/fantasy story am thrown into.
Speaking of worlds, I think this is dependant on taste and I dont believe is a cause of the current problem with open world games. Futuristic open worlds always seem to come with post-apocalyptic tendencies, with large open and often empty wastelands probably designed to curb the cost of huge production values tied to the opposite: tightly cramped, neon-lit dystopian/utopian future scopes.
Modern day worlds, past or present are also quite common. Ranging from the widely successful GTA franchises to the lukewarm Watch Dogs, and the not so lukewarm recent Mafia entry; all of which tend to focus on crime and the seedy underworld. The problem here is that the modern world is restricted to the laws we have in place today and match this with the nature of open world games and player freedom, and you are probably going to want to destroy any path-blocking non-player character.
This then means that any narrative or story set in a modern world will inevitably involve breaking these laws to make it somewhat believable and therefore naturally place you in a world of crime and murder, and at some time involve the player ensuring any non-player character is not running to alert the guards.
You could argue that fantasy has been used more than your frayed, trusty pair of underwear with holes in the nether regions, yet could still feel fresh with the right mechanics at play. I am talking about the fantasy genre here, not your underwear. Fantasy is a vessel for the imagination. Yes, it is a genre riddled with tired dragon and magic tropes but only because that is what we expect from it. There is no reason why these cant be subverted to give a new, interesting take on Tolkien-esque characters.
When it comes to narrative, most open world games are obsessed with making the protagonist the most powerful character ever born. Only then to have either amnesia or have their powers taken away so they can spend the next 30+ hours getting them back in a convenient manner in order to overthrow an evil being hell-bent on turning the world into dust. Feel free to replace world with significant other or loved one and you get the idea.
There is no reason why you couldnt have all the trappings of a beautiful and intriguing open world without the threat of it being destroyed. Like the best open world games, the landscape in which you play should provide the mystery and intrigue rather than the boring narrative thrust upon us in many games released today.
Now I come to the most contentious part of open world rot: missions. The bread and butter of the genre. What makes up for the bulk of the game. There are some core mechanics at play which are hard to change. For example, immediately after receiving a new power, you are often thrown into a mission which requires said power to progress. A then B. The Metroidvania model tweaks this a little by providing the obstacle first then giving the player the power later on in the story, so the player has to return to the obstacle at the start to progress. B then A, if you will.
Avoiding such conventions in open world games is difficult but Breath Of The Wild did manage to avoid such obvious narrative structures by making its world truly open while also keeping some Metroidvania techniques in place to give the player the sense of progression. Lots of paths blocked by bombs.
Acquiring objectives in open world games can also be laughably mundane. The icon over the head is now ingrained in any gamer over the age of 16 that removing it wRead More – Source