Are open world games really that amazing?

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Now, I know that the freedom to go wherever you want, and to whatever you want sounds really cool in video gaming, but it does seem a little odd to me. I haven't played any big open world games yet, but if you have a main quest, aren't you inclined to focus on that particular storyline? what motivates people to stray from the main path, and go see what's inside a random shack near the coast, or a abandoned mine in the corner of the map? For all you know it's full of enemies you've seen before, and items you've looted 10 times over in the game already.

So, tell me your opinions on why they are so cool (or not), and maybe I'll pick something up on the next steam sale :)
 

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what motivates people to stray from the main path, and go see what's inside a random shack near the coast, or a abandoned mine in the corner of the map? For all you know it's full of enemies you've seen before, and items you've looted 10 times over in the game already.
Conversely, for all you know, it's full of brand-new stuff or some interesting story leads. How can you tell unless you look?
 

twistedmic

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Exploration and being able to tackle quests, even the main quest, in a different order or manner is generally the cool part about open worlds. But exploration really only works if the story justifies having an open world.

Games like Fallout: New Vegas let you explore the world and discover interesting secrets and history about what happened in that world. They also let you play the game in different styles. One player can go the non-violent diplomatic, smooth-talker route, another might go a melee focused warrior and another might feel like playing as a blood-crazed murder hobo shooting everything in sight.
 

thebobmaster

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Just like any game element, open world is something that can be done well or badly. Done well (see: Fallout New Vegas for an example), you have a game world that feels alive, and going off the beaten path can lead down a cool and unique storyline, or just add more flavor to the world in general. Done poorly (see: pretty much every Ubisoft open world), you get a bunch of empty space and samey dungeons trying to gather twenty bear asses for a random woman who might give you a slightly more powerful stick.
 

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You haven't played any open world games yet? How is this even possible today, when like 90% of AAA releases are massive open world games with stealth and crafting?
 
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Dalisclock

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Now, I know that the freedom to go wherever you want, and to whatever you want sounds really cool in video gaming, but it does seem a little odd to me. I haven't played any big open world games yet, but if you have a main quest, aren't you inclined to focus on that particular storyline? what motivates people to stray from the main path, and go see what's inside a random shack near the coast, or a abandoned mine in the corner of the map? For all you know it's full of enemies you've seen before, and items you've looted 10 times over in the game already.

So, tell me your opinions on why they are so cool (or not), and maybe I'll pick something up on the next steam sale :)
I've noticed that the games where the Open world works best is where the open world doesn't interfere with the storyline but rather adds to the world building around it. For example, perhaps my favorite Open World, Red Dead Redemption 2, allows you to just mainline the main story without anything beyond skill gating(and there are so many checkpoints in missions it doesn't matter much) but it's better if you don't. The game is slow paced enough to encourage you to just go off and explore and find some of the many side stories scattered across the game world and just enjoy the vast natural beauty. Some of the missions actually have bits where they show you how to Hunt or Fish and while you can skip them entirely, it introduces you to the idea that, yes, you can just go out and hunt and fish while wandering about the wilderness. Especially since the main plot is generally just moving your gang(which you don't control, btw) from place to place and occasionally doing crimes to ostenially to keep the gang afloat.

There are other games that handle the open world aspect well but RDR2 is by far the best in my opinion. It's not flawless but I feel the few flaws(Plot missions being cinematic and very much on rails, controls not being great) are outweighed by how massive the world feels without actually too big and also not feeling empty nor packed with busywork.

And don't get me wrong, there are plenty that don't work or wear out their welcome quickly. Any given Ubisoft open world at that point feels like pretty much any other open world ubisoft game, just with different settings and occasionally some different mechanics(Black Flag's Pirate simulator is pretty fun though).

There's also Open world games that have some really cool ideas but also notable flaws. Metal Gear Solid 5 has great gameplay but the world is little more then resource gathering and missions that often don't feel particularly interesting or special. Horizon Zero Dawn's fun is dependent a lot on how much you enjoy the setting and the robo-dino fights. Elden Ring is a Souls FROM game that has an open world bolted onto it and it's a beautiful open world(by god is it beautiful and vast) but it also has a lot of side stuff like mini-dungeons that you can basically bypass and not miss anything. Red Dead Redemption 1 is mostly a series of linear missions with a fair bit of fucking around sidequests scattered around but the game is honestly not terribly long so it's not very noticable(Undead Nightmare is much the same map but with Zombies and even fewer missions). It's good but it's got it's own flaws(and also you can pretty much only play it on XBOX at this point because it's never been ported and good luck finding a working PS3).

And then there's Breath of the Wild, which I personally love exploring but beyond a few plot points to follow to get ready for the assault on Hyrule castle(which you technically can do at any time once you leave the tutorial area) you're mostly on your own to explore and do things as you see fit with only 4 real dungeons between that and the final castle dungeon, with everything else being puzzle dungeon shrines scattered everywhere. I'm also aware BOTW Is one of those games people can love or hate for the same reasons(except the weapon degradation, which nobody likes). There's also a ton of cool little Zelda shout outs/easter eggs to pretty much every single other game in the series for the long time fans.
 
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Kwak

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Is just cause series open-world or sandbox?
Whatever, they are one of the best uses of the concept.
Then there is Outward which is an openworld survival fantasy rpg.
The openworld triple a games are usually not as pure in execution of the concept and are more just about grand scale, but you're still constrained by certain design limits on player freedom because there is a narrative they spent a lot of time and money on they intend the player to experience.
 

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Is just cause series open-world or sandbox?
Both, with JC2 considered the peak of the series. JC3 is fine, but ditches the standard health bar for the-screen-turns-grey-with-red-tints-in-the-4-corners-of-the-screen regenerating health. JC4 is where a lot of fans don't like game, consider it too generic, or not much effort put into it.
 
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Both, with JC2 considered the peak of the series. JC3 is fine, but ditches health meters for the-screen-turns-grey-with-red-tints-in-the-4-corners of-the-screen regenerating health. JC4 is where a lot of fans don't like game, too generic, or not much effort put into it.
I honestly forgot JC4 existed, to be honest. I played JC2 and remember JC3 was in the mediterranean but I can't recall a single thing about JC4.

And really, for a game where "BLow stuff up to unlock more plot missions and get more powerful", I liked the Saboteur better. Partially due to the fact the entire game is "Blow up Nazi shit to get better weapons to blow up more Nazis and Nazi shit. Repeat until no more nazi shit or bored" and set in WW2 Paris.And I'm gonna be honest, it's hard to get bored of blowing up Nazis and their shit.
 
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I honestly forgot JC4 existed, to be honest. I played JC2 and remember JC3 was in the mediterranean but I can't recall a single thing about JC4.
I've only played JC2 and that's it. I never touched any of the other games. JC4's problems can be described as:

  • Contested Sequel: This game takes a couple steps forward and a couple steps back after Just Cause 3. While the gameplay elements have been improved in some places, such as essential abilities that had to be unlocked before now available from the get-go, and the new tether gadgets being well-received along with having less performance issues at launch, a number of players consider the graphics, controls, and missions to have received a significant downgrade. In addition, the game world is filled with small towns and bases that you can find if you explore, unlike the somewhat underpopulated world of Just Cause 3. However, locations are now completed by performing stunts, rather than by finding collectibles and destructible objects. This means there is little incentive to explore the locations themselves or partake in the wanton destruction the series is famous for. Also how there are less variety and more annoying type of missions, instead the missions are usually time-limit bound defend or point-to-point activity.
 
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wings012

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If done well, I like the idea of essentially going wherever the hell I want and discovering what there is to do. Despite all the jank and bugginess and questionable overall quality, Bethesda is basically the one studio that does this. Since Morrowind, I've enjoyed how their brand of games lets me just decide on whatever direction to walk off to and then I will simply run into things to do and places to explore. When I start a quest, I don't necessarily have to do it either. I can just decide to ignore it and come back to it later.

Now the other brand of open world would be how Ubisoft does it. Though I don't think they were the first(I more or less remember GTA3 on the PS2 operating under a similar framework), they certainly overdid the shit out of it and ground it down to a formula. There's a world, but none of the actual story missions actually utilize it. You are often transported into completely separate linear levels, or just locked into very fixed paths throughout these missions. Heck, sometimes even side activities will lock you into these weird bubble spaces until you complete it or abort it through a menu(looking at you Farcry 3....). The open world is kind of its own separate hub for you to twat about in and to collect items and unlock trash.

Anyway what motivates me to stray off the path is just curiosity. I mean sure, if a main quest or story is at a really engaging point - I will feel like going forward with it. But there's a lot of points where your current main quest goal might just be to go somewhere. Nothing important is happening yet. But there's a goddamn cave staring me in the fact, I am curious and I like having MORE STUFF so that just ends up taking precedent. I think good open world questlines will also offer some longer term broad quests that allow you some fannying about. Like, go somewhere really far away - are you just going to beeline it there? Maybe it's not even possible, cause the journey is dangerous and you'll find yourself exploring, questing and otherwise to improve and equip your character so you can arrive there.
 

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In theory, the idea of a game where you can go wherever you want, and do whatever you want, is the formula for the perfect videogame. In practice, this takes a tonne of work to pull off, and frankly, many developers do not have the time, resources, or skill to pull this off, so lots of open world games kind of fall flat.

For me, there are two elements that are crucial to making an enjoyable open world.

1) There needs to be interesting traversal.
2) There needs to be interesting content to discover.

For traversal, if the main method of travel isn't fun, then I am probably going to just zone out. The problem is, having a fun method to explore the map is really quite difficult to pull off. The obvious success in this area is Spider-Man (PS4). Moving around this city is just so much fun, that when I first started playing, I just spent about an hour swinging around the city, before I even interacted with my first objective. Conversely, when I played Red Dead Redemption 2, once the awe of the environments wore off, when I was travelling from objective to objective, I would just hold X on my controller as my horse automatically rode to where I needed to be, whilst I was scrolling Twitter for minutes at a time.

Then there needs to be interesting content to find. If there is no reward for exploring, then I am not going to explore. A game like The Witcher 3 is famous for its side-content: Each quest is interesting in some way, with a bespoke story being told for each one - some are even more interesting than the main quest. On the other hand, when you have something like Far Cry, where there are dozens of generic bases to capture, or dozens of generic bounties to collect, I might do one or two, but after that, I will probably just ignore the rest. If your content is lazy, and there is no reason to travel off the beaten path, then the open world effectively just turns into one elaborate loading screen for each main mission.

How do you bring these things together, then? Getting the content right is probably the easier part of the two, but traversal is much more difficult, because its not like you can be a superhero in every videogame. I don't feel like fast travel is much of a solution, because if you are just teleporting from waypoint to waypoint, there may as well be no content in between. To me, the the curse here is scale. If you have a massive map, but no interesting way to get around it, it is probably going to cause glazed eyes. Instead, rein it in; make a smaller, denser area, like a small town or city district. If you don't have to travel miles to get from one side of the map to the other, it doesn't really matter that the best speed that you can muster is a slight jog.

To me, the closest an open-world game got to being "perfect" were the Batman Arkham games. Gliding, grappling, and the Batmobile are fun ways to get around the city (which also isn't massive), and the different supervillains that you encounter in the game's side content are fun to discover.

There are gems with problems, though. As mentioned before, The Witcher 3 is great, despite it being quite slow to get around the map. Spider-Man (PS4) is a fantastic superhero power fantasy, but I would probably just skip all of the sidemissions. And Bethesda games do the whole "look in any direction, and you can go there" gameplay loop better than anyone else, but the content isn't all that interesting, either.

For the most part though, I generally roll my eyes at a new open-world game. I think so much gets sacrificed in pursuit of scale, that it normally isn't worth it in the end.
 
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hanselthecaretaker

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@Dalisclock covered most of my sentiments on RDR2 and MGSV in particular. To elaborate on the former I’d add that it’s pretty much a game of two worlds (no pun).

The first is following the main narrative, which is strictly controlled. Only a small handful of missions allow you to tackle anything differently. An example would be there are several ways you can break Micah out of jail, but the player agency is in the back seat in favor of the script. I’ve read they tried going the other route using more procedural stuff, but they weren’t happy with the systems available. The characters for example wound up feeling more like bots than actual people.

The second and more interesting is where you just ignore the main story and to roaming around to see what you find. No skill trees or upgrade systems, inventory management, etc. Just find a horse and go. Outside of some minor things like a laughable weapon maintenance mechanic and some painfully dull crafting, this is where the game world feels most organic, and a sense of discovery is in a class of its own. There’s very little in the game that doesn’t feel hand made. The stranger encounters often lead to outcomes that have the biggest emotional impact in the game too, depending on how honorably you choose to play.

Then there’s YouTubers like Strange Man who are still finding hidden details four years later. There are so many instances of missable world building that can make the game feel like a bunch of little mysteries. Odds are it’s also the last true massive single player game we’ll see from Rockstar (or anyone) as most of the creative leads left the company shortly after the game released. It’s been all but confirmed they’ll move to a live service model with GTA6. There’s even hidden content that alludes to the company’s change in philosophy (driven by Take2 basically) in a letter you find on one of the NPCs.


With MGSV, it’s kind of a similar situation in a way, but reversed. The game world is very, very dull, but its main purpose is facilitating some of the best open-ended gameplay the series has seen. It’s like the resource system is for curating the deepest toy box ever, and then going out and having fun with it. There is some funny stuff out there with how creative people can be with taking out the enemy. Like RDR2 it’s one of those games I keep installed because of it ultimately being so good at what it sets out to do.


Elden Ring is the last example of a well made open world I personally have spent a lot of time with. It’s kind of a mix of the previous two, in that neither its world or gameplay feel quite as immersive as the other two respectively, but in a way it’s the most playable in terms of letting the player loose in the world with minimal intrusion to gameplay. In other words, it’s very gameplay-driven. It expands upon the SoulsBorne philosophy of “If you can see it you can probably get to it”, and has a really satisfying gameplay loop if you’re into action RPG stuff.

Its world can often be wonderfully breathtaking, but also falls into the open world trap of repetitive content in terms of “Oh, another cave!” or “Oh, haven’t I fought you before, several times now?!” Besides the balance issues inherent with combat-focused open world design, another flaw was that it became a bit too predictable. Although from the character building standpoint this is kind of by design, as each area has its own “theme” on certain enemies like tree avatars or dragons that will drop specific types of items, or locations like Hero’s graves that will drop unique ashes of war among other things. I’m still fiddling with different builds with how customizable it can get, so it’s kind of a game that keeps on giving. Kinda considering someday doing a “pothead” NG+ run which would be just using the various cracked pots, ritual pots and perfume bottles for combat.
 
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Gergar12

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It depends on how much and how many different types of stuff is in it. There’s too much Assassin Creed Odyssey and too little Genshin Impact before the Raiden Shogun arc.
 

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Most of what needs to be said has been said. I'm going to get in line with the others to suck off Fallout: New Vegas as one of the best open world games. A large part of that comes down to the writing. There's plenty of interesting stuff to find and while the population is sparse, every character feels distinct. One of the greatest Fallout characters ever written is one you never meet, but learn the story of in the Honest Hearts DLC by exploring the region and piecing together the clues. When I first played that and the last piece fell into place, I admit I got all misty-eyed.

Another great example of on open world is Subnautica. It's full of diverse biomes, lets you take your time to explore, the alien flora and fauna are hauntingly beautiful and terrible, and the story reveals itself through the exploration. It's just you, a Star Trek style replicator, and a shallow see full of alien life hiding a mystery.

These two games also represent different appeals that the open world might have. While games like New Vegas and Skyrim are sparsely populated, there are still other people there with stories to tell and quests to give. By comparison, Subnautica gives you the sublime and invites you to explore it alone. In the first, there's the human element and the chance for meaningful interaction. In the second you are on your own against an environment and all of its associated dangers. There is majesty all around you, but no one to talk to. Many times in Skyrim, I liked to wander alone with no companions and just take in the scenery. The solitude added to the experience of the sublime. Subnautica 2 didn't have that element because spoilers, and it delivered on a different experience as a result.
 

Trippy Turtle

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I've come to accept that open worlds tend to make games worse. It seems like instead of a 9/10 linear (or at least confined) experience, you get a 7/10 experience across a much wider area. No open world game has mastered difficulty scaling, making exploration worthwhile, and replayability. It seems like in an open world improving one hurts the others.

Examples:

Elden Ring has an amazing first 40 hours. But if you explored (and it has amazing exploration), you just steamroll the game because you're now overpowered. Its also boring on replay, because the excitement of those first 40 hours is in discovery. The dungeons themselves aren't as good as areas found in previous souls titles, so without the thrill of discovery and "I wonder what the boss/reward is", the experience is worse.

BOTW fixes the issue of exploring making you overpowered, by forcing you to get a new weapon every 10 minutes. This fixes the scaling issues as the rewards don't make you stronger, but now exploring feels like a chore you have to do, rather than something rewarding.


I suppose the exception is something like Minecraft. Where there truly is no goal to head towards, except exploration itself.
 

sXeth

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The problem with most is that the time/resources (including creativity) doesn't exist for the scale that (AAA in paticularl) tries to make. So you get repeated/procedural generated stuff that lacks any real weight or context.


Contrasting where if we go way back to like Link to the Past (because yes, technical limits dividing it into screens aside, that was open world), where nearly every screen had some sort of unique content to it.


They probably could make a solidly engaging open world if they stopped trying to do entire states/countries/continents with 15,000 objectives in them.
 

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The main problem with lots of modern open world games are that they're too samey and either copy GTA or Ubisoft verbatim. After a while, I get tired of the same large cities in NY, LA, or San Fransico, etc. Or what are glorified missions pack sequels to Far Cry 3. For some of its problems, this is why I love Ghost of Tsushima. While it doesn't do everything new in open world game design, Sucker Punch stuck to their guns and went for an old-school Kurosawa samurai aesthetic that works. A game so good, that even the Japanese highly enjoyed the game and were left speechless.
 
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