Horizon: Zero Dawn is coming out soon, which means people are getting hyped. Various elements of the game are being examined and evaluated ahead of launch, and one of them is the size of the map. It certainly looks like Aloy has quite a large world to explore. But, is that really what’s important?
Think about the open world games you’ve played and loved before. There’s an art to good map design. While bigger is always impressive, is that what really helps make a game better? Horizon: Zero Dawn seems like it has a large environment for us to traverse, but the map appearing in the Meristation video isn’t so big on details. We don’t know how many landmarks and points of interest there are. Which is important, because those are the things that make gaming life exciting.
Size isn’t what matters. It’s how a game uses what it has that’s important. Like think for a moment. What’s one of the most iconic video game open world maps you can remember? I’d have to say, for me, it’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Even now, I could probably close my eyes and remember the sights I’d see as I’d go from Los Santos to Las Venturas. Head past Northstar Rock on my way to The Visage. It stuck with me, because the design was well executed. Getting from point A to point B was an interesting journey. Was the map large? It was absolutely above average. But the size wasn’t what made it great. All the details are what made me fall in love.
I mean, I can’t say the same about a game like Xenoblade Chronicles X. It’s a great Wii U RPG. I love it. And everyone made a big deal about how its map was bigger than the ones in Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and Fallout 4. Here’s the thing. There were great, big expanses with absolutely nothing of interest there. Sometimes, even getting from one point to another seemed absolutely impossible without the mechs. And relying on the little guide ball to help you get from one point to another was a lot less helpful than the arrows and other indicators its contemporaries offered.
This is a thing that comes up time and time again. Whenever a game release draws near and that game happens to be one with an open environment, suddenly everyone is clamoring to see maps. But, the maps aren’t always that indicative of the thing to come. Unless it actually has specific locations and important places labeled on it, it isn’t something we should immediately trumpet as a pro or con.
Maps are tricky things. A game like Retro City Rampage packs a lot of fun into a very tiny space. A world like the one in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim offers us a huge continent to explore and enjoy, with plenty of points of interest. Meanwhile, you can get something like Fallout 4, where the map is okay, but not up to previous entries’ standards, or Xenoblade Chronicles X, which offers too much empty space. There’s an art to a good one and proper usage of the space available.