We’re in the midst of an open world epidemic. Games that formerly had experiences that were closed off and, for the most part, linear are opening up. This means we’re seeing Tom Clancy, The Legend of Zelda, and Mass Effect games that let us go anywhere and do almost anything. Seems like a charmed sort of life, right? Well, yes and no. While this sort of freedom is exhilarating, we’re on the precipice of receiving too much of a good thing.
Think about it. Five of the most recent releases in the past few months have abandoned the barriers that help keep us on track and allow us to efficiently go from one point to another. Final Fantasy XV, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, and Mass Effect: Andromeda are all series that abandoned the typical boundaries we’d come to expect and opened up the world to us. That’s not even counting original enterprises with open world experiences, like Horizon: Zero Dawn.
This isn’t exactly a bad thing. Many of these games have handled this transition well. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Final Fantasy XV have embraced their new sorts of worlds. They’ve received rave reviews because of it. People have loved the opportunities open world gameplay affords. Others are floundering somewhat with this freedom and not exactly handling it well, like Atelier Firis and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Trying out something new is never a bad thing. The problem is when everyone decides to try it.
By making everything an open world game, you run the risk of devaluing the concept. When every world has a massive landscape to explore, it suddenly isn’t so special when others have it. It can make the adventure seem drawn out and tedious. Need a hook? Make everything happen in an open world! People love that! Except suddenly, you’re faced with expanses filled with nothing. It’s all for the sake of showing how big an area can be, but then populating it with few landmarks, things people don’t care about, and no additional quest objectives or lore to make things interesting. This padding is thrown in for the sake of it and doesn’t improve the experience. What good is an open world when all you’re doing is running fetch quests or spending two hours getting from one story objective to another?
Which bring us to the other pitfall of open world gameplay. It doesn’t end. If every company hops on the bandwagon because of this being the new best thing, we’ll be faced with a legion of games that aren’t concise or offer clear stopping points. I appreciate a good 60-80 hour game as much as the next player, but three or more in a row? I can’t do it. There’s nothing wrong with a game doing something and doing it well within a reasonable, 20-40 hour period of time. Stretching things out by adding open-world elements that distract you from the main objectives for hours only leaves you with unfinished games and a lack of fulfillment.
The key is moderation. An occasional open world game is fine. It’s great to see developers sometimes experiment with the concept in existing properties. But, this sudden popularity means the odds of the concept being overused are extraordinarily large. It’ll be too easy for people to shove in open world elements where they don’t belong, result in sub-par and excruciating experiences, games we’ll never finish, and increasingly large draws on our time. We need more time to breath and to see the concept used only when needed and deserved.