Why Open Worlds Are Perfect for VR

There are a lot of different types of games for VR devices, and a lot of them seem to be minigame collections or “experiences.” That’s all well and good, and I certainly manage to enjoy them. Horror games have also seemingly found a place in virtual reality, due to the fact that horror is intrinsically engrossing, preying on our carnal fears. For me, though, it’s the open world games that give the greatest sense that my expensive, head-mounted gadget was worth the price of entry.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is a standout example. At its core, it’s already a great game, which is probably how Bethesda manages to continuously rerelease the damn thing. It’s also a game that begs to be explored. That’s one of the reasons it works well in virtual reality. I’ve put countless hours into wandering the mountains and hills of the fantastic land. I’m also only slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve sat there and read virtual books in virtual reality, since that somehow works just fine on PSVR in Skyrim. Combat is also slow enough to translate well to VR, since it is largely focused on gear and stats. Spells, bows, swords all feel satisfying to use.

The game is not without its limits, though. Teleportation is used as a way of getting around. It not only feels like a gimmick, but a technological hurdle that frequently crops up to remind you that you are playing a video game. This robs VR of one of its most appealing facets--the ability to fool your brain into believing you are elsewhere. I understand that it’s currently a mostly necessary evil to avoid motion sickness and developers are finding ways to work around this.

No Man’s Sky is a game rife with potential, and a recent announcement that the game would add VR support has me extraordinarily excited. Right from the start, it seemed like the sort of title that could benefit. As we approached launch, I waited eagerly for a surprise announcement that I’d be able to play it in PSVR. The game has been out for a couple years now, but this is a case of better late than never.

For starters, the game isn’t combat-centric. The primary goal in No Man’s Sky is to explore a vast, procedurally generated universe so you can claim planets and discover new creatures. To do this, you must pilot a ship through space, which means that you don’t encounter issues with motion sickness for a good amount of the game. You can just look around the cockpit as you navigate and feel engrossed by the lonely isolation of space where it’s just you, your ship, and the unknown. I’ve never piloted a vehicle through space before, but I imagine the experience will be similar. And even if it isn’t, I can’t compare so my ability to buy in will be uncompromised.

Now, the game isn’t entirely set in the cockpit of your trusty ship. Eventually, you get out and explore planets. These planets aren’t always hostile. On them, players are basically presented with a sandbox in which they can build monuments and search out beasts and scenic views. Combat, exists, yes, but there’s not much of a point to it. I just want to chill and find signs of life, whether those signs be AI-rendered or created by players.


The prospect of bumping into other players in VR in an open world game is also full of potential. I think of Journey and how the focus on isolation made it feel important and, beyond that, intimate when you encountered a stranger. Looking at another player, in first-person, could feel meaningful.

I’m sure that VR has a healthy future, and I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of novel ideas will rise from its existence. But, for now, open world games seem like the ones that are best suited for the platform and I hope developers continue to look to the genre as they plan their games.

Benjamin Maltbie
Benjamin Maltbie

Writing Team Lead
Date: 04/10/2019

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