Broadening the horizons: The popularity of open world games

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A new console generation means a time for innovation; a time for game developers to do what they couldn’t have done for the past 5-7 years with hardware now underpowered. The jumps between the PS2/Xbox to the PS3/360 were enormous: graphically and game-design wise. Now that we are almost a year and a half into the PS4 and Xbox One’s lifespan, two and a half if you count the Wii U, it seems that leap isn’t as big as we were hoping. While the graphical fidelity is still impressive, the novelty wears off when you realize that the game still could’ve been (and still are) made on last-gen consoles. The same cannot be said, though, for the open-world genre.

While the PS3, 360, and Wii saw their fair share of open-world (or free-roam/sandbox) titles, the significantly better specs of the current-gen consoles make for even vaster worlds full of possibilities not restricted by linear paths or invisible walls. Developers are catching up with this trend now more than ever, creating sequels to their intellectual properties that weren’t necessarily free-roam to begin with. CD Projekt Red’s game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (pictured above) is the first game in the series to feature an open world where the protagonist, Geralt, can freely hunt monsters or take on various side-quests while he procrastinates on the main missions at hand.

legend of zelda wii u

Games that have been criticized in the past for being too linear are now getting the free-roam treatment: the Mirror’s Edge prequel, Homefront: The Revolution, Metal Gear Solid V (despite no complaints of linearity), and the list doesn’t end there. Even the Wii U, the least-powerful system this generation, has Lego City Undercover, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and the next highly anticipated Legend of Zelda game which has recently delayed its 2015 release date.

So why the shift in focus?  What is it about open world games that’s causing developers to make more of them? Well, there’s a couple different reasons:

1. Gamers want their money’s worth. Have you ever complained or heard complaints that a game is too short? Or that it lacks depth or replayability?  That problem is less apparent in a game that offers a variety of side missions, collectibles to find, and achievements/trophies that reward you when you complete it 100%. It’s generally good news when something like Skyrim is advertised to have over 100+ hours of content. Speaking of Skyrim…

2. Open world games are often critically praised. Skyrim is the perfect example, winning over 10 Game of the Year Awards from major publications and award shows.  When free-roam games like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed are constantly selling well despite little to no GOTY Awards, that says a great deal about what gamers, casual and hardcore, want out of their games.

watch dogs

Despite all the good things said about this genre, it can still be done wrong and Infamous: Second Son and Watch Dogs are good recent examples of that. Both of these games present similar problems: underwhelming gameplay features, poorly-written stories, unlikeable protagonists, etc. In short, free-roam games don’t guarantee success and developers aren’t turning to them because they’re easy to create, but when they’re done right, the payoff can be extremely rewarding.

As long as developers make them great and they sell well, games of the open-world genre are here to stay. I personally am keen on playing Batman: Arkham Knight and Zelda U when it finally comes out.

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Joey Ferris
Joey Ferris 260 posts

l love to play games and write stuff about them. I can't play something and not tell anyone how I feel about it. Call it a sickness, because it is.

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