Top 5 Reasons Why Open-World Domination is Bad for Gaming

Horizon: Zero Dawn is open-world...can any new game NOT be, in this day and age?

Horizon: Zero Dawn is open-world…can any new game NOT be, in this day and age?

Look at the games coming out in 2015 and beyond. Check the most recent – and biggest – announcements. From classic franchises that once embraced linearity to the latest and greatest new IPs, it seems as if every new AAA game in development has ditched the concept of a linear adventure. All new games appear to be adopting an open-world structure of some form.

Final Fantasy XV and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain could be the most glaring examples of this revolution. Even though Final Fantasy XII did offer a more open world, it certainly won’t compare to FFXV’s freedom and scope. MGS has traditionally been almost entirely linear, despite a wee bit more exploration in MGS4; now, MGSV, while not a sandbox title by any means, can indeed be labeled as “open-world.” Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst will feature an open-world composition that opens up by degrees, and even Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will provide us with far more exploration than ever before. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is far bigger and more open than any of its predecessors.

This is all beside the existing open-world and massively popular franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s CreedThe Elder ScrollsFallout, and more. Then there are the new IPs, like Watch Dogs and Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s just endless. But here are five reasons why this isn’t necessarily a good thing:

Little time for leisure.

Little time for leisure.

5. Not everyone has such a ridiculous amount of time to play video games

Here’s the thing: These games are just getting bigger and bigger and as such, the experiences are getting longer and longer. On the plus side, it’s great for the “bang for your buck” argument. On the downside, for normal adults with actual lives, this becomes a serious problem. When every new game you might want to play would probably take you months to complete, and there’s no shortage of such games, the backlog becomes seemingly insurmountable. Even three games in a backlog could take hundreds of hours these days.

It’s odd that in an industry striving to be more mainstream, to appeal more to casual gamers, the trend is to produce products that only the hardcore with tons of time on their hands will want.

Same ol' same ol' as far as the eye can see.

Same ol’ same ol’ as far as the eye can see.

4. As usual, we have to worry about repetition and staleness

There was a time when everyone was worried about “Call of Duty” syndrome; i.e., too many games would try and follow the highly lucrative FPS formula. But the entire industry has instead embraced another formula and no, it’s not a good thing. We’re rapidly reaching the point where a publisher will ask a developer if their new project is open-world and if the answer is no, the publisher won’t want to put it out. That’s when we run into staleness in terms of format and structure.

Believe it or not, not every single game idea works better in an open-world format.

Believe it or not, not every single game idea works better in an open-world format.

3. What happens when we try and force the open-world requirement on a genre where it just doesn’t fit?

Perhaps the argument will be that open-world can ultimately fit all genres, but I can’t imagine that to be true. The great part about video games, especially today, is that so many designers have so many wildly different ideas and visions. Not all of them work best inside the open-world system and yet, we’re starting to send the message that unless you’re relying on heavy multiplayer (as is the case with shooters), you really can’t have a straight linear adventure. Look at the flak The Order: 1886 unjustly received; that’s evidence enough.

Lots of distinctly different types is a GOOD thing.

Lots of distinctly different types is a GOOD thing.

2. Decided lack of focus and blurring of the genre lines

We all have our personal preferences but it seems all games are starting to converge. Most open-world adventures, being as in-depth as they are, feature elements from multiple genres and eventually, we really won’t be able to categorize them with any accuracy. Some applaud this idea; I don’t. They’ll start to have the same basic control and gameplay, as we’re already seeing. Even though GTA and The Witcher are technically different, do they really play that much differently from one another?

Remember the vast difference between a strictly stealth, linear adventure like Metal Gear Solid and a game like Final Fantasy VII? Remember when “stealth” was basically its own category? We’re starting to lose these distinct guidelines and for fans of certain genres – that may soon become former genres – they’ll be out of luck. That is, unless everyone believes that there’s something in all open-world games to appeal to every gamer. Maybe that isn’t true, though.

How does one tell a memorable story? You wouldn't use an open-world style.

How does one tell a memorable story? You wouldn’t use an open-world style.

1. Contrary to popular belief, linear interactive adventures aren’t inherently inferior to open-world

This is a theory that needs to die. It’s not only incorrect, it’s dangerous, too. While it’s certainly true that extreme linearity in its most basic form was a consequence of lesser technology, and that we don’t require long, ponderous cut-scenes to convey a story, the idea that linearity has no place today is ridiculous. The best stories will always be told in this fashion because that is the nature of a continuous narrative. Giving the player free reign constantly interrupts the narrative, and letting the player change the story further dilutes any vision of the storyteller(s).

It’s a question of style, certainly, and a game maker can tell a good story within an open-world structure. It has happened many times before. But will any go down in history as having some of the best narratives ever in the industry? No. The greatest stories still, and may always, come from linear quests, for the reason stated above. On top of which, cut-scenes may be deemed a “necessary evil” of a time long past, and that’s also grossly inaccurate. A beautifully paced, choreographed, and acted cut-scene contributes to any interactive adventure, and guess which category it contributes to? That’s right: Storytelling.

And I leave you with one question: Had the industry not been clearly headed in this direction, do you think games like Uncharted 4 would’ve been more open-world? Do you think Naughty Dog would’ve taken similar strides? Are they making the new entry this way because they think it’s better, or because they feel some pressure to conform? I think if they’re being honest, they’ll admit it’s a little of both.

6 thoughts on “Top 5 Reasons Why Open-World Domination is Bad for Gaming”

My only problem with open-world games is that they’re all starting to feel too similar. That’s why I’m looking forward to games like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and The Division.

I bet MGSV will feel plenty different, basically because it’s not a total sandbox.

I keep hearing that certain parts of the game are huge so I’m not sure how it wont be sandbox….

For me, #5 would be #1. I think one of the biggest issues with gaming today is the fact that so many of the titles I REALLY want to play are REALLY huge. I don’t have the time I used to have. Nobody I know does.

How do they expect me to finish so many massive games in one year? 🙁

I’m with you. It used to be that if I had six or seven games in my backlogue, I wouldn’t mind too much. Now, having just two open-world games sitting there unopened is like telling me I have to put aside six months or there’s no hope of catching up.

I’ve stopped trying to play catch-up. I’ve just accepted that it’ll never happen. ‘sigh’

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