Bigger does not always mean better
Go back a few console generations, and the concept of the open-world game was the holy grail of the industry.
It was the ambition of many developers to create vast worlds that players could become lost in for hours. While such games did exist, notably the likes of The Elder Scrolls series, it was rarified goods once upon a time.
After years of technical advancement and cutting edge development, the gaming industry has finally arrived at the point where open-world environments are commonplace, for better and for worse. Classic series such as Tomb Raider have adopted this feature, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has redefined what it can do, and venerable stalwarts like The Elder Scrolls still champion the open-world to this day.
The whole concept is the subject of much discussion within the wider gaming community, and the Casual Game Community, an integral component to the Casual Game Critic machine, is no exception.
One of our faithful CGC advocates, Jack Donovan, recently brought this topic to our ragtag group of like-minded gamers:
Within minutes, the Casual Game Community started to pour in and share their opinions. It quickly became apparent that some schools of thought are widely held.
Robáird Ó Tuama
“Absolutely. I have less and less time to play games now and sometimes linear is better, sometimes you don't want to think, you just want to do what you know you're supposed to”.
“Very much agree. It's exhausting. Whereas a few years ago I would have craved it, linear games are becoming increasingly appealing to me”.
Less is more
An immediate concern for the community was the sheer time-related investment required to complete some of these behemoth releases.
Sure, it’s great having a large environment that’s ready to be experienced, but when you have a large segment of your target audience disinterested in completing it, is it truly such a victory?
The core of our shared concern seems to stem from a common thought—do these games even need to be open-world and so insurmountably large?
“Open world games with the same mundane tasks and follow quests just to make it longer (the last 367 Assassin's creed games to be exact) have to go. Longer and bigger doesn't mean better.”
“I think there’s too much open world just for the sake of it. Sprinkle 50 different ways of collecting 100 of something in it, et voila - run around in a place that feels empty, repeating the same tasks over and over again.
Open world should feel vibrant and provide you with tasks and options that allow you to not follow the story and missions for as long as you want, without even noticing.”
“Yeah. I mean open world is my favourite genre but it's oversaturated right now.
Honestly I feel Cyberpunk and Valhalla could have been much better games if they were big budget linear experiences like God Of War.
It's just a big ask to do something new in open world these days which means that great games just feel old hat unless they innovate in a meaningful way.”
“Yup. Honestly, I feel like I've been Ubisoft'd to death. A real shame in some cases, but I've found that as soon as a game opens up to a huge map with 1000s of icons to explore, crafting materials, endless *pointless* loot, and a skill tree my brain just shuts down and says NOPE.
Most recent casualty was Ghost of Tsushima, and I'm really sad about it. I really wanted to love that game, but I just felt like I was playing AC Odyssey in Feudal Japan.”
“The secondary issue I find with large, open-world games is how unjustified it is most of the time. We see pretty often large open spaces populated by basically nothing but collectables that, tangibly, amount to nothing but a few trophies/achievements.
I always look to the likes of The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect as smart uses of hub worlds—smaller spaces, far more meaning and a whole lot less wasted space.
Half the time it amounts to nothing but an artificial sense of scope and activity. Sure the tech is there to craft fantastic, huge worlds, but the question devs should be asking themselves is "will this actually benefit our game?".
“I think the issue with open-world games currently is that they are making maps way to big to the point of ridiculousness! Taking games like Assassin's creed Valhalla or Red Dead Redemption 2, i'd say you could cut a good 20% of both maps and you would have a much better experience!”
“I don't enjoy big open world games but I loved Nier:Automata's open world. It wasn't the biggest one ever which helps, but it had lots of cool stuff to do that didn't feel like an endless list of repetitive boxes to tick. It changed over time to reflect the changes in story. It was an open world where you saw each area multiple times and that familiarity allowed for great story telling as the things filling the world changed. Late game it also lots of great challenging super bosses hidden throughout”
Jack O Mahony
“While I love a good open world game, the genre is becoming ridiculously oversaturated(not saying I want linearity in games to come back) but tone down the size of the worlds a small bit. Bring back the golden days of platformers! ”
Quite conclusively, I’m confident I can say on behalf of the commenters above that open-world experiences have become increasingly laborious and trite.
The way forward
Fortunately, among our loyal community, numerous ideas—big and small—emerged from the discussion looking at how this genre can be revitalised or altogether moved past.
Dónal Caoimhín Ó Carrúil
“It's had its day in the sun. Next gen is ripe for something to smash the paradigm. Although I love this genre dearly, only the truly stellar ones are going to succeed going forward.”
“I think it is a fine balancing act, that maybe open world games should have a more linear story contained within their greater narrative, that way the player has the choice to explore or just follow the storyline.”
“Best ones I played had games within the game, a different game genre embedded:
- gambling, arcade style games (Wolfenstein New Order, while not open world, let you play the original Wolfenstein on a console within the game),
- economy and building simulation (buy and design your safe house, customise your looks, buy and sell wares based on a trade system (buy low region a, transport and sell high in region b),
- factions you can fight or befriend, with price and benefit changes based on your standings
- Easter eggs
And that’s just in addition to the expectation of an immersive world, with dialogues, events, news that reflect what’s going on, and provide background on what happened before.
Collectibles were just that- collectibles for the 100% crowd, not a requirement for better weapons or more XP.”
“To add to Marco Karger 's well made point.
A smaller open world that is dense with enjoyable content is consistantly more entertaining than a large space environment.
Take a look at the Yakuza series. A series with 9+ games and tangential games, almost entirely focused on one city map, Kamarocho.
Returning again and again to this environment has never felt like a chore because each time, though the map is largely the same small open world city, the dense lived in activity sets, characters and bizarre goings on help you fall in love with your surroundings again and again.”
Voice of the people
Some wonderful, considered takes from our community. It’s always a pleasure to bear witness to a meaningful conversation like this and see where our collective thoughts take us.
Be sure to check out the full conversation over at the Casual Game Community group and join in! If social media isn’t something you engage with, feel free to get the conversation started here.
All images are taken from IGDB here
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