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A Defence of the Modern Open-World Game

Open world games get a lot of flack these days. You’ll often encounter headlines like, ‘Oh wow, look here, another open-world AAA action RPG to add to your backlog’ and honestly, I get the fatigue. Titles belonging to this genre are kind of the games du jour of the minute, and at a cursory glance, it’s really easy to bunch them all together and decry the lack of innovation supposedly present in their makeup.

Regardless of your personal affection or aversion to the plethora of Open Worlds at our disposal, it’s pretty safe to say that there are elements to them that just… work. Besides the games’ architecture which allows for the inclusion of Many Things to Do and Derp Around With™ (fetch quests I’m looking at you), open worlds are extremely efficient in a few key areas that, in my humble opinion, not only justify their existence but also hint at the need for more of them. Tall order? Bear with me.


A sense of awe

There’s something about approaching a jutting hilltop and surveying the vast expanse that lies before you that is just not comparable to another aspect of gameplay. You pan left and right and something just swells inside you. Think about Horizon Zero Dawn or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where you find yourself with ample vista viewing locations that allow you to soak up the terrain you’re about to be immersed in.

These events and scenarios that afford you the opportunity to gawk at virtual worlds are often scripted and serve as an enticing lure to get you immersed in the game world. Sometimes, however, they are simply made available to you via the game’s architecture and that’s when they really trigger something powerful; an unavoidable sense of majesty and awe.


A sense of industriousness

In open-world games, you’re often dropped with an absolute laundry list of actionable items and quests to fill up your log and bide your time. A lot of times, quest quality is vastly uneven and the glittering main campaign and side quests are beefed up at the expense of seemingly less interesting bits and pieces to round out your experience.

Whether or not you’re a completionist, your time with the quest log is almost idiosyncratic. The way you comb and weave through the things you gotta get done is left largely up to you. This sense of agency is actually quite underappreciated, as the logic systems and narrative architecture that allows it to exist is a feat unto itself and something quite special. In a good open-world game, you get to do things at your own pace and leisure and just kind of feel your way through a game. That’s a pretty amazing thing.


A sense of efficiency

Tying closely to the previous point, open-world games conjure a sense of efficiency in you and your abilities for a few simple reasons. When you start off as a novice in the world, you are constantly and consistently tasked with getting better at being in it.

Thus, the Deus Ex Machina cycle reels you in, providing you with increasingly difficult challenges while you get increasingly more capable. This basically means you feel good while you get good, and that is something quite unlike any other. Plus, circling back to challenges that happened along your path while you were wholly unequipped to deal with but now you’re a murderous god titan is chef’s kiss. You started at the bottom, now you’re here. It’s efficiency at its finest. Rolling stones do gather moss it would seem if moss was mad skill and upgrade points.


A sense of reward

Wary of employing problematic colonial metaphors, there is an aspect to of conquering in laying claim to a vast virtual world and emerging victorious.

Slowly but surely you progress through an often 30+ hour campaign to become a force to reckoned with in worlds that are not our own. Whether you’re hunting gigantic robot animals or scavenging bits and pieces off elder dragons to fashion into armour, you are quite literally navigating your way through alien terrain to become not only familiar but dominant.

There’s just something extremely rewarding about progressing from fear and hesitation to ‘I own this bih’ and I’ll take no objections.

That’s our hot take on open worlds and what we like about them, if you have anything you’d like to add or slam, let us know at dante@justsketch.me :)