Why I’m Falling Out Of Love With Open World Games

Image By Flickr User: Ferlino Design (cc)

13 years ago a game by the name of GTA 3 launched and changed the gaming world significantly. Although it wasn’t technically the first 3D open-world game to be produced, it can be argued that it was one of the most influential and that it had a huge impact in popularizing the genre. I loved GTA 3 and I know that I spent a huge amount of time roaming around Liberty City taking in the surroundings car-jacking innocent civilians and going on murder sprees. The game supplied me with tools and a sandbox to play in and like a young child, I created my own fun.

Being a big fan of the GTA series and Rockstar games in general, I like most other gamers was hyped for the release of GTA 5. Yet when I played it, the joy and fun that I had created myself in previous instalments never manifested itself this time around. This isn’t because GTA 5 is a bad game, certainly from a technical perspective the game is incredible. The game world is huge, the detail Rockstar embedded into it is amazing and although I don’t think the story is anything special, I enjoyed the campaign enough to see the game through to the end.

So what’s the problem you ask?

Well the problem I had was that I just wasn’t that interested in the open world side of the game. Whereas in previous instalments I would have spent countless hours exploring the game’s world, causing mayhem and completing as many of the game’s side quests as possible, this time around it just didn’t happen. I pushed through the story without deviating from GTA 5’s main campaign as much as I could. This made me ask the question, when was the last time I had truly embraced an open world game and enjoyed all it had to offer? I struggled to find an answer. It seems that over the last couple of years I have fallen out of love with open-world games and I want to have a look at some of the reasons why this is the case.

The first reason is Time. Time is a commodity that I have a lot less of now than back when I had my first experience of an open world game in GTA 3, the main reason being due to having a job and being a responsible (*cough*) adult. Due to not having an unlimited amount of time to play videogames, I feel that during the time I am able to play games I want to be able to experience something worthwhile, a lot of the time I want to feel like I have achieved something or at least made some progress in a game. If I were to spend a couple of hours in GTA 5 sailing around the ocean or climbing a mountain, it would feel like time wasted, when instead I could be progressing through the game’s narrative.

Now I’m not saying that I want to exclusively play games created by Telltale for the rest of my life or just play games where by you have to simply travel down through corridor A to corridor B, but I want to play something that feels a bit more focused. Platformers and hack and slash games still remain my favourite genres of videogames, but even when I play these types of games I still feel as though I am making some kind of significant progress towards an end goal. In comparison killing random civilians and cops off mission in GTA feels a bit pointless.

Not only does it feel pointless, it just isn’t as fun as it once was. I’ve done it all before, far too many times. Whilst being able to go on a killing spree seemed incredible at the time of GTA 3’s release, now it’s just isn’t something that I find a lot of entertainment from. I’ll shoot a couple of people, the police will come, i’ll shoot some more people, maybe a police helicopter will come, eventually I’ll die. The end. The sequence of events doesn’t surprise me anymore, it’s the same thing I’ve done countless time before and familiarity breeds contempt.

And that brings me to the second reason why I have fallen out of love with open world games, so many of them seem exactly the same as one another. The sheer amount of games with sandbox elements contained within them released in just the past 5 years is far too long to list and most of them share similar themes or gameplay elements. Ubisoft games are a prime example of this. In Assassin’s Creed the player has to climb buildings to reveal more areas of the map, in Far Cry 3 the player climbs radio towers to reveal more areas of the map, In Watch_Dogs the player hacks and climbs ctOS towers to reveal more areas of the map and in The Crew the player must find “Data Stations” which are essentially radio towers, to—you guessed it—reveal more areas of the map. That was boring just to read, now image the feeling of doing that in every game.

Of course games should be able to share features, but when I play most open world games now, it just feels like I’m playing a game I’ve played before but just with a different coat of paint on it. In all honesty part of the reason could be simply because I’ve played too many of them. Whilst at the time of GTA 3’s release open world gameplay was a revolution, nearly every other game of the last generation seems to have some kind of open world element forced into it.

The third reason is that in a lot of open world games I find the optional activities a player can perform are often tedious and repetitive. How many times have you completed a side quest in an open-world game and then proceeded to do the next one and found that you are doing nearly the exact same thing again? There is no point having a lot of icons on a map if the actual activities are nearly identical to one another.

Lastly, maybe I just lack the imagination I once had. Over the last console generation I’ve been spoiled by games with engrossing stories and maybe I’m just not capable of having fun with a game which let’s me create my own and deviate from the narrative as much as I used to. Minecraft is a great example of this, it’s a game that allows the user to create practically anything that is floating around in their brain. A couple of weeks ago I visited a friend of mine who is of the same age as me who absolutely loves Minecraft, specifically the creative side of it. Some of the things he is able to create obviously require a hell of a lot of skill and time to do and on one hand I am impressed by the world he has created, but on the other hand I think to myself, “What is the point?”

Obviously the point is that there is no point, you are given the freedom to do what you want to do and that’s it. But for me that isn’t enough, with no real objective other than the ability to creates one’s desires it’s not an experience I’m interested in.  I’ve realised that over the last few years I need some overarching goal or objective to constantly push forward towards when playing a  videogame. This usually comes in the form of a narrative. If I am just thrown into a box to and told to “Have fun” then unfortunately I am not as capable of doing so as I once was, which is a shame as I feel I’m missing out somewhat.

A couple of years ago if you handed me a sandbox game with a bunch of cool weapons or tools, I would have had the great time creating my own fun. The problem is I’ve been exposed to far too much of this and I have become a bit jaded and perhaps it’s now time to take an extended break from the genre. Will I play another open world game? Probably, but I believe it’s a genre in desperate need of a shake up and until then I can’t see myself having as much fun with it as I once did.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Falling Out Of Love With Open World Games”

  1. I feel like in case of the new GTA the problem is that most of the focus and resources went into creating that ridiculously massive sandbox world with the main campaign being just a small portion of the entire package, thus lacking the luster more story-driven game experiences offer. It’s obvious the open world genre is in the excess stage, currently facing the inevitable deterioration in quality. But I believe the trend will eventually turn around and after their abusive fling with open world model the major game companies will start getting back on with more focused productions again. And even if not, we’ll still have indies.

    1. That’s a good point, that they likely focused too much on the open world concept and not enough on the plot. It reminds me of the trend towards multiplayer games and how lots of games are said to have great multiplayer, but the single player experience is lacking. I like to play by myself, so such games make me feel rather neglected. Maybe that will shift back one day, too.

  2. It feels like open-world games hit a peak with Assassin Creed II and Skyrim. Those games had and open world but had enough well-developed variety to keep it all fun and interesting, compared to newer entris into the genre which have mostly wound up feeling bland and monotonous throughout.

    1. I am not a big fan of open world games anymore for the same reasons. It’s like games with too many collectibles. It just gets boring and repetitive after a while. I mean, I loved that Pikmin 2 had so much to collect, but after a while, I lost the motivation. It’s all the same thing! Why am I bothering anymore!

      I still haven’t gotten around to playing Skyrim. I must be the last person left in the universe who still hasn’t tried it.

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