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Wandering the Endless Expanse

I finally did it. After all kinds of recommendations from friends and seeing that it was getting all manner of praise, I finally picked up and started playing Final Fantasy XV. I hadn’t really been paying a lot of attention to the media surrounding it, so I really didn’t know much about what type of game it was. So, imagine my surprise when I was almost immediately dropped into a vast open world to explore from the word “go”. There was a time when this would have been a pleasant surprise indeed, but not anymore. Instead, this discovery left me feeling resigned, with just a single thought in reaction: “Oh, its another one of these games.” I suppose I’ll just come out and say it: I’m getting tired of all these open-world games.

Exploration. Exploration, Exploration. Every big game seems to be all about exploration and goofing around inside the game, and it’s been like this for years at this point. Dragon Age: Inquisition, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and now Final Fantasy XV just to name a few; even Mass Effect: Andromeda seems to be leaning towards emphasizing exploration over everything else. I probably should be seeing this as a good thing, because in many ways it is. Getting to play in a world that feels large and lived in should only add to the experience right? It’s a notion I agreed with wholeheartedly during my original Skyrim wanderings and my Assassin’s Creed shenanigans. Now though, I’m starting to wonder where the alternatives went.

I still think focusing on large worlds and exploration is a good thing, but you know what they say about having too much of a good thing. It might just very well be that I’ve finally had enough of that good thing, or at least the tedious versions of it. You know the ones, the ones that practically comprise all of Ubisoft’s releases over the past couple of years: a big map with collectibles to find and lots of little jobs and missions to complete for one arbitrary reason or another, maybe with some strongholds to liberate. It was a novel setup during the time of Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed II, but all it amounts to is the instant death of any desire to engage with the game.

Better open-world games manage to do something to make their wanderings worth your time. Witcher 3 has its excellent side-stories, while Final Fantasy XV rewards you with character advancement. However, they’re still games where your primary task is to wander around an absolutely massive map until you remember that there was supposed to be a story for you to follow. There’s no sense of pacing to them, so they’re hardly an acceptable alternative.

Lately, what I’ve been thinking is that we need more games like Uncharted 4, or indeed the Uncharted series as a whole. They scratch the exploration itch without throwing the player into some gigantic space and tasking them with aimlessly wandering around. They just present you with a small space that may or may not have secrets to find and leave it up to you to decide whether or not finding those secrets is worth your time. Otherwise, they keep the story and gameplay moving. One minute you’re in a high-octane shootout, in the next you’re finding a path along a treacherous cliffside, and in another you’re making your way through some breath-taking ruins. Best of all, it feels like you’re making progress. It’s the absolute best feeling a game can provide to a player with limited time on their hands. Working your way through an Uncharted game makes one feel like their accomplishing something whereas wandering around doing random missions and picking up dozens of collectibles leaves one feeling they haven’t even made a dent in the game.

I suppose what I’m really saying that I’d like to see some linearity return to the realm of AAA games. Exploration is fun and all, but it feels like it’s coming at the expense of satisfying progress and well-paced stories. Hopefully we’ll see some more of that in 2017.


What do you think? Do you feel like open-world games have become too prominent or would you like to see more of them?

Lede  image by Flickr user portal gda (CC)

10 thoughts on “Wandering the Endless Expanse”

  1. I’m a fan of open-world games, but I also think they can be mishandled *very* easily. At times I wonder if some devs throw in open worlds because “the kids these days like open world games!”

    For instance, I love me some Dragon Age, and I really liked Inquisition, but the amazing open landscape I ogled at the first twenty minutes of being plopped in a new area became silent traipsing as I wandered back and forth on my most recent quest, often getting lost and muttering “And where am I *now*?” The fact that you can eventually fast travel attests to the fact that the beautiful open world is a fairly empty one. I’m just getting into the Witcher 3, so I’m hoping it’s not more of large, beautiful and *mostly empty* world.

    I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but sometimes I think games should stick to what they’re good at. Final Fantasy have always been turn-based strategy games. Dragon Age and Mass Effect have great stories, and each *area* you visit is big and explorable, but still contained so you can focus on *the story.* Like you said, Uncharted 4 is a great example of this balance. But… we also speak with our dollars, so as long as they sell, open-world games will continue to be made.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I more or less agree with your comment. An open world can be good fun if its actually populated with interesting things to see and do.

      DA:Inquisition was fun, but it definitely would have benefited from having smaller areas and fewer (but more engaging quests). As it was, it kind of got in the way of the story, which kinda illustrates my issue open-world elements. I don’t like seeing them stuck in games where they don’t belong.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My interest in open world games comes and goes. As long as the game gives me good reason to go out and explore, then I’m all for it. I’m currently playing Fallout: New Vegas, and it’s…dare I say…one of the best open world games I’ve played in awhile. (Someday I’ll get back to Fallout 4…someday…) Granted, it contains its share of random, “busy” quests, but they feel nicely integrated into the story, nonetheless. And there’s something really compelling about the game’s setting. The Mojave Wasteland feels really wide and barren, even though it’s well-populated. Even now, some thirty hours into the game, I’m still finding new places to visit and people to talk to. Thinking about recent open world games that I’ve played — DA: Inquisition, GTA V, Saints Row, Assassin’s Creed, the Batman Arkham games — something about New Vegas is just hitting all the right spots over them.

    That said, I agree that the recent push in the industry to make open world games, or games that seem open world-like, isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s part of the reason why I’m not extremely excited about the likes of Breath of the Wild or Mass Effect: Andromeda. I mean, I’m still *excited* for them, but as with Final Fantasy XV, which I’m only coming around to accepting now, building any sort of relationship with those games will probably take time. Open world games require a lot of time — having a lack of gaming time generally makes shorter, mission-based games all the more appealing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed on all points. I think games like Skyrim and Fallout work better as open-world because they’re well populated, there’s interesting stuff to see, and you’re not necessarily trying to progress towards anything. It’s fun to put sometime into them without progressing.

      In games like DA and ME though, you’re there more for the story than anything else, so the open-world feels more like a hindrance and a bit of a waste of your limited gaming time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think for me, I like a good balance of freedom and guidance, if that makes sense. I want room to explore, but I don’t want to feel overwhelmed or totally lose track of the story, either. Lately, I have returned to FFXII, and I’ve been enjoying how big the game is (which used to be an issue for me, strangely enough). Even so, I don’t feel overwhelmed because the game opens up new sections of the map as you progress through the story, so you’re not simply thrown into a massive world with no direction. You still have a lot of freedom, but you have boundaries, too, either with locations you can’t yet enter or because enemies are so tough, it’s wiser to come back later. That helps me to divide up the story and the exploring a bit more evenly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting question. I like open-world games, but I play so few of them so each one feels special to me. The only ones I played last year were FFXV and Xenoblade Chronicles X, and they were Japanese RPGs. I guess I’m just not that interested in most western open-world games. I’m more of the type that doesn’t mind when a series suddenly has an open-world entry like in Final Fantasy’s case. That’s also why I’m still excited about the new Zelda’s open world, even though I like the series for completely different reasons than the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m kind of the same way. I don’t have too many games with open worlds, and I must admit I haven’t really kept up to date with all the recent open world games, so it’s not really something I’ve grown tired of yet. And I, too, really look forward to the new open world Zelda. I won’t let it beat me like the original Zelda did!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like open-world games for the most part, but I think I start feeling overwhelmed by them as time goes on. When your free time is very limited to fit video games into your every day life, I actually prefer the option to push the player to continue the story. I love the exploration in FF15, but I do realize I spend more time exploring and less time moving the story forward. When I find time to play a game, I start feeling like I want to use that time to make progress with the story. Especially when I want to really finish the games I have instead of adding to a backlog of games to play.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that’s kind of my issue with them as well I suppose. They’re great when there’s plenty to do in them, but all that stuff can also amount to a distraction from the critical path. Not great when you want to feel like you’re making progress.

      Liked by 1 person

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