Open-world is the buzz term which never died. It used to seem like an impossible dream, whereas now it’s not deemed a AAA blockbuster unless it comes packing one. Think of all the biggest game releases of the last couple of years and an open-world is usually tied in somewhere. The problem is it’s generally an open-world for open world’s sake rather than a furthering of the game’s systems.
Creating a vast landscape for the player to explore means you have to fill it with content. You either use an algorithm like No Man’s Sky or any number of rogue-likes, or you hand craft it. Hand crafting it will nearly always cede the better results, allowing teams of designers and artists to work on unique content and landscapes to traverse. The dead end we have found ourselves in is the need to expand to larger environments, while needing ever more photo-realistic visuals, all within the usual 3 or 4-year development time frame.
The end result is we have these often-times gorgeous worlds at first sight, but peeling back the layers we see there’s little to do and little of interest to see. Oh sure, there’s things to do, but it’s needless busywork of the worst kind. I found Shadow of Mordor reasonably enjoyable, but hunting down the collectibles was an absolute chore. Far Cry 4 was great until the map became an unintelligible mess of icons, each promising a repetitive task. Opening chests in Assassin's Creed is a bore. Collecting scrap in Mad Max is dull. Perhaps most heinous in Mad Max is locking story progress behind collectibles and side content, a sure way to make sure nobody finishes your game. It’s content for content's sake, just so you can slap a sticker saying “60 Hour Game!” on the box.
I don’t want this to come off as all negative, because there’s some glorious open world games out there, but the endless busywork has created a sense of open-world fatigue among a segment of the gaming community, myself included. For every Metal Gear Solid V there’s a trio of Arkham Knights. MGS V works because it’s open-world is a genuine sandbox, and one in which you constantly get new toys. It’s unpredictable, free-form fun that doesn’t force collectibles on you. Likewise The Witcher 3. The Northern Kingdoms might not be totally packed with things to do or areas of interest but it’s aided by incredible quest design that lends its world character. A lot more character than you get driving through some rings in Far Cry 4.
Some of these games would have been so much more as semi-linear adventures set in open levels. Aside from the Nemesis System this would have been fantastic for Shadow of Mordor, while Mad Max could have benefited from scripted levels as you tear through the desert, or Far Cry could have gone back to its roots.
Over to you then, what do you think, are you tired of all the open-world games? Or can you not get enough of losing yourself in these worlds for dozens of hours? What games do you think do open-worlds right?