Better worlds not bigger worlds is something I’ve believed in for a long time but I really think our first for bigger worlds reached its zenith with No Mans Sky. It’s at the moment that I think plenty more people realised that it’s not the size that matters but what you do with it that counts. I’m sure it’s news that some people are really relieved to hear.

Before long, claims of huge worlds, hundreds of square miles of explorable territory, and the classic “you see that mountain over there? Well you can climb it” began to fade into the background. It doesn’t hit us in the same awe-inspiring way it used to. We quickly realised that vastness just for the sake of it isn’t a worthwhile attribute for a game. An incomprehensibly large world is fundamentally useless if nothing interesting is done with it, like a 1200-page novel filled to the brim with Lorem Ipsum. 

I’m circling back around to this one both because it’s still all-too-often the case that we get bigger rather than denser, and because I spotted an interesting comment from Dying Light 2 director Tymon Smektala in Official Xbox Magazine (by way of Kotaku). He said: “I’m not sure worlds will get bigger. I think what will change is the fidelity of everything. I don’t think people really need bigger worlds, they need worlds that are of better quality and that they feel more immersed in what surrounds them.”

I think Smektala’s words are something which really get to the core of this discussion. That of building smaller, more intimate places packed with detail and incident. There’s a definite joy to these more tailored environments, ones where you can navigate around without a map and grow more intimate with its design over time.

The Yakuza series is one which handles this style particularly well, effectively using the same environment for seven games. You’d think familiarity breeds contempt but it doesn’t, quite the opposite in fact. It becomes neat to hop back into a world you already know, spotting little differences as the in-game years roll by. It’s like going back to your hometown years later and seeing what’s changed.

While the idea of huge worlds definitely has its appeal, the size of them is inversely proportional to the number of hand-crafted elements which can be peppered throughout. Unfortunately, far too few games go the smaller route, although 2020 could change all this. It sounds as if Dying Light 2 is going to be fairly intimate, hopefully; we’re cautiously optimistic for Cyberpunk 2077’s cityscape and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 is the sequel to an absolute masterwork in intimate, crafted world design.

What are your thoughts then, is bigger always better? Do you love it when a game has a map stretching for hundreds of square miles, or are you a fan of smaller, more dense worlds? 

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