Up For Debate - Do you prefer massive open worlds or smaller, denser maps?

Written by Stuart Thomas on Tue, Dec 31, 2019 11:46 AM
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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? 

Get voting and be sure to let us know why below!

Which do you prefer?

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15:26 Jan-01-2020

Both, as long as the content and gameplay is interesting/good. For example i liked to grind mad max game. It had awesome gameplay, amazing graphics, OK story. I cleaned whole map before i completed 2/3 of the story. On the other hand, i absolutely hated middle earth shadow of mordor. I completed as soon as possible and did it mostly because i bought it.

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16:11 Jan-01-2020

I still haven't beat Shadow of War, myself. I got 100% on Shadow of Mordor, but War upscales it massively.

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16:22 Jan-01-2020

Im not sure if i ever buy shadow of war ever. I understand there are loads of people who really like it, everyone has a different taste i guess.

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18:27 Jan-02-2020

yeah that's why I"m saying if you didn't like Mordor, you won't like War, due to the larger scale, though gameplay's basically the same. Also the scummy DLC and pay2win stuff that was removed NOW, but remnants might remain in the grind, I haven't gotten to that part yet.

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14:03 Jan-01-2020

Both
Like Witcher 3 or RDR2

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12:06 Jan-01-2020

I prefer good games, doesn't matter if it is a large or a smaller world.

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10:26 Jan-01-2020

Something like Nier Automata. Small open world yet full of content.

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05:16 Jan-01-2020

Smaller, denser maps/worlds with a solid progression and flow.

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20:38 Dec-31-2019

I love the guy pointing in the picture of this article like "Dude i found the content!" (after wandering the empty game map) :D

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20:24 Dec-31-2019

It depends on game design. Big and emptier open world can work just as much as condensed smaller world, if both are done right. It really depends on narrative and design game tries to have and activities it populates that world with. The worst is world with very generic and generated objectives with minimal to no narrative and just bunch of unrewarding busy work that makes it feel like a job.

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17:50 Dec-31-2019

I mean I like a good middle ground. For example, Assassin's Creed. I loved the smaller, more detailed maps up until Constantinople, then it went way out therein size for Origins and Odyssey, which the size was breathtaking, but it was a bit too big. GTA V and especially RDR2, same problem, though to be fair that was an issue with RDR1 too. I don't want way smaller, like back to the GTA SA days, but I would like smaller than what we currently see, with more stuff and less fluff.

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19:34 Dec-31-2019

RDR or GTA would look lke ****e in small maps, but yea', I loved Assassin's Creed much more during 1-4. After that it went quantity>quality map-wise.

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16:10 Jan-01-2020

I mean they don't have to be tiny maps, they can still be large, but like, GTA IV had a more interesting map than V, it was more dense , if only it had GTA V's tech, it would've been a better map overall.


they can still do large maps, but they should pack more detail into it, is what I was getting at. look at how interesting GTA SA's map was, and it was tiny. scale that up, add a bit more stuff inside, bam, good map.

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17:37 Dec-31-2019

Massive open world with 0 stuff to do in it is absolutely useless and serves no purpose but to delay the player from finding actual content. RDR2 and GTAV are one of the worst games in that way in recent years.

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15:52 Dec-31-2019

Depends on the game.

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15:39 Dec-31-2019

IF ITS NFS GIVE ME A TRIPLE XL WORLD!! LETS BE HONEST THE GUYS AT NFS AND FORZA HORIZON ARE PROBABLY THE ONLY ONES WHO GET AWAY WITH THIS PRIVILEGE THE CREW ON THE OTHER HAND THAT WAS A REALLLLY SLOW DRAG....

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17:51 Dec-31-2019

your all caps destroy your credibility but you make fair points. the crew 2 was too empty, Forza nailed it, can't speak for the recent NFS games.

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15:34 Dec-31-2019

If you look at Ubisoft games, their open worlds are massive but devoid of content. It's better to have smaller open worlds but full of content, like in The Witcher 3.

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12:11 Dec-31-2019

GTA V's incredible open world design + MGS V's gameplay would make me cum so fkin hard

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05:17 Jan-01-2020

GTA V has a terrible open world and terrible mission design, you spend 80% of the game literally traveling from point A to point B doing nothing more than just that.

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21:19 Jan-01-2020

I'm talking about the world design not the missions and yes rockstar's mission design is bad but u can't deny the fact that gta v is detailed and beautiful

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07:46 Jan-02-2020

But that is irrelevant and it's worse than quite a few games of it's time.

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12:03 Dec-31-2019

I'd love it if, a lot of interesting material could be densly packed in large worlds, but so far that hasn't happened.

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12:10 Dec-31-2019

Thats the problem with maps that are mostly just forests/nature cant just put a NPC every 100m with a quest :P . Also a reason why cyberpunk is so exciting CD Project Red let loose in an mostly urban setting with a huge budget.

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16:03 Jan-01-2020

I hope they deliver on Cyberpunk. Fingers crossed.

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12:00 Dec-31-2019

Definitely small and dense worlds, I like huge worlds too as long as they're also dense. Having to traverse a huge open world with nothing to see or nothing to do is really boring

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11:59 Dec-31-2019

I would take a yakuza 0 kamurocho over empty ubisoft "collectables the map". Quality over quantity.

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