So I’ve noticed that the last 10 or so AAA games I’ve played have been set in open worlds. Coincidence? Well no, clearly I like open world games. Also, a lot of games are picking up the open world model, similar in the way many of them are also picking up RPG elements (something that I also love, even when it’s done half-arsedly).
So naturally I’ve played enough now that I’ve noticed some common issues when it comes to world size. Also, I’m happy to acknowledge that these are mostly just my opinion, so disagreements are welcome.
My thoughts immediately go to Fallout 3. While the size itself wasn’t so much the issue, the problem was with how much was in the world. You could wander the wastes, kill a few scorpions, meet a few mutants and the like, but overall density of ‘stuff’ was tiny. Fallout: New Vegas solved this problem by reducing map size AND having world with more going on (the advantages of being set in a time after society has had time to rebuild). Many games – like Fallout 3, Far Cry, Just Cause 2 – often brag about how large their open world is, which is great, but then fail to put anything in it.
I don’t think fast travel is an actual issue (if anything, it’s great), but I’ve always been put off by how it’s delivered. If one of the goals of open world games is to immerse the player, then fast travel very much breaks this immersion. It’s the instant teleportation that throws me off and often makes no sense. There were several times in Skyrim where I would fast travel to my quest marker and suddenly find I’m in the middle of battle, halfway up the enemies’ nostrils. I much prefer it when games offer an organic way of fast travel such as Sleeping Dogs’ taxis or the Silt Striders in Morrowind (though Morrowind’s fast travel system was far from perfect).
Movement speed should be directly proportionate to map size, all notions of fast travel aside. A lot of games give you vehicles to help traverse long distances, some form a mount, or a power or ability. But again, it’s all relevant to map size. Horses were near-useless in Skyrim, a huge, mountainous land. On the other hand, Caragors, the climbing, furless beasts from Shadow of Morder, were perfect mounts as you could travel the entire map in a minute or so. Just Cause 2 gave you grappling hook and if you don’t understand how that’s useful, then you need to play Just Cause 2.
I admit, this is just a brief look into some examples of good and bad points in open world games. But you can summarise that it’s not so much the size, it’s how you use it.