Size does matter in open world games

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.

World Density

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.

Fast Travel

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

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.


2 thoughts on “Size does matter in open world games

  1. I share your sentiments and noticed this style in most games I have played also. Far Cry 4 has a nice mix of fast travel and vehicles but as you stated the loss of immersion from fast travel can be annoying (especially consider how easy it would have been to avoid… A simple introduction of the fast travel system with an explanation of how its done guy called Gabbo who picks you up…)

    Other games that do travel well are Warframe and Destiny ( which are over 70% the same game IMO ) where you have various open world but you travel between then on your spaceship , and since its in space it makes sense.

    I am also encouraged by RPG elements in games as they provide simple mechanics to reward the player with increased power which is very appealing to most players.

    1. Completely agree about Far Cry 4. Both Fary 3 and 4 could have adopted the GTA IV fast travel method. It simply had you call a taxi and then take you to where ever you want. Best of all, the taxi ride became a cut scene you could skip to avoid listening to the racist driver.

      While I’m yet to play Destiny, I did like the way Warframe did it purely because it makes sense. Also, after the last update, the introduction of walking around your spaceship was pretty awesome. Heaps of sci-fi games use the spaceship fast travel explanation and it shouldn’t be too hard to apply that to other games.

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