It seems these days that every third game being released is a variation of the open world game. While this might seem great, and make a game’s scope feel massive, a lot of the time the game developers make silly decisions that, depending on the player, can potentially ruin the gaming experience. With that in mind I’ve put together a list of rules that I believe should be followed when creating an open world game.
1. Find the Balance: Often times in Open world games, the player can feel overwhelmed with missions and side objectives to accomplish. Grand Theft Auto 4 had hundreds of tasks the player would need to perform if they were to achieve 100% compeltion in the game. However, No More Heroes, which I feel I have to make a stretch to call it an open world game is the polar opposite to GTA4. In NMH travel between points of interest in the city is necessary to trigger side quests and story missions, but there are not many places to visit and too few missions. This makes the travel seem tacked on and ultimately pointless to the progression of the game. Why not just move me to the next area instead of making me fumble with the horrible driving controls for 3 minutes while I get from point A to B. Finding the balance between having far too many missions that will overpower the player, and so few that you’re wasting our time is a must for any future open world game.
2. Don’t Send Me on Mundane Tasks: Every developer wants their game to be a long one, because we as gamers will not stop making fun of a 5 hour open world game. But in making their games longer, developers have created the bane of any completionist’s existence, the token collectible. Recently the producer of Assassin’s Creed admitted that he’d included so many flags just to see if people would collect them, and I feel that he’s not alone. Games like Crackdown that have two sets of orbs for collection, or Spider-man: Web of Shadows that has over 2100 collectibles, boggle the mind with what the developers were thinking. Check the map of GTA4 below and you'll see what I mean. Sure it makes gamers go out there and experience the game’s world, but who wants to travel from rooftop to rooftop after the game’s story has completed to find that last collectible? Side note: I never ever want to see “collectibles are required to level up” again in a game. I'm looking at you inFAMOUS and Spider-man: Web of Shadows.
3. If you make a large map, Use it: Maps in Open world games are getting bigger as the platforms they were created for get more sophisticated, but I am really getting tired of being told I can’t go somewhere when the game starts. Why even show me these areas on the map if I can’t break away from the story and visit them? Now I don't want to visit these areas to collect icons or orbs, I just want to see them. For as much crap as I’ve given Spider-man games in this article, this is something that all of them since the first open world one have done. You’re free to swing all over the city doing whatever you’d like, and for this I’ve actually found myself logging hours just swinging around in digital New York, avoiding missions entirely. I’m glad that games are starting to realize that in real life humans don’t die the second they hit the water, but there are still games that won’t allow you to leave their city streets.
4. Let me Teleport: Taking the last point into consideration, if I am given a mission that is on the other side of the world, give gamers an option to teleport directly to it. While I’ve already stated that it’s a ton of fun to swing around as Spider-man when I’m playing missions the last thing I want to do is break the action with a 5 minute swing from one side of the map to the other. Why not give me the option of swinging there myself, or going to the mission immediately? The best method I’ve seen with this is the taxi system in Grand Theft Auto 4 where you can still experience the city, but you don’t have to worry about the travel from one point to another. Hell, even Wheelman allowed you to start a mission when you were nowhere near it on the map, and that game did little to nothing to revolutionize the open world genre.
5. Pay it Off: So everything is said and done, and I’ve spend 24+ hours in your world, you’d better make damn sure that it was worth it for me. I’m talking to you Bethesda and your “let’s show a slide show with some VO and call it done” Fallout 3. If I’ve put the time into a game I want an ending like inFAMOUS, where I cannot wait to get back into the world with a sequel. I want an ending like GTA4 where characters die and you’re given a chance for revenge. Basically I want the day or more of my life that I’ve spent in this game to have actually been leading towards something epic.
Bottom line I love playing open world games, but I think we’re still yet to find a game with the one perfect formula to successfully pull off the genre. Many games have gotten extremely close, but ultimately fall short of giving us the “ultimate freedom” that open world games promise to provide. Dare to dream that one day, we will have the perfect open world game that all other sandbox games will be compaired to.