Open worlds tell a story like no other game genre. By giving the player control over their story, it helps give each player their own unique experience. And these types of games are not only very popular, but very successful. In the four of the last five years, open world games won the Game of the Year award, with multiple runner ups also being open worlds.
- 2018-God of War
- 2017-Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- 2015-Witcher 3
- 2014-Dragon Age: Inquisition
Why They Work
The reason players are attracted to these games goes a little farther than just the freedom that’s offered. Open world games typically offer a lot more content than any other type of game. While online multiplayer games like Overwatch have great replayability, open world games give us a different kind of experience altogether.
Players crave a personal experience. They want to be able to shape their own story. Yet, open world games are not always like one another. Look at God of War a very linear story, with a very open world. It offers no decisions that the player can make themselves, but it accomplishes putting the player into the role of Kratos very well. You grow with the character as you watch him travel with his son, and adventuring outside of the linear story allows you to learn more about your character through interactions with various characters and decisions that they make.
On the other hand, you have games like Skyrim. This game gives you nearly full control of everything you do with your character from your race and appearance, to the stories you embark on. Don’t want to do the main story? You never have to then. You can still get a complete gaming experience out of Skyrim while never touching the story, because the game never prompts you to continue anything.
Both formulas work in their own ways. A narrative-heavy open world game works when it manages to place the player into the shoes of their protagonists. And a sandbox works because it allows the player to shape every single aspect of their character. However, these styles may not work for everyone. Some people dislike non-linear games, and others don’t care for narrative-heavy adventures. Regardless, these genres are successful in part for the experience they give their players.
Open World games typically have combat systems that appeal to a variety of people thanks to different class systems, weapon types, and enemy types. All these factors, and usually the ability to switch things up as you want, help to keep the combat from becoming repetitive. This manages to maintain the player’s attention for dozens of hours.
Leveling up also adds another layer of depth to combat. As you get stronger, you unlock new abilities, perks, and weapons, which again helps keep the game fresh. But stronger enemies also start appearing, which helps prevent the game from going stale. Being able to choose skills that fit your play style and equipment that you want also helps make the game a more personal experience.
Games to Play
Santa Monica Studio’s 2018 God of War is a PlayStation 4 exclusive, and the 2018 Game of the Year award winner. The game places you in the role of Kratos, years after the events of God of War III. Kratos has now fled his homeland of Greece for the Northern land of Norse. With all new gods, enemies, and weapons, this installment revolutionized the entire series. Everything you loved about the original trilogy is still here, but with better stories, mechanics, and characters than ever before.
The 2011 Game of the Year award winner is hailed by many as one of the greatest games ever made. As the Dragonborn, you adventure across Skyrim and craft your own destiny from scratch. Want to slay Dragons and save the world from Alduin? Or do you want to run around and punch chickens for eight hours straight? Either way, the story is completely your own, and with hundreds of hours of content, mod support, and replayability through the roof, Skyrim will keep you crawling back for more.
Witcher 3 was not only the 2015 Game of the Year award winner, but also holds the record for most GOTY awards, ever. Witcher 3 is a masterpiece. While the game is difficult for some to get into, its quality is undeniable. The story is one for the ages, with dozens of decisions that directly influence the story you’ll experience. The game has thirty-six different endings, which gives a player an amount of control rarely seen in a linear open world. The game was also only CD Projekt Red’s third major release. So, the natural feeling combat and expansive world is even more impressive.
While Legend of Zelda games have had open world styles in the past, none quite match up to the freedom given to the player by the 2017 Game of the Year award winner, Breath of the Wild. The game truly manages to be a non-linear open world. Something that wasn’t expected of a Zelda game. You can make your way to the final boss from the moment you gain control of Link. While Breath of the Wild gives you some level of guidance, what you do and how you do it is completely up to you. It also has an expansive array of Shrines that offer different puzzles and challenges, that help encourage the player to explore Hyrule. While it lacks the true dungeons of past titles, this game manages to accomplish what it wanted. To be a fresh, new take on the series, and a potential start to a new type of Zelda.
The Mass Effect series has gained an array of different awards throughout its history. Being an open world, sci-fi shooter makes it stand out. You get to craft your character how you like, while being given a set background and future. However, your decisions influence your story. The games manage to mesh the styles of linear and non-linear game types. This draws in fans of both types of open world games, as they get to shape the story of Shepherd however they want.
The Final Chapter
These games have an appeal to players for their vast places to explore, amount of content, quality of content, and the personal experiences they give us. While not every game is as solid as those listed in the article (looking at you Fallout 76), the genre has a lot to offer. And the reasons it’s so successful are quite clear.
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I’ve been involved with the world of video games since I was able to sit in my dad’s lap and watch him. Not long after that I started playing myself, and it’s been a naturally growing passion ever since.