In Praise of Vast Open World Games

This post is a few years too late, really. There was a time not so long ago when gamers as a hive-mind (in other words, some subset of gamers who managed to make enough noise to be noticed) were really down on open world games, and specifically Ubisoft open world games.

I wasn’t one of those gamers; I love a giant open world to roam around in.

Back in the dim days of the 1990s I used to play MMOs with a group of friends. We’d have terrific adventures exploring new worlds. OK mostly one new world: Britannia. Ultima Online was the big news back then. (My first actual “MMO” was MegaWars III on Compuserve, but Ultima Online felt like a breakthrough.)

Over time, friends drifted away and I forgot to make new ones. I kept playing MMOs but mostly by myself. I was still drawn to exploring and seeing what I’d find over the next mountain. Eventually though, I started getting frustrated at not being able to see all the content in instances and other groups-required places. Yadda yadda yadda/whine whine whine.

Then I just pretty much stopped playing PC games and moved over to consoles and that more or less put an end to my MMO days. (I mean, I still dabble here and there but never anything serious.) Why I switched to consoles is maybe good post fodder for later in the month.

Anyway enter big-ass open world games. Once again I had a world to explore, only now I could see it all if I wanted to. I was pretty happy about that. Granted eventually I’d see everything and unlike MMOs, open world games don’t get long term support. A year or two of DLC/expansions is about the best you can hope for. [This would be a good time for a PC gamer to point at all the mods available for Skyrim that continue to expand that game years and years after release.]

Hey, we play the hand we’re dealt. Anyway, I just wanted to share my love of one of my favorite types of games, and maybe convince someone to give one a try.

To that end, here’re a few tips to help you appreciate open world games as much as I do.

1) Pick one that has a protagonist that you enjoy. I’m speaking specifically of their personality and how they react to others. One of my favorite protagonists in recent years has been Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I spent over 200 hours in her company and was bummed when we finally hit the point where we’d done pretty much everything. If the character you’re playing as doesn’t bring you joy, you probably won’t last very long in an open world game.

2) If you start to get bored, let go of your inner completionist. Don’t fixate on clearing every point of interest on the map. Do enough stuff to keep you comfortably leveled and focus on the story. Alternately, do the content (most of these games have a variety of ‘quest types’) that you enjoy and skip the stuff that doesn’t interest you. Virtually every open world game gives you the opportunity to continue playing past the ending credits and if you get to the end and want more, that’s the time to go map clearing. (The image at the top of this posts shows the POIs in just a small area of AC Valhalla and it was taken 140 hours into the game & well past when the credits rolled.)

3) Take breaks. These are generally long games, some of them with 100+ hours of content. I find taking breaks to play other, shorter games helps to keep the open world title feeling fresh and full of wonder.

4) Tweak the difficulty as you play. If the game is too easy you’ll get bored, and if it is too hard you’ll probably get fatigued. A lot of these games seem to get easier the farther in you get (you unlock new skills, better weapons and get too strong for the content). If that happens bump up the difficulty. Conversely of course, if you’re finding it exhausting to constantly struggle with encounters, lower the difficulty down.

5) Immerse yourself. This one is hard to explain but I find that these games are most fun if I try to forget they’re a game. I do that mental role-play thing where I just try to become the character. When I’m REALLY into a game I may stop availing myself of quality-of-life features like fast travel. Instead I enjoy traversing the world and taking in the sites.

I realize none of these tips are revelatory but who knows, they may help someone. The biggest complaint I hear is that there are just too many points of interest on the map and things get overwhelming and tedious. I used to try to complete them all too. Letting go of that was hard for me, but doing so made the games so much more enjoyable.

13 thoughts on “In Praise of Vast Open World Games

  1. What do they call these? Far Cry games or Crysis games? Ones where you open up the map a little at a time and then do all the revealed quests while following the storyline? Yeah, I love these games, too. My favorite, of course, is Death Stranding, which had you explicitly forge a path to new areas. But I’ve played a BUNCH of these — Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn, DS, AC Valhalla, the later Tomb Raider games… some of my best gaming memories.

    Sure, it can be done well or poorly, but that’s like anything else.

    Okies lemme see if it’s going to sign this with my real name or not again. WordPress asks me to sign in to WP blogs, and if I do, it uses my IRL name for some reason. It’s annoying.

    1. I had that issue too. I’d resort to inserting a random . in my gmail address to fool the blog into thinking I was someone else.

      Then I figured out you can set a “Display Name” on wordpress.com, so I just set it to Nimgimli: https://wordpress.com/me

        1. I think that’s because I’m signed in here. Uses the same “author name” as I use on the blog posts.

    2. I personally call them “Icon-Boopers”. I love the feeling of opening up a big map full of icons and just — bip, boop, cleared, done, finished that…
      It is absolutely gaming by checklist, but I’m very fond of that.

  2. I honestly don’t know why people talk down about open-world games so much. I’m the kind of person who legitimately dislikes loading screens between zones, myself, so I love the idea of huge freaking worlds I can just explore in. My problem, though, is that I’ll legitimately get distracted because I’ll see something in the distance and I immediately need to go see what that thing is regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea or particularly safe for me to do it. I’ve died so many times that way….

  3. I love the concept of open-world games. I might even go so far as to say ‘open world’ is my favourite, bar none, world feature in a game.

    Where I think the fatigue for a lot of people came in is the UbiSoft ‘formula’ that got approached. There was a period where practically all Ubi games — regardless of their franchise or genre — had the climb thematically-correct tower, scan area, find new side content, rinse, repeat.

    And this side content wasn’t always… very good.

    So I 100% understand the exasperation much of the game community now espouses about the open-world tag.

    But then you get your Witcher 3’s, your Red Dead Redemptions and other such high quality entries to the series to redeem it. At least for the likes of us. 🙂

    I’m still all aboard the Far Cry train for what it’s worth too — and Assassin’s Creed. So clearly my tolerance for it was higher than some, but even I did go through a patch of eyerolling in Ubi’s general direction.

    1. Curiously, I have never finished The Witcher 3. I’m not sure why. I love the IP. Have read some of the books and enjoyed them, loved the Netflix series. I think it is the ambiance that bugs me. All the peasants hawking and spitting. Everything is just so dirty and depressing. I mean I get that’s an intentional design choice, but I just get tired of being in that world.

      1. Fairy nuff. It certainly took me a few return visits, over the span of literally a couple of years, to finish it. So I can see where you’re coming from. xD

        Although my ‘breaks’ were relatively early on in the piece, I think the time I came back and completed my version of the Red Baron’s storyline, I was pretty well hooked and played through to the end of the main campaign and the first DLC.

        I still need to finish the final DLC though, and probably will when the RTX/Next-gen update is out. 🙂

        1. I never finished RDR 2 either, though RDR 1 was in my top 3 all-time favorite games. Now I’m holding out hoping for a “next gen” upgrade/remake before I have another go at it.

  4. Skyrim is still my “game to beat” bar. I’ve logged hundreds of hours in that game and still haven’t found every marker or completed every side quest. And pick it up again fairly regularly. A few come close – aforementioned Far Cry 5, Witcher 3, AC Valhalla – but Skyrim, for me, still can’t be beat. Just wish it were multi-player, that’s the only thing missing.

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