Open World vs. Living World

Recently I sampled a bit of AssCreed 4 and Farcry 3.  Both are made by Ubisoft who seem to have found a formula for making “open world” games.  If you have been living under a rock in the real open world, open world game are all the rage ever since I would say GTA3.  There are even racing games like Burnout Paradise that try to work the concept into the game.  However, in my estimation the entire idea is a complete failure and the name a complete misnomer.

Take the two games I mentioned in the first sentence of this post.  They have completely different settings yet somehow the structure is exactly the same.  There is a world you can traverse, but for the most part it is just empty space between waypoints on your map.  The game would not be fundamentally different if you could just double click on a waypoint and jump into the task rather than having to travel there yourself.  It would actually be an improvement in my book since I really got tired of the mundanity of travel in a bland gameworld.

Then there are the tasks themselves.  One game is in New World Caribbean and the other takes place in modern times on a jungle infested island and yet in both I go hunting for particular animal parts to make myself equipment upgrades.  In both I climb towers to unveil new parts of the map and in both there are fortresses/outposts that I can assault.  The only difference is the combat with AssCreed’s being its typical atrocious self (why they haven’t upgraded it since the first game is a mystery to me) and Farcry being a fairly mediocre shooter.  Oh and the storylines are equally nonsensical.

So I ask, what is so open about this?  I have a similar complaint about every MMO since WoW (other than EVE I guess).  They aren’t massive or open, they are a collection of IMO mostly boring tasks the devs have bequeathed unto you.  It seems you give people the facade of an open world and a basic upgrade/leveling system and they spooge in their pants.  I, however, see through the veil and the carrot on a stick of leveling is not quite as addictive as it once was.  Your game has to be legitimately fun to play and AC4, FC3, Red Dead Redemption, GTA4, Skyrim, etc. have been boring me to tears for awhile now despite all the acclaim.

In my view, the problem is that what I really want is not an open world.  Screw open worlds with nothing interesting to do in them.  I want a living world.  GTA3 was great because of this.  Watching the citizens and police react to your actions was completely novel.  Gangs shooting at you and their allegiance changing as you completed the story was amazing at the time.  But this isn’t enough now.  We need a world that is not just sitting there waiting for you to do stuff.  I mean the best part of FC3 was taking outposts since they required a mix of stealth and combat.  However, the enemy never attempts to take it back.  Meanwhile Jagged Alliance 2 back in 1999 had enemy forces that upgraded and retaliated as the game progressed.  You actually had to train militia to defend your holdings.

Some of the planned features in Everquest Next sound like it is more player-driven and dynamic and I hope it pans out.  EVE Online sounds amazing, but I never have the balls to give it a spin.  Other than these two, I can’t think of any examples of games eschewing the open world formula and trying to make it a living world.  Yet that is the future, because people have to get tired of hunting animals for pack upgrades, right? Right?

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