Why I Hate Open World Games

Ah, games. A near endless source of entertainment for myself, and of course millions of other people across the world. Just one issue. There are now so many studios, publishers, franchises, and individual games, that eventually, they run the risk of becoming…. boring. Repetitive. Derivative. This article, something I’ve felt strongly about for years now, is about Why I Hate Open World Games.

Interestingly, this piece comes at a convenient time. Ghost of Tsushima, the much anticipated PS4 exclusive from Sucker Punch, had its review embargo lifted ahead of its release on Friday. 

Worth mentioning here, that our review for Ghost will be up sometime next week. We’re a new site, and a small one at that, so our requests for an early review code went ignored. I will be reviewing, as I’m kinda the “PS exclusive guy” here at SeriouslyAverageGamers. Also because I have a lot of time on my hands right now. Keep an eye on our socials for review updates, and alerts. 

Anyway, back to today’s subject matter. Ghost of Tsushima obviously isn’t reviewing badly by any means, with a bunch of high scores. IGN gave it a 9, GamesRadar gave it a 4.5/5, the list goes on. But it’s also been weighed down, uncharacteristically for PS platform exclusives this generation, by quite a few mediocre scores.

GameSpot gave it a 7/10 with the writer, Edmond Tran, writing:

“Tales fall back on rote open-world quest structures, where you do things like follow a quest giver to an objective, perhaps having a chat on the way, and veering off the assigned path here isn’t allowed. Sometimes you’ll be asked to survey or examine an environment, activities which have the ability to devolve into meticulous hunts for interactable hotspots.”

VG247 went a little further into obvious criticism in their header alone:

“Ghost of Tsushima review – a gorgeous world stuffed with repetitive filler”

Now obviously, this isn’t an article about Ghost of Tsushima. I haven’t played it yet obviously. Any such comparisons to my issues with games that feature long completion times, and dead open worlds, wouldn’t make sense. But the regular criticisms being levied toward Ghost of Tsushima do serve to illustrate my point. 

Open world games, which are often long by design, have a concerning habit of becoming dull. In all honesty, I would have a harder time pointing out games of the type that justify their length so let us start there.

Red Dead Redemption 2.

See RDR2 is, in my opinion anyway, an open world done right. The map is left largely sparse at all times, with the only major icons being missions givers and shops. There’s no irritating compass at the top of your screen filled with nearby “things to do”. 

These “things to do” in other games, normally end up just being the same rotation of 5 things you’ve been doing for the previous 30 hours. Which just further goes to grind my gears.

Along with this, Red Dead Redemption 2 did something that most open world games fail to do. It made the world around you feel entirely unaffected by your presence. Sure, you’re the protagonist, but you’re also just a person who lives in a world filled with other people. Many side missions or encounters don’t even pop up until you’re in range of them. The “random encounters” in RDR2 might not necessarily be entirely random, but they feel it. Which is what’s important.

Potential missions, or curious NPCs, don’t show up the entire other side of the map to irritate your OCD until you’ve gone and checked it off, they appear when you’re close enough to actually do something about it. One side mission had me locating stolen wages for a railway building camp (there’s definitely a professional term for it that I’m missing). This mission is memorable mostly because I potentially would never have found it. The only reason I did, is because I took a trip to another town on a whim and went a route I hadn’t been before.

You can head over to my review of Rockstar’s cowboy simulator if you want to hear me wax lyrical for a few thousand more words, but in my humble opinion, it’s one of very few games to do its open world any justice.

How about we talk about another? 

Breath of The Wild. 

While the blockbuster Nintendo exclusive has had some complaints about how empty the world can feel, from my playtime with it personally, I found Breath of the Wild perpetually intriguing. Your map is left blessedly free of visual clutter. There’s not a mass of symbols to trudge your way through, there’s none of the “question mark locating something predictably boring” shenanigans. 

The world is instead littered with landmarks, or even just interesting looking areas, that practically beg you to explore. You might not always find something wholly interesting there aside from of course, a Korok seed, but you always felt like you were discovering something. 

But then, regularly the world would have something interesting. You’d plan a route there that didn’t absolutely destroy your stamina bar, you’d maybe even have to wait for the perfect weather to traverse wherever you’re going. Only to get there, and find a puzzle that you can’t quite solve yet. Open up your map, mark it yourself, and then carry on your journey. While I never finished Breath of The Wild, it’s maybe the first game in a while that I loaded up and said to myself: 

“I’m gonna go here today”

It’s a small statement, but a refreshing one. Most open world games just LOVE to give you a map that’s drowning under question marks, exclamation marks, camps to clear, settlements to save, and more. Early on into the PS3 and 360 generation, open world titles were still a novelty. Everything that came with them was still something to be excited by. 

Now, however, it’s become worryingly clear that these expansive titles haven’t actually evolved all that much in the last decade. With Breath of The Wild, there was a feeling of discovery, of exploration. It’s of course a fabricated feeling, the game has been designed in a way that makes you visit those spots, but it’s refreshing. Refreshing among a deluge of games that force you to treat them like an excel spreadsheet managed by an obsessive completionist.

Oftentimes, franchises get lost in the idea that “bigger is better”. Take Mass Effect Andromeda. A little while back, I wrote a retrospective piece on this title. The most recent entry into an adored franchise, it did so many things wrong that it was actually hard to write it all down. The most criminal of which was its size.

I’ve talked to people that love Andromeda. Let me get this out of the way, because unless it’s not entirely clear, this is an opinion piece. There are plenty of gamers who adore being handed a playground, and a plethora of things to do within it, just to keep them entertained for 100 hours. 

When I think of Mass Effect, I think of a concise, satisfying science fiction tale. One that’s rooted into an action RPG. When I sit down to play Mass Effect 2 for the 25th time, I know that I’ll be able to finish it in a few days. With Andromeda, I was given a lifeless world, filled with interesting characters, that gave me endlessly boring things to do.

“Land here, drive there, kill those, come back”

You can probably summarise the entirety of Andromeda’s side activities with that one sentence. Of course, there are exceptions. The game does a remarkable job at creating relationships with your crew members, and the main story is pretty great, but everything surrounding it? A big ball of fluff. 

You may notice there’s an elephant in the room that I haven’t mentioned just yet.

Ubisoft.

Now, you could argue that Ubisoft set the stage for open world games. With Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed they set trends that still exist, for better or for worse, in open world titles to this day.

But honestly? I think the open world genre would be better off without both franchises. Take a glance at Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. In many ways, a genuinely fantastic game. Both in it’s RPG and it’s action/stealth gameplay. But good lord is it dull.

Credit to Reddit user u/rodztf for this screenshot.

It’s borderline insulting to me. Literally from minute 1 of the game, you’re bombarded with areas to loot, camps to murder, and people to talk to. It takes maybe an hour or two to have then performed every gameplay mechanic that you’ll be mind-numbingly repeating for the next 60 hours of your life. 

John Sweeney, an Art Director at Naughty Dog, recently claimed on Twitter that using the word “repetitive” as a criticism for video games is “tired and lazy”. I find it hard to disagree more with this statement. A bad take, if you will.

Repetition in video games is unavoidable of course. Most games, if not all, use a finite set of gameplay mechanics over their duration. Eventually, you’ll stumble into a rhythm that can be deemed “repetitive”. The problems mount up though, when a game stops providing you refreshing ways to use these mechanics. This issue is FAR less prevalent in linear games of course. They’re normally shorter, and can be more controlled. In open world games however, it’s become dangerously accepted by critics and consumers alike for these titles to become stagnant.

Credit to GuidesForGamers for the image.

Almost immediately in some cases. Assassin’s Creed is the most obvious example. In Odyssey, I had deployed every baseline mechanic that I’d be forced to use for the whole game, in literally the first two hours. Stealth, parrying, exploration, traversal, horse riding, and the rest. You name it, and I’d done it. 

This is why “repetitive” is absolutely a valid form of criticism, and it’s one that is extremely regular in open world titles. There simply hasn’t been enough evolution in the way mechanics are presented and utilised in the genre.

Even a game as good as Marvel’s Spider-Man, on the PS4, fell into the same trappings as the increasingly dull Ubisoft library. It’s extremely comparable to Arkham Asylum, in terms of gameplay, which came out 9 years earlier.

It’s my opinion, and maybe mine alone, that the open world stagnation that video games have experienced this last decade or so is only accepted due to the other advances made. Games look better, sound better, play better, and are directed better than ever before. Odyssey, for all its faults, is home to gorgeous graphics, great music, and one of the best female protagonists ever conceived in video games. 

But when these become curtains to hide the un-imaginative gameplay trappings of open world games, it’s maybe time to have a closer look? 

Closing Argument.

Of course, I’m no game designer. I have only the base awareness of how games are made and how they work, and that’s it. There’s probably a bunch of reasons, both technical and theoretical, that open world games and franchises are boring. 

But they are boring. At least for me. Time and time again, I’m tricked into thinking that “maybe this game will be for me” and I’m mistaken. Even a game as brilliant as The Witcher 3 has an exhausting amount of meaningless question marks adorning it’s map. “Clear this village” or “clear this monster nest”. It’s still a better video game than most of its peers, and certainly one of the best RPGs ever made, but still I can’t bring myself to finish it. 

Of course, there’s a bunch of other factors. As an adult who works an unrelated full time job, attempts to maintain a social life, and likes to play multiple games at once, 80 hour experiences don’t play well with my lifestyle. But as Red Dead Redemption 2 proved, when it’s done well, I’m there for the ride. 

It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed open world games either, Arkham City was fantastic, I loved a lot of Skyrim, GTA 4 and V were fantastic, it’s just… not a regular thing. I’m anxiously waiting for the next one that will sit right with me.

Maybe Ghost of Tsushima will be the one. Maybe. I guess we’ll find out. 

Thanks for reading. What’s your opinion of open world games? Let me know in the comments! Maybe even tell me what your favorite open world title ever is? 

Until next time, have a lovely evening.

4 comments

Zach, feel like you have illustrated here what I have been saying for years. Bigger is not better. Open world games with fluff that don’t serve the main story feels very empty. Go here, take this there, speak to this person, ugh. I have never finished an open world game. I grew up loving MGS but even Phantom Pain feels more open world. I remember trying so hard to get into GTA but after an hour I always felt like, ‘Is this all?’

I struggle to find new games to get into that are a bit more linear. Seems like the only games you can pick up and enjoy for an hour with any sense of completion are sports games. RIP NCAA Football. I would be interested in any suggestions you have, appreciate it!

Hey, thanks for reading, I appreciate it!

My immediate suggestion, in terms of linear experiences, would be something like Uncharted 4/ Lost Legacy, Gears 5, the Tomb Raider reboots, games like that! They’re titles that reward exploration, but also keep things in a straight line, split by levels and progression. Depending on your opinion on first person shooters, there’s also games like Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, the Wolfenstein reboots, etc

Hope that helps!

I usually agree with you, but games like The Witcher 3 are amazing with their creative use of the Open World experience. As stated this is an opinion piece. However I actually ended agreeing much more than I initially thought. Keep up the great work at sag.

You’re definitely bang on, and endless question marks aside, I love the Witcher III’s creative use of story telling within its world. For me at least, it still contributed that stressful “fear of missing out” that packed out world maps usually contribute for me. Thanks for reading, and for commenting, it’s much appreciated!

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