I finally did it. After all kinds of recommendations from friends and seeing that it was getting all manner of praise, I finally picked up and started playing Final Fantasy XV. I hadn’t really been paying a lot of attention to the media surrounding it, so I really didn’t know much about what type of game it was. So, imagine my surprise when I was almost immediately dropped into a vast open world to explore from the word “go”. There was a time when this would have been a pleasant surprise indeed, but not anymore. Instead, this discovery left me feeling resigned, with just a single thought in reaction: “Oh, its another one of these games.” I suppose I’ll just come out and say it: I’m getting tired of all these open-world games.
Exploration. Exploration, Exploration. Every big game seems to be all about exploration and goofing around inside the game, and it’s been like this for years at this point. Dragon Age: Inquisition, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and now Final Fantasy XV just to name a few; even Mass Effect: Andromeda seems to be leaning towards emphasizing exploration over everything else. I probably should be seeing this as a good thing, because in many ways it is. Getting to play in a world that feels large and lived in should only add to the experience right? It’s a notion I agreed with wholeheartedly during my original Skyrim wanderings and my Assassin’s Creed shenanigans. Now though, I’m starting to wonder where the alternatives went.
I still think focusing on large worlds and exploration is a good thing, but you know what they say about having too much of a good thing. It might just very well be that I’ve finally had enough of that good thing, or at least the tedious versions of it. You know the ones, the ones that practically comprise all of Ubisoft’s releases over the past couple of years: a big map with collectibles to find and lots of little jobs and missions to complete for one arbitrary reason or another, maybe with some strongholds to liberate. It was a novel setup during the time of Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed II, but all it amounts to is the instant death of any desire to engage with the game.
Better open-world games manage to do something to make their wanderings worth your time. Witcher 3 has its excellent side-stories, while Final Fantasy XV rewards you with character advancement. However, they’re still games where your primary task is to wander around an absolutely massive map until you remember that there was supposed to be a story for you to follow. There’s no sense of pacing to them, so they’re hardly an acceptable alternative.
Lately, what I’ve been thinking is that we need more games like Uncharted 4, or indeed the Uncharted series as a whole. They scratch the exploration itch without throwing the player into some gigantic space and tasking them with aimlessly wandering around. They just present you with a small space that may or may not have secrets to find and leave it up to you to decide whether or not finding those secrets is worth your time. Otherwise, they keep the story and gameplay moving. One minute you’re in a high-octane shootout, in the next you’re finding a path along a treacherous cliffside, and in another you’re making your way through some breath-taking ruins. Best of all, it feels like you’re making progress. It’s the absolute best feeling a game can provide to a player with limited time on their hands. Working your way through an Uncharted game makes one feel like their accomplishing something whereas wandering around doing random missions and picking up dozens of collectibles leaves one feeling they haven’t even made a dent in the game.
I suppose what I’m really saying that I’d like to see some linearity return to the realm of AAA games. Exploration is fun and all, but it feels like it’s coming at the expense of satisfying progress and well-paced stories. Hopefully we’ll see some more of that in 2017.
What do you think? Do you feel like open-world games have become too prominent or would you like to see more of them?