Elemental Challenge Day Thirteen: Open World

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“Freeeeeeeeeeeedoooommm!!” Hear that plaintive cry? That’s the clarion call of Open World games and their nonlinear gameplay currently flooding the market like so much bloated flesh. Open world games are everywhere and they’re bigger than ever. Every year, they just get bigger but does size matter, or will the multitudinous chores and errand-running, grinding, universe-building, and endless NPC exposition eventually lead to this genre’s implosion? Nobody can know for certain. The freedom of play that open world games emphasize, their non-linear structure that ought to be subservient to the sense of exploration, is what titles in this category must keep front and center.

With as many open world games as there are, these are just a few of the ones we find truly special…

 

FF3-NES-Summoner2.png The Green Screen Mage

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nothing can beat it. I was really leaning toward Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for a while, but after BotW came out nothing can beat it. It’s gorgeous and there’s just so many things to do and so many different landscapes and places to explore. AND YOU CAN CLIMB EVERYTHING!!

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blackmage The Black Humor Mage

There’s a ton of open world games nowadays, and it’s a little hard to choose which one, but  I picked Arkham City just because of how much I played it. When Arkham City was announced, I only had a Wii at the time, and I wanted to play it (and Arkham Asylum first) so badly that I immediately bought an Xbox 360 off a friend who was selling it. I got that game for Christmas and played it like crazy. Then the Xbox 360 stopped working (thanks, Microsoft) so I couldn’t get all of the achievements. When I got a new PlayStation 3, I got Arkham City again and got the Platinum trophy for it. There are so many places to go and all of them are extremely detailed. You can keep going underground and there’s so much to see and do.

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mystic_knight1 The Midnight Mystic Mage (Sublime Reviews)

Red Dead Redemption. It is a hard choice between Red Dead & Bully for my favorite open world game because I have spent so much time with both and love them dearly. This genre is one that if done right can be one of my favorites. As you can see I believe Rockstar usually sets a great example of how to do it right. They also revolutionized this genre with GTA 3. When done wrong, or when just not fitting my personal tastes, open world games can be very boring, way too much to do with no real direction. (Honorable Mentions – Bully, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed)

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spoonybardmageright.jpg  The Spoony Bard Mage (Nerd Speaker)

While I have certainly seen some great examples of open world games, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took the formula and completely reinvigorated it. Never before in an open world have I ever truly felt like there could be surprises around every bend and mountain, and this truly makes the game world feel alive.

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FF3-NES-Geomancer1 The Five More Minutes Mage (Gamegato)

My favorite open world is definitely the one from Xenoblade Chronicles X. That’s not to say that Xenoblade Chronicles X is my favorite open world game, because I do not like the actual game, but the open world is amazing. The five continents are all very distinct and are simply a joy to explore. Even the monsters featured in the environment give the land character and add wonder to exploration. But if you want to play Xenoblade Chronicles X, get the game only for its open world.

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finalfourteenthmage  The Final Fourteenth Mage (Cilla vs. Games)

THE WIND IS PUSHING ME INTO CHOOSING DRAGON’S DOGMA FOR MY OPEN WORLD GAME. I love Dragon’s Dogma. From the repetitive sayings that the pawns excitedly exclaim to climbing large enemies to the Berserk easter egg armour – it’s all amazing. I’d even go as far as to say that Dragon’s Dogma is my favourite PS3 game overall. It’s the first game that I decided to get all of the trophies for and since then I have been collecting them. I would do almost anything for a Dragon’s Dogma 2 including buying the remaster on PS4 as I already purchased the PC port.

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HandheldMage1  The Hopeful Handheld Mage (Retro Redress)

GTA V is my favourite open world game because it feels like an open world, not a bunch of NPC’s stumbling about. There’s social media, TV shows, shops, businesses, families, lots of realistic characters inhabiting Los Santos. I enjoyed the adventures of Franklin, Michael and Trevor and wonder what would have happened if I had kept playing after the story mode ended.

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 The Rage Mage

Horizon Zero Dawn. I just love cheap knock offs and this gender-swapped Zelda-clone is the perfect fodder for fueling that good ol’ smug PlayStation-only crowd. Dinobots, roll out!

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rmage2.jpg  The Well-Red Mage

In my opinion, the open world category is one that has really begun to show its age. It screams AAA blandness. As a kid, I really used to love exploring. We lived on three acres of land with only one third of it cleared. The rest was tropical rainforest, hollow lava tubes, ridges, trenches, hills, and lots of moss. We also did a lot of hiking and there was a kind of magic about wondering what was around the next bend or the next tree trunk. I had many nightmares about getting lost in the forest, but then I had a lot of dreams about finding magical treasure in them as well. Somehow, the open world genre misses that childhood sense of wonder. Sometimes.

Someone needs to get on a really tall soap box and shout into the universe that not every game needs to be open world to be a “big name” game. Open world fatigue was on me… until The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This game reinterpreted what an open world game should be by focusing the unfocused. Open world games had become about aimlessness, so Breath of the Wild became about exploration and curiosity. All of the trappings of tedious fetch-questing, lore-building, level grinding, and getting lost are things which mean next to nothing in Breath of the Wild, which turns each of those elements on their heads and breathes new life into them. Even getting lost in this game brings a sense of fulfillment.

My recent experience with another open world game, Final Fantasy XV, gave me the exact opposite impression. FFXV was a failure of a game, spreading its narrative so thin it became incoherent across different media, and in the game its own gameplay structure worked against its storyline. It was a moody, confusing, visually gorgeous, audibly stale, anti-climactic, clunky, button-mashing, overly ambitious project with characters I felt forced to like that I knew nothing about. What Breath of the Wild did was avoid the temptations of “complexity” to try to prove itself worthy of the “big name” and in its focused simplicity it decided what it wanted to be: engaging.

I read an article recently wherein the author asserted that everything in gaming is now going to be defined as pre- or post-Breath of the Wild, and I completely agree with that assessment. It’s one of the great milestones in gaming. Other mentions I’d include are Grow HomeArkham KnightTerraria, Final Fantasy XIIOkamiA Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda, Wind WakerLink’s AwakeningShadow of the Colossusall of them mold-breaking or influential open world games, more or less.

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Not controversial enough? Don’t worry. With tomorrow’s challenge we may get in a… fight. What could the genre be mañana? Come back and find out!
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27 thoughts on “Elemental Challenge Day Thirteen: Open World

  1. If I had a Switch, I’m sure I’d be on the BOTW train, but alas, I haven’t obtained one yet. Hm, I’m not a huge fan of open world games, so I don’t really play them. I much prefer the more structured narrative. I suppose I’ll have to pass on this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mine is Lightning Returns. That world was so dark, unique, and interesting to explore! The 13 day time limit really gave the sense that the world was dying too, and the combat was rewarding to master. Also it stars Lightning so I automatically love it more than anything else in the world 🙂

    Honorable mentions: HZD and BoTW. Most other open worlds give me Agoraphobia, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

      • You’re not a snob, haha. It’s totally understandable that you would be uninterested in the rest of the FFXIII trilogy since you had big issues with the first game. 🙂 I’ll just say XIII-2 and LR offer VERY different gameplay experiences, and they really evolve the characters from the first game (especially Hope, Snow, Serah, and my shero Lightning). XIII-2 reminds me of Kingdom Hearts in the sense that everything is sort of broken up in stages, and there multiple ways to unlock new paths. Lightning isn’t actually the protagonist in XIII-2 either. Oh and the Moogle Throw is the most entertaining FF ability ever, haha.

        For Lightning Returns, Motomu Toriyama was inspired by western games like Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim when he came up with the concept. You can literally go to any area of the game right off the bat (expect to get a beat down in the harder areas though, haha). I also really enjoyed the side quest structure. It never felt like endless, boring fetch quests that plague most of the open world games today. There are a total of 66 side quests (yes, I did them all) that offer glimpses into the lives of the depressed people, and actually add lots of depth to the game’s overall narrative. The interactions Lightning has with the variety of NPCs really shows off her benevolent protective nature (that I always knew she had since 10 minutes into XIII). She’s terrible at showing her real emotions (an issue IRL Ellen has too), but she truly cares about saving her world and would do anything to help innocent people. The ending to LR was also very beautiful and made me wanna cry tears of joy. It’s easily my favourite FF game of all-time. Disclaimer: I still haven’t played VI yet. 😛

        But yeah, this comment could easily turn into a windy short story so I’ll stop myself there. I am very passionate about this trilogy of FF games and I like to advocate their strong points when I can since I see so much mindless hate for them online. My opinion is very biased, but I would definitely recommend you check them out someday! You’ll probably dislike them, but who knows? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well I do plan to play them. I made it as far as downloading FFXIII-2 and playing up to the first portal jump. I was pretty surprised at how different the structure was. I’ll have to get back to it soon, but I got a PS4 the next day so…. I didn’t look back for a little while. Thanks for the info!

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  3. I’m going to throw out Sunset Overdrive for this one. It is Insomniac at their best, with some of their most creative design to date. It doesn’t necessarily have the charm of say Ratchet & Clank, but it is a super fun-filled world that has some of the best boss designs of any game since this current gen started.

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  4. I am not sure if this counts, but I nominate Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The game used a fairly large open world, with four different areas. I liked the way one world, Skyloft, was situated above the others and allowed the player to survey above the rest of the world. Skyloft also gave the player a large amount of freedom, allowing them to fly using a bird to reach floating islands or reach higher altitudes. I also liked the way each area had a theme (sky, forest, volcano and desert) and more than one dungeon. I also noticed that, initially, each location seemed fairly small, but the player then found a new area which expanded the location and revealed a hidden dungeon. There were also ways of transforming each area (such as the Faron woods becoming submerged or the time travelling in the Lanaryu Desert) which made the game more interesting. I also enjoyed the Silent Realm, which added an extra dimension to each area as the player had to explore the area in a different way. I also enjoyed the designs for the dungeons and the bosses used in the game. The story was also interesting, which developed during the game. There were also some interesting the highlights. I liked the way Skyloft was situated above the clouds, which created the impression that it was alienated from the concerns on the surface (so that the citizens were more concerned with lost items than the return of the villain). I liked the ever present thunder head, which created a sense of impending doom.
    I am sure I would have chosen Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild if I had played it. Why did you choose the other Legend of Zelda games over the games you did not select?

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  5. Terraria will always be a guilty pleasure, and one of the few games to ever approach my previously mentioned FFTA playtime, according to Steam. I’ll probably still be playing that game even long after its sequel comes out.

    It’s one of the few games I genuinely enjoying starting a fresh save on, because the sheer randomness of the world generator always makes for a unique playthrough. I must have at least a dozen worlds saved on this computer, and I can remember each playthrough no problem, because every world has its boons and challenges. I’ve logged a couple hundred hours on it and I haven’t even begun to delve into the modding community for it, which offers all kinds of new adventures on the six-year-old game.

    Everybody that plays Terraria has a personal project outside of the game’s usual objective, and of course I got in on that right after my first playthrough. I counted up the entire area of Super Metroid and discovered that, with some minor tweaking, one COULD fit the entirety of Zebes inside a Large map of Terraria. I haven’t progress too much in my recreation- I do have a backlog that constantly calls to me- but I did complete a decent recreation of Ceres Station, and have mined away the rooms for Lower Norfair.

    The Terraria subreddit also happens to be one of my favorite pages to browse late at night- the amount of detail the users there put into their creations is staggering! There’s a lot of insanely gorgeous sets on there that you wouldn’t have thought possible in Terraria’s engine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Man, I wanted to play Terraria for so long for so bad that eventually I broke down once it came to PS3 and I got hooked hard. One gigantic cathedral, castle, garden, forest, farmland, dungeon construction and 100’s of hours later and I burnt out bad. Funny thing about Terraria is my wife was pregnant with our first child to this day and so she associates nausea with the music. She says she feels sick even if I just sing the soundtrack!

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  6. My favorite open-world game is the original Legend of Zelda. Nah, just kidding, but I think that game always deserves recognition for kickstarting the open adventure genre to what it is now. I will have to go with the most recent game from that series, Breath of the Wild! I’m not even the biggest fan of open-world games, but BotW showed me how fun it is to explore and just have fun in a gigantic world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I very much consider the first Zelda to be an open-world game, as much as its technology allowed. Breath of the Wild wouldn’t be here of course without it, but arguably neither would the open world feature of games today, not in the same vein that the original Z founded. BotW is truly great though and that cements the fact that we’re twinsies, you and I.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think my favourites would have to be Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, and Horizon Zero Dawn at the moment. I wanna try Witcher 3 next as I’ve heard a mess of good things about it. Dunno how I’m going to go with the sex scenes though. I’ve seen some of them on YouTube and they seem… well, silly. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Breath of the Wild gets first mention! Woohoo! The only open world game I’m at all interested in trying soon would be Horizon Zero Dawn. As for vidya game sex scenes, that’s way beyond what I want out of gaming… and I can’t imagine how awkward they must be considering how flat games often are with portraying other intense and emotional moments… Good luck with that!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I can’t add a lot of interest to this particular category, as my current favorite is the recent Zelda open world release as well. It’s a fantastic game that has captured many hours of my life. I did come up with other favorites that have open world elements such as Harvest Moon and Minecraft, but ultimately decided that they are not quite the same as these open games that allow you to explore while fulfilling specific quests along the way (randomly picked by the player based on what they want to do).

    In general, I don’t let myself buy open world games because I know that I will get sucked right in. There are many that I have on my playlist, though, several of which made their way into this post. I might have to check out the Xenoblade one mentioned here. I didn’t know about it previously.

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    • I hear you. I try to avoid these 100+ hour games now, since it’s not economical for me financially and chronologically. Breath of the Wild was an exception but I’m going to be much pickier with open world games after my disappointment with FFXV.

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  9. Defining an open world game isn’t all that easy to my mind. Could you argue that Dark Souls is open world for example?

    One I have liked recently is Watch Dogs 2, which is a testament to how good it is considering I don’t like the genre!

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    • This is one of those classifications in gaming that’s very broad, like Adventure. I mean imagine if we’d had a day entitled Action. I find it’s easier just to talk about similarities or characteristics. Most open worlds feature nonlinear play, heavy sidequesting, large worlds you can explore early in the game, no transitionary screens between areas, etc. hey I just sold a Watch Dis 2 key code that came with a mic I bought from GameStop. Small world.

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  10. I’m not really sure Open World counts as a genre. Rather it’s a feature that multiple genres have taken advantage of. Action games, Adventure games, RPGs, and so on. I guess if I had to choose one game that had an open world in it, I’d also roll with BOTW. There’s just so much stuff to do. I’m nowhere near done with the main game (So many games have pulled me away), but every time I fire it up, I’m bound to spend a few hours in it.

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    • You’re correct of course. For the purposes of this event, to simplify, we’re treating the terminological differences between genre, category, classification, and distinction as essentially moot. Open World isn’t a genre but since it’s often the main descriptor of a game we’re treating it as such, without consulting Daniel Webster. 😀 Great minds think alike! I’m sure you’ve played other open world games beside BotW, so what makes that one so special to you beside for the amount of stuff to do?

      Liked by 1 person

      • The fact that there’s always something going on. Too many games take an open world, where there are large moments of boredom because you have to spend hours traversing nothing to get to something cool. For example, the original No More Heroes had an open world. But it was lifeless, and barren. But you were forced to go around it to find enough McGuffins to afford to go do a story mission. The main reason you went into that game to begin with. Overall, I loved that game. But the open world just got in the way instead of enhancing the experience. The sequel rectified this.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Reblogged this on Sublime Reviews and commented:

    Come explore a vast Open World with us in lucky day number 13 of the #ElementalChallenge at The Well-Red Mage. My favorite in his genre has got to Ben Red Dead Redemption with Bully in a close second. Rockstar knows how to keep an Openness World game interesting for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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