“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…
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!!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 Home, Arkham Knight, Terraria, Final Fantasy XII, Okami, A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda, Wind Waker, Link’s Awakening, Shadow of the Colossus, all of them mold-breaking or influential open world games, more or less.
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!