Over the years, as video games have gotten more complex, we’ve been greeted with new technological developments. From the ability to do actual multiplayer (two or more people playing the same game at the same time? And outside of an arcade? Madness!) to ever more graphically impressive representations of firearms, video games have been trying to push the boundaries of what can and can’t be done with the technology. It’s one of the reasons why we get a brand new set of home consoles every couple of years, and why, once you drive your new computer off of the lot, it’s worth little more than a paperweight.
However, for me, one of the most pervasive things in gaming is definitely the concept of the open world. Maybe it’s because I remember a simpler time, when gaming was a fairly linear path from point A to point Your-Princess-is-in-Another-Castle, or maybe it’s because I get easily distracted, but games advertising an open world to explore are a little crippling. Don’t get me wrong, I still love them. I just know that if the game was already set up to take me 30 hours, I’m easily going to double that if I’m actually going to see the end. Triple it when you factor in that I’m not necessarily that good at games, so, if I don’t want to die too often, I need to go extra slowly through the zones.
Of course, many games use the term “open world” a little too loosely. Sure, there’s a huge area to explore, but, really, once you step off of the main path of the plot, you’ve got nothing to do. No sidequests. No extra diversions. You’ve just gone wandering, and you aren’t bound to find anything of any real consequence. In the days of the original Final Fantasy, at least this meant that you’d be able to go out and do some level-grinding. However, more than a few games now either use the open world environment in a world with no level growth of any kind, or, worse, a system where the world levels up with you. So yes, by all means, go ahead and wander around, trying to discover a corner of the map that you haven’t seen before, but know that, when you return, the rat you left behind is now a level 45 SuperRat, which is normally only found in New York City.
To counter this problem, some developers have made a point of introducing so many different side quest options, that there’s something to do just about anywhere, and it’ll still push the story forward. It got to the point that games like Oblivion, while engaging (once you got past the melting putty look of the characters) became much more enjoyable if you completely ignored the main story line. You know, the one that’s supposed to be the driving thread, and the continuation of stories from before (if it’s a sequel), or the connecting line to stories yet to come. When people are ignoring that, or, even worse, taking the time to program modifications that will actually strip the main story completely out of the play experience, perhaps you’ve gone a little too far in trying to populate your open world.
That being said, I still prefer that particular concept of the open world with far too much to do than I do of one that has the illusion of great tracts of land to explore, but, once you step off the path, you’ve lost any sort of direction. I mean, if I wanted that kind of linearity, I would go back to playing games like Super Mario Brothers 3. At least there, the concept of an open world was just one where you could skip past the water levels.
Because, seriously, who ever thought those were a good idea?